Our “family” expert Francine, answers questions about those bonds that form between an older parent and a home aide. Should you or your siblings be concerned?
DEAR FRANCINE: I feel uneasy about the “lovey dovey” bond between my mother and her home aide
My mother just turned 97! and after a lot of snafus, my sister and I are working together harmoniously to take care of her. Speaking for myself, I have to put the past away, really away, to face and resolve present challenges with our extremely elderly parent. She’s still reading, going to the theater, walking on a walker, so we are fortunate.
The caretakers pose a different challenge. My sister and I don’t agree on the proper boundaries We have two–a full-timer and a relief person. They are both lovely, competent and warm. (Again, after much trial and error.) Sometimes, the bond that has formed between the main caretaker and my mother feels a bit disturbing, a bit symbiotic. she is loving and cloying and it’s a bit hard to tell how much of the loving part of the connection is opportunistic. She calls my mother “darling.” My sister’s inclination is not to interfere–she lives nearby and is grateful for the respite–I worry more about the caretaker’s judgment on some things and where the professional boundary should be. She is my mother’s employee after all. Advice?
New York City
You don’t appear to be worried about the caregiver stealing from your mother or tricking her into signing a will in her favor, so I presume that you have placed safeguards to be sure this does not happen or this is not your concern.
You speak of an “employee”/employer relationship, but I don’t think that adequately describes what occurs between a frail old woman and the person on whom she depends for her most intimate needs, things she can no longer do for herself. Would you feel the same way about a nanny who cares for your small children? Or a nurse who tends a patient who’s alone in a hospital, frightened, or in pain?
While some home aides may be “opportunistic,” manipulative or downright crooks, many feel drawn to this work out of real empathy for the old people for whom they care. They take satisfaction in being able to provide for their needs and to feel needed and important. So, in this way, the relationship may, in fact, be “symbiotic,” but not necessarily problematic. That this “competent and warm” aide is loving, it seems to me, is a great blessing for your mother. But the very frailty and dependency which evokes her loving response may be unsettling. No matter how old our parents are, they are still our parents, and we don’t like to think of them as dependent, needy or even childlike. How you and your sister respond to your mother’s condition and the bond between your mother and her caregiver, depends on too many things to name, but among them is the relationship each of you had and has with your mother, and how you each feel about what you want to do for her now, and what you can do.
It’s complicated. But I suggest that unless your mother expresses unease with her aide’s behavior, try to put aside your own discomfort and be open to thinking about their relationship in a way that takes in not just its function but its human dimension.
ADVANCE NOTICE from SNOETY: Francine has a book coming out January 26, 1010, which can give you information and strategies you’ll need for working with your siblings and your own emotions as your parents age. It’s called:
Also, Francine now has a blog: www.yourparentstoo.com. Check it out and go there to ask Francine questions about how to handle relationships with your siblings as you deal with your aging parents, or ask Francine in the comment box below.