“If you don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…”

Time-honored techniques for coping when your aging parents are stressing you out

The parent-child relationship… To say it’s complicated is as understated as saying the world is a big place.

Let’s face it, even in their younger days, your mom and dad had a special way of grating on your nerves—something which has nothing to do with how much you love them. I know that. However, now that your parents are getting on in years, and becoming more forgetful and perhaps even more anxious and/or irritable, are you responding in kind with your own boorish behavior? Do you find yourself snapping at your mother more easily when she asks you the same question you just answered? Is your body language cold as ice when you have to drop everything—including an informational meeting with a potential new client, a meeting which had already been confirmed, mind you—because your father needed you to drive him and his urgently sick cat to the vet? (How many times have you told him not to feed cheese to the cat?)

If you answered yes to either (or both) of these questions, I have good news for you: You are perfectly human. I also have bad news: Human nature dictates that once your parents have left this earth, you are likely to beat yourself up over everything you could have handled with greater patience at the time.

Below, a three simple, tried-and-true tricks for keeping your cool when dealing with your aging mom and dad:

  1. Count to 10 (in your head, please). Try it; it really works. In those few (well, 10) seconds, you should find better ability to gain control over both tone of voice and word selection.
  2. Practice deep breathing. These are links to some of my own personal favorites: calm breathing, breathing exercises, Andrew Weil. Try them, see what works for you, and then you, too, may be able to call upon this well-known anxiety-reducing technique.
  3. Remember when you were a kid and your parents taught you the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all?” Yes, that. (It’s tip No. 3.)

Look, I know that Mom and Dad can fray your nerves. I’ve been there. It’s okay to feel that way. It’s less okay to show them you feel that way. After all, they’re older now, and they need your support.

If I can offer you more detailed insight, I am here to help, or even just to listen. Contact me.

All my best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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