Enabling Series. Part I


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

One Sunday morning during service at the church I watched as my five-year-old son walks down the aisle along with other children to place his dollar bill in the offering basket, hug the priest, and walk back to daddy who was standing exactly where my son had left him.  It made me suddenly remember some conversations I recently had with people that felt frustrated at their caregiver who also happens to be their parent.

In the first year after sustaining a spinal cord injury, my mother and brother stayed with me.  My mother took care of me as if I were her baby again, even though I was twenty-nine years old when I had my injury.  I remember being so grateful it was she that was assisting me with my personal care.

My brother was a certified kinesiologist and had studied physical therapy even though his business is technology.  He told me he would leave only when he knew I was functional again.  A year later he returned back home.  My mother, on the other hand, had trouble letting go.
One person mentioned to me recently that he is never alone and has no space. Through his parents’ help he also feels smothered, but speaking up makes him feel petty knowing how selfless they have been in helping him.

Even though I empathize with my friend I too have trouble deciding just how exactly we should handle our loving caregivers that hover.  The other thought this brought to my mind is the difference between helping and enabling.

How can we make our loving caregivers not feel dejected when we find ourselves not needing help as our independence grows?

Personally, I felt guilty that my growing independence was not erasing my mother’s worry.  Additionally, she was returning back to an entirely different country.

Another person I spoke to had been diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular condition.  At thirty-five years old she is realizing that she will need help for the rest of her life.  However, after some time, her medication caught up and her constant tremors began to subside. Now she is able to brush her teeth and hair independently.  Much to her frustration, this hasn’t deterred her parents from watching her as she was performing these simple tasks.  On the contrary, her parents didn’t want to leave her alone in case she dropped anything knowing she wouldn’t be able to pick it up as easily.

The end result is that as her frustration grew her parent’s confusion and hurt increased.  After all, they have left everything to help her.

For most of us that have experienced this situation, we also respect the phrase that communication is the key.  However, in certain circumstances, it is difficult to get our point across, especially when we feel our most vulnerable.

I am forty-seven years old and trying to tell my mother what might be best for me is still a challenge, but it also makes me recognize something familiar.  It is the strongest loving caregivers that will challenge us.  Had it not been for my mother’s constant ‘hovering’ then I beg the question, would I have sought independence as quickly as I had?  If anything, it pushed me to overcome the thought that my limitations stop me from achieving self-sufficiency.

I never knew what it was like to have a ‘hired caregiver’ until I got sick again with a neuromuscular condition.  I interviewed many caregivers.  The one I hired happened to be a lady that cleaned my house for years.

Sixteen years ago my mother sat with me interviewing nannies to assist me in taking care of my toddlers after my spinal cord injury. This time, I was married again and to someone who quite literally rolled up his sleeves.  Nevertheless, my mother sat with me as I interviewed the caregivers.  When we decided on my housekeeper, I remember my mother had visibly relaxed before my eyes and it was because she knew this lady cared about me.  She flew back home knowing I was safe.  It took me a second time in mastering independence to really comprehend that even though my family is a continent away they are also only a phone call away.

Through our own pain, we can forget what goodness we still have around us.  Human nature calls us to love and be loved.  Therefore, even through our depths of despair just remembering that one blessing can allow us to ride the waves of pain and before we know it, we are living through our limitations without losing sight of who helped us get here.

For further information: www.aoa.acl.gov/AoA_Programs/HCLTC/Caregiver/


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