The Boundaries of Tough Love

“As age creeps in we become more of who we’ve always been.”

This was my father’s warning before his death. And, as my mother ages, it’s truth is undeniable.

Mom’s need has no limits. Her self-care has never started; and, I suspect, her self-respect was lost a long time ago. Tough unconscious pride remains in the wake of her shameless acts of entitlement.

As the last one standing in the family to care for her, I think often about why this is so.
Why has everyone close to her died?

Of course, there are medical reasons for every person’s demise. But stress is the root of all dis-ease. And, emotional distress is what exhausts our immune system, making use unfit to fight dis-ease. They all died young.

My deep dive into this subject is prompted by not wanting to be next!

I write these words feeling just, yet cruel.
But I write unbridled, because I believe the boundaries that save me, carry the same salvation for mom.

She, for example, can make a phone call on her own behalf, yet she doesn’t.
She can exercise restraint with her diet to avoid diarrhea, yet she doesn’t.
She can pick up after herself in consideration of her roommate, yet she doesn’t.

So everyone around her has to see to her needs. Or else, they have to clean up the financial, physical or emotional consequences.

But how is living her responsibilities for her, really helping her?

As a kid, friends used to call me and my sister slave-children. Because we had so many chores after school, we’d miss after-school playtime more often than not. It taught us to be responsible, but it taught her to be dependent.

Mom never had to take care of herself. She was taken care of.

As a coach/trainer I highlight the importance of living with appreciation for one’s own abilities, and gratitude for the abilities of others. I believe that discipline, of any kind, is a delight, when appreciation and gratitude are present.

The absence of these qualities creates resentment, shame and depression.

I ask myself when emotionally exhausted, am I resistant to help mom because I’m resentful? Am I foregoing gratitude?

My answer, after much soul searching is, because I appreciate my own self-care, I can have gratitude for mom’s struggle to exercise her own self-care. She’s not too old to dial a phone, eat properly, consider others, or love herself, unless we make her so.

This may be the greatest lesson in both our lifetimes. For this, I am grateful.