Kudos to Jo Ann Jenkins for a remarkable job making AARP relevant across the generations!
That said, I’ve noticed, having posted numerous inspiring AARP-produced TV spots celebrating care partners, ‘that no one ever seems to be actively dealing with the stress & strain of balancing family–parent-job-personal life or all the care falling disproportionately on one child (happens all the time) or with ancient personal or family issues resurfacing in present day.
Over & over, friends & pleasant acquaintances told me, “If I got along as well with my parent(s) as you do with your mother, I’d have her/him/them live with me, too.”
As I’ve written before, Mom & I were NOT a natural match.
SHE thought we were – Mom saw me as an almost carbon copy of herself. And she had NO interest in seeing it any differently. When she was on her 6th of 7 trips to Australia & left during a particularly dicey time in our relationship, I commented in a letter to her that she hadn’t a clue who I was. She responded in outraged indignation – “NO ONE knows you better than I do!”
The fact is that I took after my Dad, which worked out well for Mom; by his nature & nurture, Dad LOVED being there for others, putting them in a setting where they could shine, helping them out financially & (although my brothers might disagree) emotionally. We differ in that I believe it’s essential to help put others in a place where they can grow more than simply shine, that there are times when it is better for them if you step back & let them take responsibility for their lives. That difference caused serious friction with Mom, who forgave her children any hurtful thing they did to her as long as they remembered to say, “I love you.”
That drove me right up a wall.
You don’t see anything close to that sort of exasperation in these AARP spots.
Mom handled her conflicts with her own mother by closing her eyes & telling herself that everything Gran did (whom I never met but is described by my oldest brother as the “most evil woman on earth”) was somehow explainable, it was HER (Mom) fault that she didn’t understand it. It was a struggle for her to live with someone like me, who prefers to face situations, seeing people as they present themselves, always remembering that how I see them might not be what actually is.
Mom hated confrontation, so accepted chronic conflict; I hate conflict, so accept occasional confrontation. When I’d blow up, trying to move Mom to respond, she’d just freeze, like a deer caught in the headlights.
Praise be for her last six years, from her mid-80s to early 90s, for her calling a psychologist when she was 88 or 89 & confessing “I haven’t a clue who I am” & seeking counseling, for the two of us working together to respect the other’s differences – especially the ones that drove us around the bend – for identifying our core issues even if we didn’t resolve them all.
Smiling, remembering a time that Mom irked me by something she’d said & I flashed with upset, only to have her say, “You TOLD me you wanted me to tell you how I feel. Well, this is me, DOING it.” She was right – she was doing exactly what I’d urged; I hadn’t counted on how it would FEEL having her follow through.
While Dad asked questions & delved, Mom did not, nor did Peter, nor did Mim. It worked quite well for them to have people accept the surface impression rather than trying to figure out what was actually being said.
Once I asked Mim what she meant by something she said; exasperated, she responded, “I meant what I said.” So, it was fairly earth shaking when, in the closing years of her life, she asked Peter WHAT it was she was doing that was so upsetting to him & the others. She said he drew himself up, looked her in the eye & answered her, “You ASK questions!”
For my first 37 years, I had a relatively smooth relationship with Mom. It had its ups & downs, especially when it can to how she treated my older sibs like little kids instead of adults, but things went relatively well. They began to fall apart after I married John, when it was brought home to me that all the things I thought I’d always wanted that seemed to me simple to give – openness, caring, giving a sense of personal worth, fair mindednesss, loyalty to the relationship – actually were. It was when I started to fall apart, being caught between my family’s dysfunction & John’s healthy spirit – that Mom pulled herself together.
We had family-based disagreements straight through to her final days, but we never doubted that the other loved us & had our best interests at heart. Mom had some fascinating quirks that drove me nuts that I only came to understand over those final six weeks. When she was at her most physically vulnerable, Mom showed awesome emotional strength & ability to discuss things she’d avoided for all of my life, maybe for most of hers.
AARP should produce a spot showing THAT reality; it might make it easier for a parent or child or care partner dealing with tough times to realize there is tremendous power in handling the soul-wrenching, even more than the heart-warming. Maybe someday…