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Respecting my parents’ wishes

This week’s storyteller is Clare Tanner.

Clare was taken by surprise when her aunt told her that her mum was having heart surgery. She had no idea and she told us about her initial reactions in her story here. Now she explains the changes her and her mum have made in their relationship to foster mutual respect.

My parents live in London while I am in Devon and as I had a business trip in town already planned, I arranged to stay with them for a week. My intention was to, of course, gently raise the issue of my not knowing about my mum’s heart surgery while I was there. I didn’t want to make mum feel bad about not telling me but I did want to make sure that she knew I was there to listen and support her in whatever way was right for her.

Starting the conversation

When I first got to my parent’s we chatted and caught up like we normally do and shared news and stories about the goings on in our lives. One evening mum and I found ourselves alone and over a cup of tea I broached the subject of her upcoming operation.

“Oh Clare” she said “I know I should’ve told you but I didn’t want to worry you and it’s been going on so long I just didn’t want to talk about it”. I just nodded and asked her to tell me what had been happening with regards to her prognosis and we continued talking about the ups and downs of the last few months.

We talked for a long time, sinking into a deeper conversation about life and I used our time alone together to express my desire to support her in whatever way she felt comfortable. Of course mum said almost immediately that she didn’t want me to fuss over her or adapt my life around her hospital visits and appointments, she just wanted me to get on with things – essentially to behave as normally as possible.

So that night we made a pact. Mum would keep me informed about what’s happening when I call her and in return I would get on with it and not cause a bother. Of course agreeing to not fuss was going to be a bit of a challenge for me, especially living three and a half hours away. What I realised was there was nothing for me to do but be there for mum when she needed me, on her terms. How I felt about it wasn’t really important (although it felt very important to me at times!).

The best-laid plans

A month or so after my trip to London my aunt and I were planning mum’s 70th birthday, and we were mindful to ensure that it was what mum wanted and felt able to do. Mum’s birthday fell on a Saturday, so I booked some time off work to have a relaxed long weekend and this led nicely into my annual holiday to Cornwall which started on the Monday.

Diary planned, party planned, holiday planned and mum was keeping me up-to-date with progress on her operation date and whether her test results were in the right ball park for it to be safe for her to have the operation.

Then three weeks before she was due to have her operation, it was cancelled. The reason for the cancellation – there was an emergency, scheduled to happen in three weeks’ time?! Yes you’re probably thinking what we’re thinking. The cancellation got mum very worked up – not good for her blood pressure. We talked it all through and concluded that there was little point getting frustrated about it as it wasn’t in our control.

The operation was rearranged for the first day of my holiday in Cornwall, two days after mum’s birthday. Mum was happy the operation was booked in, but I couldn’t help thinking that it could put a dampener on her birthday and I would now be away at the time.

Mum was clear though that she wanted things to go on as normal around her and she reassured me that she had all the arrangements in place for her visit to the hospital. She told me that “I would only be sitting around like a spare part”. She had a point, but it didn’t help me feel any better about it initially.

When we can make a difference – and when we can’t

What I’ve come to realise on this journey with my mum is that there’s an intelligence behind the human system which is way beyond our comprehension and that we need to trust that things sometimes happen for a reason. Getting caught up in all my worries and wonderings about things wasn’t going to make one jot of difference to the eventual outcome of mum’s surgery.

Once I came to this conclusion I felt such a sense of calm. I knew that it was this place of calm that I needed to access to help me just do whatever mum needed me to. So I made sure I had a lovely, peaceful holiday. The weather in Cornwall was amazing for October and I enjoyed all the space and walks along the rugged coast. I did still keep in touch with dad to let my feelings of relaxation relay up the telephone line to him.

Mum’s operation went really well and when she came home to begin her recovery she got back into her usual routine – returning to the gym and other activities that kept her fit and well beforehand. However despite knowing her heart was working better, something just wasn’t quite right.

Over the last year mum had had a persistent cough. Our conversations on the phone were constantly cut short because of the incessant coughing, which wasn’t simply down to a cold.

The lack of sleep and her emerging bed sore, from sitting upright in bed to prevent the coughing at night, was all taking its toll. She hadn’t been sleeping well before the operation and now it was getting worse.

Eventually, after a bit of persuasion (OK nagging!) mum went to the doctor and from the research we had done it was confirmed that her medication was causing the coughing. So with the help of her GP the issue was finally dealt with and she started to get back to sleeping after nearly a year of issues.

I know how challenging it is when parents are strong willed and/or don’t want to become a cause for concern, including with their GP when they don’t feel well. My only conclusion is that as children we have to tread a tricky path between out and out nagging and more gentle cajoling and influencing.

Ultimately I know I have to respect my mum and the decisions she makes when it comes to surgeries and medicines various. It’s not my body, it’s hers and she’s of sound mind so she can make up her own mind without me giving her my two pennies’ worth.

I’ve realised that it’s so important for me to maintain an open channel of communication with my mum and so I’ve focused on being attentive without over fussing, as hard as this can be at times.

The lessons I’ve learned

First, whatever my concerns and worries, I need to respect my parents’ decisions about how they want to manage things, including their health.

Second, I recognise that I’m responsible for my own behaviour and when I’m relaxed and calm it has a positive influence on my conversation and relationship with my parents.

In addition, I can see that some things will always be out of our control and we have to respect that. If we over think or worry about issues it clogs up our ability to be open and receptive to what our parents might be asking for.

I’m aware that everyone’s experience with their parents is different and the ways in which we support our parents also varies considerably. Whilst they may sometimes frustrate us or we may be distracted by how to manage a situation with them we can try to remember that we love them and want what’s best for them. Doing that has helped me to remain open to supporting mum in a way that respects her choices.

It’s natural to struggle with this in the midst of an issue and I’m sure that at times I will be challenged with similar struggles again, but I do feel that my relationship with my mum has a new dimension and that she now knows she can tell me when things are becoming an issue and that I will respect her wishes and not fuss!

Clare is a leadership coach with 20 years’ experience in helping those facing major challenges and those who need to think differently about where they are and what they do next. If you’d like advice from Clare please call 079 8921 7565 or visit PeoplePot for more information.

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