Wisdom from our elders
Daughter worries because her dad insists on doing heavy yard work
Dear GrandPad: My dad, 78, is a stroke survivor who lives alone in the home that he loves. His yard is full of trees so there’s always a lot of heavy work to do in the spring. I wanted him to hire out the work this year, but he refused. Winter is worse, but we made some progress last year when we convinced him to hire a company to clear the snow after huge events. Still, he insists that he can shovel the smaller amounts. Now, he’s been wrangling branches and leaves. How can I get him to relax and let someone young do the heavy-duty outside work? It's all just too risky for someone his age! – PT
Dear PT: We hear you. The thought of older people doing anything physically risky can be hard on adult children because we envision broken bones, heart attacks, or worse. The problem is that we must consider the emotional cost of absolute safety for someone like your dad. What if he enjoys working outside? What if these are the activities that make him feel useful which is something that we all need?
Where many of us go wrong is that in our loving concern, we don’t stop to consider what specific activities symbolize to our parents. Well-meaning as we are, we can be insensitive to the fact that an activity that scares us might be something they enjoy. Then, we’re surprised when they rebel. Why wouldn’t they?
Instead, try this. Ask your dad what’s important to him in his life right now. Hearing his answer can not only help you with this immediate worry, but it will also help you later when you try to address larger concerns such as overall health and future housing. Listen closely to his words as well as the emotions behind the words.
After you’ve listened to him, address your immediate concern. Tell him why his yard work and snow shoveling worry you. If he says that he likes his independence, you can tell him that you fear he will fall in the yard and not be able to get help.
He’ll likely say, “I won’t fall.” Just let that go, and avoid bringing his age into the discussion, as well. Instead, say, “Anyone can trip and fall. Remember when I fell and sprained my wrist?” Tell him again that you’re nagging because you love him, and maybe joke that you know you can be a worry-wort. Then, let it rest.
Nothing is likely to change soon, but if you stop nagging and allow him his dignity, you may eventually see some softening in his attitude. Maybe he will slowly make decisions to hire some help with the riskier jobs. Maybe he won’t. But at least you’ve planted the seed.
Unless your dad has severe cognitive issues, he has the right to decide. Let him know that you’ll help in any way possible and then step back. Respect his autonomy and he might eventually at least compromise.