Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 5:16 (NIV).
After 16 years of writing about Mother’s Day, you might suspect that I am running out of material. Thanks to the many conversations I have with farm folks who are in the adventure of family dynamic twists and turns, I usually have a conversation thread that keeps reappearing.
Consider this verse:
“There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.” Proverbs 30:11. Some families are not enjoying harmonious relationships on the farm.
When I wrote about helping Grandpa finish well on March 19 I seemed to hit a nerve as witnessed by the emails I received. One fellow was distressed at the bad decisions that tear families apart. I am seeing similar distress when a daughter calls to talk about the bullying that Mom is enduring, and how things for transition to a new chapter for an aging mother are not going well. People have stopped speaking to each other, and Mom starts crying when voices are raised.
Helping Grandma finish well is about communication and cherishing. We all want to love and be loved. Everyone wants their voice heard, and their opinions to count. The trouble is that with aging, sometimes common sense is not common practice and people get stubborn when they feel pushed around.
Is this true for your mom?
1. She is frugal. She has money but won’t spend it on herself and would much rather give it to her favourite charity or secretly slip a cheque to a sibling who is struggling financially. The hard part here is family secrets. They create tension and havoc when “fairness” is a core family value. My suggestion is to talk about her living needs, have a financial planner show her where her money is going and determine how long it is going to last. Talk as a family about “what does fairness look like to you?” No more family secrets.
2. She wants the family to get along, so she is a peacemaker and cries easily. People don’t talk about the real conflict issues with Mom, because they are trying to protect her. Mom is not stupid. She may be old, but her intuition and hearing is just fine thank you. I once coached an over-80 woman who was a bit taken aback by the directness of my questions. Once she understood my intent for clarity and better understanding with her family, she opened up her responses and enjoyed the banter. She was taught to be polite, while I was teaching her to be assertive and ask for what she needed. I suggest that you give Mom a tissue for her tears, and listen to her responses. Avoiding the tough issues that need to be worked through stops now. Let everyone explain their positions and describe their common interests. What is it that you all want for your mom?
3. Body and mind are failing, but the spirit is still strong. As Mom ages, you should have a power of attorney and an alternate in place, as well as a long-term health-care plan. Someone has to take charge, with respect. Bullying of elders is going on in the farms across the Prairies. Some kids are too keen to be on the home place, and are pushing Mom to town before she is ready. The other issue is that some moms will never be ready. So what do you do? Learn to let go.
Research the supports you can have in place like home care. Know the financial needs of moving to a care facility or apartment for independent living. Listen to your mom’s needs and wishes. Confront the bullies and don’t allow nasty behaviour. Let your mom test out new living arrangements for the short term, and see how she likes the change. One family gives Mom time in town for the winter, and invites her back to the ranch for the summer.
Assess your mom’s mental health. Don’t let failing memory and forgetfulness go unchecked. This is why it is good to have a sound, enduring power of attorney put in place as the farm manager when your mom is younger. Depression is also a factor if Mom has circumstances such as family feuding going on that is stressing her out.
Don’t try and hide it. Talk about it. Seek professional help and treatment.
4. Procrastination is costly. Many folks have told me that they wish they would have acted on decisions years ago. Not making a decision is a form of avoidance, and in reality is a decision not to act. If your mom’s marriage was a benevolent dictatorship, she may not be used to the idea of making her own mind up. She will need time to process, and options to consider. Some elderly rural women are tired of giving in to others, and they decide to exert their independence by being stubborn if they are still testing out the strength of having their own voice.
5. Downsizing a family home chock full of memories is tough. I am only 55 and am working to fill boxes for the town-wide garage sale this spring because I am giving up my job as the family archivist. We all have too much stuff. We need more loving experiences and fewer things to dust! How about setting aside time to share the stories of Mom’s treasures, and allocate the benefactors. What kinds of experiences would make Mom feel treasured? Are there some rituals that would help with letting go? One family planted a Mother’s Day tree on the family farm to celebrate Mom’s move off the farm. We have several family trees on our yard to celebrate marriage, birth and death. I suspect that if you ask Mom what she really wants for Mother’s Day, she would say, “time with my family.”
6. She will add the successor’s name to the title on her land. Some moms never had many assets in their own name, and now they do. If Mom is smart she will consider adding the successor’s name to the title of the quarters needed by the farm, or better yet, use her capital gains exemption and gift the land while she is still living. Land deals cause lots of family fights in the farm community. Be clear about who is generating income from the land, and give the farmers the right of ownership. If lack of trust has tripped up your plans, you need to build trust with Mom and have your business plan advisers help implement the business continuance plan. Your mom may be stubborn about transferring land when she fears she won’t have enough financial resources to honour the wishes of her will. Talk about her fears and find out how you can create more certainty and security for her future, as well as yours.
Be thankful you have a mom to hug. Cherish one another and live long in the land you have been given. †