• John Robertson

Balancing awareness with privacy is important to intergenerational relationships.

My mother and I have always been close. Well, maybe not always. There were some blips in the teenage years, but for the past thirty years or so we’ve had each other’s backs through divorce (hers), children (mine), moves, health scares, and other life stuff. I know not every mother-daughter relationship is as good as ours, and I’m grateful.

My mom does her thing: directs plays, travels, works part-time, volunteers. She’s young! She also lives with a really great guy, so I don’t worry about her. But as I approach 50 and she approaches an age that if revealed here will result in her never speaking to me again, I do think about our relationship and how it might change.

Shifts will happen. I know because I look around and see my friends creatively balancing their own lives with supporting aging parents and grandparents.

Something I dread — and I know she would, too — is being all up in my mother’s business. I don’t relish the idea that at some point (in the distant future, Mom, I promise!), I might have to monitor her.

That erosion of privacy would be hard on our mother-daughter friendship.

In a social media post, I asked friends for their thoughts on balancing privacy with awareness of how a loved one is doing. I got almost 20 responses from adult children, and every single one had a strong desire to keep their loved one at home as long as possible, despite the often extreme stress involved.

One friend — we’ll call her Diana (after Wonder Woman, because she is one) — told me she worried 24 hours a day about her grandmother, but the family was committed to keeping her in her own home till the end. “It’s all I thought about,” says Diana, who was very pregnant at the time. “It affected my work life and home life… So even though it would have been ‘easier’ it was my duty to stay by her side until the end like she would have done for me.”

Another friend — we’ll call her Jane — sent me a heartfelt message about moving her parents into a condo and how challenging it has been to put supports in place. My friend’s father has dementia, and her mother is his caregiver. “I have learned to imagine myself in her shoes,” says Jane. “It has allowed me to see it from her side more and give her the patience and empathy she deserves.” Even though Jane’s parents qualify for in-home support, they only accept 12 hours a week because “they want their privacy more than the help.”

I also remember all those hard conversations with my mother’s mother: You can’t drive anymore; you can’t stay in your house anymore. I saw how hard it was for my mom to support my nana, even though she was only three hours away, and how it changed their relationship.

There are lots of ways families take care of each other. Some move in with parents or have parents move in with them. Some put professional supports in place, and some choose in-home monitoring.

I like knowing there’s a monitoring option like HomeEXCEPT that doesn’t listen to or watch our loved ones and will help us help them while respecting that they have their own lives. I like to think that a service like this could help some of my friends, too.

One thing’s certain: We NEED to talk about this, intergenerationally and as a community. We’re not getting any younger.

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