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A good relationship with your parent is worth more than cleaning differences

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol Bradley Bursack offers some advice to resolve this "pretty minor" issue.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
The Forum

Dear Carol: My mother, 76, lives on her own in a condominium and is capable of continuing there for some time. I’m grateful, because the longer she can be independent the happier we’ll both be. My problem? It’s pretty minor considering what most people deal with, but I’m curious if there is something that I can do to help Mom.

She and I have different ideas of house cleanliness. I can’t concentrate unless I know that my surroundings are clean and orderly while Mom is, in my view, lax. She’s healthy, but she has really bad arthritic pain and this has kept her from doing the basic cleaning that she used to do. Her home isn’t filthy, it’s just not clean on a deep level. I’ve suggested that she hire someone to help and she always says she’ll think about it. I know that money is tight for her, but she has enough, so wouldn’t you think that a cleaning person would be a priority? Other than this, we get along great. Any suggestions? — ML.

Dear ML: Your mom is basically healthy, and you get along well, so I’m happy for you. Both of these are significant blessings. I hope that her health holds out for a long time.

About your mom’s home and how clean it should be: If this were an issue of health or actual filth, I’d suggest that possibly some mental health or cognitive issue were at the bottom of it. Considering what you wrote, though, I don’t think this is the case — so in my mind, it’s important that you tread carefully. I understand that you mean well, but it’s always good to think when we are trying to do something for an older adult, “Am I doing this for them or for me?”

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You admit that you and your mom have differing views on what is “clean enough,” yet you recognized that living with pain can make housekeeping a challenge. How about this? Tell her that you’d love to make life easier for her, so you want to get her a gift certificate for Christmas for a one-time deep cleaning. You could poke fun at yourself and your neatnik habits, but most importantly say that seriously, you know she has pain, and you want to help.

I believe that you genuinely care about your mom’s health more than your own need for neatness, which is a green light to try again. Do your research so you are prepared with references as well as information about COVID protocol. Make a gentle point that you’d love for her to start off the new year feeling relaxed because she won’t have housecleaning hanging over her head.

Since your mom previously said that she’d think about it, maybe this offer will be enough to move her forward. If not, remember that your relationship with her is worth far more than disagreements over dust bunnies. Accept your mom as she is and celebrate that she is still doing well.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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