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Resistance to hiring out fix-it projects is often about pride and identity

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says a reader's husband might be having a hard time turning projects over to others.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
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Dear Carol: My husband’s been one of those men who’s always refused to call in plumbers, carpenters or anyone else because he thought he could figure out the problem and he usually did. We’ve owned our house for decades and he’s kept it up well but of course, things still go wrong. Now that he’s 83 and has terrible knees and a back that won’t bend you’d think he’d step back, yet he still thinks that “we” should fix everything ourselves.

He pushes himself or maybe worse, he tries to get me to accomplish such tasks with his “guidance.” I’m 79, have severe arthritis and am inept at working with my hands. I need to convince him that hiring people isn't a waste of money, but how do I manage that? — SC.

Dear SC: It may surprise you to know that this is not an unusual problem. People who are used to fixing everything themselves can have a hard time turning projects over to others because it’s a point of pride as well as part of their identity. That’s often the case with other tasks, as well. For instance, if being an extremely good cook has been part of a person’s identity it can be hard to cut back, particularly for holidays and times when they could really show off their skill.

While continuing to try to do what we can as we age is admirable and even good for us, being realistic is important. We’ve all read about 80-year-olds falling off a ladder because they were going up to their roof to clean the gutters. Everyone ages differently, but there are some things where age needs to be considered, and climbing is one of them. Yes, there are some 90-year-olds scaling mountains and likely some 80-year-olds still professionally painting houses. However, even the healthiest older adults tend to have less reliable balance and dexterity.

Your husband knows that he can’t continue doing all of those challenging fix-it projects, yet it seems that he feels he’s still maintaining his identity if he instructs you how to do it instead of hiring help.

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What can you do? First, remind him it’s who he is, not what he can do, that makes him valuable, and make the point that the same is true for you. You could point out that medical bills are generally far more expensive than hiring someone to fix a leaky toilet or as mentioned above, cleaning gutters. Depending on your husband’s attitude, you could also joke that the younger generation needs the work so he should give them a chance.

If he still won’t listen, enlist the help of a man he respects. That could be a good friend who is showing more flexibility than he is or a family member who can point out that you are both getting older and have health challenges. If your husband still won’t listen, tell him that he needs to hire out chores or rent. Period.

Best wishes with this significant challenge.

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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