Will Your Kids Visit YOU in the Nursing Home?
I use this question in my practice precisely because it is such a hard one for most of us to ignore, and because it paints a strong, unforgettable image in our minds and in our hearts.
But really, this rather morbid question also serves as a way of asking you if you’ve got Emotional Credibility with your kids. (Remember, Emotional Credibility= trust + they want to be around you.)
In the above picture, if you do, they’ll visit you; if you don’t, they won’t.
Ok, let’s begin.
How do you talk to your kids?
Are you respectful? What is your tone?
I’m sometimes outright flabbergasted when a parent tells me that their kids do not respect them, yet, from the way they describe it (or the way I sometimes witness it), they do not respect their kids either.
I want to clarify two things: First, our job as parents, other than to love unconditionally, is to TEACH. The other thing is that our job as parents is also to LEAD.
Not to make constant ultimatums or threats. Not to throw tantrums ourselves. Not to nag them or make continuous Comments at them.
To TEACH and to LEAD.
If I do not treat my kids with respect, whether it be with my tone or with my behaviors towards them, under what sky should I expect or assume that they will respect me?
People have taught me that respect begets respect.
If I treat you with respect, then you tend to be more respectful towards me as well.
If I do not, neither do you.
With children it is especially important to TEACH respect by LEADING with respect.
Friends and family who serve or have served in the military tell me that they would be willing to follow a person they respect and trust into certain death if they had to do so.
They also say that this is usually a person who has LED them by him or herself doing what he or she asks THEM to do, and by TEACHING them what must be done.
Our kids are watching us.
They don’t have rent or a mortgage, and they don’t (usually) have kids of their own (yet).
So they are watching US. And they are doing it when we least realize it.
They are listening to our TONE.
They are observing our behavior.
And, most importantly, on some subconscious level, they are continuously tabulating an assessment of who we are; in other words, what I call Emotional Credibility points (“E.C. points”) .
In the end, we’ve eventually either passed or failed with them on a very basic, fundamental, subconscious level; in other words they ultimately either trust us and like who we are, or they don’t. They’re gonna visit, or they’re not.
They are observing us and asking:
What’s this guys limit?
What does she do or how does she handle herself when she’s overwhelmed?
What can I trust her with emotionally, or can I trust her with my emotions at all?
Should I avoid him?
Will she shame me, reject me, or otherwise make me feel badly about myself?
Does he seem to genuinely like and enjoy me, or do I always feel like a burden or a job to him?
Is she always distracted or multitasking around me, or does she actually STOP, FOCUS, and pay real attention to me for a couple of minutes?
Is he always angry?
Does she always say she’s too tired to play?
Does he seem jealous when I win?
And on it goes….
Over the years, I’ve heard many people tell me how CLOSE they came to “recently” visiting their elderly parents, whether literally in a nursing home, or otherwise.
“Oh, but we were really pressed for time” they might say, “so we couldn’t stop by that day….”
or, “We really wanted to stop by, but we were just too exhausted….”
Translation: This parent long ago burned through any Emotional Credibility I had in them (probably by age 12 or so), so I’ve really got no true attachment to them anymore, other than guilt or obligation. No true, positive, joyous feelings here for them.
This is one of the saddest things I am witness to.
On a regular basis.
By the way, another variant of this is that we DO visit them (or talk to them on the phone regularly, etc.), but out of GUILT, not out of the joy and love which comes from having great Emotional Credibility with someone.
Guilt and obligation “visits” are NOT what we’re aiming for here! You deserve better than that.
The question really is, “Will our kids visit us because we’ve EARNED IT?”
That’s right my friends, we actually have to EARN our children’s love and respect; in other words we must earn Emotional Credibility with them.
Any parent who still believes that “they should respect me just because I’m their parent”, is unfortunately investing in fool’s gold.
The truth of the matter is that, sure, they might LOOK like they respect you, but what they tell me when they’re all grown up (after they learn it themselves first) is that they actually FEARED you, or DREADED you, or perhaps even felt sorry for you.
I don’t know about you, but I for one NEVER want my kids visiting me in the nursing home or calling me on the phone because they have feelings of guilt or obligation borne of fear, dread, or pity.
No, you and I both want our kids to actually trust us with whatever they need to tell us or whatever craziness they bring upon our lives for the short time (usually) that they live with us.
We want them to enjoy us and to know that, ultimately, we enjoy them as well.
We want to talk to them with respect, in a tone which conveys leadership and guidance, and with a spirit which treats them like the future adults (parents, husbands, wives, etc.) that they will someday become.
Otherwise, someday, we might just feel the words of Harry Chapin come alive as he sang:
“I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, ‘I’d like to see you if you don’t mind’
He said, ‘I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you'”
(“Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin, 1974 album Verities & Balderdash)
All my best to you and your kids,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.