Thursday 22 February 2018

Dear Mary: My elderly parents need care, but most of my family are ignoring it

The majority of people do everything they can to show how thankful they are to elderly parents.
The majority of people do everything they can to show how thankful they are to elderly parents.
Illustrattion: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

I am writing to you in the hope of some help. I come from a large family. Both our parents have needed 24/7 care for the last four years. We do this seven days a week with home help - we work full time. It has taken a huge toll on our health and a personal toll on our family life. We get only an occasional night off. We have asked all of our family members for help, but they choose to ignore this, not answering calls or else giving a list of ailments they have, never seeming to think that anyone else might have ailments themselves.

We moved from our own home in order to care for our parents. We have asked for help, but the siblings ignore us and let us carry on with the caring as "we are great at it". Have people become so dismissive of old age? We will all need some care at some stage.

We are now looking at nursing home care for them. This is very sad as both parents have a huge fear of nursing homes. The siblings' attitude is that they will get to like it, but when asked to give a preference on their care, no replies are given. Yet when our parents were in hospital for medical reasons, they could spend two to four hours sitting with them daily. When asked if they could give three to four hours at home with them, all they do is turn off the phones, hoping we will get over it and it will go away.

It is the hardest decision we have ever made to go with nursing home care with no help from the rest of the family. It has been the hardest of times caring for them in their home, but it has also been the most wonderful time to have given them. They are like little children again, so vulnerable and dependent - and challenging also. I hope we don't become a nation of selfish people ignoring our elderly. Why do people ignore their parents in old age?

Mary replies: You sign your letter 'Worn Out Carers', and I can almost hear the quiet desperation as you struggle with all this. I know from your letter that you are female, but I'm not quite sure whether you are writing on behalf of yourself and a partner or yourself and another sibling. If it is a partner, then they are going beyond what would be expected of them in caring for your parents. If it is a sibling then at least there are two of you united in doing the very best that you can to ensure that your mother and father are well looked after.

It is in the natural order of things that we start off life being cared for by our parents. Any parent will tell you that it is a wonderful thing, but also at times very worrying.

While trying to make the best possible life for their children, sacrifices are sometimes necessary but it is usually worth it and gradually the children grow into adults and the relationship becomes adult-to-adult.

Finally, as the parents age, as happened in your family, the parent becomes the child and the child becomes the parent, caring for and worrying about the parent.

There are variations on this theme, with the parents often living long healthy lives and not being in need of care, but what I have outlined is what happens in the majority of cases.

However, in your family this caring for the parents - and unfortunately it is both parents - has been left to one or two of you and this is all wrong. Even if they were not able to help out physically, you should still get support from your siblings if only to help make the decision as to which nursing home and when and how it will actually happen.

People reading this who have been through the experience of placing an elderly mother or father into a nursing home will have the utmost sympathy for you. It is not something that one does without a huge amount of thought and research, and one only does it when all other options have been exhausted.

I am sorry that it has been left to the two of you, but you will have to take comfort from knowing that you gave all that time to caring for them and you need never reproach yourselves that you didn't give it your all. Because I can feel the love coming through your letter and I salute you for doing your utmost to make their lives easier. There will of course be a transition period as they adjust to the nursing home, but you will find in time that they will settle in very well.

In answer to your question, only some people ignore their parents in old age - the majority do everything they can to show thankfulness and pay back a little of what their parents did for them.

I find it difficult to talk to women and ask for a date

Question: I'm in my early 30s. I don't know how exactly to go about talking to a woman. I have been turned down by two women already, and they didn't even have boyfriends. That's where my problem is - I don't know how to go about asking somebody out on a date. When I'm talking to a woman, I fear that I could be giving out the message that I'm desperate to get her - which I am not, as I'm still young - and I would hate them to think of me as some kind of stalker. I would be grateful if you could give me your advice.

Mary replies: This is a question that comes up often in my letters from readers so you are not alone in feeling somehow in the dark as to how best to chat up a woman. The simple answer is to be yourself and to be interested in her by paying attention to what she says and then developing the conversation. You somehow assume that because a woman doesn't have a boyfriend she should be happy to go on a date with you - but that is not the way it works. Ask yourself what you have to offer to a particular woman to whom you feel attracted. In other words, what are your good points? I'm not talking about looks, because that is a subjective thing, but what is it about you that she would find interesting? Because you have to feel good about some part of yourself before you can believe that somebody else will feel the same. Then you will feel confident when chatting to her. If you are diffident and think you haven't a chance, then that will come across also.

There is no harm in having a line of conversation ready when you meet somebody you like. For instance, we are coming up to holiday planning time now, and people like talking about happy things. So start asking if she has any plans. Have a few other topics ready in case that one doesn't work. Not everybody is going to want to talk with you, just as you won't want to chat up every woman you see, so if you are getting nowhere, move on and try again. If things are going well and the conversation is being enjoyed by both of you, then suggest that you might have a drink or a coffee together sometime. But don't appear too eager - that is a big turn off.

I realise it is quite difficult to be confident. If you have a sister or a female cousin, try to be around her or her friends as a buddy for a while and you might get an insight as to what goes on in a woman's mind. It is difficult for men to understand women. I have always maintained that men are black and white and what you see is what you get, whereas women are multicoloured, and there is always much more going on in their heads than appears on the outside.

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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