Sometimes you have to hide the matches
(Time to read: 3 minutes)
My partner’s mother is a wonderful person. Warm, caring, intelligent, and a delightful storyteller.
At the same time, at almost 98, she is physically tiny and very frail.
And, like most of us, she has difficulty accepting that it is no longer safe for her to do things that she used to do with ease when she was younger and stronger.
Like lighting fires.
At the Cottage
John and his sisters take turns being with his mother at the cottage in the summer, so there is always someone there with her.
This year, when we arrived, I asked the sister who was leaving if there was anything I should be particularly aware of in keeping their mother safe.
“Don’t let her light a fire. It’s terrifying to watch her around it. The hearth is so uneven, and the logs weigh half as much as she does. We’re all terrified that she’ll fall again, like she did that year when she broke her pelvis, only this time it will be into the fire…”
We did our best. We tried to ensure the fire was built up enough to last before we went out of the cottage, to work outside or visit a neighbour. But it seemed that every time we left, John’s mother did something with the fire.
We repeatedly talked to her about it, explained our concerns, asked about her point of view, and thought we had an agreement that she would leave us to manage the fire.
But independence and autonomy are strong needs. And his mother’s memory for recent events and agreements is not as strong as it was.
She kept lighting fires.
So one day we hid the matches.
Isn’t that mean?
I was a bit worried about writing this article, concerned that you might think hiding the matches was a mean thing to do.
After all, my work is all about helping people have conversations to find solutions that work for everyone. Couldn’t I have done that in this case?
I wish we could have found a way to keep John’s mother safe that also allowed her full freedom of choice about her actions.
At the same time, I have also learned that it is important for each of us to take responsibility for meeting our own needs.
Most of the time, that is best done in collaboration with other people who will be affected by what we do, because it prevents future conflict.
But sometimes it means making a choice that meets our own needs, even if someone else might prefer a different choice.
We Often Get It Backwards
The challenge is to discern
- When to have a conversation and keep looking for a solution that works for everyone, and
- When to make a decision to care for your own needs, even if someone else may not like it.
And I’ve discovered that many of us tend to make the wrong choice in a lot of situations.
- We unilaterally make a decision that affects others – and then find ourselves in all kinds of arguments that don’t seem to be related to this choice, but actually are.
- Or we keep trying to get other people to agree to us doing things – when it would be better for us to just decide and do them on our own.
Like my first call-display phone.
The Call-Display Phone
I am a classic introvert. I love working with people – and I need time by myself to recharge.
So dealing with phone calls in the evening is a challenge. Sometimes, depending on who is calling and how I’m feeling, I’m happy to pick up and have a chat.
And there are other people whose calls I’ll always take, because it might be an emergency.
But otherwise, it’s important to my well-being to let the person leave a message that I can respond to when I have more energy.
So call-display was designed for me! 🙂
When I realized that I wanted to get this service, I tried having several conversations with my partner at the time, looking for a way forward that would work for both of us.
But he always had objections. The one I remember most clearly was that it was an unnecessary expense.
But it wasn’t just that, because he wasn’t happy with the idea, even if it wouldn’t cost him anything.
Finally, I stopped talking about it and ordered the service, paying for it out of my own money.
I loved it!
And, two days after we got the service, my partner (also an introvert) also started to love it. How did I know?
He said “They should make this free to everyone.”
Are you have trouble figuring out what to do…
… about a situation in your life?
Whether it’s important to keep trying to have a conversation with the other person(s)?
Or whether this is a time to make a decision about what’s right for you – and do it even if someone else might not like it?
I help people make decisions like these in a way that feels fully satisfying for them – both in the moment and in the long run.