“Keep on walking until someone tells you to stop.” Ever since an admin told me that was her policy, I’ve been sharing that advice with other admins, following it up with, “If no one has ever told you that you’ve overstepped your boundaries, you are probably playing it way too safe.” We don’t know what the boundaries are until we test them. We don’t know how we can best serve someone (or love someone) until we get in close enough to see their world, and that runs the risk of feeling intrusive.
This advice applies to elderly parents as well. I am supporting my father in new ways, and that means getting much closer and more personal than we’ve ever been before. Of course, there are times where I tread in areas he does not welcome me. That’s how I find out how I can help – and where the boundaries are. If I feel the need and benefits are strong enough, I will continue until I’m sure he understands what I’m telling him – which can take some doing.
Recently, a colleague of my father visited him. This man was full of useful ideas for my father. He also was wary of intruding, even though he felt that my father needed the help he could offer. I was surprised with what came out of my mouth. I said,
- I got over that. I just let him get mad at me.
I spoke these words because I knew their time together was limited and precious. I wanted to encourage him to do what he could rather than tiptoe around the truth as he saw it. But I also heard my own words as instructive and affirming.
It affirmed that I no longer avoid angering people at all cost. I don’t enjoy triggering anger, but if a higher motive guides me, I will risk crossing the boundary. It also affirmed that I don’t feel a requirement to control anger in others. I don’t need to try to change his reaction. We go through it and then decide where to go next.
I can’t say letting someone get mad is fun. But it has preceded some major breakthroughs. So I just keep on walking toward our shared vision until someone tells me to stop. But even then, if I deem it necessary, I will stand up for my efforts to provide the help I was asked to offer.
Two Post Scripts:
1. While some of my father’s concern about boundaries and privacy might be unwarranted and/or an obstacle to achieving what I have been tasked with, I was reminded that it is easy to innocently trample over legitimate boundaries. I had suggested to my father’s colleague that I could give him the information to log in to my father’s computer so he could print things on my father’s printer as I do. Only after we had agreed to that idea (but before I shared the log in info,) it occurred to me that before I give anyone complete access to my dad’s computer, I just might want to run the idea past him.
2. While there have been uncomfortable moments in this process, by being more open with each other than ever before, I have discovered that my father is one of my favorite people in the whole world. He is interesting, bright and playful. Despite his linear nature (in contrast to my constellar approach to life,) my father “gets me” in ways others don’t. What a great discovery!