Q: My wife and I are more than willing to take care of my aging father, but he's always been a proud man, and we don't want to crush his spirit. How do we protect him against the feeling that he's becoming useless?
Jim: According to researchers, most older people measure their personal worth by how well they meet three goals: 1) dependability; 2) ability to maintain close family ties; and 3) self-sufficiency. Aging folks often don't want to reach out for help, rely on government assistance or have hired help in their homes. They want to do things independently, proving themselves dependable and responsible.
The key to honoring aging loved ones is to understand how to encourage them in these areas. Here are some suggestions:
-- Recognize skills and successes. Honoring your father entails recognizing him not only for who he is, but also for past achievements, abilities and talents.
-- Reminisce. It's important to help an aging loved one capture his personal history and pass it along to children and grandchildren. Preserve his memories and current interactions with kids and grandkids on digital media, in still photos or in memory gift books.
-- Reinvent memories. Celebrate everything! Affirmations of life and love remind elderly people that they are appreciated.
-- Remember old friends -- and make new ones. Friendships help people stay engaged, and are also beneficial in processing loss, depression and feelings of worthlessness. Do everything you can to ensure that your father has access to friends by phone, email, "snail" mail and regular visits.
-- Renew energy with regular exercise. Swimming, walking or other light exercise improves circulation and keeps the endorphins -- those "feel-good hormones" -- flowing through the blood system.
-- Seek opportunities for senior volunteers. Many nonprofit organizations not only provide a place for seniors to volunteer, they also need this assistance to carry out their mission.
-- Encourage latent talents. If appropriate, nudge your dad in the direction of developing a hobby such as painting, drawing, writing, woodworking or learning how to use different computer programs. Probe his interests until you see his eyes light up, then find a way to get him involved.
Q: I've been dating a great guy for a while. I think he would be a good husband, but I'm not sure if he's my "soul mate." Should I move on and keep looking?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Before you decide one way or another, I'd encourage you to consider this: soul mates aren't found, they're formed over time.
Doug Block, a wedding videographer, produced a documentary about couples whose nuptials he'd filmed. He wanted to see how their marriages had fared after a few years. His conclusion was that the Hollywood-fueled notion of the "soul mate" -- the idea that there's one person out there just for you -- is a myth. As he told Time magazine, "A lot of marriage is coming to terms with who is this imperfect person you're living with, and acknowledging that you're not exactly a perfect person either."
No one "clicks" with another effortlessly. We're all flawed people prone to selfish impulses. That's why relationships -- and especially marriage -- can be so challenging at times. It takes hard work to love our spouses through the good and the ugly. So when you encounter differences in your relationship, don't assume your significant other isn't your soul mate. Disagreements should be addressed, but understand we're all prone to selfishness.
It's only by going through that tough process that a couple can create the true intimacy of marriage. So, remember: Soul mates aren't found; they're formed over time through sacrifice and enduring love. When you identify someone with whom you can mutually commit to that dynamic, it just might be "the match."
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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