Q: My elderly mother is no longer able to care for herself and has come to live with my husband and me in our home. We preferred to do this rather than place her in a nursing facility, but we're not sure that we're really prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Do you have any insights?
Jim: I can share what our staff counselors here at Focus have said. It's important to get in touch with your own feelings as you move into this new phase in your family's life. You're probably cycling through a whirlwind of conflicting emotions -- compassion and concern, stress, anxiety and frustration, even anger and resentment. There's nothing wrong with any of these reactions. They're all part of the process.
Caring for your mom is going to mean more work for you -- especially if you're trying to meet her needs while raising children of your own. Furthermore, caring for an aging loved one is often the emotional opposite of parenting. As kids grow, moms and dads celebrate the passing of exciting milestones. In contrast, the significant milestones in the life of an elder are almost always grim, leading inevitably to death. You may feel deep pain and sadness about the way life is going.
But that's not the end of the story. Along with feelings of confusion and conflict you can experience the joy of sharing burdens, growing in relationships, spiritual breakthroughs, forgiveness and reconciliation. There's also a sense of satisfaction in knowing that your service and presence bring reassurance, comfort and coherence into your mother's fragmented world.
There are a growing number of services and devices available to help you, ranging from transportation services and adult day care to wheelchairs and home modifications. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a.org) can provide more information. If Focus on the Family can help you through this process, please call us at 1-800-A-FAMILY.
Q: My daughter gets straight A's in every subject except math, where she really struggles to keep her head above water. We're having a hard time understanding why this is the case. Could her problems with math be linked to some kind of learning disability?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There are some learning disabilities that involve difficulty understanding mathematical terms or concepts, decoding written word problems, recognizing numerical symbols or arithmetic signs, etc. If your child is seriously lagging behind in math, ask the teacher to arrange for a formal evaluation to at least identify if this is a possibility.
If it turns out that the issue isn't a learning disability, but simply a matter of needing additional help, I'd suggest finding a tutor or enrolling your daughter in a specialized math-learning program. A situation like this can put a great deal of stress on everyone at home, so it can be a good buffer to get some outside help rather than trying to tutor your child yourself.
Meanwhile, bear in mind that math isn't everything and that every child can't be expected to excel in this particular academic area. It's extremely important to affirm your child's strengths rather than focusing on her weaknesses. Find ways to shine a spotlight on the things she's good at. Encourage her to get more deeply involved in the subject fields she really enjoys.
Where math is concerned, help her to see assignments as positive challenges rather than frustrating obstacles. Go out of your way to cooperate closely with her math teacher. Praise your child for her effort rather than simply her achievement, and don't criticize or express disappointment when she fails. Remind her that her self-worth is not based on grades or accomplishments. Above all, affirm your unconditional love for her.
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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