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A Rightsizing State of Mind

Barbara Z. Perman, Ph.D.

Over the past several years, many adult children with aging parents have contacted us at Moving Mentor, Inc. to tell us they are worried about their parents who are burdened with possessions and living in homes they can no longer manage. They've tried to talk with their folks about their concerns, with little or no impact. After listening to an adult son or daughter in this situation I sometimes suggest that he or she write a letter to the parent(s). A letter can be much more effective than a face-to-face talk, ensuring the receiver privacy and time to reflect.

A previous article of mine included an example of a letter to aging parents. The one below focuses on a subject related to the first, but includes some new ways to approach a sensitive topic. It's designed to help open up communication and lead to mutual understanding.

Dear Mom and Dad:


Well, we are finally home from our wonderful visit with you, and are settling in. I've sorted the mail and tried to catch up on a few things before I go back to work tomorrow morning. Before I get totally immersed in my busy life, I want to share some thoughts with you.

Last weekend after arriving home, I was invited to attend the first birthday party of the granddaughter of my friend Tina. I hadn't seen her granddaughter since she was two months old and I was amazed at how much she had changed. You know how that is--you haven't seen a little one for awhile and exclaim, "My, how you've grown!" It can seem like a lot of change has happened for them in a short amount of time-especially compared to your own life where things seem to stay pretty much the same. In fact, over the years it can feel like you've hardly changed at all. (Then suddenly I turn around and my youngest daughter is finishing college and my son is over thirty!)  This may be happening on your end, as well.

When we were together I was aware of changes which may not be apparent to you. For instance, did you notice . . .We ordered many meals in because you didn't have the energy to shop and prepare meals for all of us?  Whenever Dad started to do a task he had to sit down, and he would often fall asleep before the task got completed?  Friends who used to come and visit us when we came home have all moved away?  You've been home for a month from your last trip, but you still have suitcases in the bedroom that are only partially unpacked?  We were poking fun at you for still using a bedspread that is ripped and torn in places? 

To me, these are evidences of a very natural thing--that changes can be so gradual you hardly notice them happening. Maybe it takes me coming in from the outside after several months to see the accumulation of these small changes--just like my being wowed by the changes in Tina's granddaughter.

It was good for us to go through your attic together when I was there, and decide which items are important for me or the grandchildren to have in the long run. Working together to help simplify your lives was the beginning of some recognition of these changes. I appreciated the opportunity to hear your stories about some of the things you treasure and to write them down. I was relieved and pleased to see you letting go of a bunch of things you don't need any more.

All this is good progress. I'm also aware that while much was accomplished, there was a part of a conversation that we needed to have that we didn't have when we were together. It is about setting a course toward the future. I guess if I were to say it in a few words I would say that you made headway downsizing your things and what is needed is to move towards rightsizing your lives.


What's the difference? The word downsizing has a negative feeling to it, implying that life is on the down-swing and everything is about loss. Rightsizing is proactive, empowering and life-giving. It's about evaluating where you are, deciding what is most important to you now, and setting a course for the future. With that in mind you can decide more easily what things matter to you most and need to come with you no matter where you are.

Thinking of you both rattling around in that old house where we grew up doesn't seem to be a part of a life-giving future for the two of you. I found out through our days together this summer that downsizing your stuff in and of itself doesn't give me the peace of mind I thought it would because my concerns are for both of you and not for your things.

Have you heard the Boiled Frog story? It's about a frog who jumped into a pot of hot water on a stove. Of course he jumped right out again to avoid a scalding-straight into another pot of cold water. He relaxed. What he didn't realize was that the pot of cold water had just been put on the stove and was heating up slowly. He didn't notice the change as the water heated up because the change in temperature was so gradual. Finally the water became so hot it cooked him.

I am trying to throw you a lifeline around your thinking. Think rightsizing your life. Please don't let the water heat up further. There is much quality time left for you both if you grab the lifeline now. Can I call you on Sunday so we can talk? I love you both.


Your loving daughter,


_______________________


Barbara Z. Perman is President of Moving Mentor, Inc., a moving management and consulting firm specializing in helping seniors and their families move through change. Dr. Perman is co-author of "No Ordinary Move, Relocating Your Aging Parents, A Guide for Boomers". For more information visit www.MovingMentor.com and www.NoOrdinaryMove.com.