Dear Harriette: Now that the weather is so cold, I am worried about my mom, who is old and lives by herself. The other day, when it was well below freezing, she told me that her heat wasn’t working well. I have invited her to stay with me for a few weeks — until the cold blows over, just to be safe — but she says she wants to stay home. I am not asking her to move in with me permanently. I know she values her independence, but I don’t feel like I can care for her properly when we are not in the same house during this period. I have a husband and young children to make sure I get to school, so I cannot move in with her. What should I do?
— Mom in Need
Dear Mom In Need: You are experiencing that moment in a parent-child relationship when roles reverse, and it can be extremely challenging and emotional. Your responsibility now is to require your mother to do something for her health that she doesn’t prefer. You should bring her to your home during this cold spell. Let her know that you must do this for her, even if she doesn’t like it.
Remind her of your childhood, when she made you wear thermals or extra layers during the winter. What about times when she wouldn’t let you go outside and play with your friends for fear of frostbite? Bring up whatever else you remember that will illustrate for her some decision she made when you were a child and needed her guidance. Tell her that it is your turn now to care for her, and you will not allow her stubbornness to lead to her freezing in her own home. She has to come with you — short-term — until the weather breaks. Then, pack her bag and go.
Dear Harriette: I am the parent who is proud that my children follow my directions and make smart choices, at least most of the time. So what I am now seeing is a bit disturbing. In this ice-cold weather, I told my teenage daughter to add a sweater layer to her clothing so that she would be warm enough when she went to school. Pretty direct, right? I reminded her three times because I know that she doesn’t think about outerwear the way that adults do.
As my daughter was walking out the door to go to school, I asked to see the sweater layer. She rushed to her room for a moment, zipping up her coat. I asked again to see the sweater. She then pulled out a wrinkly sweatshirt from her jacket that was clearly not on her body. I made her put it on and then asked why she thought it was OK to lie to me and not do what she was told. She shrugged. This disturbs me on so many levels. What can I do to get her to follow such a basic direction?
— Teenage Defiance
Dear Teenage Defiance: This is why you check and double-check your teenager’s behavior. What she says may not be what she has done. In your daughter’s case, she needs to know that if she lies to you again, she gets a privilege taken away. That could be that she has to come home directly after school without hanging out with friends, or when she’s at home, you restrict her mobile devices.
By losing what she values most, she may start to get the message that you mean business. You can also continue to remind her why you make the requirements that you do. Wearing warm clothes in the winter is a basic function of being a healthy human being.
That goes for cool teenagers, too!