My mother was a hard worker all her life; she retired in her early 70s. This was after I was grown, and prior to us producing grandchildren. She remained very active in the church, talked on the phone with her far-flung siblings, and did some traveling. Despite this, I remember her saying to me, “But no one needs me!”
As a member of the Sandwich Generation, I couldn’t understand this. At the time, we were busy growing our careers, and later, when we had kids/demanding jobs/a mother who needed our help, I was even less able to imagine why anyone on earth would be upset that they were no longer needed by anyone. I’ve often said, “The day I wake up and realize that no one needs me will be the best day of my life!”
It’s possible that when that day comes (and I refuse to say “if”, because I really hope it comes!), I’ll understand how my mother felt. Or maybe I’m just unusual in that I believe I’ll feel a tremendous sense of relief that I’m finally, finally off the hook. In some ways, I suppose I think it will feel like being 15 again, in a good way – no one to take care of, no real responsibilities.
The Generation of Workers
Whatever my own opinion is on whether or not I’ll miss feeling needed, it’s certainly been my experience that most members of the “Greatest Generation” are uncomfortable with the idea that they can finally relax. I believe that this mindset is a significant contributor to the “Condo Commando” phenomenon – bright people who find themselves with no responsibilities just can’t find enough to do, and so they volunteer to be an officer in a condo association.
Whatever their original intent, too many of these folks turn into dictators. We once looked at a lovely unit in a beautiful condo; a friend of ours had lived in the building next door for years. “You’re lucky,” he advised us, “because if you move in now, you’ll have escaped the 14-year despotic reign of their last condo president.” Watching this behavior from the outside can be entertaining, but it has occasionally turned violent, as in this case of a Boynton Beach woman who shot her husband during an argument over HOA violations.
Is your loved one a vigilante?
My mother didn’t turn into a vigilante; Kim’s solution to help her father combat the “enemy planes” also had a happy ending. But in many less-dramatic ways, our loved ones’ feelings of being unneeded can lead to depression. In my mother’s case, it led to what I believed was an unhealthy interest in our family’s comings-and-goings, the food we ate, the clothes we wore, and much more. It made my job as a parent harder because my mother would insert herself into my discussions (ok, arguments) with my teenage daughters. Or she would blatantly usurp my authority; that mother/daughter dynamic often lasts our entire lives.
My solemn oath to my children
This is the solemn oath that I’ve sworn to all three of my children: “If I ever have to live with you, don’t ask me where your kids are, because I won’t know. All I need is a bedroom, a little TV, and my books. I’ll happily have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the house.” Whether or not that’s how it would actually play out is, of course, impossible to tell.
Contributing to the Household
Let’s assume you’re caring for someone who would like to feel needed, and you’ve escaped the dreaded “condo commando” phase. What can you do to make your loved one feel like they’re contributing to your household while still maintaining a sense of order in your home? Here are some suggestions.
Five Ways to Help Your Loved One Feel Needed
- Assuming it’s safe, put them in charge of getting the mail every day. To me, the benefits here are twofold: they have a job, and they’re doing something that I hate. Just be sure that it’s physically safe for them to do so, and that they are willing and able to bring the mail in and put it in the appropriate place each day. If they’re up to it, have them sort the mail too.
- If you have indoor plants, have your loved one water them on a schedule, if they can. And if you don’t have indoor plants, get some! They’re good for everyone. Here’s HGTV’s list of the Ten Best Plants for Cleaning Indoor Air.
- Put your loved one in charge of planning the week’s dinner menus. If this seems too complicated, have them create the list of items you need to buy for the kids’ snacks, or yours.
- Have them write out your holiday/birthday/special event cards. Even if you’re not going to use them – or your loved one can no longer write well enough to create these – give them a set of cards that they can use just for this purpose. You may get some lovely mementos out of this too.
- If they’re able, have them read the kids a story every day. Or heck, have them read YOU a story. It doesn’t have to be long – even a couple of minutes. No matter our age, just about everyone loves being read to.
Remember, the purpose of these is to make your loved one feel needed. And they’re a small price to pay for giving your loved one just a little more peace of mind, a little more of a feeling that we still need them. Because we do, even if some days it might not feel that way.♠
What about you? Have you tried any of these, or do you have your own ideas to share? Leave us a comment, or post in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear from you!