November 15, 2018

Dealing With Difficult Parents: What Can I Do?

Not long ago a reader asked for some feedback on the important issue of dealing with a difficult parent. This problem is one that many of us are facing now, or will have to deal with in the future. That person is responsible for bringing us into the world. In the vast majority of cases, he, she, or both did what they thought best. Maybe their parenting fell short (even far short), but there is a connection that can't be erased. Now, that connection is under strain, maybe even tearing. 

I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area of human relationships. But, I have a few suggestions that may help you and bring you some peace as you work through a tough time with one or both of your parents.

Don’t expect your family member to change. Whatever you do (or don’t do) accept that the difficult parent may not change. You can change some of the factors under your control that may make the relationship less stressful. But, expecting a difficult parent to become loving and accepting will only make your feeling toward that person worse when change does not occur.

Don't Give Advice Unless It's Asked For. Your parent is probably feeling a loss of control and freedom. If you begin to reverse the parent-child role by offering unsolicited advice on unimportant topics, you are risking problems. Importantly this concerns advice, not critical health and safety issues that must be faced.

Accept Differences of Opinions. After all, your parent is not you. Mom or Dad does not think exactly like you. Respect the opinions of others, don't disregard them. Don’t dismiss, out of hand, an opinion no matter how different from yours.

Listen to What Your Elderly Parent is Saying. Listen completely, really listen. Remember that an older person might take longer to form a response or finish a thought. A period of silence is not a bad thing that you need to fill immediately. Paying attention and listening carefully shows respect. Of course, listening works both ways so try to determine that your loved one is hearing and understanding what you are saying.

Attempt to determine a pattern. Does your parent’s mood worsen the longer he or she is awake? Could it be pain? it a growing feeling of frustration at the inability to perform usual daily tasks or to remember things? Angry outbursts, complaints, and sarcasm may be the result.

Respond to strong emotions with none. The best response is no response at all. Most people who like to argue do so because it tends to evoke a strong emotional reaction from others. Don't take the bait. If you respond to a challenge with a neutral emotional tone, it is likely the combative parent will move on to another subject. Your parent will probably drop the subject pretty quickly.

At all costs, stay calm. When you must deal with criticism and anger keep yourself under control. Yelling back never helps. Your parent’s emotions can be a projection of feelings of isolation and inability to do he or she used to do. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into a battle that is about emotions and not reality.

Protect Yourself. You and your parent cannot afford for you to suffer from burnout. While you can't change your aging parents' condition, you can do things for yourself. Remember that you need a respite for yourself. Your parent may not be happy (so what else is new?), but hire someone for a few hours, or even a full day to recharge your batteries. Taking a break is something that you require. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t accept criticism from others. You know your limits.

There are many quality organizations and web sites with more information and suggestions. Here are a handful that I have visited:

My last thought: remember the good times and when your relationship was good. Once your parent is gone any time for reconnecting is over forever. Do what you can to build a bridge, no matter how difficult it is now.

November 12, 2018

Retirement and Blogging: What Do They Share?

After eight years, blogging continues to be satisfying. Even I am surprised I haven't run out of things to write about. I have found a schedule that seems to work for me. But, there are days when I stare at the blank computer screen and wonder how I am going to fill the page.

Inspiration disappears for a period of time. The creative well seem to be empty. There is a little flood of panic. Then, something worth committing to words eventually starts to flow and I relax.

Is retirement much different? Don't we experience times when we are simply going through the motions? There is a predictable, comfortable routine to the day. Nothing really new or interesting happens. There are no problems we can't handle without a little effort. Inspiration is taking a break. Life moves forward.

I thought it might be interesting to draw comparisons between where I turn for blogging inspiration and how I find new energy for whatever might be next in retirement.

Pay attention & shake it up

One of my best sources for blogging topics is to stop long enough to look at the world around me. What in my life might give me inspiration? Old photos,  movies, a play or theater presentation, a headline in the newspaper, mementos around the house, the birds in the backyard, people at the mall, actually just about anything can inspire if my mood is right and I'm open to seeing things in a new way.

Building a satisfying retirement works the same way. Looking for a new angle or use of the everyday, meeting a new person or having a new experience, any of these can energize an otherwise mundane day. I might read something in a magazine that changes my perspective. Betty and I decide to try a restaurant we have never been to. Shaking up a routine or attempting to break an unproductive habit can be just the boost I need to get moving again.

Sometimes you just have to act

When a deadline is approaching and there is nothing ready to go, I must force myself to write. I go through files of ides starters, other blogs, even random Google searches on topics that I think might interest readers. Eventually something clicks. If I have a good title, then, I will usually just start writing and an hour later a post has taken shape. There is still time required to strengthen weak parts, cut out unnecessary words, spell check, and select a photo. But, if the bulk of the post is done I can relax.

That process is the same for anything in your life that is worthwhile. There will be times when you must force yourself to take action. It would be easier and more pleasant to avoid whatever it is. But, the problem isn't going away until you confront it. Whether this is a relationship issue, a health concern, a financial upset, or even where to go on vacation, you may have to simply grit your teeth and do something. 

Look for something fresh from others 

On a regular basis I read a half a dozen other blogs a day. I like what the writer is saying or I think the information is useful to me. I find inspiration and topic ideas galore from others who spend their time in front of a keyboard. Many write substantially more words than I do, so there must be something I can learn.

Your daily life isn't different. Inspiration often comes from an outside source. Interacting with other people may be an effective way to find an answer to a problem. They may not directly address what your need is. But, by simply being with them you may find a new path toward something. Being with a group of people you enjoy can't help but make you feel better.

Maybe you simply need a retread

When all else fails and my blogging well is dry, I'll take an older post that I've already written and find a way to freshen it up. Maybe I can add some new or additional information. Maybe my original premise is no longer valid and I can discuss how my thinking has changed. Possibly providing links to other blogs will give the reader a fresh take on the subject. A new photo can help.

Reusing or reworking something you have done before is really what retirement is all about. A lifetime of behavior and expectations are up for review. Just because you thought one way while working doesn't mean that line of thought is best for your life now. Was there an interest or hobby you used to love that fell by the wayside? Is it time to bring it back, maybe in a slightly different way? When you were 30 you loved to mountain bike. But, now at 60, maybe trail riding is safer and more suited to your body.  You still love to bike, but you change the approach.

Writing a blog and building a satisfying retirement are not that different. Both require some of the same skills. Maybe that is why so many blogs are being started by retired folks. One tends to reinforce the other!

November 8, 2018

Retirement and Frugality Work Well Together - Don't They?

satisfying retirement is built on much more than money. But, let's not be naive. Without financial resources retirement could be anything but satisfying. At this stage of the game, whatever the reason for your situation is almost unimportant. What is crucial is what you are going to do about it. But, if the forces of the financial world are aligned against you, what can you do?

There are a few things that make sense to me. You can control your spending by controlling your wants versus your needs. You can change your lifestyle to reflect the reality you find yourself in. You can adjust your attitude to become a positive force instead of a negative drag on your life.

I can't solve all the problems. If I had those answers I'd be running for, wait. Who in their right mind would want that job? But, I have experience in being fired with two young children and a wife to take care of, having a company collapse from under me, living on mac and cheese for several months, losing 40% of my IRA  and 50% of my house value in 2008, and being bled by health care costs. I've been there.

If you have been visiting this blog for a while, you know about some of the steps my wife and I have taken to adjust to our financial reality. This time I am writing more about an attitude change rather than a list of things you can do to get your budget under control.

Wikipedia defines frugality as " the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the use of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance." Since few people would want to be known as wasteful or extravagant, why isn't frugality something everyone embraces? Why is it almost a dirty word to many folks?

Like anything else, there are different degrees of frugality that range from casual to extreme. For example, I can clip some coupons, look for price match opportunities, and stock up on something when it is on sale. Or, I can become an extreme couponer, getting massive amounts of products for free or low cost and spending hours on the computer to get 100 rolls of toilet paper for a few cents. Neither of those approaches fits my definition of frugality.

I think frugality may have become a captive of those who are extreme in their definition and pursuit. Using both sides of copy paper is fine when you are printing something for your home or to file away, using newspaper to wrap a present not so much. Taking handfuls of sugar packets home from Burger King, probably not. Keeping the air conditioner off all summer and heating the house to 55 degrees in the winter goes beyond what is reasonable for most of us. But, I would guess that the concept of frugality makes many think of those examples. 

As a teacher of mine used to say, "I beg to differ." Frugal living means keeping more of what is yours, yours. It means not spending money for things you don't need and don't enjoy. It means eliminating the habits and activities from your life that take away your hard earned resources. All that sounds good to me.  Retirement and frugality should go together. From the first year of Satisfying Retirement comes this post: Simple Living My Way. Take a look.

Again, Wikipedia says, "Common strategies of frugality include the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, and seeking efficiency."  It doesn't mean eliminating the things that bring joy and happiness to your life. It doesn't mean living on the edge. It doesn't mean not enjoying what you have saved and planned for. It just means regularly reviewing how you live and how you utilize your resources. Does everything still deserve a place at the table?

Several years ago US News carried a story, "The Secret to Living Well on $11,000 a year." This man's approach isn't one many of us would follow, but it makes for interesting reading. It was a follow up to "The Secret to Living Well on $20,000 a year." This fellow's life is more mainstream but still rather spartan. I'm afraid articles that these give a one-dimensional view of frugality.

So, my simple question to you is are you frugal? Do you think of yourself that way? Are you doing all you can to avoid waste and trim your expenses by eliminating things that no longer serve you well? Have you taken a hard look at everything in your life that costs you money, time, and effort and assured yourself that whatever it is passes the test? 

If so, then I'd suggest you are frugal. Wear the badge proudly.

November 6, 2018

The Pursuit of Happiness

No, this won't be a discussion of the Declaration of Independence, or of the excellent movie with Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness. 

I want to think about the lifelong pursuit all of us have for satisfaction, for joy, for happiness. Of course, this isn't restricted to the retirement years. As a youngster most of us want nothing but happiness; chores and  duties were to be avoided at all costs. As we got older, we often experiment with things that might bring momentary happiness: alcohol, drugs, sex.

Later it becomes the search for deep love and commitment to someone or something. Too often that is followed by the belief that money or possessions equal contentment. "If I only had......I'd be happy." 

Honestly, I fell for all these false gods at one point or another. If you grew up in middle class America it was hard to avoid. Even my religious upbringing stressed the rewards God would bestow on me if I believed completely and followed the "rules," both written and unwritten.

I am quite certain that retirement is a journey, not a destination. Along the way, I have learned that much of what I accepted with blind faith in my younger years might have been well-meaning, but it was wrong, or at least requires a critical review.

I am in the midst of a rather intensive study of spirituality. That has caused me to question and broaden my understanding of what makes the universe and me operate the way we do. It has given me a much wider, more encompassing, and frankly more joyful worldview than I receieved from my traditional upbringing. Facing the possibility of eternal punishment wasn't exactly a happy place.

I am more questioning of the forces that drive our society and culture. Some of the not-so-attractive parts of our history that were glossed over during my school years are too powerful to ignore. Other parts of what made us who we are remain empowering and encouraging.

A post of a week or two ago stimulated some tremendous comments with back-and-forth exchanges of concerns about our future. Frankly, it was not all "sunshine and roses" but was a necessary conversation.

With all that being said, this post is ultimately meant to be uplifting. Through the disappointments, false narratives, even a questioning of the foundation of my faith life, I have reaffirmed the, the likelihood, that the pursuit of happiness (or its more permanent cousin, joy) is both possible and can have a positive conclusion.

What I would like to suggest after 17+ years of the retirement life, is that happiness is a concept that changes over time. What made me happy at my grandfather's farm at age 7 was not what made me feel good at 16, or 22, or 27, the year I married the woman of my dreams. What made me feel successful and satisfied at 40 or 50 holds little interest in my 69th year. 

Maybe that is why we refer to the "pursuit" of happiness. It is not a single moment in time. but in constant evolution. Probably the saddest thing to see is someone who chases his or her vision of happiness that has remained unchanged since teenage or young adult years. Being locked into just one version of satisfaction almost guarantees a life of disappointment, chasing something that can never be grasped, or an outlook on the unfairness of life that is, to put it politely, misguided.

Perhaps we would be better off to replace the word happiness with the word, joy. The former is usually caused by some external event or circumstance. Happiness is to be strived for but is usually fleeting. That perfect, sunny afternoon at the ball game ends. The unwrapping of presents on Christmas morning is followed by the letdown of cleaning up the mess and knowing that something that had such a big buildup is over in just an hour or so. Happiness is temporary. Not bad, just not permanent.

A balance life can be a joyful life

Joy is an internal condition that tends to be longer-lasting. It is the feeling of contentment, satisfaction, of parts of one's life being in balance and working together, of being comfortable with one's self. While the happiness of an event, holiday, or special occasion ends, the joy of being with loved ones continues. The feeling that your life is unfolding the way it is meant to, that you are strong enough to face what may come, is joy. The peace that a spiritual awareness brings is joy. 

The pursuit of happiness and joy. One is temporary, one is more long lasting and life-centered. Both are worth pursuing. How is your journey going?

November 5, 2018

Vote on Tuesday

Tuesday, you have one job.

Democracy dies when its citizens can't be bothered to vote. In recent years, only 40% made decisions that affect 100% of us.

Please, don't be part of that 60% who can't be bothered. 

If you haven't already, Vote on November 6th.