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Relationships - October 2018

The Spoils


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com 
for her to respond in the column.



The Spoils

My sister and I are good at arguing. I suppose we always have been competitive as there are only 22 months between us.
We each live a few hours drive from where mum and dad live and they told us a few months ago of their intention, now they're in their mid seventies, to sell the family house and move to the south coast to an apartment in a new retirement complex.

They have suggested that before they do anything definite we should each visit them and tell them if there are particular items in the house that we would like to have or want them to hold onto.
We're both married, in our late forties and have young kids. It is hard to find the time to go and spend a whole weekend at our old family home with the kids in tow, with the specific task of looking around at what you want from your parent's house. I find it a bit macabre.

But I hear my sister has already been and 'bagged' some of the things I'd also like to have. It sounds petty at our age to whine 'It's not fair', but that is how I feel. I know if I mention it to my sister there will be a row and I don't want that. But equally I don't want to grouse about it to mum and dad and look childish.


What a fine conundrum to have. 
You are eager to pick some things out from your parent's home but can't find the time to do it. Your sister has found the time, and picked out things she'd like to have and you feel put out.

What’s holding you back? You live just a few hours drive away. If you are fit and can motivate yourself you could do that in a day.
In fact you could visit more often and form a clearer idea of what to ask from your generous parents and give them the pleasure of your company more often as well.

I wonder if your mum and dad have got more than an inkling of what might occur in offering you and your sister the pick of the home they built for you both over so many years. It is far from unusual to find children hoping to inherit the same things, a favourite chair, a piece of jewellery, pictures or books.  Many parents find ways around this. One is to make the offer but retain the final say as to who gets each coveted item. Whether the 'bids' are made verbally or written or by putting a sticker on things, the parents will make their decision.

Their possessions - their decision.
You are right to say that whining 'It's not fair' is totally inappropriate. These are not your things that you have left behind in your parent's home. If you needed things of yours you would have collected them long ago. They are your parent's furnishings of the home they built around - and possibly before - their family. They worked hard to buy them and have cared for them for years. Many things will be there because they love the colour or design or the memories they bring. Now they want you to benefit, they want to help you both. Choose with care and sensitivity.

You and your sister are in the fortunate position of having such an invitation. If there is a particular thing you like, ask yourself why.

Is it for the practical use it would be to you? For instance, Mum and Dad's washing machine is newer/better/quieter than yours which needs replacing anyway, or their sitting room curtains are just what you need in the bedroom.

Or is it something that you are genuinely fond of and have strong memories of, such as the chair Mum would sit in to read me stories when I was tired, or this picture of Grandad reminds me of the fun I had with him.

Ask yourself if you are willing to care for the item in the way it needs. For instance, if it is a fine old mahogany box, would you be able to protect it from bright daylight and give it a wax polish now and then? I suspect that is how your parents will have looked after it. You see, inheritance comes with responsibilities. Your parents have cared for their home but now need to let go of things and pass on whatever you and your sister would like to have. That is not only sensible but generous. And I suspect that what you do not want and they do not need will be sold and the proceeds will eventually find their way back to you and your sister.

Now let's look at the bigger picture. What does your parent's plan bring up in the family that is difficult to face? 
They are getting older, maybe a little slower, they have less energy for housework and gardening and are simplifying their lives and focussing their energies.

No child, no matter what their age, can easily watch their parents’ lives moving into the later stages.
It is good your parents are fit enough to be considering such a huge change, and good that they are doing it before circumstances force them to do so. But they are getting old. To be looking at their home in terms of what you wish to take to your own is an uncomfortable process, fraught with the possibility of causing offence.

Better to be snappy with your sister than your mum or dad, but better not to be snappy at all.
Remember why this is happening and try to conduct yourself with matching generosity and adult dignity. Your mum and dad are at the far end of life and this move is a discomfiting reminder, so somewhere under the surface is grief. Be kind, to your sister - who will be feeling the same - and to them. 

If there is something you have strong feelings about talk to your parents first and explain why it’s so important to you. If necessary, talk to your sister and listen to her reasons too. It might or might not mean you get the item but you will understand the reasons why your sister wants it so much and know her a little better as a result. You might even come to an agreement that it spends a year in one home and the next year in the other. A little extreme I admit, but I have heard of that happening. Sharing can be the answer.
But remember, ultimately, your fear of argument is all about mere things.

Through all of this though, keep in mind that you left home years ago and your parents are giving you both a chance to have some of that home now for yourselves and for your children. What would make them most happy would be to see more of you and, now and then, your children, and your sister likewise. Show that they still matter enough for you to make an effort to spend a day with them more often, to talk with and listen to them - and even do a few odd jobs for them.

Because, believe me, between 70 and 80 there’s a wall one hits, if it hasn't been hit already. It leaves one in no doubt that there are some things you cannot do that you did before. To have thoughtful, helpful grown-up children offering a hand now and then is a compensating joy.



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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