As a child, my grandfather would graciously let out a loud stinky fart while engaging me in a conversation or even during a meal, then ask me to thank him for it…and I actually would! It sounds silly but it kind of traumatized me at the time. Although I always felt my grandfather was out of line for doing that, my hands were tied for certain reasons: one, he my grandfather; two, he was also a chief and tradition demanded I kept mute and endure whatever he dished out. I was expected to respect and thank him for literally everything he did to or for me – good or bad. Looking back now, I wonder what I would if he were still alive and insisted on such misbehavior. Would I still keep mute and thank him each time?
Recently, a colleague, who is over 30 with 2 children, shared an awkward story of how her biological mother (a 61-year-old) gave her a hot knock on the head in front of her husband, children, and maid, for suggesting she (her mother) ran an errand by herself. Of course, she felt so disrespected and cried over it, but could neither send her mother packing nor admonish her because…well, she’s her mother, she is older and tradition demands respect for her.
As Africans and Nigerians, it is the cultural expectation to show respect and great regard for elders, even when they are being inappropriate, rude and bad mannered. You are expected to put up with crap from the Mama across the street who keeps asking you rude and personal questions; the Ma in church who blatantly condemns the way you raise your children, and goes ahead to blatantly call you a lazy parent and your child, ill-mannered; the Daddy who spouts the worst profanities and maybe also even attempts to touch you inappropriately at the slightest opportunity… yet you keep mute because you aren’t sure how to even begin addressing such. So you go ahead and assume he didn’t do it intentionally. The ones I find most irritating are those that play the “I’m an elder” card and make you run errands or do things for them when they can actually do it for themselves.
While rude, unruly and bad-mannered are labels mostly used for children and teenagers, it is also apt for a number of elderly people today. How does one deal with these elders who take advantage of culture to make the lives of those who put up with them a living hell? How do you tackle an elder when he/she goes out of line?
Keep your Cool, Bite your Tongue, and Avoid Being Rude In Reacting
You are probably wondering how this is any different from condoning and enabling them. It is 2017, societal expectations are not as rigid as they used to be. The first instinct will be to ram in on the person being rude, older or not, because…who gives a f**k?! Right? The truth though is, handling bad behavior in the elderly can be quite complex. The fact that the badly behaved person is your parent or someone older than you, who you should normally show respect, complicates the entire scenario because you feel the need to continue recognizing this role even though a role-reversal may actually be necessary. Keeping cool, biting your tongue and avoiding being rude in response is the first step to stopping it all from escalating beyond control. You cannot really regulate someone else’s behavior or explanatory style, so before you do anything, count to ten, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself: “Is this really worth losing my cool over?”
Consider their Actions and Identify the Root Cause of their Behavior
If you are like me, you are probably already saying: “Ain’t nobody gat time for all o’ that“. But then, consider the fact that the aging process is not easy and may be taking a toll on them. Age and maybe even illness can reinforce longstanding personality traits in some unpleasant ways. For instance, a pessimistic person may just become bitter and look for ways to inflict their bile on others, or an impatient person may become demanding and impossible to please. It could also be because they are dealing with mental health issues and all of the other indecorous things that come with getting older. Should their grievances stem from the aforementioned, it certainly would be a waste of your emotional energy to let them get under your skin. It would make more sense to empathize with the rude elder, focus on the positive, ignore the negative and refuse to take their rudeness personally.
Try Explaining how their Behavior makes you feel and Set Firm Ground Rules for them
Sometimes, empathy and equanimity may not just be enough or may even prove futile. In such cases, rudeness and cantankerous behavior will very likely persist, and if left unchecked, can result in mental, emotional, or physical abuse. Even when you think they are just lashing out to vent frustration, let them know in detail, how their behavior makes you feel. Let them realize the damage they may be causing to you emotionally and where abuse is physical, take strong actions and involve a third party. It does not have to be the police or your pastor, however it should be someone the elder respects. After explaining, ensure you make it clear with all the intense calmness you can gather, that you won’t tolerate rude behavior going forward and be sure to attach consequences in the event that it happens again. Clarity helps to foster open communication between people. A bit of guilt-tripping may also be effective in getting them to realize that their behavior was unacceptable and offensive. Try something like “Madam, listen to yourself, you call yourself a Christian and you are judging like this,” or “You are someone’s grandfather .What will your children’s children think about this behaviour?”
Walk away or withdraw
When it comes to dealing with elders, sometimes, you have to stay even-keel and use common sense. Where the rude behavior is repeated even after you have explained to them the effect it has had on you, there just might be the need to physically and emotionally withdraw from them. Show them that the relationship is no longer a necessity, but a privilege. Respect is a two-way street and you needn’t continuously submit yourself to rudeness and disrespect because they are older, despite what culture and tradition demand.