Does Her Mother HAVE to Move In With Her?

Dear Vicki: My father passed away a decade ago and since then my mother, who is in her early 80s, has lived on her own. We had to take the car keys away from her last year due to poor eyesight and this has really been hard. She used to go out with friends all the time – she was quite the social animal – and complains regularly now about loneliness and boredom. Yet when my two brothers or I encourage her to join senor clubs – many of which provide transportation in our area – she says she’s not interested in spending time with a bunch of tired old people. More concerning is that she has had several falls over the past months, so we have to do something. I’ve spoken with my brothers and they both insist that, as the only daughter, it’s my job to have Mom move in with me. My children are grown, so we have room in the house, but the idea makes me angry. I don’t want to give up my space and freedom. I run a well-respected marketing consulting business from home, so if she lived here, my work might suffer. Plus, we would be together 24/7, and just thinking about that makes me tired. My brothers are really turning up the pressure and trying to guilt me. The whole thing makes me so mad I don’t want to see or talk to Mom now. This feels like a lose/lose for me, which seems really unfair. Am I stuck? Is it just the way of the world that she has to move in? Signed: Angry in Arlington

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Dear Angry: This is a very common issue. We all age and our abilities change as we do. Back in older times, people lived together in extended families or tribes, which meant the task of caring for older generations was spread more evenly across the younger generations. This is still the norm in many places, but in the Western world we have embraced the idea of individual homes, which creates a dilemma when someone is no longer capable of taking care of themselves and their home. The good news for you and your brothers is that a multitude of options exist for seniors these days, so you should be able to find something that works for your family. However, the discussions you will need to have with your mom regarding this issue will likely be hampered by your anger, so let’s help you understand what’s going on so you can better help your mom.

Based on the fact that when you get stressed you get angry or mad, it seems likely that your primary elemental personality is Wood. The need for success, space, freedom to “do their own thing,” and an organized environment are all key aspects of the Wood personality. Woods also do well in marketing, which involves creating and manifesting a plan for the future, all strengths of Woods. What Woods don’t do very well is give up their own dreams and comforts for someone else. But, this isn’t just anyone else, this is your mother, so it’s not surprising that you feel guilty. You probably think you should want to do this for her. Maybe you’re even slightly surprised at how strongly you don’t want her living with you. But I think there is a good reason why.

I’d like to suggest you feel this way because you are a Wood and your mom is likely a Fire personality. Fire people like to be busy and are indeed “social animals.” Connections matter to Fires, especially with friends at fun events. Fires don’t do well with boundaries, so the loss of freedom your mother experienced when her car was taken away would have been especially hard for her. Movement matters to Fires and a lack of movement can put out Fire. Her response that she doesn’t want to spend time with “tired, old people” also sounds like a Fire. Fun, upbeat, exciting connections feed Fire. Slowness and lethargy kill it. And while knowing she has a lot of Fire energy may help you better interact with your mother, it’s the relationship between her Fire and your Wood that is most important for you to understand.

Fire and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle, so one would think you two should have a congenial relationship. However, it is your Wood that feeds her Fire, so too much of your mother (or any Fire energy) could indeed feel draining to you. Also, the child feeding the parent seems backwards to our view of family, so this might be another reason you feel a slight bit of resentment around the idea of your mother moving in with you. In truth, you have launched your own children and have been enjoying the ability to focus on your own needs, so it’s not surprising that the idea of taking on responsibility for someone else again isn’t appealing. Wood energy likes to focus on personal success and accomplishment, not nurturing or feeding others, so it really might not be a good match to have your mom living with you. Fortunately, there are other options.

You don’t indicate whether anyone has run the ideal of moving in with you past your mom, but I suspect she might not like the idea, either. As a Fire, being busy and active as long as she can will be really important. Hanging out by herself in a large home with little or no company is not a Fire’s idea of a good time. So instead of trying to assuage your guilt and manage your anger at the situation as you and your brothers see it, I encourage all three of you to sit down with your mother and express your concerns. It might well be the right time for her to give up living alone, but there are a number of ways to accomplish that. For example, you could hire someone to stay with her, which will help keep her safe. But it also means that unless you hire a comedian or another Fire, she will probably be unhappy, so a different approach might be warranted.

Fortunately for you, as our population has aged, we have acknowledged that seniors will need assistance and a veritable cornucopia of residential options are now available in most metropolitan areas.  With a little bit of research, you and your brothers will probably find a place that will be perfect for your Fire mother. It will need to be geared toward “active seniors” so that she will have others like her with whom she can engage. Facilities like this usually have movies nights, regular parties, lots of activities (from shopping trips to theater excursions), as well as counselors and an abundance of staff people to keep an eye on the residents. A place like this will be perfect for a senior Fire personality, certainly better than being cooped up alone with an angry, unhappy Wood.

More importantly, I think you will find that if your mother is someplace where she can use and express her Fire energy with others, there will be less of it when you spend time with her. This will not only feel less threatening and agitating for you, it can actually feel good. In an odd turnabout, few people appreciate Fires more than Woods because Fires remind Woods that all work and no play just isn’t a good thing. Finding a place for your mother that will keep her safe and happy can turn your lose/lose into a win/win. More importantly, you will be happy to be with your mother again. Blessings to you all!

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Is Her Partner Disconnecting?

Dear Vicki: I just read your excellent post on help for a Metal husband and Fire wife and I wonder if you could comment on the variation I think I have going on. I am a Fire/Earth and use Wood for structure. My partner is Metal, but he is an artist so I think there’s a fair amount of Water in there, too. Anyway, we’re having problems. I drive him nuts with all my home projects and inability to sit still for a whole movie or TV show. He drives me nuts with his laser-focused attention that resents interruption whether working or relaxing. He doesn’t understand why it bothers me when he doesn’t answer a question. He decides if he thinks it needs an answer, and if he doesn’t think so, he is mum. I’ve tried to be patient with him because he recently lost a close friend, but it’s not working. I worry he might be pulling back. When we first got together, I felt our Earths bond strongly, but over time this has become intermittent. When stressed, I am drawn outdoors where I work on significant flower and vegetable gardens and a flock of chickens and a few fish in the pond.  He hates gardening and yard work. Maybe you could suggest another way to bring up his Earth? Signed: Nuts in Nevada

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Dear Nuts in Nevada: This is an excellent question. On the surface, it does seem like the information offered last week to a Fire/Metal couple should fit for you and your partner. However, I believe that there are more differences between the two couples than similarities. First, I suspect that you are really an Earth/Fire, not a primary Fire. My reasoning for this is that when stressed, Fires rarely seek solace outside with gardens, chickens, and fish. Instead, they usually seek events with other people where they can feed their need for excitement and connection. So your question is more about making a relationship work between an Earth/Fire and a Metal/Water. And I can tell you right up front that more Earth energy isn’t going to help, so let’s look at what will.

First, as with most relationships, it’s important to understand the underlying dynamics between you and your partner. In fact, it is more important in your relationship than with many others. As you know, your Earth will feel good to his Metal because Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle. Metals expect this from Earths. However, your Earth relates to his secondary Water via the Controlling Cycle (Earth directs Water). More importantly, your secondary Fire relates to his primary Metal on the Controlling Cycle, (Fire melts Metal). That isn’t going to feel good to him at all. But turnabout is fair play, because his secondary Water relates to your secondary Fire via the Controlling Cycle (Water puts out Fire).

The takeaway from all of this is that the only Nurturing Cycle connection in your whole primary/secondary relationship complex is your Earth feeding his Metal. Every other connection you have with him is via the Controlling Cycle. Your Earth controls his Water, your Fire controls his Metal, and his Water controls your Fire.

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Does Her Husband Disapprove of Her?

Dear Vicki: I found your blog after searching for relationship tips between the elemental types! I know I am dominantly Fire with Wood, and my husband Jim is dominantly Metal. We have been together 10 years and there are times I still don’t feel close to him or understand how to connect with him. His “metal-ness” of being so rigid and structured confuses me a lot and I am not sure what the best way to connect with him is. At times I feel like he disapproves or judges me, and decides I am too silly! Last year our marriage was in a serious crisis and I have worked hard to bring my Fire back in control to be in the marriage and am seeking ways on how we can strengthen our bond. Any advice for a Fire and Metal marriage? Signed: Fire/Wood Wondering

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Dear Fire/Wood: There are many ways to strengthen the bonds between people, and almost all of them require that both parties maintain open channels of communication and are willing to take the time to understand each other. The beauty of using the Five Elements model with relationships is that it not only helps us understand each other and our relationship dynamics, it also helps us identify the communication style that will work best with each of the elements. Let’s look at your relationship dynamics with Jim first because they do set the stage for everything else.

You and Jim relate via the Controlling Cycle, with your Fire controlling his Metal. As you probably know from being married to him for ten years, Metals are serious people who value order and structure. On the other hand, Fires are playful people who value enjoying life. Because your Fire controls his Metal, Jim probably feels threatened when you are too fiery (which he could easily see as “silly”). Fire people usually have little structure (in nature, fire is simply heat made visible) and are fine being playful and going where the moment takes them. When this happens, Metal will often up its game around Fire to bring more structure to a situation they perceive as chaos. But to a Fire, fun is never chaos, it’s just pure joy. This is likely one reason why Jim’s behavior often confuses you.

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Brother’s New Girlfriend Overwhelming the Family

Dear Vicki: My brother’s wife pasted away two years ago and he really took it hard. It was like the light and joy went out of his life; my funny and outgoing brother became somber and cynical. He used to be the life of the party, but for a while he was pretty morose. Then several months ago, he finally begun dating and recently brought a woman (I’ll call her Hanna) to a family birthday party. We wanted to be excited for him, but Hanna was unpleasantly pushy and opinionated. Most members of my family are elementary school teachers, so we enjoy harmonious environments when not working, but this party ended up far from congenial. Hanna disagreed with my mother about when to start cooking a casserole (Mom is an excellent cook!) and questioned another sibling’s opinion about a movie. I think my brother could tell things weren’t going well because he stopped joking around halfway through the evening, then he and Hanna left early. I want my brother to be happy, but if Hanna is going to be part of the family, how are we ever going to get along? Signed, Overwhelmed in Ohio

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Dear Overwhelmed: It’s good news that your brother has started dating again. The loss of a loved one is a difficult event to get over, and it can be especially hard for someone with a Fire personality like your brother. Fire people thrive on fun and excitement, but when they suffer a loss, their Fire quite literally goes out and it can take some time for the joy to come back. It isn’t surprising that Hanna was the person that relit his Fire, either. In the Five Elements model, the element that feeds (and therefore builds) Fire on the Nurturing Cycle is Wood, and Hanna is clearly a Wood personality. Wood energy is outgoing and accomplishment-driven which often makes Wood people seem pushy and opinionated.

On the other hand, I think you and many of your family members are Earth personalities. Earth people make great teachers, they revel in peace and harmony, and a loved one’s happiness will always matter. However, Earth relates to Wood on the Controlling Cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. That means that a room full of Earths could well feel overwhelmed by Hanna’s Wood energy. It’s no wonder that many of you were uncomfortable.

As far as all of you getting along with Hanna, that may be a non-issue because it’s quite possible your brother’s new relationship won’t last very long. Too much Fire for a constant length of time can literally burn out a Wood. If that happens, Hanna will most likely move on to calmer relationships. However, if the Fire doesn’t get too crazy, Woods can enjoy the upbeat atmosphere of life with a Fire, so Hanna could be around for the long haul. But don’t worry, there are ways for you to get along with Hanna and, who knows, maybe even like her!

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They Weathered the Crisis, but Their Relationship is Failing

Dear Vicki: Last September, my husband and I were in a serious car accident. We both survived and have recovered completely, but for six or seven months, life was a blur of hospitals, medicines, doctors appointments, and physical therapy. Initially, we seemed closer than ever. My husband Frank managed all the little details of the appointments, pharmaceuticals, live-in care, etc. for both of us. I didn’t have to worry about anything except keeping our hope alive and trying to stay optimistic. It all worked great, too, until we got back to “normal” the beginning of summer. Now, Frank seems preoccupied with his work and barely notices me, and I have to admit I’m feeling pretty depressed about everything. When we do interact, we disagree and fight. How could we have made it through the tough times and now be falling apart? Signed: Down in Denver

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Dear Down in Denver: It’s not uncommon to tough it out during a crisis and then fall apart afterward. It’s very instinctive to focus all of our resources on survival, but that leaves us depleted when the crisis passes. This certainly happened for you and Frank, not only physically, but also emotionally. You pulled together when you had to, made it though, and now are each retreating within yourselves to rebuild your resources. The good news is that each of you will likely build your stamina and zest for life back to pre-accident levels by the first anniversary of the accident. That happens automatically when we take care of ourselves and give ourselves time to heal. The concerning news is that healing after a trauma is not necessarily automatic for a relationship. You may need to help it along, so let’s look at what can be done to get you and Frank back to your pre-accident connection.

You don’t mention where you think you and Frank fall within the Five Elements model, but you have given us some excellent clues. The fact that Frank was good at managing all the details of your respective recoveries suggests that he has a lot of Metal energy in his personality. Metal people are excellent with detail; organizing minutia actually makes them happy. Your gift to the joint recovery process was optimism and hope. These are natural places to go for someone with a lot of Water energy in their personality. We also see your primary elements manifesting in out of balance ways after the crisis abated. When unbalanced, Metals can become unreasonably focused on work and dismiss anything unrelated, and Waters can easily become depressed.

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