Sunday, June 08, 2014
Dressing for 'success' only goes so far
As parents age, many adult children face challenging questions about how to make sure Mom and Dad get the care they need - and sometimes conflicting emotions about how to act in their parents' best interest.
After living independently since her husband's death more than a decade earlier, the mother of four adult children found it increasingly difficult to care for herself. At first, home healthcare aides paid routine visits to her in her apartment to make sure she'd taken her medication and was otherwise comfortable. But as the effects of the cancer from which she suffered and her age made it increasingly impossible for her to live alone, the mother asked the two of her children who lived the closest to help her find a senior care facility nearby.
The mother, who maintained an active social life until it became difficult to venture out on her own or with friends, wanted the facility to be close to where she'd lived for many years, so friends could still visit.
As her children prepared to visit the first facility, the daughter took time to choose what she believed to be an appropriate outfit - something that showed respect for the administrators she was about to meet, and that also sent the message her mother came from a family who cared about her and themselves.
The son, however, chose to send a slightly different message. He wore old clothes and a worn jacket. He didn't want the administrators to size up his family as able to pay as much as the facility could charge.
The daughter's intended message was, "We care, so don't take advantage of us." The son's intended message: "We're not rich, so don't take advantage of us."
Given that the costs for their mother's care would be based on her assets, it was unlikely that the son or daughter's attire would influence the administrators' decision about what to charge a new resident.
But were the daughter and son wrong to try to influence that decision by how they dressed for the initial meeting? If either of them truly hoped to mislead the administrators, that would be wrong. But that's hardly the case here. Both had good intentions.
Could the way they dressed really have had any effect? It certainly had a positive effect on the daughter and son if it made each of them feel like they were working in their mother's best interests.
They might not have been able to control their mother's ability to care for herself, but in trying to find her a good placement, how they dressed mattered less than their desire to do the right thing for their mother.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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