Have you ever heard of someone eloping after knowing each other for only six weeks? My parents did. They married quickly in December so they would save money on their taxes. My dad was an Enneagram 1, The Perfectionist. My mom is a Counter Phobic 6, The Loyalist with a rebellious streak. On paper, this combination looks vanilla. In-person, it was combustible. The constant fighting and bickering is why I became a mediator. I wanted to try to make sense of it all.
My parents were the youngest, hippest, most beautiful of all my friends’ parents. I was proud of them and magnified their Hollywoodness. I also wanted them to be proud of me, which contributed to my people pleasing Enneagram 2ness. I got along well with my mom, but my relationship with my dad was complicated and a source of shame for me. Trying to measure up to the high standards an Enneagram 1 sets is impossible. As hard as I tried, whatever I did, I never felt like I was good enough. Being a pleaser, this was soul crushing. When I failed to live up to his high hopes, it was both depressing and familiar. You can’t always judge effort by results.
I grew up thinking there must be something wrong with me if my father didn’t love me how I needed to be loved. This thought pattern was a constant companion. It created a growing gap of resentment between us. Something my father knew nothing about, so it was never discussed.
One gut wrenching weekend at an Enneagram workshop, my shame and pain were revealed, and I finally understood the need to love and connect with my dad was mine alone. After even more internal exploration, new emotions began to emerge. I found myself in a different space. Understanding, compassion, and grace gave me a sense of freedom. Carrying the weight of disappointment and hurt suddenly felt unnecessary. I think my dad was doing the best he could to love me. It wasn’t about me.
As the oldest daughter, my parents instilled in me a heightened sense of responsibility. I have taken this duty seriously, I have become an expert, and teach family systems. As the oldest and leader, I know when one person in a family is motivated to change, it affects all relationships within that family system. I realized my dad wasn’t going to adjust his behavior; I needed to be the one to take the initiative.
The choices I made resurrected my relationship with my dad. The concepts and skills used in conflict management, family systems, and the Enneagram were all put to good use. As it turned out, I would need all of these and more to navigate the end of my dad’s life. Healthy leadership also requires patience, perseverance, and a less anxious presence.
My parents didn’t want to move from their home of 45 years into an assisted living community. Nobody would. As acting Power of Attorney, I was responsible for guiding them through decisions and helping them make necessary adjustments they couldn’t make for themselves. If my dad had trusted me, he would have listened to the many reasons it was time to move, and he could have helped me choose the community to move to. That’s not how it happened. Not even close. I had to pull my parents out of their home, kicking and screaming, into an assisted living facility to save their lives. This took every leadership skill, conflict management tool, and ounce of courage I had. I will always remember how shocked, furious, and then crazy my dad became when he realized he was being relocated against his will.
This was not a quick decision. My sister and I talked about details for months. It took me a while to gather the strength to prepare for this battle. A month earlier, my mom was lost for over two hours in the Texas heat in August. My dad had begun to call repairmen to fix appliances he had forgotten how to use. The final straw was when a woman showed up at my parents’ house and asked Dad to follow her. She said my mom was in her home and was refusing to leave. I knew my people pleasing days were over, and I needed to access the gifts my stress number, The Boss, and Enneagram 8 had to offer. Suddenly, I missed that sweet little Enneagram 2!
The movement from our core Enneagram number to our stress number allows us to do things our core number can’t do. When this shift is mastered, it balances out the blind spots and challenges of our core number. For me, it meant that I no longer needed to appease and please my parents. That girl needed to find another place to sit for a while. If I had remained in that mindset, I am convinced my parents would have died or their bank account cleaned out in a matter of months. For me to give them the best kind of life they deserved, I needed to be bold, decisive, and arrogant.
The move to assisted living bought my dad two more years. More time for my mom because she’s still alive. For those two years,, my sister and I listened to my dad complain and blame us for their living conditions in their new residence. Their roomy apartment was beautiful, hassle-free, and clean. Their needs were met, meals prepared, and social lives flourished. Still, it wasn’t their home. I get it, but sometimes I felt that no matter where they were, he would find something wrong.
The two years in assisted living were bittersweet for me. I worried less, but I was also sad my dad wasn’t happy. Compassion for my parents’ situation grew as I continued to study and teach the Enneagram. I was beginning to live in a less judgmental and more accepting state of mind. I realized my parents weren’t going to change. Despite their age, it was up to me to bring maturity to the relationship.
In June, we moved my mom and then my dad into a memory care facility. Mom flourished, and Dad failed. Four weeks ago, my dad passed away. He was in hospice for less than 24 hours. My sister and I ran home to grab a sandwich, and that’s when he died. I got to tell him I loved him, but I was waiting to tell him we’d take care of Mom. For some reason, I felt he would let go if I shared that, and I was waiting for his grandchildren to get there first. I think he knew we’d take care of mom because we had been doing that for years.
My biggest takeaway from the years of worry, anxiety, and stress is that I am different, and still processing the grief. Without the wisdom of self-awareness the Enneagram has taught me and without the conflict management tools I have learned as a mediator, this beautiful mess I was in with my parents would have looked different. My fears, my skills, and this journey are not unique. Many travel this road. What I decide to do with it is mine to do. I will begin by sharing it with you.