Situations that highlight possible challenges to mutual respect

Gwen’s story
Nathalie’s story
Harry’s story
Stan and Dulcie’s story
Alex and Annette’s story
Mark’s story
Stella’s story
Charlie and Vanessa’s story
Ingrid’s story
Ernie and Elsie’s story
Enid’s story
Tim’s story

Gwen’s story

Gwen’s husband died two years ago.  Her family were worried about her living alone and wanted to care for her.   She appreciated their concern and felt obliged to agree.  So Gwen sold her house and now lives with her daughter Susan, and her son-in-law Chris in another suburb.  Susan and Chris are very kind to Gwen and take care of all the household tasks, washing, ironing, shopping and cooking even though Gwen would like to feel useful by contributing in some way in the home.  Gwen rarely sees her friends or goes out much because they are a couple of suburbs away and it is difficult to travel.

Nathalie’s story

When Nathalie was home visiting her parents she called her grandmother. While they were talking, the father came in and heard who she was talking to. He pushed the speaker button on the telephone so he and his wife could hear the whole conversation. Nathalie pushed the button back off. She wanted to have a private conversation with her grandmother.
Later she asked her father to please not do that while she was talking. The father got defensive and said things like, "But we are all part of the same family. Everything should be open within the family. There should be no need to hide anything. If you don't want others to hear what grandmother is saying then you must have something to hide."
Nathalie told her father that she didn't have anything to hide, but that she felt a little disrespected when he simply pushed the button without asking her first. Her father got even more defensive and said, "That has nothing to do with respect. There is no reason for you to feel disrespected. Of course I respect you. It is normal for people in the same family to share everything. Lately you are always accusing your mother and I of not respecting you. How could you possibly say that we don't? What is the matter with you, Nathalie? Where are you getting these strange ideas? What are they teaching you at that university? Why do you take everything so personally? Sometimes I think you really need to see a psychologist for your problems."
Then he walked away.

Harry’s story

Harry has always had a short fuse.  His family just knew that when he was in a bad mood the wise thing was to clear out & let him cool off.  Harry’s wife coped for many years but unfortunately passed away some years back from high blood pressure & a heart condition.

Harry’s daughter organised for domestic assistance & meals on wheels shortly after her Mum’s death. Over the years she has had to reorganise these services with many different organisations. This last private company assured her they would be able to manage Harry’s needs, including his short fuse. 

However she has just received a phone call from the manager to say that she has exhausted all options.  Even her most experienced staff have threatened to quit their job if they are asked to visit Harry one more time.

Stan and Dulcie’s story

Stan has relatively advanced dementia and has been living in a nursing home for about a year.  His wife Dulcie visits him daily and is very helpful with feeding him lunch and walking him in the gardens. One day she arrives to find Stan at the piano with another resident.  He is having a wonderful time tinkling the ivories with his friend. Dulcie notices however that he and the friend seem extremely close, in fact they are quite intimate in their exchanges.  One of the staff comes up to Dulcie gently and invites her to take a seat.  She rather uncomfortably tells Dulcie the story of how Stan and the other resident have developed a very deep friendship. The staff had tried to discourage it from developing and had frequently talked about how to broach the subject with Dulcie but were hopeful they may never have to.

Alex and Annette’s story

Annette lost her husband some years ago.  She coped quite well for many years and kept active in her local community. About a year ago she met a younger man Alex and seemed happier than she’d ever been in her life.
Her family were very surprised but delighted by her happiness.

Annette and Alex go to the theatre, out to dinner, on holidays and seem to be in an ideal relationship. The family have defended their Mother’s choice even though there have been comments by some about the new “toy boy”.  They put some of it down to jealousy from her old network of friends.  However it also raised doubts in their mind about whether he might tire of her and how she would cope if he left her.

Mark’s story

I was staying at my cousin Mark’s house and using his computer while he was at cricket practice. My uncle came in and we started talking. He was telling me how my cousin Mark had made some of the furniture in the room. One of the things Mark made was a small table. On the table was a cloth cover. My uncle took off the photograph and the other things on top of the table, then took off the cover, saying, "I don't know why Mark has this covered up. I like the way the natural wood looks." He folded up the cloth cover and put it on Mark’s desk.
It was hard for me to believe my eyes. I was so stunned I couldn't even think of what to say. All I could think of was, "...but it is not your room!"
When Mark came home he immediately noticed the change and he asked me about it. I explained and asked how he felt about it. He rolled his eyes, shook his head and said, "Dad does that kind of thing all the time. He also comes in and makes my bed even though I have told him I don't like it. It is just another one of the many reasons I don't feel respected by him."

Stella’s story

Stella has been living in her home for over sixty years and is well known in her local community.  Not that she has much to do with anyone but they all know about Mrs Stella Henderson.  The property used to be a dairy farm many years ago before they subdivided and it became the Henderson Estate.  Mr Henderson had looked after his family well while he was alive.

Since Stella turned 80 she has had a few falls and after the most recent one it was decided that she needed some assistance to stay at home.  She is determined to stay there and has said that the only way she’ll leave is when they have to carry her out in a box. Stella only has one surviving child.  He is in his 50’s and appears from time to time living with her for a few months and then disappearing again.

Stella had been left in a comfortable financial position when her husband died and has been wise with money living quite a frugal life considering their wealth.  However when the social worker from the local hospital organised for the home help she was surprised to discover that Stella no longer had the financial resources that many had expected of the Henderson estate.  In fact it appears that when her son is living with her she sometimes struggles to pay her bill.

Following a discussion with Stella she admitted that her son steals from her and has a gambling problem.  However she is adamant that she wants nothing done about the situation. She does not want to do anything that might end the relationship with her only remaining son.

Charlie and Vanessa’s story

Charlie began to develop anxiety and agitation a short while after he retired.  He and his wife Vanessa had downsized when he retired and they now lived in a townhouse.  Vanessa had been out of the workforce for a considerable time before Charlie retired.  After Charlie’s retirement Vanessa found herself feeling like Charlie was “constantly under her feet” and “there every time she turned around”. She talked with her friend about how frustrating it was becoming.  She was feeling almost claustrophobic in her own home.

A tension developed in their relationship that had never been present previously. Charlie began to describe his life as “walking on eggshells” because everything he did seemed to irritate his wife. Many of his tennis  mates totally understood what he was talking about.   

Neither Charlie or Vanessa had realised how big an impact his retirement would have on their relationship as they’d always thought of themselves as happily married.  They also didn’t realise the importance of them each having a space of their own.  Charlie felt like he had no personal privacy or retreat that he could use to keep out of Vanessa’s way and he was very grateful for his one day a week at tennis. Almost everything else they did was together.  The tension in the home eventually led to ill health for both Charlie and Vanessa.

Ingrid’s story

Ingrid’s son in law frequently teased her with threats like “you’ll be put away in that nursing home soon” or put downs like “stupid old woman, you’re losing your marbles”.  He’d always say “come on you know I’m only joking”, “ can’t you take a joke any more?”

Ingrid had been a very healthy woman all her life, enjoying golf, swimming and even competitive tennis.  However since her husband died and her daughter and son in law moved in with her she’d started to develop high blood pressure.

Her daughter had never taken any notice of her husband’s jokes as she had always put it down to his poor sense of humour. She didn’t think it really did any harm though and that it was just a part of who he was.

However she was becoming concerned about the impact that it seemed to be having on her mother.  Ingrid seemed to be keeping herself so busy.  She had taken on a lot of voluntary work and almost seemed to avoid coming home. She was not enjoying her golf, tennis and swimming as much as she used to and when she was at home she tended to stay in her bedroom most of the time and avoided having meals with them.

Ernie and Elsie’s story

Elsie has very mild signs of dementia.  Ernie, her husband, takes his role as provider and protector very seriously and has been concerned about their financial welfare for a long time.  He is ultra cautious about spending money having grown up during the depression which taught him a frugal lifestyle.

Elsie has been an anxious person all her life and she has relied on her husband for many things, especially in financial matters.  She trusts him totally with their money and has always been content to receive just enough for the basic necessities like food and groceries.

Ernie has become increasingly concerned about Elsie’s capacity to handle money because he thinks her dementia is getting worse.  He often doubts her and that increases her anxiety. She becomes more anxious every time he questions her.  He eventually decides to restrict her from any access to money.  He keeps talking to their adult children about Elsie’s dementia although they wonder if some of it (or maybe even a lot of it) is more her anxious nature rather than the dementia.  But they are worried that her increased anxiety might exacerbate her illness. It’s hard for them to know when they aren’t living with them.

Enid’s story

Enid has been a devout Catholic all her life.  She has worked tirelessly for her local church and has always been recognised for her devotion.  She is also passionate about sharing her beliefs with others, especially those she knows could benefit from converting to her beliefs.

She recently had a bad fall and needs help from a local service to maintain her house. Her daughter organised for assistance with the shopping and domestic duties. Enid was quite pleased with this arrangement as she now had a regular opportunity to share her beliefs with some people who she could really tell needed to know.

Her daughter received a phone call from the service recently to say that they were having some challenges with her Mum.  The main problem was her Mum’s passionate belief that everyone should become a Catholic. Most of the staff had refused to work with her. Her daughter didn’t quite know how to handle the situation. Yesterday she received a call from her Mum to come over quickly even though she was at work.  When she arrived Mum was in a state because there had been a new woman allocated to help her and her Mum didn’t like her.  In fact she told her daughter that the woman had slammed the fridge door on her fingers.

Tim’s story

Tim borrowed his father’s car on the understanding he’d be home by midnight. One thing led to another and he was an hour late. As he reached his bedroom door Tim was met by his father yelling, “If you ever come home late again, you are never going to get to use the car again.”
When Tim replied, “Yeh, yeh”, his father was furious and yelled even louder,Don't talk to me like that!”  His wife could see how hurt he was as he said that boy just doesn’t respect me anymore!  But she also felt for her son Tim because she could understand that he didn’t feel respected when his father threatened him.
Tim has told his Mum that he’s reached the stage of fearing his father and when he’s being yelled at he finds it hard to feel respect toward him. His Mum understands that her husband’s anger creates fear rather than respect but doesn’t know how to help the difficult relationship that has developed between her son and her husband.

These situations are based on stories that have been shared with us. The names are fictitious and some of the details have been changed to respect the privacy of those individuals.

They may be useful for small groups to discuss how mutual respect could be encouraged.