Monday, August 20, 2018

How to be a Good Neighbor (Even When It's Annoying)

Today is Monday, and one thing Monday means in our house is that we will be making a neighborly visit to a woman who lives a few doors down from us. Every Monday and Thursday, we visit her. We are steady. Consistent. Helpful, I hope.

I mentioned in another post that we visit this neighbor, and that it's not always easy. This is true, and getting truer. Our neighbor is a kind and generous person. Every time we visit, she has sweets for Z and E. She compliments us excessively. These things make it easy. But the intensity of her need? The constant necessity of setting and maintaining boundaries? These things make it hard. And that's exactly why it's so important that we keep visiting her.

This neighbor is an extravert to the max. She loves being around people and doesn't understand that not everyone enjoys this. Add to it that she has early onset dementia, and that the thing that makes her feel most safe is being with other people. Then factor in that her son, who is the person she lives with and relies on for nearly everything, travels for work quite a lot. I'm sure you can connect the dots which make a picture of a woman whose needs are not small. Simple, perhaps. She just needs to be around other people - but the solution to that is not simple at all. Because there are not enough people to fill every hour she is on her own, and the pool of willing helpers has been getting shallower.

Over and over, our neighbor has worn out her welcome at a lot of other houses. I'm sure she's not the only person who has ever done this, so I am going to tell you what happens and what you can do to be a good neighbor to someone like her. The trouble is that people say yes too much in the beginning. She will come by multiple times per day if she knows someone will let her in, and so she does. Because they welcome her in, she thinks they want her there and do not mind. But that's not the case - they just can't tell her no. Then all of a sudden, they get burned out. They stop opening the door when she knocks or answering the phone when she calls. They say they will visit in order to put her off for the moment, without intending to ever do it. She feels hurt and confused.

This is why I believe that one of the best ways to be a good neighbor is to have good boundaries. I know that, like other neighbors, I could easily get burned out. I don't want to begin to resent her and start to avoid her. So to be a good neighbor - and keep being a good neighbor for as long as she needs me - I tell her no sometimes when she very much wants me to say yes. I'll admit that in times when she is desperate to visit someone, it is hard to see these boundaries as good. But when I need to say no to her, I say no. Mondays and Thursdays are always a yes  - but on the other days, the default is no.

This doesn't mean that we never see her on other days. It just means that we recognize that we have needs also. If our neighbor's son is out of town for a long weekend, we schedule an extra visit if we are able. If the kids are done with studies, chores, and their own projects for the day and see her outside, they can visit if she invites them in. The key to being a good neighbor is that we do more for her when we can, but we are allowed to meet our own family needs as well. Sometimes those needs won't seem like needs to our neighbor, but that is not her call to make. Being a good neighbor means that sometimes she thinks that I am a bad neighbor, or a selfish neighbor.

I'll admit to being selfish. I am an introvert, and sometimes I have said no to her because I need a little time to myself. But by holding to the boundaries that I have set, I've found that it makes our visits easier. I know that the hour we spend at her house - or the shorter amounts of time she spends at ours - will be manageable. Sure, we will have the same conversation every time. She will tell me things that she has told me before, and I will respond in the way I always respond. I will check the weather on my phone for her, and we will discuss the possibility of rain. It will be boring much of the time. But there's nothing wrong with being bored. In fact, if we are helping our neighbor feel less alone, there's everything right about it.

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