Color & Control:

Your Privacy: Guilt-free, non-apologetic ways to keep it

By Mary Bart

Maintaining privacy is important to most of us. Keeping some things private not only helps us to keep our independence and dignity, but also allows us control over our own destiny. As we age, however, it can often be challenging to keep certain things private, especially if there are financial or health issues to be discussed and dealt with. Let’s take a look at some respectful ways we can maintain our privacy.

Josh and multigenerational living

There are a variety of reasons why older adults might decide to live with their grown-up children. Some are financial while others are care-related but, regardless of the circumstances, there will still be a need for privacy and some level of independence.

Living together can cause an invasion of everyone’s personal, emotional and physical space. This is the situation that Josh, 81, faces. He knows that his health is declining, but worries about how moving in with his son and his active teenagers will impact all of them. Before they all get too comfortable, Josh has asked for a family meeting to discuss and establish some ground rules. Included in the conversation will be issues such as not opening his mail, respecting the closed bedroom door, meal times alone or together, laundry times, alone time, television watching, entertaining and bathroom sharing. Josh hopes that, with openness, clear boundaries and ongoing communication, his wishes and theirs will be respected.

Ruth and confidential information

Ruth, 71, lives alone. She needs to have major surgery in a couple of months. In preparation for her downtime and rehabilitation, she decided to hire a college student to help clean her home.
Her daughter also offered to help with meals and taking her to appointments.

Ruth is thankful for all the extra help, but worries that her privacy will be compromised. Will the contents of her wallet be at risk of theft or snooping eyes? Will someone be able to access her online shopping accounts where her credit card number is stored? Perhaps her personal paperwork, such as her will and monthly paper bank statements, will be looked at behind her back. In addition, Ruth doesn’t want her daughter to know her intimate medical history or the details of each doctor’s appointment.

To ensure her privacy, Ruth decided to rent a safety deposit box at her bank. There, she stored, other important financial documents, her jewelery, and her stocks and bonds. She also decided to switch her banking and other accounts to online statements only, to reduce the amount of mail coming in and left lying around. In addition, her neighbour helped her to set up password protection on her laptop computer and cell phone.

Lastly, Ruth told everyone that she didn’t want to talk in depth about her medical appointments and prepared to undertake a few push-back conversations about her need for privacy with her family.

Holiday visits (or not) for Pam

Getting together with family and friends over the holidays always sounds so perfect, but sometimes the reality can be conflict, stress and a lack of privacy. Pam and her sister Christine are both widows. Each lives alone, and they have both been invited to stay with their niece Suzy and her family, who live four hours away. Both sisters are excited about visiting Suzy, but Pam hopes to have her own space. She often takes naps in the afternoon and knows that when it gets too loud and busy, she will need to escape to her own room or have a hot bath without being rushed or interrupted.

Christine, on the other hand, is taking no chances with her privacy and plans to stay at a nearby hotel. She will be happy to visit the house to enjoy meals and festive times, but prefers a quiet place to herself where she can wake up to her normal quiet routine of drinking coffee and watching her favorite morning television shows. They’re going to talk to Suzy in advance and hope to make it a memorable visit.

Staying independent

Keeping our lives private is a personal choice that takes thinking ahead.

• Don’t overshare. Whether you are on a social media site or meeting family and friends for lunch, don’t feel like you need to share every picture, medical issue or personal problem.

• Try to avoid drama. Anything you don’t want leaking should be kept to yourself or those you know you can trust. Also, be mindful of keeping
the confidences of others.

• Set your boundaries. Don’t feel pressured to answer everyone’s questions. Politely change the topic or turn the question back on them. If someone isn’t taking the hint, simply and unapologetically say with a smile, “That’s none of your business.”

• Get off the grid. Set your cellphone down for a while or stay off social media for a couple of days. Make sure that if there’s a real emergency, people can still find you. Otherwise, enjoy the privacy you have created.

It takes deliberate effort to protect your privacy. By being mindful of what you share with others and setting boundaries and expectations of how others need to respect your privacy, you can preserve your own rules and routines.

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

ways to politely say “mind your own business”

The tables have turned. It is no longer us telling our kids how to run their affairs—rather, they’re trying to tell us what to do. Here’s how to politely suggest they butt out.

1. Set them straight
Don’t get angry, simply let them know that you are still in charge of your own life and capable of not only making your own decisions, but also living with the consequences of those decisions.

2. Show your boundaries
Others need to know when they have crossed your privacy boundaries. Think of it as having a fenced garden with a “Private” sign on the gate. If people pass through the gate uninvited then they need to be told to step back, out of your garden and out of your private space.

3. You’ve still got it
Most of their intrusion comes from a place of concern. As we get older, some things start to slip through our fingers. But not everything. Let them know what areas they can help with, and which ones you don’t need them to.

4. Ready responses
It is often handy to practice a few quick responses to protect your privacy if needed:

This works for me.
Thanks for your concern, but I’m happy with my decisions.
It’s really not something you should be worrying about.
Please respect my privacy and independence.
Sorry I’m not comfortable sharing that information.
I need to work out my own solutions.

5. Mutual trust
Make sure they can trust that you will ask for help when you need it. It might seem a little ironic, but open communication might just lead the way to your independence.

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