With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Caring for elderly or aging parents can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress when caring for our aging parents? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mark Steven Porro.

Mark Steven Porro is an award-winning designer, writer, and director. He earned an Industrial Design degree from The Ohio State University. After years of agency work, his love of acting led him to Hollywood, where he appeared in dozens of television, film, and stage productions. Mark also spent his twenty-eight years in Tinseltown as an entrepreneur, starting five non-profit companies. At 55, Mark gave up his life in Los Angeles to become a first-time parent to an eighty-nine-year-old, sharp-tongued, guilt-tripping, stubborn yet funny lady who could barely remember his name: his mother. Mark chronicled his caregiving experience in A Cup of Tea on the Commode, a sad, sweet, and funny memoir that offers an intimate and deeply honest look at eldercare. His first-hand experience filling his eighty-nine-year-old mother’s last years with love, laughter, and joy will offer readers in-depth insight into how to approach caregiving in a stress-free manner.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

At 55 years old, I enjoyed my carefree bachelor’s life in Los Angeles. I had no steady girlfriend, no children, few responsibilities outside of work. But that all changed when “The Call” came. My eighty-nine-year-old mother was on her deathbed. I rushed to New Jersey to be by her side. Hours became days, days became weeks, then she woke up. After assessing her current situation, I decided she deserved better, so I moved back into my childhood home to take over her care. My first task t6was to remove all hazards, which included the current caregivers.

After, I asked my mother, “Do you trust me?” She whispered, “Yes.” “Do you understand I will do everything in my power to keep you healthy and safe?” She smiled and nodded. “That means I’m in charge, and that means now you must obey me.” Her mood shifted in an instant. She looked me dead in the eye, then puckered up her lips. I wasn’t sure if this was a sign of surrender or one wishing him luck. I kissed her and hoped for the best.

Many lessons learned from my parents came into play as I took on this new challenge.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

I have given this question a lot of thought lately. Recording the audiobook of “A Cup of Tea on the Commode” provided me new insights into my life experiences that made the journey of caring for my mother a certainty. Without any of those experiences, both good and bad, my story might not have happened. So, I would tell my younger self, “Don’t change a thing. Live your life. Embrace the triumphs and the failures. Learn from them.”

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

Simple answer, my parents, but let’s focus on my mother since my story centers on her. One incident stands out, and I wrote about it in the chapter “It Took a Thief.” When I was twelve years old, my proficiency at picking bicycle locks led me to the worst day of my young life.

After Sunday school, I’d head out to the bike racks to test my skills. I’d open and close them, then move to the next. No harm done. Two others were also trying to pick locks, but with less success.

“Hey, that’s a nice one. Why not take it?” one said when he saw me free a brand-new Stingray bike.

I didn’t need the bike or want it, but I took it anyway. Peer pressure? Perhaps.

Just to play it safe, I stashed the bike in a friend’s garage and headed home.

As I cut through a neighbor’s yard, I spotted a police car parked in front of my house. It appeared those other guys turned me in. My heart pounded. My gut twisted into knots. There was no way I was going home until the police left. I hid in the bushes and prepared my defense.

As the police taillights faded down my street, I took a few deep breaths, mustered up my innocence, and entered the side door. Mom greeted me and wasted no time.

“Did you steal a bicycle today?”

I looked her straight in the eye and said, “No.”

She seemed relieved. “Okay.”

She had no reason to think I was lying but taking no chances I escaped to the safety of my bedroom.

Did I just get away with it? And if so, for how long?

Not long, it turned out. Racked with guilt, I returned to the kitchen within minutes and confessed. Mom handled it with grace, but in that moment, I swear to God I saw her heart break.

She confirmed it when she said, “Your lie hurt more than your stealing the bike.”

I never lied to her again.

My mother never gave up on me, even in that moment. So, how could I ever give up on her?

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

Well, I’m working on my next book which focuses more on my father. That story will be more entertaining. So, if people need a good laugh or some inspiration, they will find it that book.

In the meantime, I continue to share my “A Cup of Tea on the Commode” adventures to inspire others to jump in and care for their loved ones, and to find the joy in it.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

I would say stress is anything that disrupts your focus or your flow.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

We in the Western world are bombarded with negative news in newspapers, on the TV, on the internet, in social media. It’s everywhere. It seems to follow the “If it bleeds, it leads” principle. And if it bleeds, we read it. Whether we want it or not it gets into our psyche, and causes stress.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

Stress affects us in many ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But let’s focus on the physical. Your heart races, your body tightens up, your vision gets blurry. When you lose focus, you make mistakes like cutting yourself while preparing dinner, tripping, and falling, or having a car accident. We can reduce the effects of stress by acknowledging it, accepting it, and refocusing on next steps. For example, you’re stuck in traffic, you are going to miss your flight for an important meeting. You can stress out about it, but that will not help you get to that meeting any faster. So, accept the fact that you will miss the flight. Relax and make other arrangements to get where you were going. Let the other party know that you will be late, but you will get there. This happened to me on my first major presentation at a new job. The others made the flight on time, but I was new in town and got lost on the way to the airport. And I had the presentation materials with me. The next possible flight got me close, but across the bay from my meeting. I hired a helicopter to fly me across and arrived just an hour later. It all worked out fine. My boss was even impressed with ingenuity, though he demanded I pay for the helicopter ticket, causing a different kind of stress.

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Stress can be a good thing if it is channeled in a positive way. For example, if you’re caring for your elderly loved one, stress will find you. Don’t try to hide from it, that’s where we get into trouble. Acknowledge it, accept it, and then decide how to deal with it.

For me, I renovated my mother’s entire house from the basement to the roof. Not only did stress help me restore dignity to our family home, but it provided me great physical relief as I tore down walls and ripped up floors. And stress provided mental and emotional relief as I had to focus on redesigning the new spaces I created.

Let’s now focus more on the stress of caring for elderly or aging parents. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate a few reasons why caring for our aging parents can be so stressful?

First of all, dealing with the role reversal can be tricky, even if you had a good relationship prior. You have a job to do, but she is still your mother. I never had a child until I took over her care. My first kid was an eighty-nine-year-old, grumpy, guilt-tripping, stubborn as all get out lady who could barely remember my name. Also, 24/7 care means dealing with all the things new parents deal with: I was the one who cooked, fed, and dressed her. I changed diapers, bathed, and baby powdered her. I combed her hair, trimmed her fingernails, brushed her teeth — in Mom’s case, dentures. I carried, chauffeured, and shopped. I cleaned, washed, and folded laundry. I ordered and administered vitamins and medications. I comforted and cajoled and hugged and kissed. I cheered her up doing the Riverdance Irish jig, which made her laugh but my shins cry. I got her out of bed and walking again. And this was only my morning routine.

Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Stress When Caring For Your Elderly Or Aging Parents”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1 . Empathy. Their memory may not be the best, but you must put yourself in their shoes, or in my mother’s case, her non-slip safety socks.

One morning Mom greeted me with:

Mom: Now, what is it I call you?

At first, I thought she was joking — she had a wicked sense of humor — but the look on her face confirmed she was not.

Me: Really? You don’t remember me?

She shook her head.

Me: Name your children.

Mom: (rattling them off) Laurel, Michael, Caryl, David, Deecy.

Me: And?

Stumped, she shrugged.

Me: (crestfallen) Mark.

Mom: Oh. Mark with a k?

Me: Yes, Mark with a k. Your favorite son.

Mom: I don’t have favorites.

Me: (under my breath) You have a favorite to forget.

So, instead of getting mad, I printed my name, “M-A-R-K,” in large Helvetica Bold letters, and taped it to the ceiling. It proved to be a useful memory tool.

2 . Find the Joy. During difficult times, I often asked myself “Why are you doing this?”

Then I’d see her smile, or I’d catch one of her witty comebacks, or I’d melt when she puckered up for a kiss, and I had my answer.

3 . Patience.

Sometimes Mother Nature took its time when Mom was on the commode. So, to make the wait more pleasant, I offered her a cup of her favorite beverage, hot tea, no sugar, skim milk.

Also, it’s adorable when you see photos of a new parent getting peed on by their infant. Not so much when it’s your mother peeing on you. This happened more than once. After the first time, she said, “It’s natural.” I wanted to cry, but I had to laugh. She was okay with it, so I had to be okay with it too.

4 . Humor. Always look for the humor. Mom’s depression reared its ugly head from time to time. But, at times, I battled it with humor.

Mom: I’m sad.

Me: How can you be sad? You have your health and a house that’s getting more and more beautiful each day.

Mom: Who’s paying for all that?

Me: You are. So, cheer up. You may have to go back to work.

More humor: Mom suffered from a bit of dementia. In addition to forgetting my name early on, she insisted all her kids went to her high school on Long Island, an hour and a half away by car, instead of Ridgewood High School, just ten minutes on foot. And she never wavered. So whenever the subject came up, my brother and I sang the Sewanhaka high school fight song (which we made up on the spot) until she dismissed us with a wave of her hand.

Later in our journey, a doctor whispered to me “I think your mother has Alzheimer’s, and insisted she take a series of cognitive tests. I thought Mom did well on all of them except for the short-term memory test. The doctor, however, felt confident the results confirmed her suspicions. I bristled at the thought, and being a good son, I jumped to her defense.

“She’s ninety-one. I’d have trouble with some of those tests,” quickly following up with, “And no, I will not take any of them.”

But the good doctor stood firm.

So, I turned to Mom and asked, “You don’t have Alzheimer’s, do you?”

With a look of bewilderment and a shrug of her shoulders, she said,

“I don’t remember.”


If humor doesn’t help, I then repeat to myself “I love my job, I love my job, I love my job.” If that doesn’t work, then on to wine, preferably red.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

Too many to list but I will give you one story that has meant a lot to me in my new life in France.

Shortly after moving to Pézenas, a village in the south of France, a friend asked if I wanted to attend a vendange. I jumped at the opportunity even though I had no idea what it was. I’m in France and I was willing to do anything “French.” We drove a short distance to a domaine just outside of town. A tall spire topping old chateau was our north star. As we parked, I took in our surroundings. A grand stone staircase beckoned me. As I climbed over a moat — yes, a moat — and up to the Chateau Montepezat, I felt like I stepped into a French film.

Villagers arrived with side dishes and filled a massive table with treats for all to share. Others gathered in the courtyard, the French language filled the air, pigs and lamb sizzled on the barbecue tended by Hassan. And, of course, there was plenty of wine. Afterall this was a celebration of the harvest. But before I indulged in any of this, there was work to do. After a quick lesson, I got to cutting and filling buckets of juicy grapes while a jazz band accompanied me in the vines. Yes, a jazz band. I thought this just might be the best day ever.

Later that night, after eating a great meal, making new friends, and drinking much wine, Hassan turned to me and said, “Mark, you must stop and take this all in because this is the life in the South of France.” So, I stopped, looked around, and took it all in, this day, this experience, these new friends, and tears flowed. I raised a glass of vin rouge to my new home, and to my new life. This indeed is the life in the South of France.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

“Find the Joy” is my motto. I’ve led a pretty adventurous life, I’ve tried many new things, lived in many places (now I live in the South of France), taken lots of risks, failed many times, and what has kept me from getting discouraged is my motto. I always look for the positive in whatever life deals me. Imagine if, instead of focusing on all the ugly in the world, we focused on finding the joy. How cool would that be? In my small way I’m trying to spread that message.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on my website, acupofteaonthecommode.org, my Facebook page, YouTube channel, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. If they search “A Cup of Tea on the Commode” they will find us. We are everywhere.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.