Family histories are filled with unique experiences and both parents and siblings have thoughts, ideas and emotions that do not always come together in a beautiful “Brady Bunch” state of cohesiveness.
When stress and a health care crisis are added into the mix as they often occur in the elder care process, family dynamics can become strained and emotional meltdowns between siblings and the involved parents can stretch beyond everyone’s ability to cope.
Encouraging proactive planning for the possible transitions that may be presented in the 80+ years is something I encourage families to do.
Creating an open dialogue as a family about this stage of life can be difficult to begin. Many seniors I speak with are often doing the thinking about these transitioning years themselves and are reluctant to fully include their sons and daughters in their thoughts and planning.
Others don’t want to think about possible changes at all and keep a tight rein on their independence, afraid that the role of parent and child will begin to blur if they show any vulnerability.
Respecting the lifelong role of a parent caring for their child is a delicate balance to hold dear as caregiving needs increase.
I have watched my own family over the past 10 years manoeuvre through this process.
Four daughters and one mother all coming together to deal with presenting fractures, moving to a retirement community after 56 years in the same house and finally a move into my own home, has required much patience, flexibility, communication and surrendering for each of us.
Taking my own advice some days has not always worked, but with perseverance and with the joining of a family, we have all grown and most importantly, our love has seen us through the learning process.
The learning is mostly about how to let go of fierce independence and move towards interdependence—which is defined as being mutually reliant on each other.
As adult children of a parent who is advancing in age, initiating a family meeting is a good place to start.
My siblings and I all got together on Skype to get an understanding of each person’s thoughts and concerns.
The key here is to listen and give each member of the family a chance to speak without criticism.
Start your discussion with the common ground that you share.
Sometimes just agreeing that the discussion will be hard is a good place to start. Choose a moderator if you feel this will help.
Let each one share their point of view. Resist the urge to plan a “comeback” or rebuttal.
Your brain cannot listen well and prepare to speak at the same time.
When it is your turn to speak, describe how you feel, your thoughts, your ideas, and the reasons behind your thought process. Communicate clearly and simply; don’t speak in circles or in code. Move the conversation forward and find some common ground.
Make a suggestion and then ask for feedback from the other family members. Check back in by setting up another meeting once everyone has had a chance to digest the conversation.
Three good tips to think about when you start the conversation with an aging parent are to:
1. State the issue: “Mom/Dad, all of us are concerned that there may come a time when you will need our help managing your affairs. It would make us feel a lot more comfortable to know what you wanted us to do if you were in a position where you could no longer care for yourself. Keeping peace in the family is important to all of us and we’re concerned that we might have different opinions about what you would want”.
2. Ask for permission: “Would you be willing to have a discussion and let us know what you would like for us to do? (If there is agreement to meet with you, schedule a time before you finish the conversation.)
3. Try open-ended questions: Think about the areas of concern and prepare your questions ahead of time. Be aware that your parent(s) may have two conflicting needs—the need for independence and the need for assistance.
Help them maintain as much decision-making control as possible by asking questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
These sentences should start with phrases like: How do you feel about ____? What are your thoughts on______? What would you like to do about___?
(Source: Caregiver Solutions Magazine, Vol.14, Issue 4)
Starting the family dialogue can also be initiated by the parent.
When I see this, it does make my heart sing as the willingness to let go and engage as a family is witnessed. This willingness always enhances the life choices that can be made for the future and avoids the added stress of trying to make decisions in a crisis when emotions are high and options more limited.
So whether the parent begins or the child begins, sit down and talk. Look into options. Gather information, because knowledge is power in this journey of navigating the “Golden Years” and working on it together as a family can help redefine independence positively.
Looking at my mom’s rosy cheeks when we are having a good laugh as I get her ready for bed each night, and listening to her tell the stories of the day to my sisters on the phone, lets me know that the determination to work it all through has benefited each one of us in a unique way. We have all learned to rely on each other and utilize the strengths that we each can offer to really make caring for mom a family affair.