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Something to Talk About

Something to Talk About

December 1, 2015

by Monte Schwartz

Family conversations can be tough to have. Money, marriage, kids, etc. Out of fear, tough conversations tend to be avoided. Instead of talking something through, issues simmer until they’re brought up in the wrong way and in an emotionally charged environment. Brings to mind the quote usually attributed to Ambrose Pierce: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Unfortunately, this is often how things play out between adult children and their parents when it comes to discussing elder care issues. It’s a situation we’ve seen all too often. Communication breaks down (at least when it comes to this topic) and resentment builds. At best, something of an uneasy truce emerges. The sad part is that nothing resembling good workable solutions or options is being discussed or worked out.

Admittedly, this is not an easy issue to discuss, one made all the more difficult by the circumstances in the lives of both the adult children and their parents. We’ve discussed numerous times in the past the hectic lives that the adult children are leading between their own careers and family. Yet it is also a difficult time for their parents. As much as anything, they are often dealing with loss: the loss of friends and loved ones (often the loss of a spouse), the loss of mobility and health, the loss of independence, etc.

So what can adult children do to get the conversation started and perhaps make it a bit easier? The first piece of advice that experts generally give is to start the conversation sooner rather than later. The last thing anybody wants is to be dealing with a crisis situation and trying to figure out everything at once while under a severe amount of pressure.

“Be brave enough to have a conversation that matters.”—Margaret Wheatley

Furthermore, realize going into this that it probably won’t be a one and done conversation. It is usually more of a process. Take it one step at a time. Just realizing this sometimes relaxes the mood and the situation. For example, the adult child won’t feel like they have one chance at getting this right and then get overly upset if it didn’t turn out the way they envisioned. Along those lines, if it’s obviously a bad time for your parents or something they don’t want to discuss at the moment, don’t push too hard. Better to save it for another day and keep the lines of communication open.

Experts also warn against going it alone if at all possible. If siblings are involved, try to come to an agreement before talking to your parents. Otherwise, you’re likely to send conflicting messages and make it easier for your parents to procrastinate. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help and advice. Besides industry knowledge, experts in the field can often bridge communication gaps in the family. I’ll never forget when an adult son I had been working with asked me to call his mother and tell her the exact same thing I had just told him, because she would listen to me but not to him. It’s more common than people realize.

Finally, and this can be the hardest part in stressful situations, don’t forget to be respectful and show some genuine empathy for your parents’ situation. They are likely to be frightened about their situation and worried about the future as well. The less judgmental you are, the more likely that any conversation will go well. The tone of voice you use can also make a big difference. Try to keep things as calm and pleasant as possible. Reassure them that you are there for them and want what is best.

This is by no means exhaustive and may not apply to every situation, but will hopefully still be helpful in starting and having a successful conversation regarding eldercare issues.

This article was published in the August Issue of Healthy Cells –…

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