Here come the holidays. Now add a pinch of Family Dynamics.

Michelle Graham sheds light on the holidays and dynamics of family communication.

By Michelle Graham of Graham & Graham Eldercare Consultants

Take a cup of family love and caring, a tablespoon of stress, a basket of concerns with fears surrounding aging and current or future care needs. Mix in different personalities and opinions. What do you get? Family dynamics.

As an Eldercare Consultant, my company typically receives record numbers of calls during the holidays starting the day after Thanksgiving! Some family members haven’t seen their aging parents for some time and are caught off guard by the decline they see in their loved one. For others, they may have noticed but are unprepared to have “the talk” with their parent(s), or there is dissension within the family on the topic of future care needs. 

If you dread approaching the subject with your parents about care, you are not alone.  For most of us, this conversation is right up there with having the other talk with our kids about the birds and the bees. Both talks can be awkward and uncomfortable.Equipping yourself with a strategy and clarifying your parents’ goals and preferences will help relieve anxiety for all involved. 

Set the Tone

Ask for permission to discuss the topic. “Can we talk about what is important to you should either of you require care or assistance?” If someone they know has recently experienced a crisis of this type, this is the ideal time to bring this topic up.  Provide “what if” examples, such as, “What is important to you if you could no longer live at home?” and “What if you could no longer care for yourself?” 

Practice Good Listening Skills

Recognize that your goal is to assist your parents in exploring their situation and options – not to force an agenda or opinion of your own. The caretaker role reversal which so often begins to take place between adult children and their aging parents can feel stressful for both parties. It’s helpful to keep in mind that your parents are still adults.

As you listen carefully to their concerns, you will then be able to hear and dispel some of their fears, such as the loss of independence or freedom. Ask non-threatening, open-ended questions such as, “What concerns you most about moving into an assisted living community Dad?” Emphasize the positive aspects of minimizing many responsibilities and gaining the freedom to do other things. 

Set the Stage for a Family Meeting

Families are unique, full of differing personalities and often-times some strong opinions!  A joint meeting will ensure that everyone understands your parents’ desires and needs and will keep peace in the family, as well as lessen guilt when those tough decisions have to be made.

It can be helpful to have a neutral party present to facilitate, such as an advisor who understands the mediation process and has a good understanding of the care options available.

  1. Start by clarifying the goal: For all of us to understand what is important to mom/dad should they require care.
  2. Set the parameters: We may differ on what we think is best, so let’s agree to discuss these hard things in a spirit of love with each other.
  3. Ask for agreement.  Let’s also agree to some basic ground rules:
    • We will each have our opportunities to speak and share our concerns.
    • We won’t interrupt each other. 
    • We will be respectful.

When exploring solutions, do not make promises, such as “You can just come and live with us, and we will take care of you.” Care needs and circumstances can change.  Unfulfilled promises can create such great anxiety, guilt and potential conflict in a family.

These conversations can be challenging. Your loving and honest communication with your parents and your family members will set the stage for future open conversations.  This is an opportunity to become closer to your parents and each other, as you move through this life journey together.

Michelle Graham, CSA, CIRS-A/D, CLP
CEO/Eldercare Consultant, Graham & Graham Eldercare Consultants