Family dynamics are never easy, but they can be especially complicated when it comes to decisions that surround the process of aging. In a perfect world, the family unit works together to provide their senior the best options and loving outcomes. Remember, I said "in a perfect world." Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
Families with a senior struggle because of differing opinions on care, location, money, property, time constraints and more. Even the strongest family groups can be torn apart during this stressful time. While doing research on the issue of conflict resolution, I came across leadership expert Michael Hyatt and his thoughts on conflict resolution in the workplace. No, we're not dealing with bosses, and employees; however, these same basic steps with a little tweaking can be very useful when working through issues within the family. Communication is critical when seeking the best possible outcome, so before the threads of the family unravel, consider steps 1 and 2, then open the dialogue with steps 3-6.
1. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don't know all the facts involved in caring for your loved one or are unaware of the total amount of time you spend in care activities. Are you making assumptions regarding their willingness to help? Stop - and keep an open mind and open heart.
2. Always speak directly to the person with whom you are having an issue. How many times do we complain about someone's behavior but yet don't let them know our concerns?That hardly seems fair. If you are upset with a family member, caregiver, or friend, talk specifically to them. Don't share your feelings with others who can have no impact on the situation.
When you do decide to have a meaningful conversation to resolve your concerns:
3. Affirm the relationship. Let this person know that you love and value them, and are opening up because you care about your relationship. Let them know that you need to share something that is bothering you so that you can resolve it together. Confirm the fact that you have a common interest in what is best for your senior loved one.
4. Outline the issue objectively. This is often hard to do since these topics are emotionally charged but try to isolate exactly what is causing you pain. For example, simply saying you feel "taken advantage of" is not specific enough. Isolate what the circumstances are that cause you to feel this way. "I am currently taking Mom to all of her doctor appointments." "I am responsible for handling the expenses for Dad's care and he doesn't have the funds to cover it." Write down your pain points so you don't get off track.
5. Be clear about what it will take to fix the problem. It is important to communicate and then listen. Be clear about what meaningful measurable steps can be taken to move forward. "I need your help in taking Mom to her appointments. If you can take her to run errands, I can take her to doctor appointments, but I can't continue to do both." You also need to listen to understand the dynamic of how together you can reach positive resolution.
6. Discuss the outcome - positive and negative - and the consequences. The outcome you hoped for could be as simple as being upfront and open. Congratulations! However, should you find that you can not resolve the problem at least you will know where you stand and can make decisions accordingly. Opening the lines of communication with your family member or caregiver helps to make things transparent. If the resolution is not what you had in mind, then this is the time to indicate what the consequences will be. "If you can't find a way to help me with Dad's care, then I fear that the family and our relationship will suffer irreparable damage." "You've stated that you can't help take some of the responsibilities for Mom's care. That will mean we will have to hire some help. I will need you to assist in covering the cost and interview caregivers."
There is no guarantee that open communication will solve all the concerns of caring for seniors that we love, however, it is the best tool in our toolbelt. If you are still struggling to work together, don't just throw in the towel. Patience, time, and prayer are powerful healers.
Should you have suggestions on how better to navigate working within families for productive outcomes, please leave me a message in the comment section so we can all help each other!