Since beginning my career as a Senior Advisor one of the most FAQ’s is, “How do I talk to Mom and Dad about the fact that they are aging?” It’s a challenge but truth be told we are all aging. Growing older begins the moment we let out our first cry gasping for air until the moment we take our last breath. It’s life.
In an effort to find the magic formula for facing mortality (our own and our parents), I scoured the internet. Surely someone had found the magic bullet for helping us communicate this chapter with Mom and Dad. I was shocked at how little information is available. Again the baby boomer children are blazing a new trail. Dealing with the challenges of aging parents is something we didn’t get to see our parent model because their parents passed earlier (60’s70’s and 80’s). Healthcare services, nutrition and exercise have increased life span for everyone. We’re seeing our own parents living into their late 80’s 90’s and even farther. Why in the world would they listen to us? Because they must. We are the responsible adults that must and will either assist in or ultimately make the decisions. So how do we begin?
“Listen to understand.” One of the most debilitating things I have seen while working with seniors and their families is the unwillingness of the adult children to accept the responsibilities of being an adult. It takes a strong loving child to make the best decisions for the parents they love. In some cases this will conflict with Mom or Dad’s immediate wishes. Stepping out of the role of “child” is challenging. Parents struggle with letting their child assist in making decisions. Truly understanding why your parent feels the way they do can go a long way toward coming to a consensus on next steps.
In the words of Steven Covey on his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
“Communication is the most important skill in life.” We speak or otherwise relay our message, take in what other people have to say, and formulate a response. Dr. Covey posits, however, that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” As Dr. Covey describes, sometimes we are so focused on getting our message across that we completely forget that the person we are attempting to communicate with is speaking from their own frame of reference.
“Start conversations early.” Discussing possible changes in health, financial situation and living arrangements will have better results if your family member is still able to manage well on their own and are not immediately confronted with the change. Fear is the biggest reason that our loved ones shut us out -fear of aging, fear of health concerns and fear of change. Talking it out before a significant life change or specific event can alleviate fear. This will give your parent a feeling of control and will assure that you know their true wishes.
“Seek the blessing and share it.” This journey of aging is challenging for both parent and child. Let your parent know that this is a time that you can “give back.” Parents will be much more accepting of your counsel and care if they feel that they are not a burden but a blessing. Even if your relationship with Mom or Dad has been rocky this can be an experience that allows you to expand your compassion and grow your spirit.
“Ask for help.” No parent or child can be expected to travel this road alone so access all the resources available to assist you. Don’t hesitate to enlist the help of family, friends, church members, community services, your healthcare providers, and make sure you READ and get informed.
It was our strong independent parents who survived a Great Depression, fought in a World War, saw man race to the moon, endured defiant children of the 60’s and70’s, and set the tone for a cultural and technological shift. They truly are the Greatest Generation! Many logistical things are involved with caring for our aging parents – finances, living arrangements, healthcare concerns, even end of life arrangements. We can honor our parents in this chapter of their lives by choosing to communicate.
It’s a simple message we seek to share with our parents,
“Do not be afraid, you are not alone, I am here.”