Broaching the Subject of Change

Getting together with family over the Holidays can be wonderful and at the same time it can be challenging. . . .  Sometimes one or more adult children won’t have seen Mom or Dad for a few months and one or more parents’ health, mobility and cognitive decline can feel like a huge elephant in the room. 

Broaching the subject of what comes next can be scary for everyone involved.  Talking to our parents about aging and their evolving needs isn’t one of those conversations that you want to initiate in between: Please pass the broccoli casserole? and What a delicious dessert!

Sensitively choosing a good time to broach the topic of change can be a challenge in itself but it is helpful to look for a time when no one is likely to feel that they are being ambushed.  Sometimes next steps may seem obvious to one or more adult child but, as I shared in my recent CAWEE breakfast presentation, it is important to “Honour the Heart Within” – for all of you.

As a wise friend once shared with me: “Helping a parent to move involves a lot more than booking a truck and ordering some boxes. . . .”  While it may seem hard to talk to our parents about their evolving safety, mobility and relocation needs, it can be worse to take the path of least resistance and bury our heads in the sand.  It’s important to find a way to get a conversation initiated, while your parents can make their perspectives, feelings and desires known.

Multiple Perspectives: Theirs & Ours

Our perspectives guide our outlook and our decisions.  This is true for your parents and it is true for you.

You Might See:

Your Parents Might See:

A Sibling Might See:

How to Help?

This may be a very tricky path, requiring lots of patience and empathy.  Fortunately, there are resources that you can research and explore before a time of crisis. Remember that not everything will be accepted or workable in the moment, but later in the process you might cycle back to an earlier idea and it may seem more workable then.  Rome was not built in a day.

Four Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Maintain respect for your parent’s need for autonomy throughout the process,
  2. Create opportunities to check things out – the unknown is scary; help to explore a few options.Most people shy away from a big change and anxiety can develop a stronger grip with age,
  3. Maintain a long term perspective but communicate in the moment and stay fluid and adaptable.
  4. Identify how you can help from a distance. Everyone has different strengths and different ways that they can contribute.Sometimes it is emotional, sometimes it’s financial and each of us has a specific expertise that they can bring to the table.

Quick Start Tips

One key to maintaining your parents’ independence and to reduce your own anxiety is to get informed - before a health care crisis hits. With long term vision and “your patience on full” – keep your options open for closing that “perspectives” gap. Assure your parent(s) and siblings that you always want to know what they want most as well a potential “Plan B” in case everything doesn’t go as hoped.  This will seem much less threatening than: “This is how it has to be – we just need to get it done”. 

Talking openly about our hopes and fears might be easier for us than for our aging parents but it can pay dividends.  When we acknowledge that we understand the other person’s perspective we build trust and yes, hope.  If something happens that moves things forward quickly you will know in your heart that you are all doing your best to achieve what Mom and/or Dad would want.

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