by Joy Loverde
You live in your own little world and your aging parents live in theirs. So when you start talking to them about anything related to their future, what you are saying and how they receive the information is very often different than what you might think.
When discussions between a parent and an adult child take place, each person – parent and child -- enters the conversation from a distinctly different point of view. What’s my point you might ask? Being sensitive to these differences may help make interactions with your aging parents go more smoothly.
For starters, there’s a conflicting understanding of who does what. Let’s start with us.
Watching a parent age is a poignant experience. To notice suddenly that Dad’s hair is pure white or watching as Mom walks ten paces slower than usual triggers fears that significant decline, or even death, is right around the corner. In an attempt to hold back time, we make statements such as, “Mom, if you sell the house and move closer we can spend more time together,” or, “Dad, are you sure you’re feeling up to mowing the lawn?” Below the surface we may be struggling with their mortality and having thoughts like, “When did you get to be so old?” and, “You’re the parent, you’re supposed to take care of me,” and, “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
The fact remains that we may someday live life without our parents and thoughts of that nature may race through our minds as we talk with them. At the same time we don’t want to believe any of it as truth. So at this point we may sincerity believe that the perceived role of the adult child when talking with parents, is to shelter and protect.
Our elderly parents, on the other hand, may operate from a completely different set of attitudes and rules. When they tell us they “don’t want to be a burden,” they mean it! They believe that staying out of our way (and remaining independent at all costs) is the RIGHT thing to do. Unfortunately, they may be unaware of the serious consequences of being extremely independently-minded.
Maintaining independence at an advanced age often requires some level of assistance from others, and resistance to help of any kind can carve a destructive path. Most of us have been here and it’s hard to convince them of anything else.
We’ve all been raised to prize independence and individualism, yet in a fundamental way we are dependent—and more precisely, interdependent—on others. We’re better together, and need each other in order to meet our needs. The objective of parent-adult child eldercare conversations is to encourage mutually responsible partnerships. Partnering with, rather than parenting our parents, is the desired approach.
Do what you can to focus conversations on “we” rather than “you” and I. And if and when they do make decisions that are not for the benefit of everyone else around them, keep your aging parents accountable for their own choices. This is a “now what?” rather than an “I told you so” conversation.
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