BY ALI DAVIDSON
HOW TO ESTABLISH THE PARAMETERS OF ELDERCARE WITH MOM AND DAD BEFORE THEY NEED IT
Today, the life expectancy for women is 80 years and for men only 5 years less, so it is likely that you will be faced with managing your parents care. It’s important that you have this conversation while parents are still strong and healthy and not clouded by the heightened emotions of a critical medical crisis.
“Your parents need to know that they can maintain control over what happens to them even when they need extra care,” says Ali Davidson, author of Between You and Me. During the conversation about eldercare, children can also express their need for peace of mind for when that time comes.
The main benefit of having the eldercare conversation now, rather than later, is that children and parents can work out a plan cooperatively that addresses everyone’s needs, so that when the time comes, families can act fast to protect the ones they love in the manner that their loved ones have chosen.
Davidson offers us the following parameters with which to navigate the minefields of aging parents and shows how to create new, emotionally healthy roles among the old family scripts:
Begin with partnership in mind. You’ve heard the phrase “parenting your parents.” This is not a helpful or constructive design for your future relationship. You will always be the child and they the parents. If you take the “parent” role then in the reversal your parent becomes the “child” and will rebel against your assistance. Establishing a relationship of partnership leads to collaboration of the wants and needs, promotes cooperation, and maintains equality for both of you. Siblings must be included. Everyone must be in agreement and participate in all planning discussions.
Make sure that you approach this conversation with an open mind and heart. You are all entering a new phase together. Let go of preconceived notions, assumptions and judgments. Heal old barriers and recognize that your parent did the best they could and no longer have the power they had when you were a child. Forgiveness is important in order to create a new relationship. Enter this conversation with care and respect.
Reframe from the start that you understand the need for independence but that independence doesn’t mean never needing help. Independence is synonymous with control. That is what we all want, especially as people assist others and accept assistance all their lives. That will not change as they age. By talking about it now and creating a plan for themselves, a senior maintains control even if they need assistance to implement the plan.
Remember that in this conversation your job is to ask questions not give answers. This time is about finding out what your parents want as they age. Let them control the cadence, speed, and solutions of this conversation. Ask questions using “what, where, when, how and who” but not “why.” Why takes us to deep- seated beliefs we most often feel we need to defend. Also use softeners in the opening of your questions such as: I’m wondering; Have you considered; or I’m curious about . . .
Before you begin the conversation be clear about your motivation. If you are angry, frustrated, or stressed, this conversation will end badly. If you are motivated by your desire for safety, wellbeing and quality of life for both you, and your parent, your outcome will be rewarding. Knowing your intention and desired outcome before you start the conversation will make it easier for you to identify when it has been met. The motivation for that outcome must come from a peaceful and loving place in you.
Use your experience or that of a friend to begin the conversation. Example: “My friend’s father broke a hip and is in the hospital. My friend has to make decisions for him and is unsure what to do. I’m not sure I know what you would want me to do if that happened to you. Could we talk about it?” Or, “I’ve heard so much about how seniors lose control as they age because others’ have to make decisions for them. I want to make sure that you never feel that way so I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk to me about what you want, so that I’m clear about how to help you if you need it.”
Be sure your timing is right for both of you. This is a conversation that shouldn’t be rushed. So make time for it. Make sure it takes place somewhere free of distractions and other people. Make sure that you are both relaxed and able to give your full attention to each other. Match their speed and tempo. Don’t rush their answers, be patient.
Educate yourself before the conversation of the options available in senior care. It’s important to know and understand what needs to be discussed, i.e. living arrangements, outside help, power of attorney, when to stop driving, etc. The more you know the better you will be able to ask the right questions and help your parent make the best decisions. You may also need to educate yourself of your parent’s current status through the observations of others like friends, neighbors, or doctors, who have more daily contact with them. The input of others will help you know what needs to be discussed in the way of concerns.
Be aware that you might get some resistance from parents. They may be reluctant to have this conversation or unsure of what they want in the future. Resistance is present when we are afraid. You can help break down that barrier by asking what they are concerned about, what frightens them about having this conversation, and what might help ease their fear. You can also share your reason for wanting to assist them with this process: To help them live the life they want, even if in the future they can’t do certain things for themselves and with the knowledge of what they want established, you will have peace of mind.
Be watchful for the signs of being overwhelmed. Sometimes this discussion brings on feelings of loss or painful memories for a parent. Be sensitive to their level of comfort and their stamina. Be willing to suspend the conversation for now and continue at another time. It won’t all be worked out in one talk.
Having this conversation before a crisis is the key to your peace of mind and your parent’s sense of control. Using the PARAMETERS will assist you to begin a difficult conversation that will have rewarding results in your relationships.#
A former owner of an in-home care agency, Ali Davidson, author of Between You and Me, worked with seniors and their families for nine years. She is a certified Neuro-Linguistic-Programming Master Practitioner and has counseled individuals, couples, and families through her private practice.