Conversation Starters

Most adult children have to deal with the situation of caring for aging parents at some point, and it is difficult to prepare for this event. Often,there seems to be only one option when it comes time to talk about the future: to tell your parents what they should do. While this is done with the best intentions, a significant source of stress and fear for aging parents is losing their independence, which is triggered when their children attempt to control the conversation.

Aging parents may react to being told what to do by becoming less willing to share information about their health and struggles in an effort to continue living independently, which typically leads to a crisis situation. Alternatively, aging parents may give in to their children's demands simply in order to cooperate, and then become unhappy or withdrawn.

Lynne Coon, a professional counsellor, suggests a different, three-pronged, approach:

  1. Share your concerns with your parents. Use "I" as much as possible, since the word "you" tends to make others defensive and may make your parent stop listening.
  2. Ask your parents for their ideas on how to move forward. This step is a process, and may require a few conversations, which is why it is good to start talking as soon as you sense that there is need for a change. It's unrealistic to expect that one conversation is all it will take to arrive at a solution.
  3. Be willing to compromise. Is it more important that your parents make some changes or that nothing changes? Listening and respecting your parent's opinions can also increase the chances they'll be willing to make further changes in the future.

Keep in mind this three-pronged approach as you seek to maintain open communication and prevent the possibility of crisis-initiated change or unhappiness for your aging parent, and visit Lynne Coon's page for more helpful articles and resources.

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