For many working daughters, the holidays may be your best opportunity for having difficult conversations with your aging parents. As if the holiday season isn’t stressful enough!
Here’s some advice on how to broach touchy topics like moving to assisted living, giving up a driver’s license, or getting in-home assistance during your visit.
Remember, it’s a process. The “conversation” is actually a series of conversations. Don’t expect to fly in for Thanksgiving, suggest Mom or Dad or your Great Aunt Sally can no longer live independently, and get them to say, “You’re so right. Let’s make a move.” Important issues are rarely resolved through one conversation.
Listen before you talk. Do not start a conversation about potential life changes by sharing what you have observed or think. Instead start by asking your parents open-ended questions about how they are doing or what concerns they may have. In order to start a true dialogue, you need to really listen. Otherwise, you’ll have the same one-sided conversation over and over. What are your relative’s concerns? What are they open to? These decision are ultimately about their life, not just yours. So what are you hearing and how can you address it?
Go for small wins. Maybe your relative gives you a flat out “No” about not driving, but are they will agree not to drive at night. Maybe they won’t agree to leave their home, but are they open to meeting a home health aide? Will they at least tour an assisted living facility? You may feel pressed for time, but these changes are a process and they take time.
Get the facts. The more data you have, the better you’ll be able to address any fears and concerns that arise form your parents. Gather information before the discussion: what does assisted living cost, is The Ride or Meals on Wheels available, etc. Have the facts, but present them as options.
Value autonomy as well as safety. You can raise concerns about safety and you can share why what you are suggesting will ease your burden, but you are dealing with an adult and ultimately the decision is theirs. Remember, autonomy is as valid a concern as safety.
You may not resolve all you wanted to during your visit and you may go back to your home feeling like you haven’t made enough progress, but know that you are ahead of the game. Every conversation you have will help your family member get more comfortable addressing how they will manage this stage of their life.
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