This month we’ve been considering communication in the elder law context. In this post I’d like to talk about the most important conversation and that is between the child and the aging parent. These happen often during the Holidays. Children may notice a big change since they saw their parent last. Siblings may whisper “Mom is not doing as well as she usually does.”
How does one have “the conversation” without being shut out by the parent?
Let’s say that Mom is in her mid-80’s. Dad died some years ago from a heart attack. She adapted well to living alone, but the children have noticed problems. Oldest daughter reports that some bills have been paid late. Her housekeeping, while adequate is not as immaculate as before. She seems to have cut back on social activities that got her out of the house many times a week. Finally, she dropped in a conversation that she takes a “memory pill” her doctor prescribed along with her daily vitamin. She said it is just supposed to prevent memory loss.
It is clear that Mom is declining and needs help. She may not be able to live alone much longer, but she says she does not want or need any help. She is just getting old and “needs to try a little bit harder. Old age isn’t easy you know.”
How do you get started? One of the best books I’ve read on the subject of elder care is written by Joy Loverde, called The Complete Elder Care Planner, published by Three Rivers Press. You might even find it in you local library. I’ll be writing a review of her book in a later post, but here I would like to bring in some of her practical tips.
Create a partnership: The first step is to contemplate a partnership, not a takeover. You are the junior partner. Your job is to approach the senior partner. In other words, you are still the child of your parent.
Ask Questions: One of Loverde’s key strategies is to ask questions. How do you get a conversation started? Ask questions. Frame them in Parent-Child terms. I’ll quote a couple examples but for more, buy this book!
Ask for advice: “Mom I’m beginning to think about planning for my retirement, and it looks like you are doing well. Do you have any tips for me?”
Refer to experience or authority: relay the experience of a coworker, or print out an article, about a family that had to hire a lawyer and go to probate court just because her mother didn’t have a “power of attorney.” Finish the report with “Isn’t that outrageous?”
Ask for a favor: “Mom, I need a favor. Beth needs money for school. Will you let her clean your house so she can earn some something?”
Ask for the solution: Finally, Joy recommends using the question method throughout the problems solving process. Once a problem has been identified you might ask “What do you plan to do to solve this problem? “ And “Have you thought about other options if your plans don’t work out?”
The brilliance of her method is that it eases the parent’s natural fear that “the kids are trying to take over” and that it keeps the parent involved in the process. There is much more in her very practical book, The Complete Eldercare Planner. Get it.
Finally I want to note that a good part of Joy’s structure mirrors that of Zig Ziglar. Great minds think alike. More about Zig in an upcoming post.
Wishing you all the best,
The Holiday season comes upon us and it is a time of joy for many families, but it is also a time for arguments for others. My posts this month will look at how to resolve these conflicts and by communication.
How does a lawsuit begin? Most times it is out of an argument – two people disagreeing about who or what is right. Life is filled with difficult conversations. In the aging field these involve parents, children and spouses and these can lead to explosive family court battles. How can one stop a lawsuit before it begins? By having the parties talk to each other and working it out.
But. Too many “conversations” are really two monologues delivered simultaneously. Each person is not hearing what the other is saying. In that vein, I would like to introduce the concept of “active listening.” I do not believe that it is the solution to disagreements. Listening is a necessary part of a conversation, but it is not the whole conversation.
Let’s consider the first step, hearing the other person.
So. Let’s say Mom has had yet another fall in her house. Or, Dad’s car has another dent or scrape. On top of the myriad other little things that are going wrong, we know it is time for them to move to a safer living situation. We know we could file for guardianship in probate court and take control of their lives. How would that affect our relationship? What if other siblings still believe the myth that “Mom and Dad” are alright? We could have a poisonous court battle. Would it not be better if Mom or Dad would agree?
How do we have that conversation? What are they thinking? At this point “active listening” is essential. Now what is wonderful about this concept is that it involves more than listening. In the elder law context, we may call it “respectful listening.” For example, we could probably check our phone for messages while Dad gives the same tired and flimsy explanation about the damage to his car. But, then Dad would likely give our part of the conversation the same consideration.
What I like about the active listening concept is that it combines listening and respect for the other’s position. With those established we can plan for the best possible result. Read about it here. The skill of active listening
In the next post we will discuss other issues in producing positive results through conversation.