Everyone dreads the tough talks. In business they sometimes call them “Crucial Conversations”. The reason business calls these conversations “Crucial” is because they are often the most productive. They turn family issues into family solutions. Even though they are the toughest conversations to have.
Here are some tips we have found work for families with a resident in one of our assisted living homes:
The Earlier the Better to Find a Family Solution
Don’t wait for a medical emergency to have a conversation about a parent’s will or Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. They have enough to worry about with the medical emergency. .Even though It may be easier to put off tough conversations now, the longer you wait the tougher they will become.
Older people hate the fact they are losing their freedom and independence. When the kids dictate everything, it reminds them of how their losing ground. Try to let them feel in charge instead. If you give them several options, they will feel like they were in charge. You can limit the options to ones you think would be best to guide the discussion. And they can always suggest other options.
LISTEN to them!
It’s very easy to come in with an agenda and want to stick to it. Your loved one may have a different agenda. These conversations are about them. Let them have input. REALLY listen to what they have to say. Besides being very respectful, what they say will give you clues about the most effective way to talk to them.
This is an old negotiating technique I learned from some master negotiators. It makes people feel more at ease. It’s a way to empathize with them. When your elderly loved one brings up an objection to your plan, consider using this format. It makes people feel like they are not alone in this journey and lets them know others have found their family solutions:
“I understand how you feel about this..”
“I’m sure many people in your situation have felt the same way..”
“But what I (or they) have found is…”
An example would be “I understand how you feel about moving into assisted living. I’m sure many others in your situation have felt the same way. They all want to stay at home. But what I have found is that the other residents really enjoy the social aspects of meeting new people in a very safe environment.”
Don’t Make Family Solutions a Hill to Die On
Remember that ultimately it is your parent or relatives own life you are discussing. They should be the ultimate decider of what is best for them if they have a relatively sound mind. If you reach a big sticking point where you and your relative can’t agree, go with their wishes if at all feasible.
Spend time with your parent just for fun
If the only time you talk to your elderly relative is when it is about financial or legal matters, they may become suspicious of you. And besides, spending time with family is one of the most precious things to do on this earth. They can be gone before you know it.
Spending time with them just for fun, taking them out to do stuff, or just calling regularly on the phone can build up love and trust that make the hard conversations easier. Who knows, you may not have to have to tough conversation to find a family solution. You will also help them avoid depression which is so prevalent in the elderly.
Have Others Provide Potential Family Solutions
As a parent, they have been used to giving their kids advice all their lives. When the tables are turned and the kids are trying to give advice, they might resent it. That’s where a respected figure in their lives may be a better messenger for the tough conversations. Maybe a priest, financial planner, lawyer, or just a family friend that is close to their age could talk to them. We have found in our homes that residents can be downright nasty sometimes to their families. Then they turn around and are very respectful to our caregivers when they move in because they don’t know them well and they are shy.
We hope these tips help. These conversations can be very tough. They can also provide a family solution where everyone can agree. You know what they say about nothing great ever being achieved without a lot of hard work. We wish you the best of luck.