Your Aging Parents And Their Changing Needs – Smart Ways to Start “The Talk”

by Joyce Koria Hayes

Why won’t my father listen to me? I only want what’s best for him.

Are you working and attending to the needs of your spouse and children, while at the same time have aging parents who look to you for assistance? Then you’re a member of what’s called the “Sandwich Generation,” and you likely feel stretched a little thin. Rest assured, you are not alone. As the baby-boomer generation ages, more and more people are faced with the same problem.

A lack of time to attend to everyone’s needs is often a stressor. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day. Perhaps you’re trying to work out a solution, but when you talk with your parents and try to bring up the subject of outside help or maybe even a move to a less demanding residence, your parent or parents shut you down.

Geriatric psychologists and elder mediators agree that the approach you use can very well start or end the conversation. A statement such as “Dad, you have to” is likely to be met with opposition and defiance. Dad may not say it or even think it, but the gut reaction is: “I am an adult. Who are you to tell me what I have to do?” Instead, if you want to get the conversation off to a good start, talk about your needs and concerns. “Dad I am really getting a little stressed out. Brittany has ballet and soccer and Tom has football and cello and their Dad is working a lot of overtime. It’s getting hard for me to drive an hour each way to take you to the grocery store every week. I need us to look at whether there is some other way of getting it done.”

Once the conversation starts, the most important phase begins. Listen beyond the words. It may be that Dad’s real concern isn’t getting groceries into the house, but fear that if you don’t have the responsibility for groceries he may not get to see you very much. Can you think to ask him, “What do you think will happen if I stopped taking you to the grocery store every week?” Be ready to talk about reassuring plans to continue visiting – maybe not every week but at least once a month with the promise to bring the children and your husband along.

This is just one hypothetical. There is a huge range of possible personal needs and emotions that can underlie the disagreeing positions of various family members. Just remember that whatever your proposed solution to a problem might be, it is never the only possible solution. Be open to considering alternatives.

Joyce Koria Hayes, Esq., is the Executive Director, Secretary and Mediator at Delaware Elder Mediation Services, Inc..

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