As our family members age and perhaps acquire age-related challenges such as depression, dementia, illness and/or disability, it can feel difficult to converse with them as you once did. You may witness a diminished capacity with their emotional, psychological and social vibrancy. You sit ever so slightly on the edge of impasse, alone with your thoughts and believe that whatever “this” is will improve.
Having a heart to heart talk about assisted living can feel like a tug of war - each person stating their mission and agenda, more than likely ending in an emphatic and repetitive “No!” Neither side benefits from sitting on opposite ends of a boxing ring. The good news is that neither party needs to feel agony or defeat.
Even with boxing, there is rhythm and technique. The key to more successful conversations with your family member is to change the rhythm. Interacting effectively and compassionately now will serve as an anchor for what is to come. Below are some strategies to help guide your conversations.
- Start Now: Whether you decide to take a walk, enjoy a nice drive or sit together at home, having the conversations today will give you time to assess and contemplate any issues that arise. Some family members may be ready to take this next step. Others may be resistant in packing their bags. Your job is to be patient and start to become aware of what matters the most to your family member, being thoughtful around challenging and emotional questions that emerge. Remember, it is not one conversation; it is many consistent conversations over a course of time. A simple acknowledgement that you are engaged in their well-being can set a strong foundation. Rehearsing what you will say or writing a letter can be a great first step. Never underestimate asking, “How are you doing?” We feel assured when we are being seen and heard.
- Develop Connection: It’s essential to have a goal of connection. Connecting with your authentic voice, one that is present and understanding, not only sets the stage for openness and transparency but gives you the space to share the convictions and concerns important to you. It also allows you to capture information that holds value to your loved one. Listening to the needs and desires of another is important in learning what motivates your family member. Share your fears and aspirations and ask them to do the same. The language we choose will either compel us to form a deeper connection or can lead us astray so choose language that will provide a space of safety and serenity for both you and your family member.
- Set an Intention: Not every conversation has to have a result or action related to it. But setting an intention before starting the conversation helps in managing your expectations. Write down all of the things you want from a conversation with your family member, then detach yourself from the outcome. The questions you will want to ask yourself are: Who do you want to be in this conversation? How do you want to feel when you leave this conversation? What is a realistic outcome? Focus on what is attainable in the current moment and mood of the environment. For example, what may be attainable is one small compromise in one area of concern versus a final agreement on the bigger picture. Assisted living is a big topic so it’s best to take small steps.
- Acknowledge the Legacy: Everyone comes to the table with a past - a history of relationships, achievements, adversities, values, traditions and a variety of places they called home. Recognizing and honoring someone’s legacy is crucial to feeling understood and respected. Your family member is deserving of you advocating for the aspects of their life that have created comfort and joy for them. As you are sharing your needs, observations and worries, keep in mind that a move will require not only physically leaving a space, but an emotional, social and sometimes spiritual letting go. What you can do is encourage your loved one to continue building their legacy by creating photo albums, keeping journals, collecting family recipes and so much more. We need to feel continuity in life even as we transition from one chapter to another.
- Be A Partner: When you communicate to someone that they must move because more assistance is needed to live their life, there is often full rebellion, stemming from a fear of abandonment and protection of one’s assets, emotional space and an affirmed right to make decisions for themselves. That is why it’s essential to frame a conversation that includes their preferences and desires but also conveys that they will not be alone. You are there to help. Both of you will read the brochures together, tour the facilities and make the decisions as a family. This is a family affair and being a partner can help in forging a stronger relationship. We experience more fulfillment when we have someone to lean on.
- Form A Communal Network: It takes a village and having a conversation with your family member about assisted living is no different. Central to your success is knowing that you have others there for you. Think about what you need to feel supported along this journey. Research who is available in your community, what support groups are in the area and reach out. Sometimes it takes one phone call, email or just showing up to alleviate the belief that everything has to be done on your own. Some community resources that can be of assistance are your local Office on Aging, Geriatric Care Managers, Disability Specialists, Legal and Financial Counselors and Caregiver Support Groups.
- Contact A Family Mediator: Despite preparation and your best-laid plans, communicating about sensitive matters such as assisted living may cease to garner any compromise or solution. Family history and dynamics can be complex and setting boundaries by inviting an objective party may be the most caring thing you can do. How conflicts are heard and resolved will influence adjustments to next steps. Third parties can be instrumental. They help you and your family members clearly define the pressing issues, keep lines of communication open and encourage discussion and resolution. We have the right to ask for help with complicated and overwhelming situations.
There will be moments of frustration and uncertainty. The focus should be on what you can do. Transitions are a process and they require dialogue, support, reflection, and action. Priya Soni is the Founder and CEO of The Caregiving Effect LLC, a platform and service launched to create a space for adult children who have cared for their parent(s)/parental figures due to aging, illness and/or disability. She has developed a mission to build a movement of mentors, caregiver visionaries, who are utilizing the insights and wisdom from their stories as a tool to help the many who will or are walking the path of caregiving. Through her coaching and consulting, adult children turn their unexpected role as caregiver into a role of a lifetime—The Caregiving Effect (#thecaregivingeffect), a term she has coined. One of her greatest passions is creating community. Reach out to Priya at www.priyasoni.net.