I recently hosted a meeting of 30 professionals who support seniors in various ways. The focus of our meeting was helping adult children deal with their “difficult” parents.
Okay, so maybe the parents aren’t difficult, but the situations can be: a father who won’t give up his car keys even though he’s rolled over the mailbox for the third time, a mom who repeatedly turns down your home cooking even though she’s burned holes in every pot in her kitchen or a couple who refuse to discuss their financial situation with anyone in the family.
As members of the group exchanged stories of how they handled difficult situations, words of wisdom flowed.
1. Don’t expect to change your parents immediately. According to author John Comer, “Parents appreciate your thoughts about how they should run their lives about as much as you enjoy their thoughts on how you should run yours. If something is important enough, try practicing the ‘wear them down’ principle. When one of your suggestions is rejected, don’t take it personally. Tactfully bring up the subject again and again.”
2. Don’t expect your parents to ask for help. No matter what our age, we often believe we can handle whatever is thrown our way. Seniors in particular don’t want to be a nuisance or a bother to their children.
According to Curt Gorlick, “The Life Choice Strategist,” “Getting our parents to open up requires minimizing fears and optimizing trust. Change happens more easily when this is achieved. Allow your parents to feel important and heard.” Gorlick suggests listening at a deeper level and being honest in your communication, even if you feel a little exposed.
3. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If there is a large topic or issue that’s obvious to everyone but is deliberately avoided, Allison Ross of Concepts for Living suggests bringing it out in the open.
4. Don’t micromanage. Helicopter children are guilty of questioning their parents in a manner that makes them feel incapable, giving them detailed instruction and checking everything they do. These children seldom praise their parents and often criticize them. Let’s face it, many of the decisions our parents make are not lifethreatening. So what if Dad wants to wear a threadbare shirt out to dinner? Don’t sweat the small stuff.
5. Don’t confuse your priorities with those of your parents. Unless it is health- or safety-related, ask yourself: Is what you want to do really important to your parent?
6. Don’t underestimate the effects of aging and loss. Nancy Knutson of Buena Vista Hospice encourages adult children to be sensitive to how painful it is for one spouse to watch another lose their health or memory.
7. Lastly, don’t beat yourself up. Lorna Milliken, a marriage and family therapist, suggests, “Be gentle with yourself and try to see the humor in situations. If you act from the heart, that’s the best you can do. It’s important to acknowledge and honor the loving effort you’ve made in caring for your aging parent.”