June 16, 2000
By Gail R. Mitchell
If you are a boomer, you may have experienced difficulty
communicating with your parents as early as the sixties.
Take heed, for even now as mature adults, we can still
experience generational gaps. Communications is probably
one of the most important issues that crops up with adult
children caring for a parent. Likewise, caring for a spouse
can be equally as challenging for there are so many role
reversals that each person in the relationship must adjust
Discussing financial arrangements, illnesses, funeral
arrangements, etc is something that we all tend to shy
away from. However, as a primary caregiver, they are issues
that must be addressed.
You may be asking yourself, "when is the best time to
start a conversation with them?" The answer is, as
soon as possible. There is no right time. There never will
be. It is up to you to slowly balance your own energies
and thoughts and begin expressing the importance in
having these topics discussed. Your loved ones might
not be receptive, but you must begin to master
communication skills by inquiring about the information
and answers that will be needed down the road a bit.
This is especially true since your parents are probably
still coherent and able to participate in decisions. For
those who's loved one are not capable, if there are no
written directions such as a will, an advanced directive,
etc., then you will need to speak with other family members
and the course of action you will need to take will be
In either case, it is important to remember to focus
your communications in a nonconfrontational manner.
Your intent should be to strengthen the ties between
you and your loved one and possibly the entire family.
You will want to focus your energies in creating valuable
decisions that will be for the highest good of all those
Many issues may come into play. Old patterns that may
stem from your childhood may crop up once again. Parents
while confessing that they don't want to be a burden to
their children are at times, the worst offenders. You may
still want to be the little girl who receives approval from
her daddy and mommy. Or you may have guilt that motivates
you to accept the role of being their primary caregiver.
It is important that you get in touch with what your
motivations are, why you have assumed the role as
caregiver and what you hope to accomplish through the
process of caregiving. If the old patterns appear to be
getting in the way of things, you must resolve yourself
to work through them. You cannot expect your loved
one to change. You must initiate the change from within
yourself. This might mean that you get some guidance or
counseling to help you work out the problems so that you
can move into forgiveness and ultimately open to love,
while assisting your loved ones into opening as well.
Empathy and compassion are important characteristics
to continue developing, so that you will be able to anticipate
what is needed and to make wise decisions.
You may initiate conversations in the beginning by asking
your loved one to express their fears. Fears can be centered
on financial constraints, a purposeless existence, loss of
friends, and more. The elderly person who no longer feels
needed or helpful truly suffers greatly from within over this
loss. It is important to address issues of independency.
There is a personal independency in terms of their caring for
them selves on a daily basis and there is the independency to
be able to prepare meals, shop, get out, socialize, pay bills,
drive and have other needs met. I am sure you can imagine
the difficulty one might be going through when the realization
hits that you are no longer able to do these things for yourself.
Some people are able to accept these changes, but for many
the shifts are disastrous and a struggle persists from within
It is also important to remember that you should not try to
control or manipulate your loved one or others that are
involved in the caring of your loved one. I encourage you to
ask questions and really listen to their answers before
proceeding with any decisions, if they are coherent and
Many caregivers have expressed that they have become
their own parent's parent. In severe cases where the
parent is totally dependent due to a stroke, Alzheimer's
disease or some major disability, one is more apt to think
they have become the parent. Partnering is the ideal way
to think of this process. Even if a parent is incoherent, in a
coma, or whatever, I truly believe, the soul knows what is
going on. Therefore, it is important to maintain respect and
trust just as if they were coherent.
Most of our parents will not be able to ask for help outwardly
so they may ask questions or drop subtle hits that can hit
you like a ton of bricks, pushing all your buttons. Have patience
and compassion. This is their own way of expressing themselves.
You may not believe it, but they are doing the best that they
You may choose to pull current articles from magazines
and newsletters on eldercare issues and show them to your
parent and share what your thoughts and concerns are. Ask and
listen to what they are feeling. Ask your parents for advice.
Rather than asking them outright about concerns like wills, etc.,
you may say to them that you are thinking of creating your
own will. How did they go about creating theirs? "I would like
your opinion before I...” and perhaps, "how would you do
this if you were in my shoes?"
Use these simple ideas that we have discussed here to begin
opening communications. The next featured article will continue
the process of communication skills.
Be gentle and nurturing with yourself and with your loved one.
We look forward to the opportunity of serving you. We
welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions. Please
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