What issues might be of concern to your aging parents or grandparents? Maybe one or more of these:
1. Care, safety, and comfort;
2. Physical situation;
4. End of life decisions; and
5. Mental capacity
Wow! Tough stuff. We tend to avoid these difficult conversations, don’t we? But if we’re being truthful with ourselves, avoidance isn’t the best strategy. The key question is, how do you get started?
First, I’d suggest you make an appointment with your Senior Citizen (“SC” for short). If there are other decision makers in the family, be sure that everyone is available, and try to block out no more than an hour. Tell everyone the purpose of the meeting, including the SC. “Let’s all meet at my house on Friday from 4-5 p.m. to talk about our SC’s driving.”
Next, be prepared to discuss, but not necessarily decide. If your SC is opinionated and defensive about herself, it’s a good idea to announce that the purpose of the meeting is to gather ideas, and to listen equally to everyone. Reassure your SC that this meeting is to talk about the issue and brainstorm possible solutions, not to make unilateral decisions on her behalf without her input.
At the meeting, stay focused and take notes. State the purpose using a positive tone: “SC, we’re all here today to have a conversation about your well-being. Because we love you very much, we want to talk about the relationship between you and your car.” It’s okay to keep the tone light. Establish some ground rules; i.e., this conversation will end promptly at 5:00 p.m., and we’re going to let each person have an opportunity to speak without interruption. Once everyone has expressed their opinions about the SC and her car, including the SC, it’s time to ask questions. “Do you have any friends who drive?” Then listen to the answers. The object here is understanding, not convincing. It’s okay if the issue doesn’t get resolved.
End the meeting when you said it was going to be over, regardless of whether there’s a decision. Offer the participants some thinking time and, if possible, schedule a follow-up meeting before everyone leaves.
So what can go wrong? A lot, I’m afraid. When dealing with family members, it’s almost guaranteed that underlying issues will surface. I could tell you horror stories about the families sitting around my conference room table, where childhood rivalries, accusations of adultery, and even abuse become more important to scream about than the actual purpose of the meeting. It’s up to you to regain control. Insist on getting back to the issue at hand, which is the SC’s driving.
Understand that this is not going to be a “one and done” situation. As your SC ages, some or all of the issues listed above may come to light. If you and your family learn some conflict resolution tips along the way, you’ll allow yourselves to focus on what’s really important: the health and well-being of your SC.