If you have yet to experience any challenges as your mom and dad get older, buckle up.
I’ve written a lot about aging parent issues. How to start conversations with your parents about their driving, their living situations, and their health, to name a few. I’ve written about sharing this responsibility with your siblings. Is this happening right now in your family? What if you and your brother have completely different ideas about what’s best for your mother? What if your sister lives out of state, and rarely visits your dad? What if you think your brother and sister are taking advantage of you? What if you know you’re right about all of this?
If you ever played the game “Telephone” when you were a kid (you whisper something and the next kid repeats it to the next kid, etc., until the last kid says it aloud), you know how perceptions alter observations. Your younger brother may have an entirely different view about whether dad is exhibiting symptoms of dementia. Your older sister may be in denial about the inevitable. You might be fearful, because you’re financially more secure than your siblings, that you’re going to have to pay a greater portion for your parents’ care. These are all real issues, and I’d be willing to bet that you know someone who’s wrestling with one or more of them right this minute.
Obviously, you need to have a couple of talks with your siblings.
Conversation #1: Ask everyone to share observations of your dad’s recent behavior. Key words here: share observations. That doesn’t mean dispute what your sister said she saw. It means it’s your turn to do the listening. Remember that observations aren’t always objective; they are often tainted by our individual frames of reference, especially when they relate to a subject matter as personal as our parents. After everyone has had an equal opportunity to share what they’ve seen, you are all going to need some thinking time to work on solutions. It’s best to set another appointment with your siblings to have the second conversation. Make sure everybody understands that the agenda for the next talk is to resolve the specific and immediate problem(s).
Conversation #2: Key words here: brainstorm solutions. That doesn’t mean to shoot down somebody else’s idea. Rather, it means to expound upon it. Here’s where it can get tricky because old family habits could surface. If you’re the eldest, you might have a tendency to take the lead and assume you’re right. If you’re the youngest, you might revert into subservience. As in Conversation #1, it’s important to do your fair share of listening.
In my Family Mediation Practice, I’ve dealt with many adult siblings who cannot agree on what’s best for their aging parent. Often times, it takes a neutral third party to help the family remember the purpose for the meeting. It’s not to rehash past events. Rather, it’s to honor their aging parent in the best, most compassionate way possible.