How to Effectively Communicate With Your Aging Parents
Adult children and their aging parents often struggle with communicating. In fact, communication and interaction styles are among the top types of conflict experienced among intergenerational family members. In a study published in The Gerontologist, 67 percent of the elderly respondents said they experienced conflict with their adult children. Communication was mentioned as the root of the problem for 32 percent of the participants.
Add in the dynamics of caregiving and you have a potential powder keg for emotional fallout that many people never see coming. Communication is so important in all relationships, and it can become difficult when you're dealing with aging parents. Little memory lapses, cognitive decline, mood changes – these can all leave both of you feeling frustrated, which can derail your relationship. Keeping the lines of communication open and learning how to communicate effectively is the key to nurturing a health and loving relationship. These communication tips are designed to help you create an environment that leaves your parents feeling they're being heard and their wishes are being respected while still allowing you to express yourself.
Try to Understand the 'Why'
When you're caring for elderly parents, you'll almost inevitably come up against resistance, persistence, and insistence that leads to conflict. A study headed by Steven Zarit and Allison Heid revealed that identifying the reasons behind that stubbornness and taking a new conversational approach may help relieve tensions and facilitate better communication. For many aging parents, trying to hold onto their independence and autonomy can lead to them trying to do things their own way, disregarding the advice or wishes of their children, and digging in their heels on issues. Supporting their independence and being mindful of the "why" can go a long way to smoothing out rocky conversations.
Accept You May Have Different Opinions
You're not always going to agree, and that's ok. No matter how close you are with your parents, you're going to see things differently from time to time. The key is for everyone to respect others' opinions. Listen to all sides of an issue and work together to figure out the best way forward.
For you to understand your aging parents and for them to feel as though they're being heard, you need to really listen to them. Don't rush the conversation or assume you know what they're talking about. What seems clear to you might be anything but to them. Don't interrupt them, finish their thoughts, or fill the silence that might settle in during a brief pause. Instead, be patient and try using reflexive listening, a technique that has you rephrasing what your parents said, ensuring you understand and making your parents feel supported. For example, you might say, "Yes, I understand that you're worried about XYZ. I am, too, but if that doesn't happen…"
Make Time for Your Parents
Juggling a busy schedule and all the responsibilities of everyday life can leave you rushing through conversations and spending little time connecting. Setting aside ample time to spend with your parents instead of just checking in quickly can go a long way to having more meaningful conversations. While you're at it, make sure you approach interactions with empathy and avoid making them feel like you're constantly assessing and evaluating them. Make sure you're taking time to talk about fun stuff, too.
Hold Off on Unsolicited Advice
Don't forget that throughout most of your life, they were the ones giving the advice and guidance. Adjusting to getting advice from their children can be difficult for many, particularly when it comes to advice they're not seeking. A 2004 study conducted by two State University of New York at Albany professors revealed that older parents are looking for a mix of independence and connection, wanting their independence while hoping their children will be there to help when needed. By only offering advice when it's sought, you avoid reminding them of the parent-child role reversal you're experiencing.