Talking To Your Aging Parents About Important Issues
Are you the adult child of an aging parent, or the aging parent of an adult child? If so, you probably know how hard it is when the parent who once took care of the child looks at the possibility of the roles being reversed.
Consider Carla and her 90-year-old father, John. Carla lived in Maryland with her husband and teenage son. Her father, a widower, lived several hours away, in Virginia. He was active in his church, where he was well-liked.
At some point, church members noticed that John was having trouble getting around; he was also having difficulties getting up and down the stairs in his split-level house, which was falling into disrepair. He had a car accident near his home, which raised questions about how long he might be able to continue driving.
A member of the church called Carla and told her that she needed to persuade John to give up his house or, at the very least, to accept help. He didn’t seem to understand that Carla couldn’t force John to do anything he didn’t want to do.
Carla traveled to Virginia several times to meet with a group of church members and with John. Eventually, John agreed to give up his car. He also said that he would move to a nearby retirement community. He did not follow up on the move, however.
Several months later, John became seriously ill and died in the hospital after a few days. He did not have a will, and left behind a cluttered, rundown house and disorganized finances that needed to be handled by church members and family.
How might this situation have gone better? If Carla and John had found a way to talk to each other about serious matters, adult to adult, much earlier, John might have felt more comfortable letting Carla know what was going on. John’s upbringing taught him not to open up or to ask anyone, particularly his daughter, for help; it didn’t occur to him that he might be able to change that.
John felt like church members were treating him like a child. He had always been highly respected for his strengths; he didn’t know what to do when those strengths started to fail him. He was used to taking care of other people, not the other way around. Some people spoke to him of their own challenges with aging, but most just tried to tell him what to do, which led him to double down on refusing help.
Carla resented being put in the middle of the situation with very little influence over the outcome. This resentment made it harder for her to see John’s point of view. She, too, could have sought support and guidance rather than becoming defensive.
Being proactive, respectful, and taking a step back and thinking about what it might be like to be in the other person’s shoes can go a long way towards resolving, or even preventing, problems like these.