As your parents age and become “elderly adults” you may find that your advice is unwelcome. Even the most reasonable and sensible advice is met with resistance. As their children we are encountering stubborn and exasperating behavior, but our parents may fee bullied or patronized. The reason for this conflict may be that the adult children and their parents have different life goals. They are at different stages in life, which tends to mean different styles of communication.
Two important tasks that elderly parents are trying to complete are preserving control and reviewing life. It is important for adult children to recognize that. The first task, preserving control, is important because elder parents are trying to preserve control in a world where they are slowing loosing it. Their health may be deteriorating, they will begin loosing strength and mobility and even sight. Not only is their body loosing control, but they are loosing family and friends around them. Giving a parent advice, telling them what to do or making decisions for them is taking away their control, and at a time they are trying to maintain as much control as possible. Once you realize their need for control, your manner of communicating will change; Hopefully making parent and child partners not adversaries.
Some suggestions for communication:
Provide choices for your parents – don’t give advice, give options
Don’t make decisions without them
Share the short-term solution and the long-term solution, and then make a decision
The second task to remember is that elderly parents are getting to an age where they are reviewing their life. Trying to discuss putting an elderly parent in assisted living may lead to a conversation about when they bought their house, and bringing children home from the hospital and children leaving for college. They are essentially reminiscing. But an eager child may want a hurried answer while the elderly parents is reviewing life, and it may create non-linear conversation where ideas and topics are not aligned.
Adult children need to remember two things, expect the conversation to digress often and ask open-ended questions. If adult children remember this, and have patience with their elder parents, it will prevent unnecessary frustration. It won’t eliminate it entirely, but it will hopefully give both the parent and the adult child clearer communication, and a better understand of what is going on in the elder parents mind.