October 29, 2015
5 Tips for Communicating with Your Aging Parent
By Missy Buchanan
The journey through aging can be a bumpy ride for both adult children and their aging parents. Redefining parental-child roles becomes confusing and stressful even in the best of circumstances. How do you balance your life needs with the needs of your aging parent? Here are some tips for communicating more effectively and lovingly as you travel alongside each other through the uneven landscape of aging.
1. Remember that your aging parent is still your parent and not a child. Even if your loved one needs help with basic personal care, refrain from thinking of an older adult as a child. Always keep in mind that aging parents have accumulated a lifetime of experiences. They have raised children, started businesses, and dealt with heartbreaks over the span of many decades. To think of an aging parent as a child is to rob them of the dignity that they so desperately need in this season of life.
2. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider for a moment the hard transitions and losses your aging parent is facing, including the death of loved ones and the loss of independence that typically comes with physical decline. Many older adults grieve the loss of their home and cherished belongings much like they mourn a loved one’s death. As you deal with the mounting challenges of aging, you will be tempted to focus on the nitty-gritty logistical details. However, it is important to stop and let yourself imagine what it must feel like to give up the keys to the car or to walk away from a home where so many memories were made over the years. Frame conversations with empathetic statements that show you are trying to understand their anxiety and frustration. Saying “I bet you must feel like it’s the first day of school” to a loved one moving to an assisted living community shows that you understand the insecurities of making new friends and learning a new routine in an unfamiliar environment.
3. Show interest in their life stories and their wisdom. Regrettably many older adults feel as though younger generations just scoff at their life lessons. The family table provides a wonderful opportunity to show that you value an aging parent’s stories. Spark meaningful conversation by scattering a few of your aging parent’s small treasured items among the pumpkins and gourds on the Thanksgiving table. Or decorate a tabletop tree with mementos from their earlier travels. Encourage younger generations to put away digital devices and to participate in active listening. Be careful not to roll your eyes or mock an aging loved one if they begin to retell a familiar story. Instead, gently redirect them with a new question like “What was the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”
4. Don’t rush! Give aging loved ones the gift they really want: unhurried time. It has often been said that adult children are more patient with their toddler grandchildren than they are their aging parents. Instead of becoming frustrated with your slow-moving loved one, simply allow extra time for getting in and out of the car and for walking to and from the medical office. Rushing an aging parent only creates stress and does not lead to better communication! Allow ample time and create a more positive experience for both generations.
5. Find reasons to laugh together! Having a sense of humor is key to communication and relationship-building between generations. Lighten a stressful situation with a funny story or remembrance. Poke fun at yourself and watch your aging loved one break into a smile. Remember that laughter is God’s gift to us. Use it often!