Hi! Welcome back to my blog. Today I’d like to write a bit about family events. Easter was just a week ago. How many of you spent time with your family–by that I mean your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, your children, their children, and maybe a few close friends thrown in for good measure? For some of you it was a wonderful experience filled with good food, laughter, maybe some games, a stroll through the garden to see all the beautiful spring flowers, and renewed connection to people you love. On the other hand, some of you may have had meals over silent tables fraught with anxiety that someone was going to bring up the wrong topic, or mention Uncle Bob’s drinking, or ask for a loan to tide them over until their next big break.
Communication within some families is difficult at times. Regardless of your family dynamics there are certain important topics that should be addressed so there are no hurt feelings or anger when an unexpected event such as an illness, death, or accident occurs. How to go about making these conversations easier and less stressful is the purpose of this blog.
Conversations with your parents about “touchy” topics such as aging, declining health, and end-of-life planning are best done in a relaxed environment and in baby steps. You may feel anxious about introducing the subject of life planning or preparation with you parents, but if you step back, make some preparations, and approach the topic with calm and understanding the results will be much more satisfying on both sides.
One of the things to keep in mind is that your parents want to have these discussions as well. They are as scared to bring up the subject as you are. With that knowledge in hand, you can ease into these topics by showing your parents you have their best interest at heart. Now, you may be asking, “How the heck do I do that? Dad’s made it clear that he’s in charge and he’ll only start blustering if I try to talk to him.” OR “Mom will feel the tension start to build and she’ll end up crying to prevent us from talking about it.”
What your parents are afraid of is that you won’t understand their fears, or meet their needs. They also do not want to show any vulnerability or admit to mistakes they may have made. In order to avoid the “stone wall” that dad is going to raise or the “flood” mom is going to issue forth in terms of tears you need to find a way to show them you have their best interest at heart and you really care about their situation.
So, at the next family event watch and see how excited your parents are to see the grandchildren, or to welcome you home again. More than likely mom has worked hard to be sure that at least some of your favorite foods are on the table. She’ll encourage you to eat second or third helpings and she’ll revel in your appreciation of her efforts. Make sure you acknowledge her efforts. Make as big a fuss (or bigger) about her cooking, or her new dress, or her different hairstyle as she makes about you. Dad may be pumping your hand and bragging about your new promotion to everyone he talks to. Return the attention by finding something he has done that is significant in his lifetime and work it into the conversation. Basically, you are to shine back as much attention, pride, and love on your parents as they do on you.
The goal here is to meet the developmental need your parents have to be recognized. At their stage of life they are doing a life review (or they will be soon) and they have a strong desire to feel that their lives made a difference in some way. Your job is to show them they did make a difference, that you noticed, and that you are proud of them. Let them tell you their stories, ask questions about events in their lives, encourage them to share their triumphs and their frustrations with you. Most important of all give your full attention to them during these conversations. Avoid checking your e-mail or taking phone calls. Focus fully on what your parents want to share and you will open doors in ways that will surprise you. Encourage other family members to do the same and watch how even the most diverse and distant family members come together.
Follow this suggestion for a while and see how the tension lessens around “touchy” topics. You aren’t ready yet to engage in the big conversation about wills and health care proxies. For now just find ways to make your parents feel that their life had meaning and shine it out there for them to see how proud you are of them and how much you love them. Then start thinking about the next family event–Mother’s Day brunch in the garden? reservations at a swanky restaurant? a visit to the botanical garden then afternoon tea?–take the initiative and plan something from your heart to once again show you recognize what is important to her and how willing you are to accommodate her. Then start thinking about Father’s Day or upcoming birthdays.
Enjoy your weekend and feel free to comment or send me your stories. Until Wednesday….