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Pick and Choose

April 29, 2012

Mom and Dad are aging. You know their good health won’t last forever and you’ve started thinking about possible changes and challenges they’ll face in the future. If you’ve been reading this blog for the past month hopefully you’ve started, or continued, building strong, collaborative relationships with your parents and siblings.

If you’re an only child then all of the assessment, planning, and coordination will fall to you unless you can involve close family friends, or possibly cousins and other relatives. Realistically though, you’re going to have to handle the bulk of the coordination yourself.

So, I guess you’ve figured out that having siblings can be a blessing and a curse as you deal with the changes facing your aging parents. Most importantly remember this is not about you, or your siblings. The primary focus must be directed at keeping your parents safe, healthy, and as independent as possible. Trust, respect, and collaboration are the keys to successfully navigating all that needs to be done.

Start by making a list of areas to examine such as insurance coverage, health, home environment, finances, safety, and socialization. If you’re starting before your parents have had some type of emergency or crisis then these evaluations can be done as time permits and without undue stress. A follow-up sibling meeting to report findings and have further discussion can be set up for a few months down the road.

Once family members understand what’s needed they are more likely to participate willingly. Is your brother a building contractor? Asking him to assist, by checking the structural integrity and safety issues around your parent’s home will make him feel appreciated and not overburdened. Your sister, the medical office manager, may volunteer to look into health and life insurance policies to be sure there is adequate coverage. This can be done even if she lives 800 miles away.

It’s best to let siblings volunteer for the things they are willing to assess, at least at the outset.  If one person is handing out assignments there tends to be more resentment and less cooperation than if the option to choose is present. If your parents are healthy the assessments can be spread out over a number of months. Just be sure to set a deadline for your next collaborative meeting with your siblings.

Once problem areas have been identified the group should come up with a number of options that would lead to a solution. Present your parents the findings and options so they can work with you towards solutions as part of the process.  Remember, it is vitally important that they feel independent and capable rather than being bossed around and dictated to. You are less likely to encounter strong resistance if options are presented which lead to a viable solution.

You also need to determine how the findings and options for possible solutions will be presented to your parents. Will all the siblings gather with the parents and hold a big family meeting? This can work well if everyone gets along and your parents may need some pressure to acknowledge the need to make changes. On the other hand, parents may feel “ganged up on” if everyone is there so it may be better to have one or two siblings handle the presentation to the parents. Each family will require different approaches so assess the dynamics carefully.

Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, share stories and let me know if there are topics you’d like to see covered.


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