Family Dynamics


Even the Closest Families Can Have Their Issues

Unfortunately, old hurts and angers will not miraculously disappear as your parents age. In fact, they might even get worse. So it’s critical that you plan ahead because you don’t want to be bound to your parents through years of ill health and dependency, and you don’t want to be arguing with your siblings just when your parents need help.

If you’ve never gotten along as a family, or if you have long-standing anger with your parents, this is going to be particularly difficult. But it’s that much more important that you find the courage to talk and plan. Having conversations now can mean fewer battles, resentments and regrets later. Who knows? It might even alleviate some of the tension.

The more difficult the relationship, the more businesslike you will need to be about this. It can help to have a formal family meeting and, if necessary, include a mediator — a family therapist or geriatric case worker. Write up an agenda and some ground rules in advance (for example, each person gets five minutes to speak, or certain topics are not to be discussed).

Avoid hot topics. This is not the time to revisit old issues. Focus on the topics at hand (where will she live, how will she pay for care, etc.). If the conversation veers into troubled water, gently steer it back on track.

Use e-mail. Sometimes face-to-face isn’t the best approach. If you don’t get along, e-mail will allow you time to think before you type, and time to edit before you hit “send.”

Even though you’re all grown up, old patterns and labels from your childhood may linger. A distant brother might not want to hear about your talks with Mom. A bossy older sister might continue to micro-manage. But people do change. A sibling who may have been too immature to contribute in the past, might be the most capable of shouldering responsibility as an adult. And a parent who’s been disengaged might be capable of sharing now. Try not to lock people into yesterday’s roles.
Talk about your feelings using “I” messages and speaking from personal experience. Avoid “you” sentences that might suggest blame or come across as criticisms. That will only make people defensive and angry.

Geography often dictates who will end up being the main caregiver. If you live closest to your parents, but don’t get along with them or don’t have time to give, talk with your siblings about this now.

If one parent is already ill, your healthy parent is probably the main caregiver. But often, it is this person whose health fails, leaving the family stranded. Again, it’s vital to talk. Support the primary caregiver, and have another option in case something happens to her (or him).

If you know in advance that you are going to be the primary caregiver or will be expected to offer financial help, talk to your siblings about how this might play out and what you will expect from them, as well.


Source: Genworth Financial

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