Top Ten Traps to Avoid when Planning for Aging Family Members – #2

Continuing on the avoidance theme, many families have certain topics or feelings which are hard to talk about.  Some family members may have trouble being openly sad or talking about sadness and grief.  Think about what topics and feelings are not talked about in your family as a guide to the emotions which may be difficult for certain members to express.  If you are someone who has trouble saying something like “I’m going to miss you when you’re gone” or “I’m sad thinking about when you’re no longer with us”, consider other ways to express this.  There are many losses other than someone passing on.  These include leaving the family home, losing independence, or poor health.  You can help the elder or family members to talk about these emotions more easily by trying some of the following:

“My best memory of us is…What are some of your memories about _______?”

“What I appreciate most about you is….”

“ I want to tell you about ____________      before it’s too late.

 “What I appreciate most about you is…”

 “What I’m scared about is…”

“I remember when ____________ happened, I felt ________________.  How did you feel?”

Some people will express anger or frustration to cover up sad feelings that they are uncomfortable sharing.  If someone close to you often gets angry or frustrated when things related to loss come up, this may be a sign of sadness.

If having the conversation is too much, try writing down comments in a card, letter, or email, to help start the conversation.

Top Ten Traps to Avoid when Planning for Aging Family Members: Number 1

The first trap to avoid is avoidance itself.  Avoiding difficult or uncomfortable discussions can make relationships and situations worse in the long term. 

—Ensure that you talk about finances (estate planning, inheritance, care costs) and if possible, involve several close family members so everyone is “on the same page.”  Remember to talk about the “what ifs” such as What will happen if the aging person becomes critically ill, or is dependent on machines.
There are often differences of opinion among adult siblings and other family members about what should happen.  Find ways to have open conversations about these differences and also look for similarities.  If you keep talking and trying to understand each other you may be surprised at what you can agree on.
Here’s an article with more information about communication when family members are aging.


Conflict about Estate Division

I recently attended the memorial service of my father-in-law, while this event and the ensuing estate division went smoothly, I was reminded of how this often does not happen.  When an elderly family member dies, previous family conflicts can reoccur or new ones can begin.  Many families have ongoing conflicts between siblings due to personality differences, traumatic events, and family dynamics.  Here’s an example.  Margaret was the mother of three children who are now in their fifties.  She passed away after a long battle with cancer.  During her illness, her oldest daughter, June, was her primary caregiver and missed a lot of work, due to her caregiving responsibilities.  As a result, her mother changed her will two months prior to her death to give June 50% of her financial assets.  The remaining 50% was split evenly between the two youngest siblings, John and Julie.  Julie and John were very upset about this and felt that their mother was not aware of the support they provide “behind the scenes” to Margaret.  They also felt the division of assets was unfair, since June lived in the same home as Margaret for three years and Margaret covered the mortgage, so June’s living expenses were significantly reduced for this period.  In a situation like this, the parties can choose to hire a mediator to assist in resolving this dispute.  A mediator can help the siblings to discuss the situation in a safe and productive manner.  It is not uncommon that the dynamics between them for most of their lives will also be reflected in this situation.  If John and Julie feel like June was always favored by her mother, then they are likely to interpret this situation in the same way.  If June has always felt like she priorized her mother’s well-being more than her siblings did, then she will likely interpret John and Julie’s frustration as unjustified.  A mediator can help all of the siblings to understand each other better and figure out a plan for moving forward and preserving or improving sibling relationships.  I also recommend that all involved get legal advice so they are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities.

Conflicts About Moving: Elders, Couples, and Business owners

Moving is a stressful.  Deciding to move is stressful.  In addition, a decision to move is almost always linked to another stressful life event.  If your business partnership is dissolving, then one or both of you may need to change your office space or store front.  If your marriage or common-law relationship is ending, one of you is probably planning to move.  If your elderly parent is in the hospital and can’t return home, a move is inevitable.  These stressful events can increase conflict and result in unproductive discussions about what to do next.  If you’ve tried talking with the others involved to come up with a solution and the conversation didn’t go well, stay tuned for some helpful tips.

Firstly, choose a time to discuss the “move” options when both of you are feeling well-rested, have eaten, and have at least an hour free.  Your conversation may not take an hour, but it’s easier to have a time cushion in case it does.  Make an agreement with the person ahead of time about when and where you will meet.  Rather than getting into all the details when you’re arranging to talk, try something like…

“I’d like to talk about where both of us are going to live. How about tonight after dinner? ”   OR

“Dad, we’d like to talk with you about options for you when you get out of the hospital.  Would tomorrow after lunch work?”

Secondly, before the meeting, make a list of your own interests (eg. Needs, hopes, motivators, fears) regarding the move.  Some examples are: affordable rent/mortgage payment, financial security, planning my time off, sentimental value of certain items, and keeping moving costs low.

Thirdly, think about some of the interests the other person might have.  When you do meet, it is important to ask them open questions to find out their interests.  It’s helpful to think about what these might be ahead of time.  Guard yourself against only seeing their motivators as against you.  Instead of thinking “she wants to get as much of my money as possible”, think, “she wants financial security just like I do”.

During your conversation, try some questions like:

“What’s most important to you about where you live?”

“What do you think will be most difficult in this transition?”

“What problems would you like to avoid?”

Be prepared to state your own answers to these questions as well.  Being direct and open is a great way to build trust in the conversation.  If you state your intention to find a solution that works for both of you, that can go along way towards building a bridge over the problem.

Some situations require the assistance of a third party.  Don’t hesitate to contact a mediator to assist if you have a big problem and the conversations aren’t going well.

My siblings and I are in conflict about planning for our father who is ill. What can we do to reduce the conflict?

Conflict is a normal part of family life and in the case of sibling conflicts, it often continues throughout our lives.  Some people discover that their conflict as adults looks very similar to the conflicts between them as children.  This is because we learn our responses to conflict within our families and at a very young age.  If you are experiencing conflicts with your adult siblings, consider the following.  How much of this conflict is linked to past family situations?  You’ll know the answer if you hear yourself saying, “He ALWAYS does that” or “She NEVER seems to get my point.”.  Try focusing on the present and the concern at hand.  Start with identifying your own needs, interests and motivators in the situation and focus on the present not the past.  Some common needs are: 1) to know your parent is comfortable and cared for; 2) to have positive relationships with siblings; AND 3) to ensure that siblings don’t get burned out caring for a parent.  Rather than having the typical unproductive discussion which might be characterized by someone refusing to talk, stomping off, or raised voices, try asking open questions.  Here are some examples to get you started.  What would be your ideal scenario for dad’s situation?  What role do you want to play in his care?  How does being involved in his care and/or decision-making impact you? What do you think would happen if we…..?

In some situations, the tension is too high or there is too much water under the bridge to make the conversation productive on your own.  In these situations, consider hiring a mediator to help everyone feel heard and to create a plan that benefits all family members.