Tempers can run high when an aging relative falls into a crisis and different family members have varying opinions. Generally, disagreements about money—who is in charge of it and how it will be used—and housing—should our parents stay at home or move—are the two most common family arguments.
But don’t despair! There are strategies to effectively communicate and provide effective care and support for your loved one during a stressful situation. So what are some steps to reduce family conflict and improve communication?
Step 1: Hit the pause button
Making a decision impulsively or when you are feeling emotionally charged can backfire. When possible, stop and take some time.
You can always say, “I need a minute, a day or a week to think things through.”
It is essential to schedule a time to re-visit the issue, so all family members know that there will be a discussion coming shortly and that you are not avoiding the problems. The follow up can be a phone call, email or (if possible) a family meeting. All family members must be included. Leaving someone out will only lead to resentment, and additional communication and relationship problems.
Step 2: Create a cheat sheet
Everyone in the family, including the older relative, makes a list of the symptoms or problems that they have observed. You can do this prior to your meeting or together as a family.
Remove your feelings or hypotheses about the problems and just list the facts such as “Mom is losing weight. Mom is falling a lot at home. Mom is not taking her medication. “If you focus on symptoms and remove yourself, you are less likely to start blaming others and causing more family strife.
Step 3: Include a mission statement
State what you want for your parent. Do not include an outcome or who is to blame. For example, “I want mom to be safe.” Not, “I want her to be safe at home, or in a residence, just “I want mom to be safe.”
In this way the family discovers that they share a common mission, which can help to diffuse conflict and align everyone’s objectives. Yes, there may be differences of opinion on HOW to meet that goal, but usually all family members are focused on the safety and happiness of their loved one.
When tempers flare, return to the family mission statement to realign and refocus.
Step 4: List the possible solutions for each symptom
Don’t forget to list every solution available before making a decision about which one is right for your loved one.
Step 5: Do the research and set a time frame for the research follow-up
Each family member will volunteer to research a solution. Notice, that I wrote volunteer. People like to choose what they do and they do not want to feel like they are being told what to do.
Make sure to include the older relative in the entire process. After all, it is their life and they should be the team captain, if possible! At the follow-up meeting, options are presented and the family can now look at which one may work best. If necessary, the family can start again with a cheat sheet in order to formulate who will take on which responsibility to implement the plan.
Director and Founder of Erickson Resource Group