Helping the Sandwich Generation: How to Have That Key Conversation With Your Parents

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By Stephanie Chan

We know that all employees have stress outside of work.  Issues arising from all aspects of life, from marriage, to raising children, to managing the household budget are all everyday worries which carry over into the work day and prevent employees from being their most productive.  Caring for aging parents is another example of an inevitable aspect of life that will affect almost every employee.

As an employer, what can you do to help? Having the right resources for your employees to support them outside work will build morale and loyalty in the long term, as well as enable employees to be more productive in the short term.

Coming To Terms with Aging Parents
When it comes to caring for aging parents, the first step which befuddles most adult children is how to have that awkward first conversation about planning for their future. As adult children, I think we all want the same thing for our parents, and that is the best quality of life possible in their senior years.

However, we see all too often cases where the family hasn’t done any planning, and something unexpected happens which puts the whole family into crisis, resulting in sub-optimal decisions.  This then overflows into the workplace resulting in distraction, stress, irritability and time off.

Plan Ahead to Avoid Crisis
Here are some tips and advice for the adult children. To avoid crisis, the most important thing we can do is to start the conversation and plan ahead, when there is no pressure to make any immediate decisions.  Taking this approach has various benefits:

  1. Will allow you to have multiple conversations involving all family members and allow them to voice their opinions, especially your parent.
  2. Will give you enough time to research and weigh the pros and cons of all available options with your parent.
  3. You will have time to discuss the topic with other friends who have gone through the same thing with their parents, and perhaps gain insight from their experience.

It’s important to make your parent feel like they are part of the process and squarely in control of making their own decision; you are there to guide, help and support them.

When you do have that first conversation with your parent, the typical response you’re likely to get is one of resistance.  If faced with resistance, know that you’re not alone, and that resistance comes from a few possible causes:

  • a fear of the unknown;
  • concern about loss of independence;
  • denial of existing circumstances; and
  • a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Tips for Moving Beyond Resistance
In order to deal with resistance effectively, it’s important to identify what the real cause of the resistance is.  Here are some further tips:

  1. Sit down and really listen to their concerns, and tell them what your own are. You are worried about them and just want to make life safer and easier for them. Perhaps they are under some misconception about what a lifestyle change may entail. Having this conversation with them will allow you to have the opportunity to address their misconceptions.
  2. Start small. If you want to have your parent getting in-home help, start with a couple of hours once or twice a week. Research the care agencies and have your parent involved in the interview process and let them select which one they want to go with. Alternatively, start with just some minor home safety improvements. Maybe it is time to install a couple of grab bars in the bathroom?
  3. Instead of telling your parent what you think they should do, show them. If you would like them to be open to moving into a retirement residence, or downsizing from a house to a condo, take them on a tour of some suitable places. Being able to see what the options are really like can persuade them that this can be better than they expected.
  4. If you’re really hitting a wall with the resistance, you may have to just take a break and give them some breathing room. Try approaching some other related subjects such as discussing whether they have an updated will, where the important documents are in the house, how there are dealing with home maintenance tasks, or whether any home improvements are necessary.

Lastly, to deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed, don’t be shy about asking for help, either within family and friends or hiring help. Lifestyle changes for seniors can be very stressful and emotional, so don’t feel like you have to deal with it all by yourselves.

Stephanie Chan is an eldercare advisor and transition planner, helping seniors and families make informed choices regarding senior living. Stephanie founded and operates Home to Home, a care planning and transition assistance business which helps seniors plan and manage lifestyle changes such as a downsize or change in health.

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