Caregiver Question | 11/02/23

We’ve got decisions to make but can’t talk about them!

DEAR CARALLEL: Mom was diagnosed with cancer four years ago. Her treatment went well and she’s okay now but the experience took it’s toll. On Mom of course, and on Dad too. He seems tired and his diabetes is becoming harder to manage.

My brother and I have been a good team in helping them when they need it, but we’re growing concerned about both of them. The problem is that our parents won’t talk about it with us.

When we try to discuss our concerns, Mom and Dad close ranks and tell us everything is fine. It clearly is not but if we persist, they get angry.

We’ve always been able to talk with our parents about the good, bad, and ugly of our lives. Why can’t we talk about this with them? Any tips for difficult conversations would be appreciated! — Quentin in American Fork, UT

DEAR QUENTIN: There’s a lot to unpack here and I’m really glad you wrote in. It seems to me like you and your brother are doing an amazing job being there for your parents. So a big virtual hug to both of you.

Care related discussions often feel big and heavy because they are big and heavy, frequently revolving around sensitive topics like healthcare, living arrangements, and financial planning. Not to mention that the people you care for may find it upsetting to discuss that they may be losing some of their independence and control. So know that you’re not alone in finding it difficult!

Approaching these conversations with empathy, sensitivity, and respect is key–and here are a few tips to help you prepare. 

Choose the Right Time and Place

Find a quiet and comfortable spot where you all can sit down without distractions. Avoid scheduling a discussion during stressful or busy times so you won’t feel you have to rush.

Do Your Homework 

Beforehand, gather information about all available options. This way, you can provide clear, helpful answers to questions and concerns. Knowing about available resources and support can help you all feel more confident while making decisions together.

Practice Active Listening

Listen carefully to what your parents have to say. Validate their feelings to let them know you genuinely care. Avoid interrupting or rushing the discussion. Remember, it’s not just about hearing the words but also understanding the emotions that lie beneath. Try to reflect back what you hear–both the words and emotions behind them

Use “I” Statements

When expressing your own concerns or preferences, use “I” statements to emphasize your feelings and experiences. For instance, say, “I am concerned about your safety at home,” rather than, “You are not safe at home.” This approach reduces defensiveness and encourages open and honest dialogue.

Be Prepared for Resistance 

Difficult conversations may evoke resistance or denial (as you already know). Be patient, understanding, and respectful, even if they don’t initially agree with your point of view. Allow them the space and time they need to process and share their concerns. 

Offer Choices 

Whenever possible, present choices to empower them in the decision-making process. Make sure you present the implications of each choice.  This helps them feel more in control of their future. For instance, if you’re discussing living arrangements, you could suggest a few different options and ask for their input or preferences.

Seek Help if Needed

If the conversation becomes too emotional or difficult, consider involving a professional who specializes in caregiving. They can help guide the discussion in ways that sometimes we’re not able to as caregivers. Asking your doctor (or your parents’ doctor) is a good first step if you’re not sure how to find a professional who can play this role. 

Respect their Independence

You’re already doing this but it’s still worth a mention. Above all, remember that your parents have the right to make decisions about their life. While you may have their best interests at heart, it’s crucial to honor their wishes as long as they are safe and well-informed. 

And lastly, remember that these conversations, no matter how tough, can strengthen your bond and help you make the best decisions together. 

You’ve got this, Quentin! 


–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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