4 Tips on Avoiding Conflict With an Aging Parent (or anyone who needs care!)

Caring.com is a great resource for family caregivers of seniors in the US.  I am so pleased to share a very wise blog post from Paula Spencer Scott, their senior editor.  Here, Paula gives sage advice on avoiding conflict with aging parents, but I know these tips will be useful in any caregiving situation where conflict with a loved one might arise from dependency issues.

4 Tips on Avoiding Conflict With an Aging

Whether it’s
getting sick, giving up the keys, or moving out of one’s home, the aging
process has a high potential for conflict. Unfortunately, parents’ anger often
falls on their adult children, their caregivers. Here are 4 tips for avoiding
conflict in these sensitive aging situations.

4 Tips on Avoiding
Conflict With an Aging Parent
by Paula
Spencer Scott, senior editor at
Kids and their parents are often at odds. But the squabbles
are often less expected, and more stressful, when both sides are grown-ups.
Adult children frequently find themselves in clashes with aging parents over
issues ranging from giving up the car keys to whether it’s safe to continue
living in a longtime home.
Talking about tough issues is never easy. The following
strategies can help prevent your conversations from descending into anger,
frustration, and a strained relationship.
Ask, don’t tell.
If you rush in with criticisms or solutions about worrisome
situations, you’re setting yourself up for confrontation or stonewalling.
Nobody wants to be told what to do (unless they’re explicitly asking you for
guidance). Better to start touchy conversations on topics you’re concerned
about in a more general, nonthreatening way: “How’s it going?” “How’s
the car?” “Do you like your doctor?” “How are you feeling?”
These openings give your parent a chance to start a conversation on more
neutral ground. Letting your parent initiate talk of concerns or problems means
he or she is less likely to start from a defensive position — and might be
more open to collaborating with you on a solution.  
Play back what you
One helpful way to avoid an escalating argument is to use a
tactic called reflexive listening. Play back your parent’s statements: “I
hear you saying that you’re worried about how you’ll get to the hairdresser’s
and the grocery if you can’t drive, right?” Only after you say this —
which reassures that you hear and get her side of things — do you add your own
ten cents: “But if I take you with me on my weekly grocery run and Linda
agrees to come to the house to do your hair, you’ll at least have those basics
covered. Let me think about some other transportation options for you.”
Other empathetic bridges to try: “I know you’re worried
about . . . ” “I agree with you that it’s tough when . . . ”
“You’re right that . . . “
Stay upbeat and
Whether you agree or not with how your parent is handling a
situation, keeping your own cool will help you remain an advocate, rather than
an adversary. If you cut in with arguments, you risk losing your parent’s
willingness to explore options in a collaborative way. Realize that for some
discussions, and with some parents, the adult child is simply not the best
person to engineer a change. Such a parent might be much more receptive to a
third party, such as another relative, a clergyperson, or a family friend.
Remember that it’s
his (or her) life.
You’re concerned for your parent’s well-being and happiness.
But unless his or her mental status is impaired, you can’t impose your own will
any more than your parent could force you to do what they wished when you were
a 20-something. You might not like his or her choices. You might feel
frustrated by the pace of progress. But your parent is an adult entitled to
autonomy about the decisions concerning his or her life.
The difference is when your loved one’s mental capacity is failing and he or she is unable to make a decision about safety or well-being. Then it’s
time to look into other alternatives, such as guardianship.

Paula Spencer Scott is senior editor at Caring.com, the leading online destination for caregivers
seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and
other loved ones. Paula is a 2011 MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging
fellow and writes extensively about health and caregiving. For more practical
tips to help with difficult conversations, see
How to Have “The Talk” With Your Parents.