The good, the bad and the ugly.
The good. Your parent has full capacity. This gives you the opportunity to co-create a team approach to caregiving through conversations and setting boundaries.
The bad. Over time, confrontational conversations can cause broken relationships. Conversations contribute to the disintegration of the relationship when they are not done using respectful language, tone of voice and a recognition of the emotions behind these conversations.
The ugly. If your parents have full capacity, they have the right to make the wrong decision. All you can do is try to keep them safe in that decision. This is as hard for me to write as it is for you to read. Trust me. I struggle with this ALL the time.
It is frustrating when our elder insists on staying in their home when we don’t think it is the right decision. It is frustrating when they continue to do things we feel are unsafe, like getting on a ladder.
Why are our loved ones so stubborn? Why do they ignore our concerns?
Because they don’t see themselves as old or needing help.
There is a 90-year-old in my social circle that everyone knows and loves, and we worry about him. He is independent, still gets on ladders to change light bulbs, still shovels snow and does 101 other things people wish he would stop doing. He’s always been a hard worker. He is the person others come to for help. This is the essence of who he is, who he has always been and yes, he has full capacity. But, we also see he is slowing down, so we worry.
“I’m so tired of people telling me what I can’t do.” Not a surprise that this was his reaction when one more person told him, “You have to stop getting on ladders.” Telling this 90-year-old what not to do does not going to fly.
Remember when I said your loved one has the right to make a wrong decision? Unless you are willing to go through the expense and heartache of a guardianship, which is difficult to prove with full capacity, it is critical that you find a way to discuss your concerns and theirs. It is important that you set boundaries and recognize the emotional minefield of these conversations.
Start with the universal truth of my friend’s statement. “I’m so tired of people telling me what I can’t do.” Language matters. Conversations that start with “You should, You have to, You must” will at best have your loved one turn a deaf ear, lead to anger, resentment and a determination to keep living their life in the exact same way. At worst, over time it can lead to an irreparable rift in the relationship.
Know that in these conversations you have the right to set a boundary. With the right language you get them to hear and honor your concerns while honoring their choices.
It takes planning and self-awareness to have a productive conversation. Here are some things to think about and have at the ready instead of reacting in the moment.
- What behaviors would you like your loved one to change or stop completely? Does your loved one insist they can still get up on a ladder to get a favorite dish? Are they determined to go up and down the stairs to do laundry?
- What is it about this behavior that worries you? Is it that they will wind up in the hospital with an already compromised immune system or that they will get hurt and your caregiving duties will increase?
- What are some solutions that allow them to continue living their best life but keep them safe? Can you rearrange the kitchen cabinets? Can you put a smaller washer / dryer on the main floor?
Start the conversation with an ‘I’ comment, a concern and a potential solution. “Mom, I get upset when you get on a ladder to get something down from the stop shelf. I’m afraid you are going to fall and get hurt. What things in the kitchen do you use the most and where are they? Where can we move them in the kitchen so they are easy to get to?”
Don’t expect these conversations to be one and done. It often takes time, especially if it is something that is at the core of who they are, and they don’t want to give up control. Do expect to set boundaries, being careful to keep the control with them as much as possible.
Again, start the boundary conversation with an ‘I’ statement, a concern and potential solutions.
“Mom, if you do hurt yourself, I can’t take off work to care for you. I’m worried about how we will handle a crisis if we have not planned for it. Let’s talk about our choices in the event something happens. We can hire someone to come in and help you or you can recuperate in a facility. Either way, we need to figure out what it will take financially and strategically for home care or a facility to work. It is your life and your choice and I will support you, but we need to figure out a game plan. What would you like to do?”
Conversations that are respectful, honor our loved one’s rich history and recognize who they are today by treating them with dignity, allow us to keep them safe in their decisions and allows us to set boundaries as well.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
This is a great post. I used to struggle with this a lot in the past because my loved one’s “full capacity’” often meant there were “too many cooks in the kitchen.” I used a different approach, probably less therapeutic than yours— when you do X – it causes Y for me. When I reminded her of the effects of her actions on me, it seemed to help a lot.
It used to be really frustrating because I felt like the world was getting the impression that we were not functioning as a unit and I didn’t have control of anything that was happening.
Once we agreed that whatever behavior wasn’t working for either of us, then we re-negotiated the contract 😉
Debra Hallisey says
Thanks Rachel. Explaining your feelings and the impact of the other persons actions on you is a great place to start a discussion that leads to re-negotiating the contract!