There’s one in every family – the person who takes on the tough jobs and always seems to end up responsible for everyone else.
It’s one thing to end up being responsible for Thanksgiving dinner year after year. It’s another to be the person who always has to step up when something worrisome is happening with Mom or Dad.
It’s OK to ask your family for help. Here are some tips for how to make that conversation as successful as possible.
Skip the email and schedule a conversation
Sometimes it feels easier and safer to write an email than to talk to someone in person. You’re more distant, and so you feel less vulnerable. You can plan every word in advance so that you don’t make any mistakes or say the wrong thing.
Sometimes, though, your attempt to gain control of the situation can be read as trying to control your family. It puts the rest of the group in a defensive position. Plus, it’s impossible to read tone in email and you may quickly find yourself stuck in a giant swamp of misunderstandings.
It’s better to plan some time for everyone to talk in person. Give your family a heads up about the topic so they have time to think. Something simple like, “I’m getting worried about Mom’s safety living alone. Can we set up some time to talk?” is enough.
Start with the problem, not the solution
It’s likely you’ve already figured out the best way to resolve the situation. But don’t start there. No one likes to be told what to do. If you start by declaring, “It’s time for Dad to stop driving,” or “Everyone needs to start paying equal shares of Mom’s bills,” you’re likely to meet resistance.
Instead, begin by explaining the problem: “Dad’s eyesight is really starting to go, and he isn’t as quick as he used to be. I’m really worried he might cause an accident.” “Mom’s Medicare and Social Security aren’t covering her expenses. I noticed that she doesn’t have much food in the house, and I saw some past-due notices the last time I visited.”
When you start by explaining the problem, you invite your family to collaborate with you. You’re more likely to agree on a plan when everyone feels part of the same team.
Your goal is to ‘solve,’ not to ‘win’
It’s always best to go into difficult conversations with an open mind. The best resolution is one that everyone can feel good about.
When you disagree, ask questions to draw out more detail instead of automatically telling the person wrong. For example, instead of saying, “We can’t do that; it’s too expensive,” try something like, “I wonder how that solution would work with everyone’s budgets. Some of us are in really different financial situations.” Let your family ponder the question and see what comes of it. You might be surprised.
Similarly, be aware that everyone’s life situations are going to impact their ability to participate. Maybe they’re having a really hard time accepting that Dad is getting weaker, so they’re distancing emotionally. Maybe they want to help, but they’re so stressed out with their own family and career obligations that it’s hard to find time. Be open and understanding to these real-life problems.
Know when it’s time to take a break or get help
If the conversation isn’t moving toward a resolution, it’s OK to take a break and give everyone a chance to reflect. For example, you could say, “You know, it seems like we’re having a lot of good ideas, but I think we could all use a little time to reflect on our options. Why don’t we get back together next week to make a plan?”
Sometimes, though, it becomes clear that you won’t be able to solve the problem on your own. If that happens, consider using an elder mediation service. A mediator is a neutral third party who can facilitate a discussion and help guide your family toward a workable solution. Often, help from outside the family can make all the difference.