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Burlington, VT office 802.540.0529
Hanover, NH office 603.643.6072
Rutland, VT office 802.773.3822
Woodstock, VT office 802.457.9492

June 5, 2012 Newsletter Archive

Finding Common Ground in Difficult Situations:
Meaningful, Solutions-based Discussions with our Parents

In our practice this is a common scenario. "Charles," who is in his late fifties, contacts us about his mother, "Alice." Alice is in her mid-eighties and has lived alone and has been independent for years, but Charles has become increasingly concerned. In the last several months Alice has become frailer and less able to do the everyday things she had done independently until so recently. Charles is also concerned because Alice is not as active as she had been and because she does not leave her home as much as she used to, he is worried that she is too shut in. Charles and his siblings had never really approached Alice about her living situation before. She was just so self-reliant all these years. No longer able to be silent about it, one day, while having dinner with Alice, well intentioned Charles broaches the subject of Alice moving from the family home. Charles thought that his mother would welcome this conversation but Alice became angry, even defiant. Her resistance was palpable and Charles' concern grew greater. Feeling like he was running out of options, Charles calls our office to seek advice.

It is without question that the issue of moving is one of the most difficult decisions for children of aging parent. Neither parents nor children want to acknowledge that mobility or mental capacity or both, are becoming an overwhelming issue. No one wants to be told what to do, and when to do it. Moreover, it is common for us to believe that we still retain the abilities we had at a much younger age. It is a wonderful trick of our minds to believe ourselves young, but it can also pose a liability, a potential recipe for disaster.

So, how do children approach their parents about issues of managing their health care, safety, finances or even moving from the family home? Unfortunately, there isn't an easy or a "one size fits all" solution. Yet, communicating is really at the heart of the matter. Perhaps it should be noted that "communicating with heart" can promote breakthroughs in mutual understanding. Below are some ideas that you may employ to begin opening up the airwaves before a crisis befalls your family.

Begin with an understanding that it isn't an all or nothing equation. Perhaps a conversation can begin with asking whether your parent wants to remain in her home, and if so, whether she would consider an independent person to do a safety assessment on the home in order to take steps to assure your parent's safety for many years to come. Sometimes a parents' home can be retrofitted to be a safer environment, a bedroom and bathroom on one floor, throw rugs removed, grab bars installed, and outside help coming in to maintain the home may be a reasonable first step for a parent who truly wants to remain in his or her home. Even if it really is best to move, the discussion can focus on moving to an independent living arrangement, downsizing, and moving closer to other family members or to a more vibrant part of town. Starting a conversation with parents early enough helps to frame the bigger picture and may result in more planning and considerations about options.

Be empathetic. Put yourself in your parents' shoes. Although you may be well intentioned, your suggestion that a parent move from their home, their nest, can be seen as an affront to their independence (even if you do merely suggest downsizing for convenience). Instead of telling them, ask them what they would like to see happen, and provide some scenarios which may help them consider the "what ifs." In other words, put the solutions back to them to think through because, after all, it is what they want that is important.

Most parents who come and see us will reiterate that they do not want to burden their children. Consequently, your parents may hide, or try to hide from you their issues, whether medical, emotional or financial. Ironically, often when you fear for a parent's safety, and you feel that you cannot convey your concern to your parents, you actually do feel burdened. The quandary is how to offer your concern and support for what they are experiencing through loving advocacy and not through guilt or force. Listen to your parents' opinions of what they seek as you open up communications about their current living arrangement and care, and make sure that they know that you are on the same team.

If your parent is feeling particularly bad about a situation or piece of advice you offer he or she may just say no to any of your suggestions. In this case, try to end whatever conversation you are having on a positive note and remind your parent that you are concerned and want to know how you can help. Of course they may tell you to mind your own business, or that they can handle their affairs. They may say tougher things than that. Parent and children can all say hurtful things to one another, particularly if they are feeling threatened, not listened to, or not respected. However, as a concerned child you may have to muster up resiliency and courage; do not give up. Continue to have this conversation in a number of ways until you know that your parents are receiving the support or arrangement that they need.

Pick your battles. Not every matter regarding your parents will be one you need to bring to their attention. If you think that your parents are potentially unsafe, mismanaging their funds, or are emotionally distressed, focus on the big picture and help them out quietly with the littler items. Share information only as needed because sometimes even small issues can create more worry for your parents.

When both your parents are living, if one spouse is more dominant and healthier, it may prove to be a deterrent to facilitating discussions. Again discussing possible "what if" scenarios with your parents may be helpful. What if the healthy parent falls ill or dies even while they are their spouses' primary care giver? What if the spouse they are caring for harms herself or another inadvertently under the care-giving spouse's watch? Remind the care giving parent that this is a loving relationship, but if the dominant parent is the stubborn one, you may eventually have to become your other parent's advocate, and you will need strength to insure that your parent receives the care he or she truly deserves.

Be aware of early stages of dementia, times of day when your parents are more likely to be open to a conversation, and your emerging role as a "parent" to your parents as they become increasingly frail. Gather resources from your parents' community to help inform their decisions. Understand the role of Elder Care Managers, Life Care Planning, Elder Law Attorneys and how each can assist your parents.

Finally, recognize that there is no secret recipe to assisting your parents as they enter into their later years. Know that you are not alone in your quest to provide care and support for them, that there are advisers who can help you, and that your loving kindness, support and advocacy for their needs will go a long way to having a meaningful and solutions-based discussion with your parents.

If you are interested in discussing Life Care Planning or holding a family meeting with us please call Melendy Moritz PLLC at 802-457-9492 or 603-643-6072, or email us at daphne@melendymoritz.com.

We would love to hear from you! If you are interested in guest writing for our newsletter or simply have a comment to share, please let us know.

Melendy Moritz PLLC is a client centered boutique firm. We focus on your unique needs by providing the individualized legal counseling and advising tailored to your specific situation.

We concentrate on the planning that matters to you.
Call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492


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