Archive for December, 2011
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 01:08 Written by David Solie Tuesday, 27 December 2011 05:19
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
For the last twenty years, my work has involved helping adult children find a new rapport with their aging parents. This work was the outgrowth of my own search to find a better way to partner with my mother after my father died in 1989. It has been a fascinating and deeply rewarding journey, but I would be the first to admit that it has been predominately helping “us” speak to the “them.” While I considered and ultimately reframed the psychological developmental tasks of aging parents, my coaching was clearly for adult children. But that has changed, and here’s why.
I recently received an email from a colleague regarding a palliative care presentation he attended. The presentation included expert panelists, (physicians, attorneys and researchers) discussing palliative care and family issues. He said all the experts concurred there was a significant communication problem with aging parents and their families, especially regarding end of life decisions. Based on these comments, he said I needed to consider writing a book about how elderly parents can say it to their family.
I surmised he was suggesting a book that might be entitled “How To Say It To Adult Children: Closing the Communication Gap with the Next Generation of Elders.” It was an intriguing and eye opening idea. Based on my own experience, my assumption has been that all the heavy communication lifting was on the adult children side of the conversation. They were the ones that didn’t get it. They were the ones that needed to change their hearts and their words. But in retrospect, it was a narrow and limited perspective that missed the complexity that aging parents have to overcome to communicate with their families. Simply put, this was not easy for them, and it was time to consider communication coaching for the elders and, as important, for those boomers about to become elders.
So I have begun working on a new project to create a “How To Say It” communication coaching book for elders. The goal will be to provide elders with insights and strategies for working with their adult children. Part of the work will be to educate elders about the development tasks of middle age and, based on these tasks, which words and themes are the key to effective communication with their adult children. Part of the work will be to map out openings, scripts, and settings for conversations about the predictable dilemmas of aging especially at the end of life. These prompts won’t make the choices any less painful or messy, but they will offer a perspective and context to start and sustain conversations, a critical starting point to engage dilemmas that are here to stay.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 01:11 Written by David Solie Monday, 19 December 2011 03:23
It’s one thing to have a decent connection to our aging parents. We may not be close, but we still feel compelled by love and loyalty to come along side them in the in last years of their lives. But what if we have a bad connection from all those things that poison the parent-child partnership? This can be anything from irreconcilable personalities to abuse and neglect. Are we beholding to step back in or is it better to call it day?
To be clear, many “disconnected” adult children don’t step back in. For them, there is no going back. The outside world may judge them harshly, but it matters not. I have a friend who walked away from his family at an early age, and refused the urgent call in his fifties to reconcile with his dying mother.
Cold hearted? Depends on whose reality you choose to inhabit. In an unusual moment of transparency, he shared with me his childhood trauma. It was raw and left me distressed. He broke away in his mid-teens and never went back. Understandably, he spent many non-linear years trying to outrun his demons and scars, but finally, with help, righted his thinking and his life into a stable success story. Then he got the call.
His mother was dying. She wanted to see him. He refused. “I barely survive her once,” he told me. “I can’t take a second round.” And he didn’t. Her deathbed request went unanswered. His family condemned him. He has no apparent regrets.
But others change their minds. Unlike my friend, they see an opening that allows them to return and lend a hand. Some find their ability to forgive is big enough for both parties. Some find an all too familiar disappointment they recognize from their childhood. I think all of them hope for some form of a better ending for their story about their earthly parents. And that, I think, is the key to those who return and those who won’t.
At some point in the parent-child disconnect, you decide its time to let it be. It’s over and probably for the better. That point may be death, but for many, it comes much earlier in the saga. These early adopters resign their affiliation and call it a day. It’s not a case of good or bad, but what is necessary given the players and the circumstances of the family drama. Those who leave but don’t disinherit their family keep the door open for some form of reconsideration. What is important for adult children is to recognize that both choices get the job done. Bad connections are one of life’s nasty dilemmas, leaving all parties unsure of what to say, do, or expect. In the end, we all wind up doing our best, as we understand it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Accepting that, proves to be another matter…
Tags: adult children, aging parents, Aging Parents Insights, anger seniors, Caring for aging parents, communication breakdown, David Solie, David Solie's blog, disinherited, end of life, How To Say It To Seniors, power struggles with aging parents, seniors, the stress of caring for aging parents | Posted under Aging Parents | 1 Comment
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 01:14 Written by David Solie Sunday, 11 December 2011 03:07
I grew up amid a herd of cousins, surrogate brothers and sisters who were embedded in my childhood. Operating as life scouts, they lived a few years ahead of me on the dangerous and uncharted perimeter of the adult world. One by one we all transmuted into adults with careers, families, kids, and aging parents.
In most cases, our aging parents passed on when we well on our way in middle age. With each loss, our world became more sober as the reality of being “next” in line collided with the world of sixty-something. But a new emotional tipping point in the drama of being older occurred with the unexpected death of the first cousin.
It’s not that we hadn’t experienced the loss of peers in childhood or as young adults. And then after fifty, the news of friends, friends of friends, and people we simply knew about being suddenly gone began occurring with a prophetic regularity. While it was disorienting and disturbing, it initially spared our family network of adult children. But when the first cousin of the surviving herd died at sixty-something, all that changed.
While it was a single loss, we knew it was a cautionary tale about our generational position and predicament. Despite the density of our modern lives, we could no longer afford to ignore this new vulnerability, a realization that haunted our awareness. We knew we were never going to reclaim the frequency or closeness of childhood. That was another life that had served us well, but was gone. We also know that the meaning and import of our early years now took on legacy proportions with the threatened loss of its primary players. We felt compelled to undertake a “cousin audit” of the history that defined so much of our early family life.
We spoke out loud about what meant the most to us and why. We disagreed about chronology but respected personal importance. We confessed our bias, preferences, blind spots, selective memory and the out and out rewriting of history. But most of all we saw, from the end of middle age, how complicated life was for our parents, like it or not. We didn’t gloss over the unsavory and pathological events we would have gladly avoided, but the easy assessments of “they could have done better” lost its steam. Life turned out to be hard for everyone, including us.
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