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.