Welcome to 2016! Once again, we embrace a mindset of newness, of possibilities. It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions for happiness, health, and other lifestyle changes. The new year rings in a sense of starting over with a blank page for us to write a new chapter in our lives. We can draw a brand new picture of our life pan for the coming year, and we’re motivated by the chance to pursue new horizons. At CaraVita, that means continuing in the tradition that won us the Roswell Business of the Year Award.
Looking at the blank page in front of us can also bring feelings of fear and anxiety. Do you remember how you felt when you started your first day at a new school or a new job? In spite of your feelings of hope and enthusiasm, you probably also experienced some nervousness and apprehension as you embarked on your new adventure. Being hopeful and excited about new opportunities doesn’t automatically eliminate the fears we may have to overcome in order to take that first step into the future, in order to begin writing on that blank page.
If you’re trying to help an aging loved one see new possibilities when lifestyle changes are necessary, you may see the bright side to the changes while your loved one sees mainly the stress and fears these adjustments bring with them. Making a huge lifestyle change such as bringing a caregiver into the home to help with daily needs or considering making a move to a community living arrangement can be scary. After all, your loved one has probably spent decades in a home she loves where she’s worked tirelessly to make it a comfortable, caring place not only for herself, but also for her family. The two of you are probably looking at a very different blank page.
Understanding your loved one’s perspective will be the first step towards being able to help her. Fortunately, you’re not the first person to have gone through this scenario, and there are tools to help. David Solie has written about this very topic in his book How to Say it to Seniors and in his blog posts. Solie approaches the dilemma of helping seniors by first explaining that we all have different missions at different stages of our lives, and your aging loved one is no different. She will also have an agenda, but since you haven’t yet reached that stage of life, you may not understand what her primary goals are right now. Through his research, Solie says that the older adult population has a mission with two primary components: to keep control while sensing a loss of control and to develop a sense of legacy while understanding they are losing time. Communicating effectively with older adults means understanding their perspective and their mission.
So if you’re frustrated that your loved one isn’t as excited about the benefits a change in lifestyle could bring as you are, take a moment to reflect on what his perspective may be. After years of working with families, we understand that adult children can especially become frustrated when their parents don’t see the benefits of making a change. After researching options and after you’ve found what you believe is the perfect solution, you want to see your parents experience the advantages you imagine.
Remember, though, that looking at that blank page can be scary. Remember that we often will choose the comfort of what we know rather than seeking to make changes that might make us uncomfortable. We tend to rationalize why we don’t need to make changes or try new endeavors.
When we see a much more positive new beginning in our own minds than what our loved ones envision, we are definitely not on the same page Here are some examples of common conflicting ideas to demonstrate the contrast between what we may expect and what our loved ones could be feeling.
You want your dad to have new friends so he will feel more engaged. He’s not that interested.
Believe it or not, as some folks grow older, they just don’t feel that there is room in their lives for new friendships. Some people are also, by nature, more solitary than others. If you’re excited that your dad could have more social opportunities and build new friendships through an outlet you’ve discovered, bear in mind how your idea may also conflict with his particular agenda. He may have had a few close friends, and some of those friends have probably passed away. Making the effort to build new friendships may seem more like an unwelcome chore than a pleasure. Of course, your dad may change his mind if these new friendships fit into his agenda during this phase of his life. Can new friends help him maintain his independence in some way? Can new friends share in the legacy he’s reviewing of his life? Do these new friends complement his vision of his legacy in some way? If he knows that new friendships are a way to help fulfill his agenda at this time of life, he’ll be much more excited about the possibilities.
You want your mom to move to a community for her safety and care. She’s digging her heels in and refusing even to talk about the possibility of a move.
You only have your mom’s best interest at heart, and you may try different tactics to get her to consider making a move. You may tell her all the new possibilities you think would be exciting if she moves. You may end up arguing with her. Remember how you felt when you first got your own place and could do whatever you wanted and come and go as you pleased? Well, your mom probably isn’t feeling a sense of freedom and independence when she’s thinking about making a move at this phase in her life. Instead, she likely sees the prospect of moving as a direct threat to her need to maintain control as long as she’s able. The idea of moving doesn’t match her unspoken agenda. She’s probably spent decades making her home the perfect place for herself and for her family. It’s part of her legacy, in fact, that she’s created a loving, comfortable space for her family. Losing that fulfillment and independence would frighten anyone. The move will also mean a lot of physical work which she may not be up to, and a move will also mean a lot of emotional fatigue as she sorts through her belongings in order to downsize. You may be seeing a brand new opportunity, but she’s feeling threatened and overwhelmed. Understanding her current developmental agenda to maintain some control while also reviewing and shaping her life’s legacy can help you talk about ways that the move could help her accomplish those two goals.
You want to hire a caregiver to help your dad out a few days a week. He says he’s fine by himself and doesn’t want a stranger in his home.
You may see hiring a caregiver as a wonderful opportunity to provide not only physical assistance with daily tasks such as hygiene and meal preparation, but also to provide companionship. Your dad, though, believes he’s all right without assistance and views a hired caregiver as a stranger rather than a potential companion. Remember his agenda. How does hiring a caregiver affect his sense of independence and his shaping of his legacy? He may believe that needing help is a sign of weakness, and he’s always prided himself on being a strong, independent man. Hiring a caregiver not only impacts his sense of being independent, but may also impact his sense of legacy. None of us wants to be remembered as sick or weak or needy. If you address the option of hiring a caregiver in a way that acknowledges your dad’s independence and sense of legacy, he may eventually be more receptive.
New Year’s resolutions give us all a chance to review and renew our life’s purpose. We all want to wake up each day with a sense of purpose that reflects our goals and life plans regardless of our stage in life. That sense of purpose is the foundation for what will ultimately become our legacy. As you make your resolutions this year, maybe the best one you can make is to spend time getting to know your loved one’s agenda and goals and to understand better her life’s purpose and her legacy. The process is sure to enrich both your lives.