The holiday meal is planned. Candles come down from the shelves. Presents are wrapped and cards addressed. We look forward to reconnecting with family. Often, that includes elderly parents, aunts, uncles, and friends.
In our work with seniors and their families, we have seen many warm and easy relationships between older and younger family members. But sometimes the two generations have little in common, which can result in long and uncomfortable silences. Or there may be a difficult subject to confront, such as finances or the need for in-home care. This can result in conflict. How can two generations bridge the gap and take pleasure in their visits?
How to Avoid Sitting in Silence
You may be looking forward to a visit, but worried you’ll end up sitting together and have nothing to say. A little advance planning can help. Before visiting, brainstorm enjoyable topics. Perhaps you could bring something of mutual interest, like recipes that you recently tried, travel magazines, or pictures of the grandchildren. Or perhaps you can ask to look at some old photo albums. These visual cues can open the door to some wonderful conversations and sharing.
Sometimes the best visits are short ones. Rather than straining to make conversation for a couple of hours, shorten the visit so that it ends after you have finished talking about everything for the moment. It is far better to limit your time and truly connect and share while you are together.
How to Avoid Conflict
The holidays may be your one opportunity to observe how your elders are doing or to discuss life changes that you feel need to be made to keep your elders safe.
There are some subjects that are difficult to approach and explosive if not handled correctly; particularly when suggesting that an older person, who has enjoyed a great deal of independence, may need help keeping financial, legal, or health insurance matters organized, or having an aide assisting on a daily basis.
Ahead of your visit, identify what your goals are:
- Shared time with your loved ones; and
- Discussing the current health and financial situation and future plans.
Figure out your timing:
- When to focus on the holiday festivities; and
- When to have quiet time to discuss serious matters.
Make sure you have plenty of time; do not rush the conversation.
When you do talk, listen first: ask how they are, are they facing any current challenges, do they have any plans in place for the future.
Sometimes elderly people communicate indirectly or seem to drift off if it’s a subject they don’t want to discuss. Be sure to listen and consider what is being said. Regardless of your own opinions, they may have valid points.
Remember that your loved one is an adult who deserves respect. A person’s past has helped shape their views and who they’ve become. Accepting that past can help you to understand their current needs and feelings. While they probably understand that their years of independence are numbered, they want to maintain their dignity for as long as they can.
Through acceptance and understanding, you have a better chance at making progress in implementing necessary changes.
With thoughtful planning, you can help yourself and your loved one take greater enjoyment from this holiday season.