I'd heard that teenagers find it easier to talk about tough topics when their parent is driving. The article I read encouraged parents to make good use of the time spent chauffeuring their teens between events as a means of connecting with their children. The lack of eye contact makes it easier to talk about sensitive subjects. Of course, since you're in the car, no one can walk off in huff. Little did I suspect that my dad would use the same technique on me even though I haven't been a teenager in quite a while.
Driving back to my dads home from the airport was the perfect opportunity for him to talk about a good friend of his who is worried about whats next. Like my father, Tom lives by himself. Its not that anything is particularly wrong right now. Its just that Tom finds that day-to-day activities like cooking and cleaning are getting to be a bit much. With no relatives nearby, Tom was considering his options
Talking about Tom led my dad and I to talk about my dads whats next. A recent illness left dad and I shaken about how a relatively minor illness at age 87 could really lay him low. I came to visit during my dads illness without any idea of how bad he was feeling. When it came time to leave, I postponed my departure for a few days until he was feeling better. It took weeks for him to return to more or less his normal self.
In my work as The Eldercare Coach, I often find myself offering communication tips to families. My conversation with dad had a lot of the right elements
Here's what I tell my clients about communicating:
Be proactive...don't wait until you are in a crisis to start a conversation about what you need, want and expect. The worst thing Dad and I could do is to pretend that he will never get sick again. With my sister currently out of state, two local granddaughters busy with careers and kids and me living over 400 miles away, putting our heads in the sand about future illness and disability is not an option.
Pick a neutral place with limited distractions...the car worked pretty well. It kept the conversation calm even though we were discussing some powerful subjects. Being the driver I had to watch for becoming too distracted by our conversation. If things became heated or emotional, I would have pulled off the highway. Not having to look each other in the eye, did make the conversation a bit easier.
Use an example from real life or from the media as a conversation starter. In this case, my dad used his friend Tom as a conversation starter. It led us quickly to discuss my dads recent illness as a warning sign that we needed to talk and make plans.
What is next?
Issues this complex can rarely be settled in just one conversation. Dads concerns and the ideas we came up with need to be discussed with other family members. What are their perspectives and suggestions? Now, before a crisis is the time to build agreement among our family members.
We need to make sure we have captured all his current concerns and options on paper. The conversation in the car was a great way to start the conversation in a safe, time limited way. Our upcoming conversations should be more comprehensive and we will write things down so we can refer to them later.
Once dad makes some decisions about whats next, we will communicate them to our family so everyone know what our game plan is the next time dad gets sick and needs extra help.
How have you handled tough conversations with family members? Share your tips with us.