Family Relationships

Understanding family dynamics and relationship issues that arise in aging situations.

Secrets of Successful Conversations

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

When we wish to talk with our aging parents or our adult children about difficult or sensitive topics, we have two things to manage: the task of the conversation…and the emotions that accompany it. Each party to the conversation has needs which the other can help them meet. Simply being heard is a huge need, but receiving support, understanding, and acceptance are also important.  For each family, the pressing topic(s) will be different. But before you talk about health issues, getting help around the house, downsizing, driving or any other concerns, take some time to prepare and consider your approach: Think about what has contributed to effective conversations in the past, either with family or in other parts of your life. See the conversation as a process, not an event. Address one issue at a time. Set a mini-goal for the conversation, rather than pressing for a major decision after a single discussion. Each family has its own topics of concern but calmly discussing “what if?” scenarios may get better results than pressuring for immediate decisions. Help the other person(s) prepare.  Send a letter, an email, or phone ahead if you think it’s time for a serious talk. Brush up your listening skills, such as watching body language, re-stating what you have heard, and asking open-ended questions.   Whatever topic you choose to discuss, include these ABCD’s in your conversation:   A is for attitudes and assumptions: Why does Mom think staying put is best? Why do you believe she should move closer to you?   B is for boundaries: The adult child can talk about what they can and cannot do for your parents. The older parent can clarify which decisions they want to make for themselves, without well-meaning interference from their grown children.   C is for changes, now and in the future: Talk about changes you’ve noticed, but do it without making a judgment or attaching meaning to them, e.g., “Dad, I notice the fridge isn’t as well stocked as it used to be.” Don’t express opinions or make suggestions at this point.   Once the changes are acknowledged, talk about what those changes might mean to the person experiencing them, e.g., “How is your appetite?” or “How are you managing with the grocery shopping?”     D is for decisions to be made or deferred:  The decision can be to take action on an issue now, or simply to schedule another time and place to keep planning. Wherever possible, ask – don’t tell – and decide on next steps collaboratively. Using this ABCD framework can help you move forward, guided by your family and personal values.    Sensitive conversations can help you know where things stand, what to expect, what needs to be done. They can build relationships, allowing you to express feelings, and learn how others feel. They are the foundation of building strong relationships and solid plans for the future.   For more tips on what to do during the conversation, and what to do when conversations get stuck, consult the Sensitive Conversations section in the ElderWise e-guide, Age-Smart Planning. This e-guide also covers the “top ten” topics you and your family need to address to be proactive and prepared.     (c) ElderWise Inc., 2012   You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents…and anyone wishing to do “age-smart” planning. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.          ...

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Parents Who Won’t Accept Help

Posted by on Feb 7, 2012 in Caregiving, Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

Originally published at on September 3, 2010. Seniors resist help at home Susan Pigg, Living Reporter More than half of seniors resist asking for help, even from their adult children, fearing it signals a neediness that could land them in a nursing home, a new study shows. That fierce resistance is playing out in so many family squabbles — from the silent treatment to bitter turf wars between aging parents and their grown kids — that the home-care agency Home Instead Senior Care has just launched a series of online self-help videos, one of them focusing on communication. “This is a big problem for family caregivers,” says Bruce Mahony, owner of Home Instead’s Toronto office. “If seniors admit they need help, they think their independence is in question. They worry about losing control of their affairs.” Fifty-one per cent of 24,147 adult caregivers surveyed across Canada and the U.S. by Home Instead Senior Care from 2004 to 2009 say their aging relatives can be so reluctant to accept help, they fear for their safety. Some worry their elderly parents are forgetting to eat meals or take medications in a misguided bid to maintain their independence. Others are managing to hobble along with considerable help from elderly partners who are getting sick struggling to keep up appearances that all is well, elder-care experts say. But a big part of the problem is baby boomer children who feel the overwhelming need to parent their parents, says Mara Osis, co-founder of Calgary-based ElderWise Inc. which offers “family coaching” and advice via the book Your Aging Parents: How to Prepare, How to Cope. “We stress that you are not your parents’ parent. You need to see each other as two adults of different generations trying to work out a problem,” says Osis. The struggles can be even more complicated if the parent is suffering from early dementia and feels confused and threatened by any changes or in-home help from strangers. “Boomers are used to being very much in control of everything in their lives and being able to effect change, so when they see that they are getting push back from their parents, it’s an unfamiliar role. “Sometimes the adult child creates their own problems by saying, ‘I’m just going to fix mom and dad and their situation because the solution is very simple from my point of view.’ ” Read the complete article   ...

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Talking to Your Parents’ Doctor

Posted by on Apr 24, 2011 in Family Relationships, Health Care Team and System |

  “Mom has been having dizzy spells and seems to be losing interest in her normal activities. She tells us “everything is fine”, but we’re worried would like to talk to her doctor about our concern. How should we do this?” This is a common dilemma for adult children who are worried about aging parents.  When you see signs that cause concern, it is natural to wonder what is wrong. Often, the elderly parent will be “reassuring” or might try to dismiss your concerns.  But your worries don’t go away easily. You would prefer to be reassured from the doctor. Have you tried calling the doctor, and been told that he/she won’t see you without your parent present?  Maybe the doctor doesn’t return your call?  Here are three things to consider if you want to talk to your parents’ doctor: Doctor-Patient Confidentiality This is the obligation of one person to preserve the secrecy of another’s personal information.  A doctor’s guiding code of ethics requires them to maintain confidentiality.  When physicians are licensed to practice, they take the Oath of Hippocrates and promise: “Whatever, in connection with my professional service, I see or hear, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge” (abridged). Confidentiality stems from the therapeutic relationship between patient and doctor.  Patients want to trust that their personal information will be kept private. They want to be able to speak honestly, without worry that their condition or treatment could be revealed to others without their consent. Right To Privacy Privacy is the right of individuals to be left alone, and to determine when, how, and to what extent they share information about themselves with others.  But you have the right to share your worry and concern with your parent, and ask if you can come to the next doctor’s visit. Explain what you want to do: for example “I want to help you remember the things you wanted to talk about.” Or “I want to ask the doctor about your dizziness.” Suggest that having a family member or friend with them can help your parent get the most out of a visit. Being Your Parent’s Advocate The doctor may appreciate learning more about your parent’s problem from your point of view. If you want to advocate for your parent, consider writing the doctor to express your concerns.  But keep in mind that the doctor may still not be willing to share private information with you.  A word of warning: tell your parent you are writing the letter.  Don’t expect the doctor to keep it a secret! The first steps to opening the lines of communication are to help your parent(s) understand the benefits of this information exchange, and to get their consent. If you do meet with the doctor, or have a telephone conversation, be prepared.  Be specific about your concerns and ask: What is wrong? What do I need to know? What can I do to help my parent? Whether your parent is at home or in hospital, and whether you live in the same city or across the country, establishing a relationship with your parent’s doctor can benefit all parties.  Vol.3, No. 17 © ElderWise Inc. 2007. You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter      ...

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Home alone – not anymore. Your adult child is back.

Posted by on Mar 28, 2011 in Family Relationships, Financial and Tax Matters |

Originally published at Used with permission. Call ‘em Boomerang Kids or KIPPERS (Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement  Savings) – but by any name, the number of adult children living with their parents is on the rise. And for Boomers, that can be a double whammy because many are being sandwiched between caring for their adult children and for their aging parents. A recent survey* of Boomers revealed that four-in-ten who care for both children and parents say they have been forced to reduce the amount they’re investing for retirement, one-quarter say they have adopted a less comfortable lifestyle, and one-quarter expressed concern that this financial assistance will jeopardize their retirement security. There’s no doubt that having adult children at home creates financial challenges by increasing the cost of living, creating a drag on savings, and even causing a loss of freedom. Here are some practical ideas about how to reduce stress, hard feelings and avoid potential financial disaster: • Pay to stay: Treat your child as an adult and try to replicate ‘real world’ conditions by having them contribute to household expenses, chores, and even pay rent. If they aren’t employed, encourage them to actively seek work. • Invest in a secure future: As an alternative to paying rent, insist that your adult child establishes an investment plan to help pay a future down payment on their own home. • Tax relief: If your stay-at-home adult kid is also a student and has no tax to pay, you can relieve some of the pinch on your finances by taking advantage of unused federal tuition and education credits (combined). Up to $750 can be transferred from the student to a parent. (Provincial tax credits may also be available.) • Define ‘rent’: Is your child paying you fair market value rent or just enough to cover their share of home upkeep and the cost of groceries? If it’s the latter, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) says you don’t need to report that income on your tax return but you cannot deduct expenses. If you attempt to claim a rental loss, the CRA will put you to the test of proving the rental rate is at fair market value, and there is a reasonable expectation of profit. With children taking longer to become self-sufficient and aging parents expected to live longer, Boomers could be in for a rough ride. The first step is to talk openly with your children about money and responsibility. And a good second step is to discuss your situation with your professional advisor to make sure your financial plans stay on track. *Boomers on Call Survey, 2009 – Harris/Decima for Investors Group.  Guest article provided by Investors Group Financial Services. © Investors Group. Reprinted with permission. This column, written and published by Investors Group Financial Services Inc. (in Québec – a Financial Services Firm), presents general information only and is not a solicitation to buy or sell any investments. DISCLAIMER: ElderWise is pleased to feature the work of guest authors and appreciate their insight and expertise. Any opinions or advice expressed by these guest authors are their own, and may not necessarily reflect the views of ElderWise.  ElderWise does not assume responsibility for any decision or action taken as a result of information presented. Please seek professional advice and perform adequate due diligence before taking action....

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The “Not-So-Empty” Nest

Posted by on Feb 24, 2011 in Family Relationships |

 Today, adult children are living with their boomer parents longer than previous generations did.  There are also “boomerang kids”, who return to the family home after some time on their own.  Why is this happening? How do you learn to manage with a household full of adults?   First, some statistics: In 1981, only 28% of Canadians aged 20 to 29 were living in the family home. By 2001, that figure was up to 41%. In the 1970’s, the median age at first marriage was 21 years for women and 23 for men. Now, it’s 26 for women and 28 for men. For many young adults, living with parents at home is not their ideal life plan. Often, it’s a result of  financial necessity. With increases in the cost of living and post-secondary education, some young Canadians cannot afford to live on their own.  For others, the loss of a relationship, pregnancy, or change in career may result in staying in or return to the parental home.   It’s not all bad news, though. The majority of kids appreciate their parents’ help. Parents with adult children at home report more satisfaction with time spent together than parents who don’t live with their adult kids. However, these parents can feel more frustration and experience less personal time and space than those living on their own.  Money disagreements can increase for married couples with adult children living at home. Boomers nearing retirement may need to work longer to support the family if adult children are back at home. And those who are also caring for aging parents know first-hand the meaning of “sandwich generation” Adult families who live together successfully report three factors that help keep conflict to a minimum: 1. Firm rules about shared use of cars, electronics, living spaces and privacy in general. 2. Where possible, adult children pay rent. If not, they are responsible for some household duties or other contributions to the family. 3. Timelines are discussed. If schooling is part of the picture, there is a plan to finish and move out.  Others may also discuss where stay-at-home kids will be in six months or a year. Sometimes adult children can ease the sandwich generation squeeze by helping aging grandparents – driving them to appointments, helping with errands and household maintenance, or even just doing a regular check-in.   Although this trend marks a shift in family dynamics, it need not be a change for the worse, or signal that parents will be fighting over curfew with a 27-year-old.  But taking out the garbage could be another matter.   Sources: Parents with adult children living at home: Canadian Social Trends Spring 2006, The Stats Can Daily from March 21, 2006   Vol.2, No.24; © ElderWise Inc. 2006   You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO articles, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s “go to” place for midlife and older adults seeking information and support on health, housing and relationships.  Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.  ...

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Help With Family Visits

Posted by on Dec 16, 2010 in Family Relationships |

Some of us look forward to visiting our aging parents or our adult children – others not so much. We may live nearby, seeing each other often, but some of us make only occasional visits. For occasional visitors, it’s an opportunity see, hear, touch and sense what’s happening with our loved ones. The result can be joy and relief, or it can be growing concern and frustration. Visits can get weighed down with tradition and habits. Some of these are welcome, others leave us feeling that we have not progressed in our relationships or in dealing with matters important to the family. If you feel frustrated, consider these causes and some ways of dealing with them: What keeps some families “stuck”? Denial and avoidance. These traits are part of human nature. Showing compassion towards others AND ourselves can keep emotions in check. Old hurts, entrenched behaviours, and fear of conflict. Recognizing our “family drama” is the first step towards re-writing our story. Overwhelming size or number of concerns. Breaking the problems into manageable parts and setting priorities can help. Feeling powerless. Lack of confidence, skills or support may make you feel like giving in or giving up. What you can do: Inform yourself and others of the facts, issues and options. Whether it’s a health, financial, caregiving or lifestyle concern, sharing new information can be a neutral – even welcome – first step. Prepare others for talking about important matters. Give advance notice of what’s on your mind – to your aging parent or your adult child. Resolve to say or do something different this time. Using the same old approach and expecting different results just sets you up for frustration. Build trust first. Try to show that you understand another person’s values, needs and fears, before advancing your own opinions and agenda. Look for shared solutions that consider everyone’s interests. Taking too strong a position, whether you are the parent or adult child, may affect the well-being of another family member. Set realistic objectives and take small steps. Major life changes are a process, not an event. Quick and simple just doesn’t apply. Close any discussions by trying to get agreement on next steps. Keep things in perspective. Limit the time and energy you devote to your concerns. Relax and enjoy the holiday. Once the visit is over, reflect on and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. Persist, gently and consistently, keeping everyone involved and engaged in the process.   Vol. 6, No. 12, © ElderWise 2010 You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise, Canada’s go-to place for “age-smart” planning. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.  ...

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