What if Your Aging Parent Refuses to Move?
I was at an event the other day and a woman shared her concerns about her Dad. She said that “he absolutely refuses to consider moving and he’s European – you have no idea”. I actually do.
I have a number of friends as well as clients who have experienced variations on this theme and I sympathize with the additional stressors that exist within their particular family dynamic. I have also worked in crisis and I know that these “extremes” are played out across many different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. They are also present within families who have experienced parental alcoholism, various mental health issues, abuse, dementia disorders and “not so simple” family disputes with hurts that are not yet healed.
The first thing to remember is that you are not alone. A number of children grew up believing that everyone else’s families were communicative, happy, and genuinely interested in what the other had to say. Watching television from the 60’s and 70’s, many of us thought that other families were all like the Walton’s or the Cosby’s and that there must be something really wrong with ourselves and our own family.
In fact, some family units are more adept than others at navigating issues and disputes and surviving them, but I maintain that they are still there on some level. A few children conform, some rebel, some pretend to conform but actually rebel and some move out of the area. However, they can be drawn back to their original family home to help Mom and/or Dad with their evolving health issues as they age. That doesn’t mean that they want to get drawn into the same communication patterns that they remember from when they were ten and twelve and family celebrations might have been less than celebratory. They also may not want to cross unspoken boundaries and interfere with their parents’ rights to self- determination.
Sometimes it actually takes an episode or an event to start the ball rolling. A fall that scares the older adult without doing damage is one such sort of triggering event. A winter like the one we experienced last year can also be a catalyst for change. A friend or neighbour who transitions to a condo or a retirement residence can potentially shift the thought of a future transition into the realm of possibility. These events can be natural conversation starters.
I recommend focusing on your parent’s sense of autonomy. The most successful transitions are those where the older adult can make their own decisions and your attitude can go a long way towards soothing their fears of the future and the unknown. Exploring informed options in case they are not able to remain in their home can offer peace of mind. Being prepared with information is not the same as pressuring your parents for an immediate commitment. Becoming familiar with condo buildings in the community as well as the various retirement residence options allows everyone to make their preferences known so that you and your loved ones are not left scrambling if a health crisis occurs. You will have the knowledge of what your parents want, what they can afford and what responsibilities each adult child will assume. Some people are great organizers, some are skilled with the financial aspects of retirement planning and some are able to contribute in entirely different ways. Knowing Mom and/or Dad’s preferred choices “in case” and being aware of roles and responsibilities can allow everyone to make tough decisions from a place of knowledge and strength. That sure beats trying to figure out “best choices” in a time of crisis.
Even if Mom and/or Dad are not ready to move yet, everyone will know what is available. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the advantages of involving objective third party experts at some or each of the stages of transition. “I am not leaving my house!” can evolve into “Will I be able to take my cat when I move?” Progress can occur but it may take time and involve several conversations. Take heart. Nothing stays the same.
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