Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Managing Expectations

We've been discussing gathering information about your parent's circumstances so that you can plan your caregiving. Before we move to other areas of information that may need your attention, let's explore the unsettling activity of talking directly to your parent. After all, your parent knows the details of his situation better than anyone and if he is mentally alert, you should be able to glean important facts that will make a substantial difference in the care you arrange.

A recent AARP report shows that about two-thirds of Boomer women (69%) have had conversations with their parents about their ability to live inependently as they get older. But over 30% have not. An earlier AARP study on parent-adult child communications about aging states that the two most common reasons that adult children and their parents do not talk about living independently is because there is “no need” or because of “poor communications”.

If your parent doesn't live with you or you have an unsettled relationship with your parent, you may well fall into that 30%. And you likely have one of those two top reasons for not discussing care issues. Even if you've talked with your parent before, remember that "Nothing Is Set In Stone." Circumstances will change and you will need to speak with your parent again.

The “no need” reason simply does not apply. Your parent wants to stay independent as she ages—it would be easier on you, the caregiver, if she does—but without discussing the issues and concerns, she may not discover all the options that exist to maintain her independence. And without some conversation, you will have a poor idea of what your elder needs for independent living.

Communication is essential. Good communication is vital. If one of your reasons for avoiding discussion is that you have “poor communication”, now is the time to work on your communication skills and to build some bridges.

Even without heavy emotional baggage where our parents are concerned, we adult children know that our communication with our parents can be strained, especially when talking about something as stressful as quality living, illness, and death. During our next several times together, I'll be sharing some tips on talking with your parent, and I hope that you will share any techniques that have helped you break the ice about stressful topics.

Today, let me suggest that most communication with your parent is an attempt to Manage Expectations.

I write this with capital letters because it's a common business buzz phrase. To Manage Expectations is to clarify to another person what you can and can not do, what you will and will not do in a certain situation. Often, while clarifying, you must become an educator, explaining any limitations that you're under and teaching the other person selected details of your position so that they understand the boundaries you must set. Managing expectations means, most importantly, communicating your boundaries, your view, your own expectations.

Do Not Assume.

Do not assume that your parent knows how you feel, what you're prepared to do, or how you plan to arrange for care. Do not assume that you know what your parent expects from you. Unless you or your parent has obtained a divine gift for mindreading, neither of you can know each other's expectations until you get more information--from conversations, from behavior, from other observers. Your father expects that you'll visit him every day. You don't know this. Your job and family commitments make twice a week the most you can promise. He pouts. You wonder why and feel guilty. Your mother expects that you will drop everything at her phone call and come right over no matter the urgency of her concern. For you, dropping everything every time she calls will jeopardize your income. You know you need to clarify why you don't come and must find out what she really needs--perhaps more company, not necessarily yours.

Set boundaries, communicate those boundaries, stick to your decision until something changes. That's Managing Expectations.

Next time I'll share tips from other caregivers on how to manage those expectations.

Blessings on your caregiving!

The AARP Reports
Skufca, Laura. Are Americans Talking with Their Parents About Independent Living: A 2007 Study Among Boomer Women. Research Report. AARP, November 2007.

Barrett, Linda L. Can We Talk? Families Discuss Older Parents’ Ability to Live Independently…Or Do They? Research Report. AARP, April 2001

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