Along with the stress involved in caring for an elderly parent, there is usually conflict between family members regarding how things should be handled. It helps if everyone can identify not only potential sources of conflict, but ways to deal with those conflicts in a calm and productive manner. Conflict is a part of life. It does not need to become a way of life.
When families encounter conflicts in dealing with elderly parents, those conflicts can become constructive if they produce a positive change in the way issues are dealt with, lead to a unity of purpose, or promote collaboration between family members. This only happens when the focus shifts from “what you want” to “why you want it.” One child may want Mom to move to an assisted living facility while another may want Mom to remain in her own home. If each holds to their position without discussing their motivation, it is unlikely that a frank discussion will ever occur. However, if both can talk about why they want what they want, there is a very good chance that their conversation will lead to a discussion that will result in a good solution.
So how can you resolve problems in a productive manner? There are several steps to conflict resolution which lead to positive solutions.
- Clarify everyone’s position – not just what they want, but why they want it. Sometimes conflict arises out of assumptions or false notions. When people sit down and talk openly about their feelings, they often find that there is really not much of a conflict at all.
- Analyze everyone’s position, interests, and issues completely and thoroughly. The more emotionally charged the situation, the longer this may take. Be prepared to spend some time or agree to meet several times to be sure that everyone’s position is heard and clearly understood. If you sense that some people may not be speaking honestly or bringing up everything they want to say, try this phrase, “If I were you, I probably would ________” This demonstrates empathy and encourages others to discuss things without reservation.
- Start to look for areas where everyone is in agreement and write those down. Then begin to prioritize the areas where there is disagreement. Put minor issues first, deal with those, and then move on to bigger issues where there is more disagreement. Sometimes when small issues are resolved the desire to continue resolving problems becomes more intense. Sometimes the mere act of resolving a few small problems demonstrates that there is a possibility that problems can be solved. Always focus on the long-term goal and let the solutions help to reach the long-term goal. Look closely at solutions that don’t seem to be steps to meet the ultimate goal. Begin to work together as a group to figure out the best solutions to the problem.
- If these steps don’t work, consider a third party to help with a resolution (social worker, minister, close family friend, etc.) or determine if there are some people involved in the decision-making who really should not be included at all. This can be done by looking at whether or not they are impacted currently by the problem and whether or not they will be impacted by the solution. For example, sometimes grandchildren can become quite vocal about what everyone should do for Grandma, but they do not provide any care to her currently and would not be effected by any new living arrangements. These are people who need to be removed from the decision making process.
Do not expect that every disagreement will be resolved within the family. Sometimes it helps to seek professional help to provide an objective voice. If this outside person is a trained professional such as a social worker, physician, therapist, etc. they may be able to help expand solutions to the problem by identifying other resources that they family may not be aware of.