How to Land the Plane When Talking to Your Aging Parents

As caregivers, we love to talk. It can be downright uncomfortable to endure long periods of silence, especially when you are dealing with people who are unwilling participants. So what is this land the plane business?

Landing the plane refers to listening with an open mind and heart, but you also need to learn how to ask the right questions. For example, let’s say you plan on speaking to your parents.  You think they need more help around the house. You and your siblings know they need more help, and you assume they will welcome the extra support with open arms. You go into the conversation by saying something like, ” Mom, I can see you and dad need someone to drive you to the grocery store on Fridays. I have a nice girl named Sarah coming by this week. She has agreed to drive you and dad to the store every week. Doesn’t that sound great?” Your mom bites back with a resounding “No.” Now you find yourself digging out of a hole with someone angry with you for whatever reason. You are feeling irked because you were only trying to help.

Tell me About It

What if you approached your mom differently?  You might get a better outcome.  Saying something like this, ” Mom, can you tell me about your day-to-day?” And then you need to land the plane. Stay silent and let her talk. Minutes can feel like hours, but it is essential to let her formulate the words to express how she feels. When your mom responds, keep in mind this is not the time for judgment or to start an argument. The idea is to gain insight into her view, what your parents want, not about what you or your siblings think is best for your folks. Be careful not to jump in with a closed question. Make sure to follow up with another tell me more about —a statement relating to something she said to you in response to your first question. You may not get all the information the first time you use this technique, but if you are consistent, over time, you will build trust and establish a positive dialogue and give you more insight into your parent’s point of view.

Let’s face it; everyone wants to be heard! Even if what they are saying is not realistic, maybe there is some compromise to be established. What if, instead of having help every day, they had help once or twice a week. I have seen this scenario play out first hand. During my tenure as an in-home care operator, families would reach out and request support for their parents. Request for service daily or multiple times a week is a red flag. It is essential to establish the why for the service as soon as possible. Often the perception of the children was vastly different from that of their parents.

Having a private family conversation before engaging the support of an in-home care agency is essential.  That tell me about it conversation is critical. Tell me about it can be used to discover a person’s true feelings. You may be surprised by what you learn. Land the plane!