Q. I suddenly feel as though I cannot communicate with my father. Our conversations have become more like a parent-child check-in rather than a pleasant visit.
What I mean by that is I feel as though I am taking on a more parental role in our relationship. My dad lives alone and has some chronic health conditions but nothing too serious. Lately my visits have become focused on whether or not he took his medications, if he’s eaten, or when he last ate.
I want dad to feel safe and happy but I don’t want to be the person drawing attention to all of the things he is not doing to care for himself. Is this typical of aging parents? I have no siblings and most of my other relatives live far away.
A. Thank you for this question. Many adult children face this issue with aging parents. Our answer will be a series of questions to encourage you to reflect upon – and prompt some reflection of the past several months to identify any changes that may have taken place.
- Does this represent a sudden change in your father or if you look back, has there been a slow decline over the past several months?
- What is it that leads you to feel you have to check on him in this manner? Did you check on him 3 months ago? If this is something new, perhaps you father is experiencing some health issue(s).
- Is he acting depressed? Have there been any changes in his activity level or his social contacts?
If you re-evaluate and reflect on the past several months, you may find some specific events or situations that were different or a time when you noticed an unusual reaction from your father.
That is where you can start the conversation. Have you asked how he is feeling or if he has noticed any changes? he may not want to share concerns with you because he doesn’t want you to worry. If you approach him, he may share his feelings or frustrations:
- Could he be experiencing some things he doesn’t understand?
- Is he forgetting to do daily tasks?
- Is he worried about developing dementia?
These are difficult conversations to have, especially with individuals we have a close relationship with.
To begin the conversations set the stage for success. Use “I” statements such as, “Dad, I have noticed that you are not taking your medications as regularly as you used to, is something going on?”
Often when these types of conversations take place, one party wants to find a solution and “fix” the problem while the other party just wants to be heard. Be clear about the purpose. Make every effort to treat the conversation as a door opener rather than the time when everything has to be decided.
Be patient and be prepared to hear things that may make you feel uncomfortable. Your dad is saying something through his actions, if you give him an opportunity to explain, you will both have a starting point. Then together, you can move ahead to determine your agreed-upon next steps.