Most of the time, we want an easy life, free of conflict and uncomfortable moments. As your parents grow older, becoming frailer and needing more help, there are times when you have to take the lead and you can’t avoid having that difficult conversation:

  • If your mum is diagnosed with dementia or another life changing event happens
  • If you feel your mum isn’t coping with being your dad’s carer
  • If you can see your mum is struggling with every day chores and needs extra support
  • If you can see friction in your parents’ relationship and you want to help
  • If you want to improve their quality of life by introducing a routine, consistency and care

It takes a lot of guts to have a difficult conversation, but it isn’t something you should put off. The issues aren’t going to go away, they will fester and cause you more worry. Your mum is still your mum, but you need to tell her how worried you are now.

How you go about the conversation can make a huge difference, and these are some guidelines to follow to get the best out of a difficult conversation:

  1. Start off by explaining what it is you want to say. Use ‘I’ statements, be clear about what the issue is, how you feel about it and what you want to achieve.
  2. Then let them speak.
  3. Listen carefully, and don’t interrupt. When they’ve finished, repeat back what you heard, “I can hear you feel strongly about that mum.” This shows you are listening to their side, and you are also communicating that you know it isn’t just about you, you are looking for a joint solution.
  4. Don’t say things you don’t mean, especially if it contradicts what you have just been saying: eg ‘don’t worry mum,’ ‘okay, let’s leave it for now,’ or ‘it’s fine’ …… when it clearly isn’t.
  5. Leave time for silences in the conversation. These can help you both absorb what has just been said.
  6. Don’t let things get heated; just because your mum gets angry or frustrated doesn’t mean you have to. This is often an attempt to close down the conversation because it is too painful for your mum to face.

All this means is you are both stalling and you’ll have to have the same difficult conversation further down the line.

  • Close the conversation on a positive note eg “I’m so glad we spoke about this, I’m sure we can work something out together.” Hug your mum and tell her you love her.

SJ Smith

6th July 2020

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