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Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy?
How to Resolve the Most Common Dilemmas with Aging Parents
by Joseph A. Ilardo, PhD, LCSW, and Carole R. Rothman, PhD

Excerpts from Chapter 2
"Talk So Your Parents Will Listen, and Listen So Your Parents Will Talk"

3. Listen actively.
When your parents talk, don't just listen to their words. Your parents' body language may convey a very different message from what is being said to you. Tune in to the feelings they are expressing by their gestures, facial expressions, postures, use of eye contact, and tones of voice. For example, suppose your mother has just been admitted to a long term care facility. Although you know she must be distressed, she tries to reassure you (and herself) by offering comments such as, "I'm not upset" and "I don't want you to be worried about me—I'll be fine!" While her words may be comforting, the likelihood is that her level of distress is being revealed by her tone of voice. You should respond to her tone, not her words.

4. Use I-messages much of the time.
I-messages are personal statements of feelings that are free of labels, judgments, or advice. For example, here are two I-messages conveying concerns: "I'm very worried about your not eating, Mom," or "Dad, I get upset when you lose track of the money I give you."
I-messages contrast strongly with you-messages, which often blame, shame, or judge. You-messages evoke angry and defensive responses from most people. Suppose your mother refuses to accept home health assistance, thereby placing more of a burden on you than you think is fair. You could berate her with a you-message by saying, "You're stubborn and inconsiderate," but this is only likely to hurt and anger her and create a war of wills. On the other hand, you could say, "I'm upset with this situation, Mom. It's hard for me to take care of my own children when I need to spend so much time here." Notice how this I-message ("I'm upset with this situation, Mom. . . .") doesn't blame, shame, or label. Instead, it provides information about how your mother's behavior is affecting you. There is no guarantee that this will bring about change. However, if she cares about you, she is likely to respond to your distress. If not, a more forceful I-message may be necessary, such as, "I need to take care of my children and cannot be your housekeeper. If you want to stay in your home, you will have to accept outside help."

7. Avoid patronizing your parents.
Don't underestimate your parents' capabilities. You may be providing care for your parents, but you are not your parents' parent. Talk straight and with respect. Although you may have to make age-related accommodations, such as talking more loudly or at a slower pace, do not treat your parents as though they were difficult or incompetent children. Doing so undermines any hope of having a meaningful dialogue with them. The same goes for withholding important or distressing information. Don't do it. It is dishonest and disrespectful.
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