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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

My brother and sister won't offer to
help take care of Mom and Dad.

5. Carry out your plan.
Begin by telling your parents of your need to cut back on the amount of time you spend providing care for them, and explain why. Tell them you intend to approach your brother and sister to ask for help. Then call your siblings and explain the situation. You may want to tell them some of the ideas you have been considering and ask them for theirs. Arrange for a family meeting with your siblings and parents to discuss options. (See Family Meetings below.) At the meeting be explicit about why you are having trouble as the sole caregiver. Using I-messages (pages 12-13) can be helpful, since they are not blaming or condemning. (If you start accusing your siblings of being uncaring and irresponsible, you won't get very far.)

Family Meetings

For a family meeting to succeed, it is important for everyone to agree on goals and for clear communication guidelines to be set. We suggest the following.

1. Goals
Before the meeting, each person should answer these questions from his or her own perspective:
What is the problem that makes this meeting necessary?
Why has our family been unable to solve the problem?
What do I hope will happen as a result of the meeting— in other words, what will "success" look like?
What am I willing to do to ensure that the meeting is successful?
What am I not willing to do?

2. Communication guidelines
When emotions run high, it is especially important for rules of behavior to be made clear.
Family members should speak only for themselves, not for others. (Avoid statements such as, "I'm not the only one upset about this. I know John is upset, too!" and "You all may think I'm crazy but …")
While someone is speaking, no interruptions are allowed. Family members must agree to hear each other out.
Use I-messages (pages 12–13) rather than judging, preaching, blaming, giving advice, or telling others how they need to change for the situation to improve.
No one should dominate the meeting. If necessary, set time limits.
Participants should avoid private agreements or secret exchanges. Unless there is a compelling reason (such as protecting a seriously ill parent from information that would be devastating and about which nothing can be done), information should be shared with all family members.
If these procedures don't work or if no progress is made after one or two meetings, we recommend enlisting the help of an objective outsider, such as a therapist, to serve as mediator.

Adapted from Joseph A. Ilardo, As Parents Age: A Psychological and Practical Guide (Acton, MA: VanderWyk & Burnham, 1998)
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