If you are a boomer, you may have experienced difficulty communicating with your parents as early as the sixties. Take heed, for even now as mature adults, we can still experience generational gaps. Communications is probably one of the most important issues that crops up with adult children caring for a parent. Likewise, caring for a spouse can be equally as challenging for there are so many role reversals that each person in the relationship must adjust to.

Discussing financial arrangements, illnesses, funeral arrangements, etc is something that we all tend to shy a way from. However, as a primary caregiver, they are issues that must be addressed.

You may be asking yourself, “when is the best time to start a conversation with them?” The answer is as soon as possible. There is no right time. There never will be. It is up to you to slowly balance your own energies and thoughts and begin expressing the importance in having these topics discussed. Your loved ones might not be receptive, but you must begin to master communication skills inquire about the information and answers that will be needed down the road a bit. This is especially true since your parents are probably still coherent and able to participate in decisions. For those who’s loved one are not capable, if there are no written directions such as a will, an advanced directive, etc., then you will need to speak with other family members and the course of action you will need to take will be quite different.

In either case, it is important to remember to focus your communications in a nonconfrontational manner. Your intent should be to strengthen the ties between you and your loved one and possibly an entire famly. You will want to focus your energies in creating valuable decisions that will be for the highest good of all those concerned.

Many issues may come into play. Old patterns that may stem from your childhood may crop up once again. Parents while confessing that they don’t want to be a burden to their children, are at times, the worst offenders. You, yourself may still want to be the little girl who receives approval from her daddy and mommy. Or you may have guilt that motivates you to accept the role of being their primary caregiver. It is important that you get in touch with what your motivations are, why you have assumed the role as caregiver and what you hope to accomplish through the process of caregiving. If the old patterns appear to be getting in the way of things, you must resolve yourself to work through them. You cannot expect your loved one to change. You must initiate the change from within yourself. This might mean that you get some guidance or counseloring to help you work out the problems so that you can move into forgiveness and ultimately open to love, while assisting your loved into opening as well.

Empathy and compassion are important characteristics to continue developing, so that you will be able to anticipate what is needed and to make wise decisions.

You may initiate conversations in the beginning by asking your loved one to express their fears. Fears can be centered around financial constraints, a purposeless existance, loss of friends, and more. The elderly person who no longer feels needed or helpful truely suffers greatly from within, over this loss. It is important to address issues of independency. There is a personal independency in terms of their caring for them selves on a daily basis and there is the independency to be able to prepare meals, shop, get out, socialize, pay bills, drive and have other needs met. I am sure you can imagine the difficulty one might be going through when the realization hits that you are no longer able to do these things for yourself. Some people are able to accept these changes, but for many the shifts are disastrous and a struggle persists from within them.

It is also important to remember that you should not try to control or manipulate your loved one or others that are involved in the caring of your loved one. I encourage you to ask questions and really listen to their answers before proceeding with any decisions, if they are coherent and responsible.

Many caregivers have expressed that they have become their own parent’s parent. In severe cases where the parent is totally dependent due to a stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease or some major disability, one is more apt to think they have become the parent. Partnering is the ideal way to think of this process. Even if a parent is incoherent, in a coma, or whatever, I truly believe, the soul knows what is going on. Therefore, it is important to maintain respect and trust just as if they were coherent.

Most of our parents will not be able to ask for help outwardly so they may ask questions or drop subtle hits that can hit you like a ton of bricks, pushing all your buttons. Have patience and compassion. This is their own way of expressing themselves. You may not believe it, but they are doing the best that they can.

You may pull current articles from magazines and newsletters on eldercare issues and show them to your parent and share what your thoughts and concerns are. Ask and listen to what they are feeling. Ask your parents for advice.

Rather than asking them outright about concerns like wills, etc., you may say to them that you are thinking of creating your own will. How did they go about creating theirs? “I would like your opinion before I…”, and perhaps, “how would you do this if you were in my shoes?”

Use these simple ideas that we have discussed here to begin opening communications. The next featured article will continue the process of communication skills. Be gentle and nurturing with yourself and with your loved one.

Gail R. Mitchell


  • Ms. Mitchell began her full-time caregiving experience in the early eighties when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Later on she became the primary caregiver for her father, along with her mother who had become critically ill from burnout prior to her dad’s passing. In recent years, she cared for several friends with AIDS while continuing to care for her mother and actively providing support, information, referrals and resources for caregivers.

    Gail's leadership on the Internet and her success with Empowering Caregivers led her to found National Organization For Empowering Caregivers (NOFEC) INC in 2001.

    Prior to founding NOFEC, she created the iVillageHealth Chat: Empowering Caregivers, which she hosted for over 5 years. Within a month of hosting she created Empowering Caregivers: www.care-givers.com in 1999 as a resource for caregivers around the globe. Over three million visitors have frequented the website.

    She has presented at national and international care-related conferences and programs and has been a keynote speaker for many programs as well.

    Ms Mitchell has assisted thousands of caregivers online and offline in ways to empower themselves in their roles in caring for loved ones.

    For a list of clients and/or her resume, please contact info@care-givers.com

    Gail's articles have been published in many venues nationally and in Canada. Presently, she is a member of American Society on Aging and National Quality Caregivers Coalition.

    Gail has discovered that there is life after caregiving: She has become a successful ceramic artist and installation artist. She created Crystal Illumination Art to bring the transformative quality of illumination, light and color to the human experience and celebrate its ability to inspire, heal and nourish our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being.