Trying to reason with an older adult often seems like talking to a four year old. If you think that it is frustrating for you, think about how it seems to them. When did we stop talking to each other instead of at each other, or has it always been that way and we just never noticed?
My favorite movie of all time is “Mother” with Debbie Reynolds and Albert Brooks. I saw a lot of my own family dynamics in that movie, and it struck me as being funny as well as thought provoking. It is about a son who moves back in with his mother in order to figure out his own life, but ultimately gets to know his mother as a person in her own rights. He was amazed to learn that his mother had a life before him. When he leaves he tells her that the next time that they talked it would not be as a son to his mother but as one writer (person) to another. It was a reminder that we often don’t see our parents as the people that they really are. They have always been just mom and dad.
It comes down to being more than a generation gap. It is the habit of talking at each other instead of to each other over the course of a whole lifetime. They talked at you when you were growing up and now you are talking at them.
Paul Bridgewater in an article for the Michigan Chronicle: Detroit, Michigan: January 12, 2010) speaks of the phenomena that we all think of as generational communication. Why is it that older adults seem to resist change? Is it that we try to strong arm them into a state of stubbornness? It didn’t work on us (remember “because I said so”) and it isn’t working on them now. Why do they talk about things that seem irrelevant to us? Why won’t they take their medications as prescribed? At times it really does seem like the Mars and Venus phenomena all over again.
The author pointed out some basic tools for communicating with older adults:
- Recognize that we all have different agendas. Seniors need to maintain a sense of control. For example: instead of telling them that they need to stop driving, approach it sideways so that they come to that logical conclusion on their own.
- When an older adult is resistant to change, instead of badgering them, it might work better to get their unique take on the subject. Solicit their ideas for alternative solutions.
- Sit down and talk. Get to know your mom or your dad as a real person instead of as a parent. Remember how you talked for hours on end when you met your soul mate? Think of sitting down and talking to your parent like that.
All of us can benefit if we learn common communication habits of the elderly. Learn how to craft effective sentences so that it doesn’t sound like you are badgering. Lead the conversations instead of taking them over. Let them bring their experiences from the past and ask how they want to apply them to the future.