What is the best way to talk to your adult parents about the need for a change in their living situation? Is there a right or wrong way to go about having the conversation? How can you muster up all the love and caring you possess to convince your loved ones to get on board with your ideas?
The short answer: you might not be able to. Like most uncomfortable conversations, there is no checklist that could be followed to unlock all the secrets and instantly give you the success you’ve been hoping for. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist. Each family situation is a little different.
While there is certainly no right or wrong way to have a conversation out of concern for your parent’s welfare, there are a few tips that may make the discussion flow more smoothly. What follows are a few ideas of how to talk to your parents about changing their living situation to help you approach the interactions in a way that helps you and your parents to find common ground and begin to move forward.
Thoughtful preparation is key
You know those points you always feel compelled to make, the prepared statements you have brought to earlier conversations? Set them aside. This time, you will set aside the old conversations and ask different questions that will help you to understand what they’re feeling, not just what they’re thinking. Start by consciously considering what you should bring to the discussion and what you should leave behind.
Bring: a clear head, an honest willingness to listen, and a committed intent to express your true feelings – not just opinions, but feelings.
Leave: anger and frustration that has grown through the difficult discussions you’ve had over and over again.
Set the stage for a successful conversation
Open with clarity, laced with a heavy dose of compassion. They may appear a bit suspicious at first. Wouldn’t you be? That’s okay.
Example: “We’ve talked a lot about my concern for you, and you know I’d like to see you move. I love you and want what’s best for you. But I don’t want to talk about that today; I want to listen today. I want to ask you a few questions and I really want to know how you feel about some things.”
Next steps: Listen, listen, listen.
Ask a question and listen again. How hard is it to listen to someone when they’re expressing ideas that don’t make any sense to you or don’t seem logical? Nearly impossible? And what happens when we disagree with their opinion? We feel compelled to correct them, to show them the error of their thinking and to make sure they know why they’re wrong.
Example question: “When I suggest that I think you should move, how does that make you feel?”
If you’re met with silence, consider that success. If they have a quick answer, you know it’s one of those planned, rote answers. The silence means you’ve got them thinking.
Be careful not to sabotage the conversation.
Whatever thoughts are shared, before you state your opinion, be sure to validate their feelings. Validating is not saying someone is right, but rather that they have the right to feel that way.
We are each an accumulation of our life experiences, and they shape how we view things.
For example, when mom says: “I don’t want to move; what if I don’t like it,” a typical response might be, “I’m sure you’re going to like it, you’ve got friends there, it’s a lovely place, you’ll be fine.”
In that response, your mom has just been told her concerns aren’t valid. She’s likely to feel dismissed.
Instead, a validating response might be: “Mom, let’s talk about that. What do you think you won’t like?” Or, “What’s the most frightening thing to you about moving?”
Note that we haven’t said that we think she’ll like it. We haven’t said she’s foolish for worrying about that. We’ve honored her concerns by wanting to hear more. If you try to move forward with the conversation before understanding what your parents are really feeling, you’ll set yourself up for the unproductive conversational cul-de-sac.
You’ve been there, done that. Try something different the next time you talk to your parents about changing their living situation – you might find that doing so leads to a conversation that beneficial and eye-opening for all of you.