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Family Communication

Common Issues, Aging and Mental Health (courtesy of The Center for Aging and Life Change)

I. Elements of good communication
II. Communication between generations
III. Communication between adult siblings
IV. Practical considerations with frail elders

II. Communication between generations

The sense of time
As we grow older, time both slows down and speeds up. Days and years speed by, but we become less inclined to be in a hurry. To have a good meaningful conversation with an elder, it is helpful to slow yourself down, be present, leave your own time pressure outside.

Influential historical and cultural experiences
This current generation of eighty and ninety year olds is still influenced by the deprivations of the Great Depression, the self-sacrifice for the common good of the WWII era. Their children, on the other hand, are products of post war affluence and consumerism. Many attitudes and behaviors which are products of an earlier time may today appear anachronistic at best and irrational at worst. It is important to consider the generational context of attitudes and perspectives before deeming them unreasonable, irritating, stubborn or judgmental.

Values and expectations
There was a time when it was generally expected that men would work to earn money to support their families and women would tend hearth and home. There was a time when women were expected to put family and others ahead of their own needs. A woman’s job was to provide care and nurturing. People toughed things out and kept their psychic pain to themselves. Today, in the extreme, we label people who behave this way ‘dysfunctional’, ‘in denial’, ‘co-dependent’ and suffering poor self-esteem. Today is a time of ‘doing your own thing’, being open about feelings. These differences provide fertile ground for misunderstandings.

Idiosyncratic memories
We each remember the same events in a different way. We often don’t agree with each other about what happened yesterday. The events of thirty or fifty years ago don't stand a chance of consensual agreement. We are often amazed at how ‘distorted’ someone else’s account is of something we remember so clearly and so differently. This is how it goes. Take it for what it is worth - an opportunity to see all the many and complex aspects of a single moment in time.

On a similar note, family members often see each other through old lenses or "old pictures" as author Mary Pipher calls them. Parents may talk to their competent fifty year old daughter as though she were the willful and flighty adolescent of thirty five years ago. Likewise the daughter may be addressing a frail and tired father as though he were still the strict and fearsome family disciplinarian of yore. It behooves both generations to move into the present.

Reference: Pipher, Mary, Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders (NY:Riverhead Books, 1999).

 

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