QUESTION: I come from a family of five siblings—two brothers and three sisters. To put it bluntly, we are all chiefs. We all prefer leading to following, and we all think we hold the best solution to any challenge. To confound matters, all five of us now share the task of finding an appropriate assisted living facility for our aging parents. This process is more involved and difficult than we ever imagined it would be. Our parents are easy-going and grateful. They have one goal only: to live out their lives together for as long as possible. Unfortunately, the five of us never see eye-to-eye, question each other every step of the way, and can’t seem to agree on anything except to find a location for our parents where we can visit often. If we were a football team, we would need a coach. If we were a baseball team, we would need an umpire. But we’re a family and need advice. Do you have any words of wisdom for us? We need to accomplish this task soon and haven’t made a bit of headway in three months.—George
ANSWER: Don’t give up, there is hope. And from your letter, I believe there is an abundance of hope. There is absolutely nothing wrong with five chiefs working together to create a viable, sustainable solution. In order to do so, you and your four siblings need to embrace two important communication skills: collaboration and consensus. Respectfully accepting everyone’s opinions and ideas is the first step toward finding solutions. Once ideas are on the table, a consensus among those involved is the most fair and organized manner of decision making. Here are some additional steps to take. The only rule is that negative comments are not acceptable.
- State your goal clearly and simply.
- Ask everyone involved to brainstorm possible solutions.
- Listen as each person provides his or her input.
- Evaluate each suggestion—pros and cons.
- Take a vote on which idea to put into action.
- Decide on next steps.
If this democratic process still doesn’t work, you may need someone to help negotiate. Help is available from organizations such as Elder Decisions, which provides adult family conflict resolution. Or the American Association of Retired Persons, a website full of helpful caregiving suggestions from tax tips to online support groups. What you and your siblings are experiencing is not unusual. Old roles and rivalries can surface when decisions must be made about aging parents. Unfortunately, old habits can sabotage solid, effective decision making. In the end, the most important input you can request is from your parents. What are their hopes and wishes for their future? They hold the key to creating the best possible living situation for their happy and healthy future.
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.