Are you a swooper? Do you have an elderly parent that is a long distance away? Occasionally you swoop in to see her in Connecticut from you office in Chicago. You come armed with a checklist of things that she needs to do and a pocketful of brochures describing places that she should move to. If you manage the visit well, she might take advantage of some of your recommendations and make a few valuable changes to improve her situation. But if you don’t manage the situation well, you may leave after a few days, frustrated that she won’t listen to you and upset that she was crying when you walked out the door.
Our elderly parents don’t often choose to make changes quickly. They may need to think about their options and truly believe that it is in their best interest to do something. I remember when I was first concerned that my Mom was no longer safe living by herself in her home. The trips to the basement laundry with a hamper full of dirty clothes were becoming more and more precarious. But I was patient enough to sit down and plant the seed that moving to an independent living retirement community might be something that she would enjoy . I finished the discussion with the words, “Mom, you will know when it is time to move”
Fortunately my patience paid off. She called me when she decided it was time to look at other living alternatives. I learned one important lesson. There was no way that I was going to swoop in and tell her what she should do. The change was going to take time. She needed to get comfortable with it and sit with it for awhile before she was ready to consider action.
If you tend to be a swooper, keep a few things in mind. Resist the temptation to become your parent’s CEO. Rather, position yourself as his/her valued consultant. Keep in touch with your parent on a regular basis. Make subtle suggestions long before you recommend changes. Mention what your friends’ parents have done and why they are so happy. If no other family members are near to your parent develop a relationship with her close friends in town, her minister, priest or rabbi and ask them to keep in touch. Communication is the key. It is more important to become a good listener than an order giver.