Monday, February 15, 2010

When Communication Screeches to a Halt

If talking with your aging parent is hard, you’re not alone. Therapist Doug Manning in his booklet, “Parenting Our Parents,” admits he and his aging dad were at a roadblock. Their relationship was marked by small talk and silence.

Earlier, they'd enjoyed each other, making excuses to ditch family reunions just to talk, playing endless rounds of golf and taking time to explore big issues. But now, conversation was stalled.

Doug invited his dad on a business trip involving a three-hour car ride. Determined to break the ice, Doug nevertheless let mile after mile slip by without sharing his feelings. Imagine, a therapist who couldn’t talk?

On the way home, Doug finally spoke up, saying something like, “We used to be so close, but lately, we’re not talking. I don’t like our relationship right now. What do you think?”

“I don’t like it, either,” his dad replied, his eyes downcast.

“I want to do whatever it takes to bring us closer,” Doug said. His dad said nothing.

Doug admits their relationship didn’t improve overnight. But he felt relief. He had spelled out the problem and now could work on his side of the equation. And over time, in an open atmosphere, their relationship took a measured turn for the better.

These tips may help break the ice:

1. Admit the problem to yourself.
2. Communicate in love, realizing you may not receive the total outcome you want.
3. Look for common ground. That might mean books, baseball, music. You know your parent better than any one does.
4. Give it time.

Do you or a friend struggle with a relationship with an aging parent? You are not alone. Tell us about it.

Note: Doug Manning's book, "Parenting Our Parents" is regretfully out of print.

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