In the internet age we have immediate access to information that can help increase our brain function, manage health issues and decrease risk for increasing health problems. Sharing this information with those we love can be helpful in making a future health care plan and empowering our family about future care needs. However; I’ve noticed sometimes, well-meaning family members (myself included), when caring for an elderly parent, can end up shoulding all over those we love.
For example: it’s common knowledge that when you want to lose weight you should eat smaller meal and increase your exercise, but it can become annoying if, when trying to lose a few pounds, the only conversation others have with you is about what you “should” be doing to lose weight. There are many things that we should do to make our lives less stressful and increase our health, but when the shoulds become our primary point of conversation it can become exasperating for the person we are shoulding on.
Some points to ponder when sharing helpful information with an elderly family member:
- They are not your children: Those of us in the Sandwich Generation are used to telling our children what they should and should not do as a way of assisting them in their personal growth. Conversely; your parents are not children and have years of life experience that have formed their current habits and routines. The approach should be more conversational with your parents as opposed to directional with your children.
- Relationship First: They are more than the health issues they are experiencing so focus more on the relationship you have with them than the should you want to share.
- Shoulds are merely strong suggestions: There is nothing wrong with sharing information that will help increase the quality of life of those we love, but keep in mind that they are really just recommendations that you are sharing with the other person.
- They have a choice: even if the should can help them immensely; they still have a choice about whether or not to implement the suggestion.
- Encouragement is key: No one is perfect so if they chose to implement what they should be doing, it will take time for it to become a part of their daily life. They will fall short of consistent implementation so during those times it is important to praise them for their efforts and encourage them to keep going.
- Professional shoulds sometimes hold more weight: because our elders sometimes disregard what we say because of family dynamics (see Eternally 12 Syndrome) utilizing professionals that have influence in the life of that person to share the idea/message can be helpful in moving them forward in making the changes needed to live a healthier life.
We should because we love, but make sure the message is given with love and respect for the person’s life experience and family position.