My friend Colleen and I are both national speakers on issues related to caregiving and aging. While in Washington D.C. to speak at the Aging In America conference we shared a similar challenge in our family dynamics. Though both of us are experts in our fields and have helped hundreds of families connect with resources, as well as speak nationally on issues related to caregiving and aging, we both struggle with an affliction within our families that I have termed the eternally 12 syndrome.
While we both have impressive qualifications in our own families we are not only perceived as having no influence but, at times, as if we are still 12 years old. In speaking with family caregivers throughout the United States, I have come to the conclusion that Colleen and I are not the only ones afflicted with this condition. Adult children all over the country (and I would imagine the world) are looked upon by their elderly parents as children who are not possibly experienced enough to assist in making educated decisions about their family members care (not even when you have been working in the geriatric field for over 20 years!)
So what can the afflicted do to assist their elderly loved ones while in a continuous prepubescent state?
Some tips to assist:
- Ask for help: If there is someone in the family who they relate to on a different level ask that person for help. Sometimes you have to look at the perceived hierarchy and work with whoever is at the top to help make decisions.
Examples: In my family, my dad will listen what my sister says in a different way (even if she says the same thing as me) because she is the oldest child. My Aunt will listen and accept help from my husband before me, my sister or my mother. You see even my mom struggles with the eternally 12 syndrome as she is the youngest child in her family so my aunt who is only a year older than her still sees her as her “little sister”)
- Call in a professional:There are professional called Geriatric Care Managers who are trained to facilitate family meetings and discuss care options. They can make sure the conversation stays calm and moves forward.
Example: When discussing with my grandfather, the option of moving from our home to a retirement community in order to increase his socialization, I asked a friend who is a geriatric care manager to facilitate our family meeting. Though she said the same things that I had said, she was seen as an authority figure to my family. My friend Colleen hired a mediator to facilitate family meetings between 8 siblings, regarding her mothers care.
Millions of family caregivers grapple with this syndrome as their parents’ age. You are not alone.