“You’re Not Putting ME in a Home” 3/4
By David Hahklotubbe, gerontologist
You’ve come back, excellent! I’m glad I didn’t manage to scare you off quite yet. Today’s BLOG will be a dive deep into conflict resolution. Wait, what? Am I suggesting that there will be conflict in this process? Recall my BLOG on Disappointment being the product of expectations not met? Well, I’m here to recalibrate your expectations. Under no uncertain terms; there will be conflict. So, let’s jump in to figure out where the conflict comes from and learn some techniques of resolving it, shall we?
Again, if you’ve been reading my BLOGs you know that you can expect two things from me, 1. I will distill down complicated concepts to keep things very simple. 2. I will be fully transparent, disclosive and down-right blunt. Today is no exception. First, let’s tackle the concept of conflict. What is conflict? My perception is that conflict is ridiculously simple if you break it down. Conflict is a variance and misalignment of beliefs. Beliefs make up our perception of reality. Reality is one of the pillars to stability. So, in essence, when two people have misaligned beliefs, they take a defensive posture because it is a threat to their stability. In other words, conflict is merely the expression of fear of loss of stability. And not to go too far down the rabbit hole, most people don’t understand that stability is an illusion, a myth. Stability is something we conjure to feel in control. Those with high need for control, will grasp onto stability for dear life and despite having beliefs that are so insanely off-kilter, these folks will fight to the death in spite of their obviously flawed thinking. To further break this down… when engaging someone in an attempt to resolve conflict, you must keep in mind 2 things. 1. You are attempting to de-stabilize and then re-stabilize this person through manipulating their belief system and 2. Education is your only panacea – replacing myth with fact. But, above all, you must be a master of transmission, and here’s a spoiler alert, environment and approach are the keys to your success. Nothing good nor productive has ever come from a screaming match. You must employ emotional intelligence if you want to succeed.
As discussed earlier in this series, fear is the soup de jour and it’s served piping hot. To further remind you, so that you have your expectations set correctly, anger is how it is most often expressed. As your loved one gets older, the fear of loss of independence, of decision-making abilities, their home, their autonomy and ultimately their quality/quantity of life, creeps into the back of their mind. After becoming afflicted or experiencing a life-changing incident, that fear quickly migrates to the forefront. It is at this point that they will be prepared for an epic battle to spare their lifestyle and stability. Logic washes away and you are dealing exclusively with irrational emotion. Despite the obvious need, a move into senior care is counter to their agenda. You need to be the voice of reason, believe in your mission, stand your ground and use some of the following tactics.
But first, let’s reinforce your belief in your mission. I use a simple analogy that most can relate to. Employing the concept of “Once a Man, Twice a Child”, I free myself from any fears of being accused of “infantilizing” the elderly with this story. I recall the day that I drove my first daughter to pre-school. I had purposely sculpted my career so that I could spend enormous amounts of time with her before she disappeared into the school system. Having that rich attachment made my relinquishing of her immensely more intense. However, I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the right move for her to set the tone for success in her scholastic career. I knew the facts, that she needed to individuate, to socialize and to take direction outside of her parents, to flourish. As we walked to the door, I could feel my pulse quicken, my voice quiver and tears well up. I felt her little hand gripping mine tighter with every step. As we entered, she looked up at me, knowing it was time and with big sad eyes, said, “no, Diddy”. She grasped my leg like a koala and refused to let go. 80% of me wanted to say, “ok, maybe not today”. But the teacher was brilliant, she saw what was happening and she removed her from my leg and said, to me, not to her, “Ok, it’s time for Diddy to go now” and shoed me out the door. I sat crying in my car for 15 minutes straight. Meanwhile, as I learned later, I was the only one shedding tears. Within minutes, she had been whisked away and engaged in all sorts of exciting new adventures, making new friends. By the end of that week, the only tears being shed by her were those of needing to leave for home at the end of the day. Am I saying that there is a distinct similarity between placing your child into preschool and placing your loved one into senior care? Damn straight I am. You know in your heart of hearts that this is the best thing for your loved one, so you need to stay true to your mission.
I can’t say it enough, so if it becomes ad nauseum, I don’t apologize….you must prepare in advance. Being a university instructor, it became painfully obvious which students did the homework, read the chapters and paid attention to the lectures in class. The reveal was the outcome of the final. If they chose to try and cram a semester’s worth of information into the few nights before the exam, they would crash and burn. So, why do we do this to our elders regarding senior care? The same outcomes I saw with my students failing themselves, I now see in adult children and spousal caregivers failing their loved ones. And, while you can afford to flunk a class or two in college to learn your lesson, the failures in not doing your homework with senior care has much more severe consequences. And a knee-jerk response to this day of reckoning is to delegate. Delegation is the second of two major mistakes in a row. The first being that you failed to prepare for an obvious eventuality.
Now, to be clear, there are levels of delegation. And, on a smaller level, delegation is not only clever, it’s necessary. What I’m saying is to avoid handing over all the decision-making to a non-familial third-party. Be involved or prepare to be disappointed. That all said, I strongly suggest that you do use your resources wisely. For instance, I voluntarily step in as the “bad cop” so that you don’t have to lose the relationship with your loved one by being the person pushing for the placement. Your loved one’s physician should be that point person. Simply take the doctor aside prior to the visit and ask them if they will be the one to strongly suggest placement. Here’s me being blunt…3…2…1.. if the doctor refuses, find another doctor. What you strive to do in these situations is to make others the “bad guy” and maintain emotional equilibrium and trust with your loved one. For instance, when the big bad “DMV” revokes their license (even though you wrote the letter), you can stand united against “those guys” and still be perceived as being on their “side”.
Ultimately, what you are trying to achieve, is minimal conflict, create a situation where the “experts” and “authorities” are advising and guiding the decision. Do all your homework in advance so you not only speak the language of senior living, but you’ve physically vetted each option yourself, and then creatively manipulate your loved one into feeling like they are the ones making the decision. Whoa, wait a minute, did I say manipulate? Am I suggesting you manipulate your parent or spouse? For the greater good, YES! 100%. The battle cry in my field is, “by any means necessary”. (Please take my word for it, I don’t want to show you photographs of my days working with Adult Protective Services visiting homes of those who didn’t make it to senior care, to prove my point.) If you are successful in all of this, your outcome, collectively, will be one of bliss rather than devastation. My personal goal here, if you haven’t figured it out, is to change YOUR paradigm of thinking so that you can avoid disappointment, conflict and unthinkable and unacceptable outcomes. Stay tuned for my 4th and final installment coming soon.