5 Tips for Navigating Family Discussions

By Marie Gress, LMSW at Milan Seniors for Healthy Living

Whether you love your family or you feel like you are constantly annoyed with them, navigating family discussions can be tense.  Here are a few tips before your next family meeting:
1)      Set Boundaries.  Knowing your limits and setting boundaries will give you freedom.  Your brother always interrupts you?  Tell him when he does it again, you’ll hang up the phone and call back.  At family meetings, set the rule that when someone yells, they will be asked to “take a break.”  Setting these kinds of boundaries doesn’t make you mean, it makes you feel stronger, safer, and protects the conversation.
2)      Use “I” Statements.  These kinds of statements are especially important to avoiding finger pointing.  Instead of “You didn’t help mom with…” say “I was overwhelmed by all the care mom needed.”  This diffuses defensive, retaliatory responses and keeps the conversation on track.
3)      Recognize Roles.  Different family members tend to take different roles.  The finance sibling, the day-to-day care giving son, and the one that handles the hard conversations.  Recognize each other’s strengths and use them to support your family.  Side bar:  Do one of you have Power of Attorney or Guardianship?  That appointed person ultimately is required to make the decision and, even if you think it is the wrong one, you must respect it.  (Suspicion of elder abuse is an exception.)
4)      Focus on the intended topic.  Bunny trails happen but need to be avoided if you want to come to a consensus on the meeting topic.  If your meeting is to talk about assisted living, stop talking about how he isn’t eating until you have housing sorted out.  It helps keep the conversation in the right place – on the pressing needs of your loved one.
5)      You don’t have all the answers.  You aren’t always going to be right, your brother isn’t always going to be right, you aren’t always going to know what is the best thing.  Rest in compromise with each other.  Rest in knowing you are doing your best and that’s the best you can do.
Providing care to a loved one is no joke.  It takes time, physical energy, mental stamina, and as we just learned, social coordination skills.  If you are looking for more support, not only does MSHL have a Care Giver Support Group once a month, but also an online support group open to any care partner in our area. 
Ready to sign up?  Go to our website: milanseniors.org and on our home page you can click on “Care Partner Network.”  You can also email us at mshl@milan

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