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Family & Relationships

The Strong Bonds Remain, But The Roles May Change

What comes to mind when you hear the word "family"? Is it pleasure, pain, comfort, frustration, pride, jealousy, loyalty or love. For most people, it is a mixture of all of these elements, and more.

No matter how these feeling and outcomes are mixed, a huge constant is the intensity of the relationships built on a lifetime of memories and tradition. For most people, family really matters.

As we age, the family relationships and responsibilities endure, but are often challenged by the situations of life. This forces them to evolve over time, or change in the blink of an eye. Commonly, this is the case when a family matriarch or patriarch becomes dependant due to frailty, illness or the loss of their spouse. The role of decision-maker can shift from an elder to an adult child or grandchild. Family members may become caregivers. Adjustments to the relationships must be made.

A grandchild you taught to make good decisions may lovingly use that skill to help you deal with the complexity of the health care system or look after your finances.

Work At It

Understand The Path

Maintaining relationships can be very hard work, especially if old habits foster (or recreate) old problems. Here are some suggestions for helping to build healthier relationships.

  • Communicate - be willing to talk now, or agree to talk at another time.
  • Speak The Truth - it is the foundation of strong relationships.
  • No Blaming - move toward solutions.
  • No Judging - move toward solutions.
  • Show Respect - opinions can differ, but respect must remain.
  • Let Go Of The Past - do not focus on the past or keep making the same mistakes.
  • Practice Empathy - be sensitive to each personís feelings, situations and losses.
  • Prioritize - decide the relationship is more important than the differences.

To build, support or even make changes in a relationship, family members need to understand the path their senior loved one is choosing to follow. These paths are put into six categories by Nancy K. Schlossberg, Ed.D., a psychology professor at the University of Maryland.

  • Continuers - want to stay connected to their past skills/activities.
  • Involved Spectators - prefer to maintain interest in past skills/activities, yet willing to try different roles or branch out a bit.
  • Easy Gliders - go with the flow.
  • Adventurers - willing to start or learn new skills/activities.
  • Searchers - not sure what they want, but are open to trial and error.
  • Retreaters - retreat from life and give up on a new path. May become depressed.
(Sources: American Psychological Assn., TroubledWith.com, It Takes More Than Love)