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Embracing change series
Inter-Generational Dialogue: can we talk?

by Richard Bermack


Communicate, don’t assume. That was one of the main points of the second presentation in the Embracing Change Series, Inter-Generational Dialogue: Can We Talk? The program addressed issues between elderly parents and their adult children. Presenters included Hilda Hernández-Gravelle, Director of the Social Support Services and guest speaker geriatric social worker Ada Burko. The event took place May 9th at the home of the Social Support Services Team member Liz Raymer.


It is often assumed that when adult children take care of their aging parents, it’s a change in roles. But that is not completely accurate. One’s parents are still one’s parents.


It is easy for both sides to make false assumptions and to misinterpret the other’s needs and actions.  Children may feel they owe their parents all their love and, therefore, they have to be there constantly to protect and care for them. But the parents may not want their children there all the time. They may just want to be left alone. It is a fine line. The children want to protect their parents, while the parents may fear losing autonomy.


It’s important to state what one feels. For example, the parent may need to say, “I feel very honored you're taking care of me and appreciate your help, but I feel I need more space.” The most important thing is to voice one’s feelings without making accusations.

Often children and parents had been living great distances from each other, so now they seem as much strangers as family. Trust needs to be established, given the different perspectives and interpretations of new roles. Sometimes social workers or therapists are needed to facilitate conversations between adult children and parents so they can understand each other’s intentions and motivations and realize that neither party should assume they understand the other’s motivations.


Several AV members brought their kids to the event. After the presentation, Village Voices interviewed AV member Gertrude (Gert) Allen and her son-in-law, Dan Meier. Learning not to make assumptions and learning to communicate resonated with them.  Dan and his wife, Gert’s daughter, moved to the Bay Area from Idaho to take care of Gert.


What did you think of the program?


Gert: I thought the program was very good. It raised a lot of things that we faced and are still facing, such as misunderstandings of where the other person is coming from and not making assumptions, even of where you’re coming from. You have to examine yourself first. So the three of us went to therapy and they ganged up on me. (That was a joke).


Dan: Having the opportunity to create a space for talking about things is really  important. It's not a natural thing at all. So family therapy was very helpful, and to create an appointment calendar and be able to engage in those discussions on a weekly basis.


Gert: I was very interested in what one of the women said about groups. I’ve been in  a couple of women's groups, and we talked about everything, but I'm not sure we talked about this kind of thing. Most of the women were younger than I am. So this gave me some ideas.


Dan: I think meetings like this are really terrific to begin these kinds of conversations. When Gert mentioned this is going to be happening, she assumed neither my wife nor I would  be available. But I thought this sounds really interesting, to be able to really hear everyone's perspective on this common dilemma. Because we don't see it as a societal dilemma. I wanted to drop everything and be there.


Gert: I was very pleased when Dan emailed me saying he was interested in going. I thought that was terrific.


Motivation for therapy


Dan: I think we all sensed that there were things going on that could lead to blowups that were needless if we preemptively talked about it.


AV member Mairin Malarka Meyer who attended with her daughter Una, found peoples stories the most interesting, and has long known the importance of not making assumptions.
"The part that resonated most with me with the assumptions because we tend to make assumptions even my friends make assumptions... active listening is very helpful. For me. It was actually part of our training for NOW (National Organization for Women) and that was really helpful for me."

Dan Meier and Gertrude Allen