Preparing To Talk With Your Parents About Sheltering-In-Place
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
The Coronavirus shelter-in-place has created conversation challenges within many families of all ages. Many adult children have reached out to us, because they are uncomfortable and struggling with trying to convince their parents to stay safe at home where there is less risk of becoming seriously sick. We have also heard from parents who were frustrated that their choices were being judged and questioned by their grown kids.
To support you and your parents in navigating differences, we've designed this article to explore ways to cross the generational divide so families can become better prepared to talk through Coronavirus issues.You can’t change your parents. You can change how you handle the way you speak to one another. Everything can change when you do. Working together as a family, listening to one another, and taking concerns seriously, rather than becoming defensive and dismissive when discussing stay-put behaviors, can model authentic relating, kindness and respect. It can also minimize drama.
Most people, when they become overwhelmed or threatened in a conversation, become challenged because they do not know how to break it down into conversation stages: pre-conversation, actual conversation, post conversation. Breaking a conversation down into stages helps us prepare for how to navigate similar experiences going forward.
Before we roll out the beliefs and issues that got in the way of conversation about COVID-19 between grown kids and their parents, we thought it would be easier to follow the conversation in the stages mentioned:
Pre-conversation Part 1: Make sense of the conversation situation as a conversation partner, and build curiosity by asking yourself questions. Pre-conversation Part 2: Be prepared for the conversation and potential challenges that may arise. Actual Conversation: Imagine a conversation in order to consider how your comments will be received and how you want to navigate potential challenges. Post-conversation: Make choices about your approach - what you might alter, or keep, having considered all of the previous conversation stages.
Pre-conversation part 1: Making Sense of a Complex Situation
Many adult children are at a loss to understand, or know how to proceed, when receiving push-back from parents who became irritated that their behaviors, actions or whereabouts were being questioned. That is a complicated situation. Questioning your parent's behaviors or actions can lead them to feeling animosity or resentment. It can lead you to fear of disapproval. Those are just a few of the emotions that could play out in many different ways, especially if you and your parents didn't begin the conversation on the same page.
What needs to be reemphasized is that enforced physical distancing requirements created restrictions, not you. No one asked for these living conditions. Very few people want to give up their need for some sense of normalcy.
As conversation partners you and your parents are on equal ground. Both have the right to be heard, adapt, adjust and heal in order to pursue the primary objective: to keep safe in this Coronavirus situation. Sometimes speaking our truth brings dismissive comments and invalidation, which are emotionally upsetting for anyone. If an attempt leaves one conversation partner feeling their concerns were dismissed, and the other conversation partner feeling controlled or judged, you can see how easily the emotional charge can become a distraction from the real issue of safety.
Here are some thoughts on how to gain clarity, recognize what's important to you and your parents as conversation partners, and be attuned to what might be unexpressed:
1. Understand and accept what you have control of and what you don’t.
The Coronavirus has inserted many issues of control, and issues beyond our control, into our family lives. Specific to this conversation for many is the emphasis to comply with the order to stay home, which you may feel that your parents are not doing. Staying home is not a question for approval or disapproval, control or lack of control. It is a fair request that is spoken in truth and should remain in focus. While you can't control your parents whereabouts, you can control not allowing anyone into your home in order to be safe and comply with the stay-at-home order. You can’t control how your parents will receive information or their attitude about it, but you can control yourself and how you prepare and deliver it. You can also choose where the conversation will take place and why. Your conversation partner controls their own opinions, fears, needs, feelings, and criticisms.
Questions to ask yourself: What else is within your control? What else do you need to acknowledge as out of your control? What can you focus on for a sense of control instead of trying to control your conversation partner?
2. Remember the why: safety.
It is very uncomfortable to have boundaries placed on us “for our own good” when we’re not given a choice in the matter, especially if those boundaries keep us from interacting with our loved ones. Sometimes it's uncomfortable to confront conversation partners whose approval you are still seeking. Notice and get clear about this discomfort. Keep the conversation focused on ways to keep everyone safe, aware that staying home is a temporary restriction but reasonable as an informed decision for this time. As mentioned above, how conversation partners give/receive information or choose to overcome uncertainty, is not in our control, but we can keep the focus on the reason for the conversation: safety.
Questions to ask yourself: What concerns need to be addressed in order to keep everyone safe? What concerns need to be addressed in order for me to feel safe having this conversation?
3. Why did conflict occur while attempting to navigate stay-at-home issues?
When we’re unsure of how to prepare for a conversation challenge, we can easily become distracted and tend to narrow our emotions toward two options: withdraw or power through. Either approach gives conflict space to grow. It minimizes opportunities for a more constructive conversation when we react with a focus on emotion rather than reason. It taints perspective and could put a questionable spin on how a conversation partner’s talking points might be received. It’s important to notice what limits your thoughts and emotions in response to conflict and acknowledge them.
Questions to ask yourself: In previous attempts, what emotions, words, or behaviors took the conversation into the emotional realm instead of keeping with the issue at hand? How will you navigate potential for conflict moving forward? Are you tuned into your body, thoughts and emotions to notice when conflict occurs?
4. Consider multiple perspectives
The world is adjusting to the new reality that we can't calculate the risks to fit our needs and move forward as we want to. That's confusing for everyone. Add the layer that you and your parents may have different values around social responsibility and personal independence. You may also have different ways of assessing risk especially if you’re a rule follower with a parent who is a conscientious activist or objector. You may worry about different things. You may worry about your parents’ health while your parents may fear being considered at-risk or seen as a burden potentially incapable of taking care of themselves. Getting clarity on what each of you are struggling with and what each may be afraid of losing (loss of finances, mobility, health, social connection, control...etc.) will help you come up with options to address changing their schedule in a way they may agree to. Understanding differences that exist can help you have more honest conversations and judge conversation partners less.
Questions to ask yourself: What are you most worried about? What might they be worried about?
Pre-conversation Part 2: Preparing for the conversation challenge
Now that you have considered the layers of complexity that you’re working with, it’s time to think about the importance of preparing to approach rather than avoid a conversation that may come with challenges. Preparing allows you to be proactive instead of reactive, helping you move past uncertainty so you can share what is of value to you. It also allows time to consider things that might be missed in the moment and makes it less likely to be caught off guard. The following are all approaches to prepare for a conversation that might come with challenges.
Be Prepared As A Conversation Partner:
Realize your full conversation potential. Make the time to consider what you know about yourself, your conversation partners and what reactions might pop up from everyone involved. With some forethought, instead of winging it, you can plan to keep the relationship bond intact and be more likely to come to an arrangement that works for everyone. The next time you engage in a shelter-in-place talk focus on “what’s best for us” thoughts rather than ones that infer “what’s best for me vs. what's best for you."
Be prepared with conversational validation.
There will inevitably be struggles with thoughts and fluency when the potential for dismissiveness and invalidation loom from a conversation partner. Emotions can drive communication. It's natural to feel uncomfortable when thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Instead of becoming dismissive (or when you feel dismissed by others), consider planning ahead to find different ways to deepen listening and respond from a mindset that filters through validation. That doesn’t mean faux validating where you say you’re in agreement in order to please or just nod to portray that you're listening. Conversation validation means accepting a conversation partner’s experience as valid for them, without agreeing, as a fairness option for building common ground.
Be prepared for defensiveness and reactivity.
Be aware of reactions without allowing your defenses, or the defensiveness of others, to become all consuming. Often defense is the first response that pops up when we're uncomfortable because self-examination can be painful. Remember, reactivity happens because we don’t have the logic, words, or patience to discuss it in a way that’s reasonable in the moment. Preparing for the conversation will increase your access to those things. Be yourself but understand your defenses and don't project your defenses onto conversation partners. Why not share with your parents exactly what you felt was so challenging about the last conversation you had with them about taking the stay at home order seriously? Look for fact instead of diversion statements like "you always," "I tried everything," "I'm sick of this." Validate the hardship everyone is experiencing together. Remain focused on the issue. A reflective practice to build resilience in the face of discomfort is detailed on our website under "Determination Sitting." (duration sitting) perseverance resolution conviction persistent
Actual Conversation: Navigating the conversation challenge
We've constructed an example of a conversation challenge to give you an opportunity to consider potential action steps you might create to bounce back with resilience, ready to speak up. But first consider what's needed to be prepared, get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable with what might unfold, and get ready as the best version of your conversation self:
Your almost two year old daughter’s birthday is tomorrow. You texted family members that you weren’t inviting anyone because of the shelter-in-place order. Your parents called you and said that they felt rejected and left out. They said that they already bought a card, gift wrapped her present and were coming over soon to celebrate their granddaughter’s birthday. They ended the call before you could respond.
Making Sense of The Situation:
Conversation partners' responses to conflict can be constructive or destructive when abilities to listen and cope are compromised. Even when you’re trained to work with conversation partners in conflict, it can become challenging to guide them through when navigating differences. Let's look at both adaptive and nonadaptive possibilities to gain insight from multiple perspectives:
Upon the grandparents arrival, the parents of the birthday girl could constructively (adaptive) respond by allowing her to greet her grandparents from behind the front door and promise an in-person party will be scheduled once the stay-home order is lifted. The parents of the birthday girl could destructively (nonadaptive) respond by not answering the door or reprimanding the grandparents when they arrive. Either of those options could land and expand into a volatile conversation. Preparing as part of the pre-conversation allows you to focus more on what needs to be said, rather than the emotions you may be feeling. By readying yourself, you will be prepared with more options to address dismissive comments like in the above example “we are coming over.” You could then text in response to their message in the phone call: “She will be so happy to receive her gift and wave to you through the window. Please leave it on the doorstep. We’ll all celebrate together once this stay-home order is lifted and it’s safe to visit. Thank you for making this moment special for your granddaughter!” A boundary would be set, safety is the focus, and the message is clear: we will not be having you inside the house today.
Post-conversation: Thoughts to consider
Post-conversation is the time to go through what was experienced and think about what you might do differently next time. Before you have your actual conversation with your parents, having considered the above scenario, or previous conversations with your parents, go through the steps with your current situation. Consider your own perspective, and the perspective of your conversation partner, turn your attention toward being the best version of your adult conversational self.
Choose to be present and authentic.
Consider your own perspective, and the perspective of your conversation partner, turn your attention toward being the best version of your adult conversational self. Create space to notice more and judge less and create a reflective physical practice to keep yourself grounded. People differ. People have deficiencies. Your parents are people (surprise!). Your grown kids are worried (no surprise!). If you are to be authentic, you need to find a conversational approach that constructively frames what's felt without non-productive family communication patterns like blaming or shaming. Strive to find words that respectfully convey what needs to be addressed and talked about. If you feel stuck, slowly exhale your frustration and ask for a break if you need to.
Choose to separate the person from the issue (that includes separating yourself).
It’s easier to understand what's going on when you don't take issues personally. An issue is impersonal. As conversation partners you are equally entitled to voice your concerns and share your boundaries. Focus on the conversation issue and lose the emotional rant about how you feel about the person you’re talking to.
Choose to pay attention to physical body sensations.
Many people dismiss body cues that signal when you are veering off track. Listen to what your body tells you. Make time to nourish yourself, rest, and move in ways that will strengthen your ability to keep emotions from overriding reason during a conversation. How can you expect to be your best conversational self when feeling extra sensitive or grumpy from a lack of sleep, dehydration, or depleted from weeks of stress due to a forced change in schedule and an uncertain future? There are many options to get into a more constructive flow when you feel depleted or rushed to navigate conversation challenges. Be resilient and courageous. Ask for a conversation break. Then go to another space to refocus and slow down the body and quiet the mind. Notice tension areas and do some relaxation practices like stretching, shaking off any nerves, place finger to nose for alternate nostril breathing (check out our resources for grounding/relaxation practices). Return to the conversation ready to connect now that you feel centered.
Choose to let go of the emotional energy.
Own then let go of any emotionally charged energy that you emit, and learn to let the emotional energy of others pass you by. Learn gentle resilience practices to release a conversation partner's emotional energies. Validate your ability to let go and deeply connect to your authentic self. A simple exhale and change of posture to a more relaxed, open position (making sure your center-line is not squared up with your conversation partner), will allow you to deflect emotional contagion. Your body will thank you as it shifts and opens up space for you to express yourself. Remember you can pause and resume the conversation later if you need to.
Choose to offer options.
You will feel more at peace inside once you are aware of multiple choices to move forward. Express concerns without telling parents what should be done. Draw them out by asking open-ended questions rather than closed questions where responses are limited to "yes" and "no." COVID-19 is an opportunity to discuss unnecessary losses and figure alternatives out together. Give voice as part of a mutual invitation to find alternative solutions to still feel connected and address other concerns while staying in place. Resist urges to push through the issue to get your way. If you can’t agree, consider the next best alternative. Choose what to say and how you say it. A well constructed thought can lead to a drama-free outcome that's healthier for you. Choose to be safe within yourself.
We sincerely hope the information shared will contribute to a more reasonable exchange between you and your parents. Please remember, there is no “one way” to have conversations, especially ones that seem uncomfortable. It takes patience and willingness to try new approaches. It may require a bit more encouragement because sometimes it's scary to be courageous when the outcome is uncertain. Recognize that we are all going through this together. Navigate the uncertainties together. So much can change when you do.
You may need a few more steps to find your resolve to constructively speak up. Individual situations may have more layers than we addressed in this article so please reach out to us if you’d like information specific to your situation/family. To create space for infinite possibilities we will be sharing gentle resilience practices and scripts specific to releasing what no longer serves you over on our instagram feed. We are always here for you.