Having “The Talk” with Your Parents

Growing up, our parents were the ones to give us “the talk” — often more than once. Now that our parents are older and facing a new stage in life, it has become our turn to have “the talk” — this time about their options for the future. For many aging adults, the reality that their independence may decrease sooner rather than later can be a scary thought. When activities like getting around the house, driving to the grocery store or cooking dinner are no longer easy tasks, talking with your parents about solutions that will maintain their independence is important. Broaching the subject of what will happen next, or what should happen now, can be difficult, but knowing ways to approach your parents so they feel respected and safe will help make “the talk” that much easier.

Caring.com suggests a four-step process when talking to your parents about their future.

1) Plan Ahead

  • Do your homework. Observe your parents at home if you can, and see if they need assistance with getting around, cooking meals, etc. Also, research the options that are available in their community, including in-home care, assisted living communities and geriatric care management services.
  • Test the waters. Ask your parents questions related to challenges in performing their activities of daily living, and see how they respond or react. Simply inquire and refrain from making suggestions for solutions at this time.
  • Choose the best messenger. If your parents are resisting any talk about their future, consider introducing a third party to the conversation. A doctor, trusted family friend or clergyman can help deliver the message on neutral ground.

2) Start a Conversation

  • Set the right tone. Talk in-person if you can with your parents, and take time to enjoy each other’s company before discussing specifics.
  • Look for an opening. Find a moment when everyone is relaxed. Even better, if your parents bring up the subject themselves, take the opportunity to talk about options that will best meet their needs.

3) Listen and Follow Your Parent’s Cues

  • Rephrase what your parent is saying to show that you support them. Keep the conversation positive and collaborative. Create a pros and cons list of the different solutions and focus on working on the biggest first. Be receptive to their words and body language, and help direct the conversation from there.

4) Follow Up

  • Let it sit for a while and be ready to pick up the conversation any time. Giving your parents time to consider their options and feel comfortable with a solution is important. Also, allowing them to approach you will remind them that you support and respect them.
  • Know when to bring in help. If you feel like you’re going nowhere in your conversations with your parents, and they are absolutely against hearing what you have to say, it’s a good time to bring in a third party. Discuss the risks of staying in their current situation, and if they are still resistant, consider bringing in a doctor or lawyer to evaluate competency and determine the best course of action.

Throughout the process, it is important to maintain our parents’ dignity. We’ve all heard the phrase that adult children will eventually be “parenting their parents.” The challenge with this thinking is that it forgets that our parents are still adults, and need to be treated as such. Keep a listening ear and work with your parents to find solutions that fill their needs. Overall, stay upbeat and supportive, even if you are frustrated, so that you may continue to help your parents now and in the future.

Posted on January 28, 2013