Starting the Dialogue with Your Aging Parents; When is the Right Time?
I get asked all the time when should someone start having the discussion with their aging parents and how long will it take?
The question is a bit ambitious and misses part of the point of my message. First off it should be stated that “Starting the Dialogue” means just that. It’s a start and there may never be an end until death knocks at the door. I don’t mean to be flip about this, but honestly the “dialogue” is one that is ongoing and should occur many times over the course of a lifetime.
My second point is that there is no right time to initiate the conversations around health care, living arrangements, finances, safety, healthy lifestyle, and end-of-life preferences. Hopefully, you have a close relationship with your parents and these discussions have been ongoing since you were still living in their home and learning about life. Unfortunately, for many, that isn’t the case.
Regardless of what the current state of your relationship is with your parents now is the time to start building (or in many cases, rebuilding) the relationship to a point where these discussions occur easily and without stress for either party. Waiting until illness, a crisis, a death, or other major life-altering event occurs is not the time to start the conversation.
Some of the topics are easier to discuss than others and I suggest starting with those. It’s easier to ask at a family dinner where your parents envision themselves living when they retire than it is to ask who they would like to be their executors of the estate when they pass away.
In other words, if you have a good relationship with your parents you may be able to jump right in and ask about their finances and how they want them handled after their death, or who they want to be their Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care if they become unable to make health care decisions for themselves. On the other hand, if your relationship isn’t especially close I would start out by letting your parents know how much you love and care about them and their well-being. Move the conversation forward slowly over time (and multiple conversations) until there is a comfort level on both sides.
If your parents haven’t retired yet, are in good health, or are relatively young (say in their 50s or 60s) you might just start with general conversations about their retirement goals and where they would like to live. As they move toward retirement or eligibility for Medicare and Social Security benefits you might want to bone up on those topics and have general discussions with them to show that you are aware of the issues they face, but not necessarily feeling a need to be involved other than conversation.
If however, you are the one approaching retirement age and your parents are already in their later years (late 70’s on up) the discussions take on a bit more urgency and need to be more in-depth. Sometimes having a doctor, religious advisor, or financial advisor present eases the tension especially if your relationship isn’t particularly close. Each family, each topic, and each situation require different approaches and some advance planning on your part.
Regardless of when you “Start the Dialogue” or what age your parents are here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Do some research on the topic you’d like to discuss.
- If your parents are very independent or the relationship isn’t close be prepared that your parents may not be ready to have this discussion with you. This doesn’t mean you give up, you will simply have to approach it from a different manner at another time.
- If you think you are going to come up against resistance then have some articles printed and ready to show your parents backing up whatever you are discussing. This way they will feel less resistance and recognize that you are not just trying to take over their lives
- If things start getting heated then back off, find a neutral topic, and try again another time. Sometimes getting the advice of a professional, or better yet, having them present during the discussion eases the conversation.
- This is about love and caring for your parents so leave your ego out of it.
There is no magic potion that makes it easy to deal with your parents and their affairs as they age. Keeping love and calm as your focus points will always get you much further than if you become demanding and bossy. Remember how it feels to have someone telling you what to do and don’t go there.
If you have something to add please leave a comment. I read all comments and reply to them and very much appreciate your input. HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY