man-1050524_640You’ve been noticing for months that your parents are becoming less and less independent.  Simple housekeeping duties, once accomplished so matter-of-factly, are now being ignored.  Dishes stay in the sink, weeds are taking over the garden, and trash cans are overflowing.  Maybe they’re asking you to pick up some groceries, or give them a ride to the doctor’s.  I think it’s a very difficult aspect of getting older — giving up independence.  Although it’s obvious that everyone ages differently, it’s a fact that everyone ages.  At least the fortunate ones.

So, as a dutiful son or daughter (or grandson or granddaughter), you put your own “to do” list aside in order to help out the older folks.  But more likely than not, there will come a time when the help you can provide will not be enough.  You realize that things aren’t going to get any better and, most likely, they’re going to get worse.  It’s time to approach the very, very sensitive subject with them about considering the possibility of moving.  This can be as challenging as explaining sex to your youngsters, or it can be a rewarding opportunity to communicate, listen and share.  It pretty much depends on how you have “the talk.”

I think it’s important to have some sympathy for your mom and dad.  They have lived long, full lives, and have done their best to be good people.  They’ve brought kids into the world and raised them.  Now they’re doting grandparents.  But they’re not children, so even if the roles have somewhat reversed, I urge you to stay respectful.

I recognize that getting started is sometimes the toughest part.  When I’m working with families who are dealing with aging parents, I suggest the following four items:

  1. Take a soft approach.  Mention to your parents that you’ve been thinking about their living situation, and you’d like to listen to any challenges they may be encountering so that you can try to help.
  2.  Offer some specifics:  Say that you’ve observed their difficulty navigating the stairs, or keeping up with the gardening.  Ask how you can help make tasks easier for them.
  3.  Have some options at hand, which means doing your homework about what’s available in terms of in-home care or assisted living places.  You can provide these suggestions, but in order to avoid overwhelming them, ask your parents to give this some thought rather than answer too quickly.  You might want to see how they feel about resuming the conversation in a week or two.
  4.  Most importantly, stay positive.  This is a loving conversation, not a competition.  There’s nothing to be gained by being either accusatory or defensive.  Be sure to express your concern about the quality of their lives, and be sure to listen carefully and respectfully to what they have to say.

Most importantly, I urge you to be patient.  But if you truly feel you’re at an impasse, the help of a neutral Mediator might be a good idea.