As our population ages, we’re seeing older folks everywhere. Seniors are living longer and leading active lives. That is, until things start to change.
I frequently talk with families about how roles have reversed when adult children find themselves becoming more and more involved in supervising their aging parents. It’s not an easy situation to navigate, and challenges are multiplied when the aging parent isn’t receptive to change, or when adult siblings do not agree.
Some issues of concern are: (1) The care, safety and comfort of our parents; (2) Their overall state of health and mobility; (3) Their financial situation; (4) Their need for companionship; and (5) End of life decisions.
I think it’s fair to state that discussing any of these issues with a parent is awkward and uncomfortable. So most of us tend to completely avoid the conversation. We tell ourselves it’s not our role, or it won’t be a problem. However, if you were to ask a Probate Judge if he/she has observed families in disagreement, how long these matters take to resolve, and how much money they cost, I think you’ll figure out that having a difficult conversation with your parents is ultimately better than avoiding one.
If you’re not an only child, make sure your siblings are on board to participate from the get-go. Most families have one member who takes charge, one who’s a follower, and maybe one who’s emotionally unavailable. Regardless of the dynamics between you and your siblings, it’s imperative that you’re all on the same page prior to having the conversation with your mom or dad.
Here are some suggestions to help the process go smoothly and with maximum benefit.
HOW TO START THE CONVERSATION:
1. Make an appointment for no more than one hour of uninterrupted time.
2. Know in advance what you want to talk about.
3. Know the roles of the participants.
4. Know WHY you’re having the conversation.
TIPS FOR TALKING ABOUT SENSITIVE ISSUES:
1. Stay focused.
2. Ask questions.
3. Make sure everyone listens to each other, and understands what others are saying.
4. Stick to the time limit, even if nothing gets resolved.
5. Offer thinking time to everyone.
By the way, these tips can also be utilized if you are dealing with a reluctant or emotionally absent sibling.
Families can often get sidetracked, sometimes by age-old patterns. “I’m the eldest,” “I do the most for Mom,” “You’ve never really cared about what happens to Dad.” Instead of reverting to your prior habits, try to stick to the issues at hand. It’s also critically important that your aging parents weigh in.
In the family mediations I’ve conducted, issues were clearly defined. Ancient sibling rivalries or petty irritations were put aside so that everyone could focus on the well-being of their parents. Combining advance preparation with the understanding of common goals provides the best likelihood for positive results.
If you’ve already had successful conversations about your aging parents, please tell me what worked for your family. And, if you think your family might benefit by the help of a neutral third party, please reach out.