How do you start to talk to elderly parents about the future? Nothing makes adult children more nervous. We fear the resistance. We fear starting a conflict. We fear the silence.
But we should fear a crisis more.
Thanks to Home Instead Senior Care, who created this video that outlines my TEMPO Method to set up these conversations with your parents. (It begins at about the 2 minute mark in the video.)
Beginning the talks with your aging parents needs to be like learning to swim. You start with learning to hold your breath and put your face underwater. You don’t start with the swimming leg of a triathlon.
You'll want to start small. And you do want to start now. Start while your aging parents are fairly healthy, when there are no apparent concerns. That way you do have the time to build slowly and have conversations about every area of their life and health without panic or pressure.
Talk to elderly parents now, for their sake and your children and grandchildren. Unexpected crises with your aging parents without proper planning can negatively impact several generations.
Timing. Experience. Motivation. Place. Outcome.
Timing -- You’ll want to time your conversations appropriately.
Make sure your parent has time to talk. Not when they are distracted by needing to get to an appointment, or even when their favorite program is about to come on.
Make sure you have time to listen. Don’t start an important conversation if you need to walk out the door in the next 5 minutes. To talk to elderly parents requires an investment of time and patience.
Experience -- Often you can open the door to talk to elderly parents by tying your specific topic to direct experience.
“Mom, I just finished working with my lawyer on updating my will, I was wondering when the last time was you took a look at yours.”
“Dad, My friend's father just had a heart attack and it took a long time before they could notify him, they didn’t have any emergency information in place. Can we take a look at how yours is organized?”
“Mom, I keep hearing other family members whispering that they refuse to ride with you any more. I'm concerned about how you’re feeling about driving these days.”
Motivation -- Be clear about your own motive for asking. Are you annoyed, frustrated, angry? Now is not the time to engage in an important conversation about the future. Your motivation needs to be solely for safety, well-being and quality of life. Both theirs and yours. Plans for the future need to hold your parents' best interest as the goal, but your life and your family matter as well.
Place -- Make sure you create some “safe space” according to how Mom or Dad would define it. In other words, the holiday dinner table is not the place to talk to elderly parents about a sensitive issue. Maybe you need to be outside the house at a nice quiet restaurant to talk about the house or where they want live in the future. Could a particular person be related to creating a “safe space” -- is there a family member or friend who makes your Mom particularly comfortable and relaxed? And if there's a relative that causes special agitation for your Dad, he or she should not be present.
Outcome -- What you’re trying to establish is an ongoing, honest conversation about everything related to your parent’s future. You don’t need to try to get the answer you want today. You don’t need an answer at all today. You’re laying the ground work to understand your parents feelings, wishes and needs. You want to get information, and to share information. But this will happen bit by bit over time. No need for the high pressure techniques so you can get a "yes", today.
Now it's time to move to
Step 2 - Be a Partner - NOT their Parent
Children of aging parents must build a partnership with their elders to talk about the future.
Step 3 - Investigate Senior Issues
Complex issues multiply for our aging parents. Be a detective before drawing conclusions.
Step 4 - Research Senior Options
Research several options before making decisions.
Step 5 - Invent a Solution
One size does not fit all. Invent a solution that best fits your parent's needs.
Talk Early So Specialists Don't Steer You Wrong
Talk early and talk often to elderly parents. Conversations should bridge the gap between your parents, professionals and specialists.
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