3 Tips on Talking to Parents about Aging
Our parents took care of us and provided for us from conception to adulthood. They loved and nurtured us, helped us mature, and were vital to helping us develop the social and practical skills we needed in order to function and succeed in society. And when we moved into adulthood and the building of our own lives or families, they championed us. But as the years go by and our parents age, the caretaking roles may need to be reversed. That change of responsibilities isn’t always easy, especially since Mom and Dad aren’t used to letting other family members take the lead. That’s one reason our Phelps LaClair firm (located in Chandler, Mesa, and Phoenix Arizona) suggests these 3 tips on talking to parents about aging.
Do Your Homework
Be aware of subtle changes that could indicate it’s time for a shift toward providing some type of care for your parents. Growing forgetfulness (e.g., paying bills, turning off stove burners, etc.), lethargy, and an inability to perform daily tasks at home are three signposts that Mom and Dad probably need some sort of regular help from caretakers. But even if your folks need help, they may not want to ask, for fear of being a bother or a burden. Or, your offers to help could be rebuffed because they want to remain independent.
Before you speak with your parents, consider their options carefully. If family members are interested in being part-time or full-time caretakers, think through the time requirements, financial ramifications, and how caring for the needs of your parents will impact your lives for the foreseeable future. Know whether you and/or your siblings can commit to the level of care your parents need, and talk through the realities of what each sibling is willing and able to do.
If family care is not an option, do your homework about what’s available out there in terms of homecare and retirement communities. Do your parents only need custodial care (i.e., help with cooking, bathing, dressing), or is there also medical care required? This AARP website gives numerous links for searching out your options locally, and there are quite a few resources available online. The key is to know all the information you’ll need ahead of time, so when you talk to your parents, you’re ready to present information accurately and completely. Here are some other options available, like adult daycare, and more.
Patience and Empathy
When it’s time to talk to your parents about providing help, do so gently rather than just coming in and “taking over.” One website recommends applying empathy. Let them know how much you care, and that you are concerned for their wellbeing. Tell them you love them and you want the best for them.
Even if your parents’ responses are impatient, defensive, or they react in denial, be patient. Introduce a little bit of information at a time and don’t overwhelm them with too much, too fast. Give them time to process what you’re sharing and give them time to respond. You may need to start the conversation one day and continue the discussion at a later time to give them “breathing room.”
Allow time for them to consider your requests and suggestions. Your parents may already be losing their physical strength, and perhaps their mental acuity. It’s likely that they feel vulnerable and perhaps even unimportant. Do your best to affirm their value and significance throughout any discussions about future long-term care.
Come Alongside and be Positive
The losses that come with aging are hard to face. Don’t come in and “take over.” Instead, see yourself as coming alongside of your folks as a partner or a personal assistant. Don’t tell them what to do, but present your suggestions as a positive way to make life easier for them. Present the idea of their personal care as a way to maintain some independence. For example, in-home custodial care or healthcare can be seen as an intrusion into your parents’ personal space, or it can be presented as a way to give Mom and Dad more time to devote to activities they enjoy.
Talking to parents about aging is probably not going to be easy. But for their sakes, doing your homework beforehand, applying empathy, and seeing yourself as a partner or personal assistant are three suggestions for helping difficult discussions go more smoothly. How you present concepts can protect your relationship with Mom and Dad. At Phelps LaClair, we’ve helped hundreds of families with financial planning and estate planning. If you have questions about whether your family is ready for the rising costs of long-term care, give us a call. We’re ready to help you set a plan in place that can prepare for long-term care needs as part of an effective estate plan.