Starting the Conversation
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You know the time to have “the talk” is nearing, but you’d prefer that someone else started it. What do you do? Though it’s difficult to begin the conversation, it can result in great benefits to your parents, your siblings, and you when plans are made with the active participation and approval of your parents before a crisis necessitates immediate action. Here are some general tips to consider:
Respect your parents and keep the focus on them. Listen rather than tell. Avoid language like “you’ve got to…” or “you need to…” Simply changing from saying “We really need to talk about…" to “Have you thought about…” may make a difference in how the conversation flows.
Assess your own attitudes and feelings. Are you having difficulty with the idea of your parents’ aging? What do you want for their future? What are your siblings’ thoughts?
Look for opportunities to begin discovering their desires, goals, and priorities. Consider some of these openings:
Mom just shared that her best friend moved into an assisted living residence that her children chose. They sold all her furnishings and threw away all her “stuff”. Listen for what your mother is recounting in telling this story and also listen for what she’s not saying. This is a chance to ask questions like “how does that make you feel?” and “how would you do things differently?”.
You’ve just experienced a personal health event that has caused you to look at your estate planning. “I’m reviewing my estate plan now. Do you have any advice for me?”
Dad isn’t playing golf anymore and is less involved with his friends. You may want to ask “Dad, I know how you love to play golf but you haven’t been for quite awhile now. Are you having difficulty with getting about on the course?”
Find an appropriate time and place to talk. It may not be best to schedule the family discussion during the holidays even though it is convenient because everyone’s home. A better time is when things are going well – not in the midst of a crisis or highly emotional event. Choose a setting that is comfortable and private for them.
Have an exit strategy. If the discussion is becoming too uncomfortable, allow time and space for emotions including anger and sadness to be expressed. It may be appropriate to leave the conversation and continue at another time. It is important to acknowledge your parents’ feelings and need for time. Before leaving it is important to review the positive aspects of the conversation you’ve just had and to thank everyone for their participation.
End with a family favorite. Engaging in a favorite family pastime or going out to a favorite restaurant will help to return a sense of familiar family togetherness. Some ideas include: looking at family albums and laughing over style changes and experiences, watching a favorite movie or TV show together, playing a game, or just reminiscing about family trips and events.
If you’d like to talk more about starting the conversation and family caregiving, we’d love to visit with you. We live what we do – we’ve had “the talk” with our own parents.