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Talking to Aging Parents: Your Timing, Approach, and More

talking to aging parents at the holidays

Talking to aging parents about sensitive subjects puts fear in the hearts of many adult children. You may realize it’s time to discuss your concerns for their wellbeing, the need for care, money issues, or worries about Dad’s driving or Mom’s failing memory. But, how do you begin the conversation? When should you bring up these issues (and when shouldn’t you)? Talking to aging parents can be a bit easier with these tips from our experts about the timing, approach, and resources to assist.

Best (and Worst) Timing for Talking to Aging Parents

First, let’s get the worst timing for talking to aging parents out of the way so you can avoid the mistakes. The holidays are one of the worst possible times to start difficult conversations. However, many adult children choose holidays for talking to aging parents because it is when they happen to be together or have some time away from work. Holidays are sensitive times and people tend to be stressed. You can use this time with your elderly parents/relatives wisely…here’s what our experts suggest instead of using this time for talking to aging parents about your concerns.

And, don’t wait for a crisis to begin talking to aging parents about these issues! In a crisis, there’s no time to allow for a natural conversation and airing of thoughts and feelings. There’s also no time to plan so options become limited.

The best time is now…sooner, than later and on an ongoing basis. Don’t try to cram the whole conversation into one half-hour visit. Take your time, and allow conversations to unfold naturally and in relation to situations they may see their friends or others facing. If you have come to a crisis point or have a pressing issue, don’t try to suddenly tackle every possible concern. Prioritize what needs to be dealt with today.

How to Approach Talking with Aging Parents About Sensitive Subjects

  • Think about your parent’s personality, priorities, and style. What things matter to him/her? Think about past conversations (or lack thereof). How did your parent approach you when they needed to give you advice or talk about something sensitive with you? Does Dad have a practical outlook and prefer to know the points (and costs) of all options? Or, does Dad like to use analogies or anecdotes?
  • Plan sufficient time to talk so you can listen patiently to your loved one’s feelings and concerns. Consider this an ongoing conversation.
  • Share your feelings and concerns. Don’t dredge up the past or try to approach a wide variety of subjects. Stick to specific concerns and things you’ve observed. Don’t try to tell your parents what they “need to do”. As shared in a great NPR story on this topic, “Mothers can never resist their children when their children simply bare their hearts…tell her you need her help, in order for you to help her.”
  • Offer possible solutions. Do your homework, come prepared with information. Offer choices so that your parents have the opportunity to exercise control over the situation.
  • Have an aging parent who simply says “there’s no problem” or “everything’s fine”? We’ll share more about how to talk with an aging parent who is in denial in our next post. We’ll also share more about talking to aging parents about specific topics (and resources for each).

Resources for Talking to Aging Parents

Articles/blogs:

Seven Ways to Talk to Your Parents About Getting Help

Aging Wisely’s fact sheets and checklists covering many specific eldercare topics

Talk Early, Talk Often: Step-by-step guides: Set the TEMPO; Be a Partner, Not Their Parent

Books:

Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders and How to Say it To Seniors are two of the best books on talking to aging parents. They will really help you see your parents’ perspective better so you can approach the conversations with more understanding.

Get Personalized Help Today:

Consider a consultation with an Aging Life Care Manager. You can discuss your concerns to get advice on how to approach the situation and what options are available. Contact us to make an appointment or find out more.

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