You would be amazed at how many emails I receive with links to instructions for how to have “that” conversation with aging parents. You know, the one(s) about the future: should the parent sell the house, move to a smaller apartment or assisted living, get home care help, give up the car keys, etc.
There are dozens (hundreds?) of places online with advice on how to approach the talk. There is so much of it that one is even named Having the Conversation.
My least favorite suggestion urges siblings to first form a team, have a meeting among themselves to reach an agreement on what the parent(s) should do and then gang up on the elder.
Fortunately, most of the websites I've read are smarter and kinder - to greater or lesser degrees.
One of the better websites about how to approach the conversation if you suspect it will be difficult is caring.com.
In fact, an entire book about having such (or any other) conversation with one's parents titled How to Say It to Seniors by David Solie (which is pretty good on this topic) is quoted on the caring.com introductory page:
”...adult children want to solve the problem and move on. Their parents, however, want foremost to maintain a sense of control and dignity in a season marked by many losses. Your goal in how to have 'the talk': Balance both sides' needs by moving forward slowly and with care.”
Not all advice is good. Some of it barely goes beyond what NOT to say (“How can you not remember that?) Others are more concerned with the child than the aging parent: “Share your own feelings,” they advise, and “Respect your own needs.”
Neither is wrong but it's hard to trust suggestions when these two are at the top of a ten-point list.
Here is a five-minute video from a social services perspective about speaking with elder parents created by Home Instead Senior Care. It is a bit too condescending for my taste but the information isn't wrong:
Here is a link to the website.
There is a good brochure from eldercare.gov titled Let's Talk: Starting the Conversation About Health, Legal, Financial and End of Life Issues. It's only eight pages and worth your time.
An essay on How to Have an Honoring and Successful Conversation at the Laureate Group website is good too. Don't be put off by the fact that is it is provided by a commercial senior community corporation – the advice is among the best I found.
Now that you've gotten this far, have you noticed what all these sources of information have in common?
What stands out starkly is that, without exception, they all purport to know the best way to talk to old people without ever having consulted any old people - at least not that I can tell and I'm pretty sure if they'd consulted an elder or two, they would tell us.
So let's us do that today - talk about how we, elders, want the conversation to be handled with us, and let's assume the people involved have all their buttons still, that they are cognitively capable. (Early-stage dementia or declining mental health should be addressed separately.)
Have your children held the conversation with you? How did it go? If you haven't had the conversation, why is that? And if you were writing advice instructions for discussing health, financial and end-of-life issues between elders and adult children, what would you advise?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Bother Me