How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Aging Parents

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How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Aging Parents
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I don’t know about you, but I avoid difficult conversations like the plague. I would rather do almost anything other than having a difficult conversation. In fact, I have become talented at skirting around any topic that borders on introducing a tough topic.

The fact is, though, that it’s necessary to have difficult conversations with your parents so that you know how best to support them and what their wishes are should a delicate situation arise.

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I wrote a blog about a year ago after visiting with my son and his family in San Francisco. As a parent visiting my adult child and his family, I wanted to be helpful. There were certain things I could do and others that would be overstepping boundaries. How did I know? We had a conversation.

Recently, the June issue of Real Simple magazine published an article that gives reasons to talk to your parents titled, “How to Talk to Aging Parents about Future Finances.” This got me thinking about having these conversations with my own children.

Talking to your parents about their money and death are two topics most people avoid.

You avoid having these difficult conversations because they expose your vulnerabilities. My mother would never, ever have discussed her finances with me. If I brought the topic up, I'm confident she would have given me a look, told me it was none of my business, and walked away.

Now that I’m in that position, I know I will feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable when I have this difficult conversation with my children.

Talking about death is another difficult conversation. It serves to reinforce your own mortality. Of course, everyone knows that one day you'll die. Why do you have to talk about it?

You must have these difficult conversations so that your loved ones will be informed and feel more in control.

You must have a conversation about finances.

As a parent, it’s your job to take care of yourself and your family. You don't think to share the details of your finances with your children.

If you're in debt, you may not want to acknowledge that. Maybe you've ignored advice or invested badly, and you may not want your children to know that, either.

Or maybe, you've done everything right and have all your paperwork in order. You plan to share that information in good time.

Here’s the thing: Your children need to know. As you get older and less able to care for yourself, your roles reverse. It's your children who become the caretakers. They have a right to know if you've taken steps to protect yourself financially.

The questions adult children may want to ask are:

  • "Do you have a lot of debt?"
  • "Who have you assigned to have the financial power of attorney?" 
  • "Do you have long-term care insurance?"
  • "Do you have a living will?"

Something they probably will not ask is: What are your wishes should you pass away? You may not know the answer to this question, either.

Think about it. The last thing you want your children to worry about is how best to honor your wishes when you do pass away.

Do yourself — and them — a favor, and write your wishes down. Give that information to your attorney to keep with your will.

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Doing this allows you all to feel more in control.

Give your children peace of mind by providing them the answers to these questions. If you don’t have answers, let them work with you to figure them out.

Both you and your children will feel more in control. They won’t worry as much, because they'll know what to do when the time comes.

Now that you know it’s necessary to have these difficult conversations, how exactly do you make this happen? As I said earlier, my mother would not have sat still for one minute. She would have silenced me with a look and walked out of the room.

Times have changed, people are living longer, and you share more with your children. But these are still difficult conversations for anyone of any age.

Start by preparing yourself.

As a parent, you can start from a place of understanding. Your children want to know you're safe and cared for. You can allow yourself to be vulnerable and answer your children’s questions honestly.

As a child, you can start by preparing your parents. Try not to dive into a sensitive topic.

Perhaps begin by sending a text message saying something like, "Mom/Dad there’s something I want to talk to you about this weekend. Do you have time?" This may serve to alert your parents that you want to have a serious talk with them.

Organize your thoughts.

Come to this difficult conversation knowing the questions you want to ask. Have a plan.

Do not expect to walk away in 30 minutes with your questions answered. Here is a great list of questions that will help guide your conversation.

Remember to start small.

These topics are huge and may require more than a couple of difficult conversations.

You, as the child, may want to introduce the overall topic of preparing for the future needs of the parents. Then ask for the name and phone number of the attorney. Decide what's important for you to know now.

As with any big project, I advise tackling one aspect at a time. No one wants to feel overwhelmed. Pick one small thing to address. When that's completed, move on to the next.

Remember you're still the child. Have respectful, non-judgmental conversations. Your parents may not be aware of the steps to take to protect their assets or pay down their bills. They will not want to feel as if they are giving up control of the way they live their life.

Try to avoid "shutdowns."

Parents may be tempted to shut down if they feel as if their children are making the decisions for them. Just as they gave you choices when you were children, you can provide your parents options and then let them decide what's best for them right now.

You never know what someone else is thinking unless you ask. Dare to have these difficult conversations with your parents while you can. They may have been worried about sharing this information with you, but didn’t know where to start.

As a parent, I can honestly say these are not conversations I am eager to have with my children, but I admit they are certainly necessary.

Be brave and initiate one or more of these difficult conversations with your parents. Reach out to me if you'd like some guidance organizing your plan for having these conversations.

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Diana Quintana is a certified professional organizer and the owner of DNQ Solutions who teaches people how to become organized and maintain order in their lives. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website here.

This article was originally published at DNQ Solutions. Reprinted with permission from the author.