NewsThe Most Difficult Parent-Child Conversation of all?

The Most Difficult Parent-Child Conversation of all?

People often feel anxious and guilty when it comes to discussing aged care options with their family members.

Maybe you’ve noticed that mum or dad are not coping as well around the house. Maybe they are getting forgetful. What if they have a fall at home and no one is there?

The first obstacle to starting this conversation is your guilt. No-one wants to be the person who says to an elderly parent “it’s time”.

Talking with your parent/parents about what they want as they get older doesn’t have to be one long sit-down conversation and waiting for the ‘right time’ could take forever.

Stalling may mean you end up having the conversation in the hospital car park after the doctor has said mum or dad can’t go home.

Here are our top tips for having one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have with your parents (or your children!).

When the moment is right, think of working your concerns into everyday exchanges. One day, your mother mentions that her eyes are bothering her. You could say, “Have you seen the eye doctor lately? How does it affect your reading or driving?” Then use that opening to discuss other health and medical issues or opening up about what this means long term.

As an entry point for a talk about your parents’ finances, you could mention your own retirement planning and ask for their advice. As they advise you, you can also discuss their savings and future plans.

You notice your mum is having a tough time walking down the stairs. Ask her if she has thought about what she wants to do when it becomes too hard to get around in her home. The question could lead to a broader talk about future living arrangements.

If you call a family meeting, make sure everyone has a chance to be heard and that the discussion revolves around your parents’ wishes. suggests:

  • Find a time and place when you won’t be disturbed.
  • Understand each other’s concerns:
    • people are sometimes worried that if they start talking about aged care, others will think they can no longer cope or can’t live at home any more.
    • family members and carers can be worried that a person they care about may not get the help they need, when they need it.
  • Talk about the benefits of finding out early about aged care, for example you will know what to do if you need care unexpectedly.
  • Focus on what you want in the future and how you can work together to maintain your way of life.
  • Talk about the services that may help you at home such as nursing care, gardening or home maintenance.

Possible conversation starters

  • ‘I want to stay in my own home as I grow older. How can we make that happen?’
  • ‘I’ve been reading about aged care. Can we talk about options and services that may be available?’
  • ‘Some things around the house are getting a bit hard for me. Can we look at how to get someone in to help out?’
  • Express your love and concern—and, most important, listen.
  • Be straightforward about the facts; don’t hide negative information.
  • Phrase your concerns as questions, avoiding telling your parents what they should do.
  • Give your loved ones room to get angry, but remain calm.
  • What if your parents resist your attempts to discuss their care plans?

It can be frustrating if your parents don’t want to engage in the conversation, but you should respect your parents’ desire to avoid the subject. Keep trying, at different times and with different approaches.

However, if your parents’ safety is at risk, you have to push the issue. Bring in other family members or a trusted friend to help intervene. If it’s very serious, social services may need to be contacted. Also, find out about local community resources that help older people remain independent, such as home health care and transportation services and present the options to your parents.

If you have gone through this process, we’d love you to share the journey with us in the feedback below so others can gain from your experience.

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The Most Difficult Conversation You'll have

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Betty from NSW commented:

Anonymous WA. Have you thought of rearranging the house so you could have a bedroom down stairs and get a shower put in, in the Laundry for daily showers. Move the bedroom downstairs, its the most sensible thing to do. Also get a Security Pendant, so that if anything does happen your family can be contacted or if Ambulance needed then they can be called. ie if you have a fall, your husband could not lift you up, with the Vital Call type of pendant, there are many on the market which will look after you and your needs. All elderly people need one. Take note Anonymous from Qld no matter what your age, 

Anonymous from WA commented:

My husband and I have similar problems, both now in our eighties, I am physically stronger inasmuch I can still run up the stairs whereas he comes up one at a time, and is slower when walking etc. Fortunately we have two very caring children, my daughter especially makes sure that she and her husband have taken it upon themselves to take on cutting back and any heavy work in the garden. Having been left in my early teens without either parent my strong desire always has been to purchase and improve our various homes (our marriage is now in its 63rd year) in order to leave some sort of security for my two children and four grandchildren. Sadly, in these days of no fault divorce my son lost his home, and now has a hefty mortgage to repay, while my daughter is very financially secure. For that reason I hope to be able to remain in this large home, whether this can be achieved remains to be seen. Both my children urge us to downsize and spend up but I can't bring myself to do that. My son has been a marvellous father to his own two children and insisted upon shared custody and I am proud of that fact. I am absolutely certain that my children will ensure they do their best for both my husband and I, but still the future is uncertain. 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

My wife's 90 year old parents are just so stubborn. They come from the era that they have to leave something for the family when they pass on. The family take turns at seeing them every weekend but they live nearly 2 hrs away from most of us and if something happened to them during the week they would be in serious trouble. They flatly refuse any in home care and it is up to the family to ensure that they eat properly and that the house is cleaned at least once a week. They both have serious health issues but their absolute refusal to even discuss alternate arrangements is so frustrating and usually ends in an argument. We have stopped trying to talk them into anything because of the arguments and the comment that keeps being made, "they will take me out of here in a box" this is the standard response to our discussions. Mum has dementia and diabeties and needs constant monitoring. Dad feels he is quite capable of doing this but he isn't. He has several health issues as well. He still has a daytime drivers licence but his vision is failing and the doctor will not give him a clearance for his annual licence renewal unless he has eye surgery which, of course, he thinks he doesn't need. Our fears are that he will continue to drive without a licence and cause an accident which could not only injure them but others on the road. We have tried the question asking, trying to get them to discuss their situation in a non confrontational manner but as soon as anything is mentioned the walls go up. We feel that it is pride as well as stubbornness that is causing the conflict. He has been self employed all of his working life and always looked after the family and now that responsibility is slowly being taken away from him. We have all said the same thing, we don't want the things they have but we want them and we want them safe!!!! Any assistance will be greatly appreciated. 

Memberjennifer from VIC commented:

Omg similar here in Vic. Mum has dementia dad has lots of health issues and agrees he cannot look after mum properly. They do have all the home help you can get including district nurse morning and night to deal with their medications. I think it's their generation. we would rather have them getting the care they need than any "inheritance" 

Anonymous from QLD replied to Memberjennifer:

Totally agree. 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

As your father in law was self employed, it might be a conversation opener about how good it would be to continue to help other people earn a living by employing someone (or more) to give them a hand to do the things that are difficult/time consuming to do, so they can do the things they WANT to do. By employing people, he is contributing to society and 'helping to pay someone's mortgage, school fees, etc. 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

Good thoughts, that was how we got them to employ someone to mow their lawn, but it doesn't work with anything inside the house. This is where we strike the problem of they can look after themselves. they can't. 

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