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.
- 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.