Forging Adult Children-Aging Parent Connections BEFORE the Challenging Years

A time for conversations?

It’s that time of year again.

Many blogs and caregiving articles are encouraging adult children to “be alert for signs” of extreme aging. With titles such as “Ten Things to Observe When You Visit Your Aging Parents Over the Holidays” or “How to Spy and Check Out Whether A Parent Needs Support,” the posts explain that family crisis time may be just around the corner, and you may need to use the holiday get-togethers as an information gathering period. And, yes, one recent piece really did use the word spying.

These articles describe a real phenomenon. Unfortunately, many of us adult children — some of us living far away and others just around the corner from parents — do not tune in until significant problems arise. What puzzles me, however, is why so few articles try help us figure out how to begin these conversations  in advance — mastering the communication basics and expecting typical setbacks — long before the problems build up and crises loom.

For most of us, figuring out how to talk about these issues with parents, perhaps over a cup of tea or lunch out, should be the focus of holiday discovery, while everyone is fairly healthy but maybe just a bit nervous about the future. Be clear that I am not writing here about finances, housing, medical care, or even things like medical directives and medication lists, though these are important. I mean the nuts and bolts of initiating conversations with aging parents, over time, as they  grow more aware of the process of becoming increasingly dependent on the support of others. (And believe me, they are becoming more aware.)

It may turn out that the most significant transition of our adult child life is figuring out how to gracefully communicate with our parents about their aging, and as we do it, taking into consideration their pride and the support they may need as they, too, learn how to participate in these conversations.

Below are several conversation starters (my parents and my husband’s parents have said they were good lead-ins). Some of them we used after hearing a parent talk about a friend of theirs who was experiencing an aging crisis.

  1. As you grow older and need extra support, how to you foresee me helping you?
  2. If you get really sick and I need to pay some bills for you, can you show me where to find things and teach me what to do?
  3. I don’t want to be a royal pain, or even be intrusive, but I do want to figure out in advance how we can navigate together through a crises if one occurs.
  4. If I observe something that you aren’t doing as well as you used to, how do you want me to tell you?
  5. If you ever have difficulty with the activities of daily life, how do you want me to help you figure out a solution?

Now I expect that lots of parents just don’t want to move into these conversations; however, trying more than once is important as is expecting that from time-to-time people will be defensive. Not getting upset is a skill that is in our court to learn.

Imagine a holiday down the road when you don’t have to worry that you may discover things falling apart because you’ve already talked with your parents about many of these issues. Now about those medical directives, wills, finances, caregiving, and moving issues?  They may be lot easier to encounter and resolve as a result of the good communication.

Have you read some interesting articles and books with tips and information about the challenges of communication between elderly parents and their adult children?  I’d love to hear about them.

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