You remember “The Conversation” don’t you? Everybody dreads it. You can almost see it coming. Your parents both look as serious as you’ve ever seen them. They sit way too close to you. There’s a lot of deep breaths, sighs and them looking at each other as if to say, “you start.” Sometimes it’s just one, or it can be both if it’s going to be THAT conversation. Then it comes. Queue the eye roll.
Whether it’s about your grades, dating, smoking, drugs or sex, we’ve all been there at some point. We cringed because we thought they had no idea what they were talking about, they were so old after all, how could they possibly know more than you did about [fill-in-the-blank].
You knew everything there was to know about whatever they were going to talk about, and you didn’t need them to tell you anything different. You were an expert because you learned everything from your classmates who heard about it from their older brother or sister and they were – “wise.”
They did it to you
If your parents were sly, they’d use an example from “one of their friends.” You know how this goes; “I was talking to Joe at work, and he was telling me that Becky, his daughter, had taken a pill from a friend of hers at a party and next thing you knew he and his wife were in the emergency room wondering what was going on. Honey, do you know kids that take drugs at your school? Do you?”
If you had analytical parents they would use the statistical approach: “I saw an article in the Journal that stated 64% of kids have tried drugs before their senior year in High School. Honey, do you know anyone at your school doing drugs? Do you do drugs?”
If you had distant parents or ones that didn’t talk about such things, the approach was: “You’ll figure it out when you need to and make your own mistakes.”
Lastly, if your parents were hippies, they would say: “Hey dude, just do what feels good!“
It’s time to talk
The thing is, you still have to have another conversation, not with your kids but with your parents. This one has the same goal: to help your parents through the next stage of their lives and be able to help them when and where needed.
Sixty years goes by quickly, seventy fast, eighty faster and ninety in a blink of an eye. The time to get ready is now, regardless of how old you or your parents are today. Many people who are are eating healthy and exercising will now see 90 years. The days of retiring at 62 and dying at 75 are over.
That’s where you come in, to start the conversations about their health, financial state, and where they expect to live in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. You need to help them prepare to live 25 to 35 years after retirement.
Best case, they’ve been waiting for someone to ask to help them; this was the case with my Mom. Worse case they are not ready, yet, or don’t even want to think about it, this was my Dad. Either way, you need to be prepared. Planning is key.
How to start
You need to be ready to talk about a subject when the topic comes up and they are most receptive. Look and listen for these events, you can use them to start a conversation about that particular topic. Examples of events are:
- An elderly family friend has an accident, they’re unconscious and their children don’t know what to do.
- Someone dies with no will and there’s an ugly battle over the home.
- Simple things are left undone around the home, like bills not being paid.
- Your parent seems to repeat a topic or question more than once, twice, three times.
- They can’t recall how to get to one of their favorite places.
- They are short of breath.
- Bruises suddenly appear on the arms, legs, or neck.
- They drive slower than the speed limit, with their left turn signal on.
The key is to be ready when the topic comes up. Just like you were ready when you had that conversation with your child, you need to plan the conversation with your parents. Do your homework, expect it to happen and you’ll be ready to engage them, tentatively at first but then in-depth as they grow into understanding the need to talk through their concerns.
Sometimes you will run into subjects you are not prepared to discuss. You may have to find an expert or someone who has already gone through that experience if you are not prepared to help with a topic.
In those cases, at least be ready to hear what they have to say, ask questions then let them know you will look for information and get back to them. Focus on the facts first, they will help in the conversation, but be prepared for the emotions. By the way, that is why we set up our site, elderhonor.com, to help you walk through these topics with your parents, reduce stress and anxiety and give you tools to make it a bit easier.
Lastly, whatever your relationship is with your parents, they will need help at some stage of their life. They will change when they want to, and you can be there to help, so be ready. If you’re already in those conversations – good for you! Keep going!
Have you had that conversation with your parents? How did you start it: out-of-the-blue, a friend example, a health scare? How did it go? What are your next steps?