Once you have determined that there may be some reason for concern with your parents - diminishing capacity - or that some changes or additional help is needed, it’s time to sit down with your parents and create a plan.
But what’s the best way to approach that conversation?
David Solie is an expert in geriatric psychology. In his book “How to Say It to Seniors- Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders”, he notes that children and their parents have different missions and different agendas, based on where they are in their lives. He explains that Seniors have two driving needs at the end phase of their lives: the need for control (being part of whatever discussions take place or decisions made) and the desire to leave a legacy (defining what they will be remembered for).
If we can find a way to respect those needs and incorporate them into these difficult conversations, they don’t have to be so difficult.
Carol Satterlee, a family and relationship coach at On the Edge of Coaching, shares some tips on how to have that conversation:
You know your parents better than anyone. So remember, these sensitive discussions are about your parents’ thoughts and feelings – not yours. Don’t offer your opinions unless you’re asked for them, or unless you ask their permission: “Mom, Dad, may I share what I’m concerned about for you?” (And then be sure your concerns really are for them!!)
Recognize and honor your own journey as you accompany your parents in their end of life process.
This is a time when emotions and stress can run high as you work together to make difficult decisions. Try to find a balance between caring for your parent(s), your own family, and caring for yourself.
Acknowledge your feelings (even the unattractive ones such as fear or jealousy) and keep them separate from this process with your parents. Recognize and honor that there are two processes at work simultaneously here – you facing the reality of your aging or dying parents, and the “business” of finding care and solutions for your parents.
Problem solve and find comfortable solutions.
Approach decision making collaboratively to help your parents feel they still have some control.
Ask them to describe the experience or outcome they hope for.
List out options and the advantages of each.
When you bring in outside help, you can avoid the pitfalls involved with trying to parent your parents. Often one of the most difficult topics of conversation is finances. This is where someone like a trained Daily Money Manager can provide objective input and help with assessing the current financial situation or can locate and organize critical files and documents.
Above all, respect your parents and this stage of their life.
Ultimately, you want to look back and have no regrets. Pay attention to your own behaviors in this process. There’s no getting around it, you will be saying “good bye” to your parents at some point. With that end in mind, ask yourself what memories you will want from this experience as you support them through it.