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How to Have Difficult Conversations With A Parent

  • January 28, 2019
How to Have Difficult Conversations With A Parent

Maintaining a sense of independence is an important part of getting older. But time and our bodies often have other plans for us, making it more taxing to get around, do household chores or care for ourselves in a way that allows us to be totally independent. This can ultimately lead to some difficult conversations with family members.

When that shift happens—when a parent becomes less independent—there is a role reversal between parents and children. When children start caring for aging parents, the change can be profound for both parties. For many older adults, it can be psychologically devastating to absorb the implications of surrendering their autonomy. This makes your responsibility as a caregiver difficult, but important.

Having difficult conversations with your aging parent about ceding decision-making responsibilities, whether relating to lifestyle, finances or healthcare, is never easy. But there are a few tips that can help you better manage the situation.

Managing Difficult Conversations

When you’re caring for aging parents, putting off difficult conversations of any kind does not serve you in the long run. Avoidance can only compound or magnify your anxiety. The Conversation Project notes that this is particularly true when it comes to difficult conversations about parental health and end-of-life planning. So the sooner you start the conversation, the better. Here’s how:

  1. Be Proactive. The fact is, the longer you wait, the harder it may become to have a two-sided conversation with your aging parent. If you wait until your parents’ health has declined too far, you may be depriving them of being involved in the decision-making process about their own care. Despite the emotional difficulty of confronting reality with your aging parents, getting the conversation started early could significantly improve your ability to honor their wishes later in life.

  2. Be Respectful. It can be easy to become frustrated or impatient, especially if your parent is resistant to accepting help. But consider their feelings. Remind yourself that it can’t be easy to admit that you’re no longer in your prime. Approach these difficult conversations with care and respect. Show that you understand and appreciate how emotionally challenging this experience is for your aging loved one.

  3. Be Open. While what your loved one has in mind for their future level of care might not align with your wishes for them, be willing to do everything in your power to honor their desires. To whatever extent possible, preserve your parent’s sense of control over future decisions. Helping them feel comfortable is the key to managing these difficult conversations.

  4. Make a Plan. Once you’ve worked up the emotional courage to confront your difficult conversations, make sure you walk away having put a plan of action in place. Speaking in vague terms can have a damaging effect on the course of a conversation. Come to the table with a few options, whether they involve purchasing a medical alert device that can provide 24/7 monitoring services, hiring an outside caregiver, or moving to a more suitable living situation. Make sure that you have a sense of what needs to be done and give your parent an opportunity to make the final decision if possible.

Handling Difficult Conversations With Ease

Caring for aging parents will almost certainly yield some of the most difficult conversations of your life (perhaps aside from dealing with teenagers) and your parent’s life. If you handle it with care, respect and practical planning, you’ll be far better prepared to be there for your parents as they age. We’ll all end up in their position eventually, so when in doubt think about how you would want to be treated if you were in that situation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hilary Young is a health and wellness expert that specializes in both senior life and caregiving. She'd love to hear more about your thoughts on aging, healthy living, and caregiving, and you can find her on Twitter at @hyoungcreative to start the conversation.


KEYWORDS: difficult conversations, managing difficult conversations, caring for aging parents