How to Have Difficult Conversations With A Parent

Posted by Dave Tomar on July 02, 2014

How to Have Difficult Conversations With A Parent

Keeping a sense of independence is one of the hardest parts of getting older.  As it becomes more taxing to get around, do household chores or care for themselves, your aging parents will need your help. However, they may not always be willing to ask for it, or even accept it when offered. 

This is because there are few transitions in life that are harder to swallow than the role reversal between parents and children. When children become caretakers to their aging parents, the change is a profound one. For many, it can be psychologically devastating to absorb the implications of surrendering their autonomy. This makes your responsibility a difficult but important one. 

Having a conversation 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 we can offer to help you undertake this unenviable task. 

Don’t Put It Off

Putting off a difficult conversation of any kind can compound or magnify your anxiety. The Conversation Project notes that this is particularly true when it comes to conversations over parental health and end-of-life planning. So the sooner you start the conversation, the better.

The fact is, the longer you wait, the harder it may become to have a two-sided conversation with your aging parent. According to The Conversation Project, by waiting until your parents’ health has declined too far, you may be depriving them the right to state their wishes while they are still able. In spite of 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. 

Have a frank and open discussion with your parent or parents before you find your family in crisis mode.

Show Respect

The goal is not to be a parent to your mother or father. The goal is to be a caretaker. It may be easy to become frustrated or impatient, especially if your parent is resistant to accepting help. Put yourself in his or her shoes thought. It can’t be easy to admit that you’re no longer in your prime. This is why, A Place for Mom suggests, you need to approach these difficult conversations with care and respect. Show that you understand and appreciate how emotionally challenging this experience is but that you are 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.

Make a Plan

Once you’ve worked up the emotional courage to confront this difficult conversation, make sure you leave the discussion with a plan of action.  A Place For Mom warns that 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 hiring an outside party for caretaking, moving to an assisted living facility or making end-of-life preparations. 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. 

No matter how you approach it, this will be one of the most difficult conversations of your life 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.


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