In this blog post series, we are exploring the process of discussing difficult topics with our aging loved ones. Topics like money, health, and life changes can be stressful, but communication is vital. In our previous blog post, we identified ways that you can prepare for a difficult conversation. 

Once you have prepared, it’s time for the talk. While in many cases, the actual conversation may be much less stressful than you feared, you may find that you—and your parent—respond in ways that you weren’t expecting.

Start With Shared Goals

Agreeing on certain details at the outset can help alleviate any big concerns. For example, you might agree on how long you will talk. You don’t have to make big decisions, and you don’t need to talk all day long. Knowing there is a planned end point can make your conversation less stressful. 

If there are certain topics that will be off limits, this is a great time to agree on those: for example, if you want to talk about health concerns with a parent living alone, perhaps you will agree not to discuss the idea of moving.

Make Sure You Listen

If you’ve prepared ahead of time, you probably have notes about what you want to discuss—but make sure you are also prepared to listen. It can be hard to hold yourself back from jumping in at these moments. If your family has a habit of talking over one another, consider even setting a timer for five minutes, during which time one person speaks and the other listens.

After your parent has spoken, rephrase what they said to make sure you understand what they mean. You may also want to take notes, since it can be hard to remember the details of a stressful conversation; if you do so, consider sharing your notes with them so that they can agree that your summary is accurate.

Allow Time For Emotions to Settle

If emotions begin to run high, take a moment to breathe. There’s no need to pretend you aren’t emotional, but taking a few moments to get a glass of water or take a few deep breaths can help you both. (This is also a great time to reflect on your shared goal for the conversation and make sure you aren’t trying to take on too much.)

Make Plans For Next Steps

Remember: you don’t have to resolve the subject in this first conversation! In fact, it may be far better to make very little “progress” but have a conversation that is caring and low-anxiety for everyone involved, laying the groundwork for more comfortable conversations in the future.

At the end of your discussion, make concrete plans for next steps. Ideally, this involves planning a second conversation and actions for both of you to take before that meeting. If there are any actions that either of you will be taking in the near future, this is a great time to start doing research to make the process more collaborative.

In our final post in this series, we will discuss specific methods for resolving conflict when it arises, and offer other resources. Ready to make more steps toward your parents’ future care? Contact As Life Goes On today for more information on our availability and care.

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