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Senior and family member talking

Chapter 4 - How to have the talk with your parents

Conversation Starter - It’s time to have the talk
It may have been on your mind for a long time: the talk. That day when you sit down with your mom or dad and tell them it’s time to consider a change. What change, you aren’t sure. All you know are the triggers — a feeling that they need more support at home or that might be better off in a livelier community. Or that they need more care than you or your sister or brother can give on a daily basis. Whatever the reason, the talk needs to happen. Just not today.

And so you put it off. That’s natural. After all, they might be older than you, but they’re still capable of making decisions. They’re still the same person they’ve always been. They changed your diapers and were there when you needed help or advice. They’ve managed through lots of tough times over the years. So they must know you have their best interests in mind. But still, will this talk come out of the blue? How will they react? Is it even the right time?
For you, it's all about care, support and safety, but for older adults, it's their freedom, their identity - Dr. Amy D’Aprix.

Take a breath. What you’re feeling is completely natural, and it’s why we created this guide: to help you through those moments we’d all rather just avoid. So that when it’s time for the talk, you’re prepared and confident.

Your Role

The decision to talk came from you. But as far as decisions go, this is the only one you have to make. Having the talk is about your parent, and they should always feel in control. They’re the decision-maker. Your role is to guide them, answer questions, understand the differences between the types of care. You’re the facilitator, the cheerleader helping them feel that this is the start of something great, a new beginning. If they’ve been anticipating the talk, they may even ask you what took so long to bring it up. That would be nice, of course. But how do we get there?

The first step: Come back to the beginning. What was it that compelled you to think a change was necessary in the first place? Was it something you noticed? Something your sister or brother took note of? A close friend? What were the triggers?

To help put it into perspective, return to Dr. Jane Barratt’s “Five Questions,” from earlier in this guide. Does your mom feel safe at home? Can she still function and live her life to the fullest? Is she able to make decisions and care for herself? Why, exactly, is a change necessary?

Once you establish the why, you’re ready to put the goal into perspective.

It’s a Good Thing

We worry about how the conversation will go because we view it in a negative light — the end, the final chapter — when actually it’s the opposite. A change that offers more care and support is often what’s needed to maintain freedom and independence. It may be the spark that reignites a passion for living. This isn’t to say you can’t be honest in your intentions. Yes, you want them to have the care and support they need. But don’t forget who they are.

“Each generation needs to empathize and understand where the other is coming from,” says Dr. Amy D’Aprix, co-founder of Essential Conversations Project, Inc. and a life-transition expert and author specializing in aging, retirement and caregiving. Dr. D’Aprix recommends using words such as “freedom,” “control,” “choice” and “independence” in the conversation. “For you, it’s all about care, support and safety, but for older adults, it’s their freedom, their identity.”

By framing the talk as a desire for change, as a choice rather than a need, you’re approaching the chat as a good thing.

“Have the talk as soon as possible, before it’s needed,” advises Dr. D’Aprix. These conversations are easier when there isn’t an immediate need or crisis. But it’s also never too late to have them. Better to have had them later than you might have wished than to never have had them at all.

Time and Place

Right from the start, make it clear that they’re in charge. Ask where they’d like to go to meet up, and choose a place that will make everyone feel relaxed and comfortable: a neutral spot, like a favourite café, or at home. Try to eliminate stress or noise, and don’t overwhelm the situation by inviting a bunch of people. For the initial conversation, perhaps it’s just you, or you and a sibling. Time of day matters, too, says Dr. D’Aprix. Choose a time when your parent feels most aware and relaxed, maybe mid-morning instead of the end of the day.

Timing is also about delivery. When you strike up the courage to bring up having a talk, do it in a way that’s not alarming. If you say, “Mom, we need to talk about something major,” she hears, “Mom, something big and scary is about to happen.” Be gentle in how you initiate the conversation. Something like, “Mom, I’d love to talk about how you’re feeling.” It’s an invitation to talk, a dialogue. And it puts the power into the hands of your parent.

By treating them with respect, and not alarming them in any way, you’re showing you care. And you’re creating a solid foundation from which to proceed together as you explore options, partners on a journey with them in control.