Between Parents & Adult Children
by Mary Hunt
Every day I drive by a beautiful new assisted living complex under construction close to where I live. As beautiful as this place is, it's become a daily reminder to me for how difficult it can be to talk to aging parents about their health and future needs.
If you're 40 or older, you're part of the "Sandwich Generation" and likely to fall into one of these four categories:
Traditional Sandwich: Those being squeezed between the needs of aging parents, relatives or friends, while also supporting and meeting the demands of their own children, spouses and careers.
Club Sandwich: Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
Open-Faced: Anyone else involved in elder care.
Double-Stuff Sandwich: Those whose adult, post-college kids return home to live with their parents for lack of unemployment, direction and or money. Also known as the "boomerangs."
Of my husband's and my friends, I would estimate that at least half are either caring for elderly parents or supporting adult children and grandchildren—and in most cases, some or all have actually moved in with them, taking up permanent residence.
Surveys suggest that today's Baby Boomers (adults born between 1946 and 1965) likely will spend more years caring for a parent than they will spend rearing, caring for and supporting their own children. And these days, parents care for their children for at least 20 years.
In the same way a trip to the dental hygienist can prevent a painful procedure down the road, a conversation with your parents about aging will be worth it to help preserve a future you both can handle. The longer you wait to talk with them about the future, the fewer choices you may have down the line and the more it may cost to make sure they get the care they need.
As long as parents are still capable of making reasoned decisions, your role is merely to help them make those decisions. Just try taking control by telling them what to do and you'll know what I mean.
The way you approach the subject will have a huge effect on whether your parents are willing to accept your help. Here are a few guidelines to help you get this conversation started:
Listen. Don't miss an opportunity to talk about the future. Listen to your parents and ask questions. Avoid telling them what to do, no matter how tempting it may be. Get the conversation going earlier than later.
Have Patience. Your parents have been biting their collective tongue for all these years as they have dealt with you. Now it's your turn to be patient and give them time to think over their alternatives. Major decisions won't be made during one casual phone call.
Don’t Expect Response. Don't expect quick responses to your questions. This may be one of the most difficult seasons of their lives. Give them time to process, to think and ponder.
Don’t Assume. Don't make any assumptions. Above all, do not mistake indecision for lack of interest. I think you can be fairly certain that they've been thinking about this a lot longer than you have. But it's easy to put it off when the future appears to be so far away.
Get Help. It's all right if you don't know what you're doing. Your willingness to assist your parents is a big step. Dare to ask for help.
Laugh. Don't lose your sense of humor. It will keep you happy and sane in the years to come.