A Change In Paradigm: Parenting Your Elderly Parents

Parenting Your Elderly Parents is something many of us have to deal with at some point in life, as they age and become frailer. Making decisions on your parent’s behalf is often accompanied by challenges and frustrations. Other family members may not be on the same page when you decide to step in and take your father’s car keys or move him to a safer home or care facility.

Over the past twenty-seven years, I have seen my fair share of embattled children, becoming their parent’s parent. Children who take on the parenteral role are often determined to make tough decisions for their elderly parents. While they do so with the best intentions the process can often be challenging for all parties involved.

Consider the elderly parent’s point of view. Imagine being parented by your own child. Feeling helpless as your child makes life-changing decisions on your behalf, even when they may not fully understand your specific wishes, preferences or financial affairs.

When an elderly parent suffers a health complication, you may need to step in and make critical financial and health decisions for them. Unfortunately, in these instances, no one is prepared for such a shift in responsibility. Therefore, there is a propensity toward disagreements among family members.

So I would like to suggest that our generation, the baby boomers, do ourselves and our parents a big favor; let’s turn the table on this old and painful paradigm.

I will share strategies intended to help us write our own aging stories as gracefully and thoughtfully as possible!

The Old Paradigm

The Internet is overflowing with advice for adult children who plan to discuss aging issues with their parents. Articles with carefully worded methods to approach seniors about selling their homes, relinquishing their car keys, or getting long-term care insurance.

These are all important issues for children and their parents to discuss, but when children start the conversation seniors may feel blindsided, or even manipulated into particular decisions. You can avoid this scenario. Rather than placing the responsibility on your children, empower yourself to lead discussions about housing, health care and estate planning.

Bear in mind, you can only lead these discussions when all your cognitive faculties are intact. If your cognitive status decreases suddenly, or illness strikes unexpectedly your adult children will likely need to make significant decisions on your behalf – decisions you may or may not like.

Furthermore, if your children are not clear about your wishes, it will be very difficult for them to feel confident making difficult decisions, and they may question if they made the right choice.

The most effective approach I have seen is when a sound-minded senior relay their wishes regarding personal care, housing, division of assets to their children.

Six strategies for proactive baby boomers who want to start the conversation with their adult children.

1. Decide Which Child To Approach

Every family dynamic is unique, so every conversation will be different. While some parents may find it makes sense to sit down with their entire family, it may be easier for others to discuss issues with only one or two children. So trust what feels right for you.

One of my former residents, Selden, has four children and decided to first approach his two eldest sons about long-term care plans. “I really trust them both,” the 83-year-old said, “I knew they would take care of me and my affairs without too much disruption to their own lives.”

2. Select the Conversation Topic Beforehand

Just as the conversation participants may differ from family to family, the topics may vary as well.

In Selden’s situation, he went over finances and health directives with his sons. Ultimately, he named them both on all his bank accounts and set up a deed to allow them to easily take over his property.

Others may choose to begin with a broader conversation. If you are not comfortable sharing financial details you can create a file containing financial documents, tell your children how to gain access to it, and clarify what life event will trigger them to gain access.

Understanding and sharing information about future housing changes, your preferred long term care option(s), and medical disaster protocol may be the most valuable choice you can make for yourself and your children.

3. Be Prepared For Potential Concerns

Conversations regarding your own aging plans may open the door for your adult children to express their concerns. So before you sit down anticipate their potential concerns, as well as some reasonable solutions.

For example, if driving is an issue, or a hot button for your child, you may want to consider voluntarily giving up driving at night, or agreeing not to drive on freeways. This provides a reasonable compromise. Or, if you want to stay in your home but cannot maintain it, discuss options for maintenance, cooking or housekeeping support.

4. Find A Neutral Time And Location To Talk

Emotions may run high during discussions about aging, and brining in a third party can be comforting. Some third party options are: your trusted CPA or attorney, or a longtime family friend.

Others may prefer to have conversations individually with their children instead of calling a family meeting. Selden took this approach by talking informally with each of his sons.

It may be difficult to have a productive conversation with your stressed or grieving adult child, so try to avoid having a discussion during emotionally-charged times. Such as, during the holiday season or immediately too soon after a family death.

5. Have A ‘Plan B’ In Case Your Children Aren’t Up For The Challenge 

Realize that not every adult child is emotionally prepared or able to deal with their parents’ aging. Some children may not have the mental or emotional capacity to manage your affairs.

Some children are in denial about your physical state, or declining cognitive ability. Perhaps you believe they will be unable to honor your wishes or decisions. Trust your gut. It is okay to look elsewhere for support.

You should not endure this process alone! You can turn to a trusted financial advisor for assistance in developing a plan to manage your finances and care as you age.

6. Have The Talk While You Are In Good Mental and Physical Health

After a certain age, sudden illness and cognitive decline occur unexpectedly. Ultimately, that’s my main point. Be proactive and talk with your kids before they decide to “have the talk” with you!

I realize it is not an easy topic to discuss, but I cannot encourage baby boomers and seniors enough. Talk with your kids, make a plan and address all the concerns, prior to disaster!

Take it from Selden, who says, “I gained a lot of relief knowing my sons had everything under control. That gave me peace of mind.”

About The Author

Joseph Spada

Joseph Spada is a geriatric nurse of 33 years with extensive experience in long-term care and adult family homes. He is the Founder of Spada Care Homes and author of a #2 Bestseller, "How To Find The Best Adult Family Home Care for Your Elderly Parent" (Amazon). Joseph is also a Faculty instructor at North Seattle College, teaching the 52-hour AFH Administrator Certification.

Share your thougths