How Seniors Can Have a Serious Conversation with their Adult Children

It’s not easy for seniors and their grown children to talk about the realities of aging. Where will they live? Who will take care of them? Do they have enough money to cover their expenses? Will their children respect their wishes?

Many adult children can’t cope with the fact that their parents are growing old. Parents may avoid it because they don’t like the role reversal and potential dependence on their own children.

But that talk doesn’t have to be hard, says Jacqueline Wallen, a Silver Spring-based therapist and clinical social worker who specializes in elder and family therapy. “Such conversations can be exactly what helps elders achieve more peace of mind,” she says.

First, the parents should initiate the conversation. This helps the children know that their parents have awareness and control of their situation. If necessary, choose one child to have this conversation with if the parent foresees difficulty with another one.

Next, parents should clearly explain what their concerns and wishes are. Wallen says surveys have shown that aging seniors’ top concerns are:

  • Maintaining physical and mental health.
  • Memory loss.
  • Being a burden to others.
  • Transportation.
  • Pain and suffering towards end of life.

Last, parents should understand that their children are usually only trying to look out for them. This, however, can sometimes cause friction between the two parties. One reason Wallen says seniors come in for therapy is because an adult child wants the parent to move into a retirement home or assisted living facility. Often, the parent is reluctant and feels coerced and unheard. In this case, having a third party, such as a therapist, act as a mediator lets the two sides express their concerns openly.

If adult children consistently brush aside their parents’ attempt to have a conversation, the parents should express their wishes in writing, Wallen suggests. This is especially important if the parent has any kind of cognitive impairment. Even if that’s not the case, it’s a good idea to have something on paper to which the family can refer, as many details can be forgotten in the course of people’s busy lives.

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Tips For Adult Children

1. Recognize that your parents are adults who can make their own decisions. While they may appear stubborn or you think they’re in denial, they may “simply disagree with their children about what would provide them with the highest quality of life,” Wallen says. Adult children should be respectful of their parents’ experience, wisdom, and wishes, and realize they cannot control their parents’ lives.

2. Research services to help your parents achieve their desired quality of life. It may be a part-time nursing assistant, a financial planner, a cleaning service, or someone who can run basic errands and shop for them.

3. Trust your parents. “Adult children who are happy with the quality of their older parents’ lives and feel that their parents can take care of themselves tend to have better relationships with their parents,” Wallen says. “Disagreements about what is best for the parent can strain family relationships.”

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