By Cass Grange

Why talking to your parents about their future living arrangements is more difficult than talking to your kids about sex.

I get it.  You have put off having “the talk” with your parents.  It’s awkward. It takes courage.  You are waiting for the right time to bring things up.  Never sounds like the perfect time.

My main message is this:  Don’t wait any longer.  

Remember when your dad had the birds and bees talk with you at 18 when you were leaving for college. It was way too late!  Start when your parents are youngish, even younger than when you think you need to start talking about aging.  Now would be a good time.  Waiting 10 years makes nothing easier.  Nothing about this is easy for anyone.

My other message is that no one has the perfect solution to any of this, but we must keep trying.  Living in denial solves nothing.

A few years ago, one of my favorite clients came in to see me.  He told me he had a rare form of cancer and at his age they gave him about five years to live.

I just felt like I’d been hit with a direct blow.  “Oh no.  That isn’t what I wanted for you.”  He said, “I didn’t want it either but at 76 I know this:  None of us gets out of here alive.  We all get something.”

We don’t have any perfect solutions here, but we do want to share some experiences and thoughts and resources. And, life, illness, and death are going to happen, whether we talk about them or not.

Tips on having the conversation:

Make this an on-going discussion, not a one-time event.  That puts too much pressure on everyone.

Pick the right place and time.  The Thanksgiving dinner table probably isn’t the place, but over Thanksgiving weekend when everyone is together might work.

Sometimes a car ride is a good idea.  You both are looking ahead and no one can leave the room or turn on the TV.

Think about what you want to accomplish:  Is it fact finding?  Is it listening to their needs and concerns? Is it expression your concerns?  You aren’t going to solve everything at once, so try to accomplish incremental progress.

Avoid the parenting role.  Parenting our parent is not a recipe for success.  They will always be our parents.  Try more for partnering with our parents. Ask questions and listen, even when it is hard.

Think about who to involve.  Sometimes it is better for one adult child to talk to the parents, sometimes the group, but you don’t want them to feel like they are ganged up on by the kids.  Ideally, it would be great for all the adult children to agree, but don’t wait for consensus.  Start with the idea that we are going to have a conversation, but it will be one of many.  So, start to plan, knowing that things will change.

Some conversation starters: 

Lay it on us! Make Cass the fall guy! “We were talking to our financial advisor about our retirement plans and it got me wondering…”

Tell a story.  They are easy to find.  “I was talking to my friend Chris and his parents have decided to move to Querencia, and are selling their house in Shady Hollow where you live.”

Talk about other relatives.  Let them discuss what they think of their siblings’ and friends’ choices.  It is so much easier to talk about the other folks and to be a bit more objective.  “Your Aunt Jean waited way too long to move.” Pick up on that and ask why?

Choose your words wisely.  Talk about the retirement community not the retirement “facility.”  It is condo-style living, not a “room” or “bed.”  Downsizing can also be called “rightsizing.”  “It isn’t “going to the home.”  It is moving to the retirement community.

One big conversation stopper:

Everyone has the same solution:  “I will live at home forever.”  Slightly more realistic people say, “I’ll live in my home until I die.”  Studies show that 90% of people expect to age in place.  But statistics indicate that it works less than 10% of the time.  We need to have a plan B.  We need to acknowledge most folks will need additional assistance as they age, and sometimes the solution is that they must move out of the family home.

My family story:

Our parents, like 90% of people, wanted to age in place.  That was their plan.  End of discussion!  And, they did just that until they were 84 and 83.  But after that, the tasks of running a household, and cooking and shopping just got to be too much.  My mom started having memory issues and was not doing well.  Moving her to an assisted living community gave her the care, and us the peace of mind, that neither she nor we could get by letting her age in place. And, because she was receiving the care and direction she needed, she adjusted quickly. This also allowed my Dad to have more freedom.  He was able to continue the hunting trips with his sons, and leave for lunch with his friends without worrying about Mom.  Because he was no longer her caregiver, he could continue to be her loving husband, her friend, and an active friend to all the other important people in his life.  I think out of all the benefits, this is the most important one in our family.  Moving to assisted living allowed them to focus on their relationship as husband and wife.  And, it allowed their friends to come and visit and not be worried about them.  They knew they were safe.

This is a key point.  For parents to stay aging in place, it requires one of them to be the caregiver, nurse, chauffeur, cook, shopper, bill payer, and lawn mower.  Or, it falls to the kids, or the lone adult child in town.  There is no energy left for a real relationship or any fun.  It is just daily work between the crises.  And, there are always more of these coming down the road.

My Family Story part 2:

Last year we helped them move again, to a retirement community closer to my brother’s family.  Unlike the place they lived for four years in our hometown, this community had several levels of care including a memory care floor.  This gives us all options as their lives unfold.  It wasn’t easy on any of us to have them move from their hometown of 63 years, but it was the right decision.  On my last visit to Omaha my dad said, “We are where we need to be right now.”

It isn’t perfect, nothing is, but it certainly is so much better than the situation they would be in if we hadn’t started these crucial conversations a decade ago.  Keep talking, and asking and listening.  Get started. If you can’t bring yourself to do it, we can help with the conversation.  And, we can refer you to other professionals who work with seniors who can help with the conversation and can help with in-home care, picking a senior retirement community and help with the move.

As advisors, part of our role is to help clients plan for the future.  Obviously, this often involves technical decisions about money, finances, investments and insurance benefits, but it’s also about helping them to clearly see what stage of life they are in now and where they are headed.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds.  We bring up the discussion of moving to senior living and getting household help to ease into the next transition.  No one likes to think of moving out of their home and losing independence.  But, as I told my own 80-something parents, “It is so much easier to plan the transition when you are not in a crisis, than to have to scramble to find a place to live after a fall or a stroke.”

Have the courage to have the conversation.  Now.

For additional help in starting the conversation and for more resources on this subject, check out AARP’s Prepare to Care guide.