More Than Caregiving

The new truth about life with aging parents

The Fantasy of the "Aging-Parent Talk"

Direct conversations not in your familial playbook? You're not alone.

How do you bring it up? What's the right thing to say?

We are told to have "the talk"  about changes that may occur later in life. As a clinician, there are questions I think are good to ask about health (click here for the list) but what if your parent is not going to give it up? What if he or she is not a talker? What if you are not a talker?

What if direct conversations are not in your familial playbook?

Like everything else it seems, we have this fantasy about how the "talk" is supposed to go. 

Still, it's good to talk about things because it helps us get used to (at least a little) the idea that things can and will and do happen. It doesn't mean we won't have emotions to deal with later, but at least we can refer back to what was discussed and remind ourselves: See, this is what we were talking about. It somehow normalizes it.

What's not a good idea is going in with the fantasy of what the talk or discussion should look like. This goes for parents and adult children.

This article by Melissa Healy from the Los Angeles Times, "Talking About Aging to Parents," explores the conundrum, and the book sounds interesting, too. From the article: "We arrive with the best intentions," says [David] Solie, who gathered his insights into a book called "How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders." "We think, 'They're older, they don't get it. They're wrong and I'm right.' But right's not relevant."

So, what can we do? For starters, we can be aware of our fears and our fantasies (different sides of the same coin). We can view the talks as a series of info-gathering sessions that slowly build. We can accept the information that is being given to us and honor it as enough for that moment. By acknowledging the enoughness of one piece of information, we can then move on to being available to hear and receive the next whether it is about money, health, homes, possessions, plans and more.

But the biggest thing is—as always—recognizing that which we do and do not have control over. We take the next indicated step. In fact, by releasing the need to fix and and control, we have the opportunity to grow better able to see what those next steps are. 

At the same time we are trying to learn about our parent, we are also learning about ourselves.

And yes, it takes practice. 

Meredith Resnick, L.C.S.W., is a health writer and licensed social worker. She is also the mother of two adopted daughters.

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