Breaking the Ice: How to Start Talking to
Your Aging Parents About the Future
Talking about aging and the physical and financial changes it brings can be tough, but it’s one of the most important conversations you can have with aging parents. Keep in mind that while many people dread it, that dread is ultimately replaced by peace of mind for everyone involved.
Here are five tips for how you can broach the topic in a way that won’t upset your parents or put them on the defensive.
1. Talk about the experiences of another family member or a friend.
Put the burden of the conversation on your shoulders and emphasize that you want to discuss the future for your own peace of mind. Set the scene by talking about a time when a relative or a friend fell ill and needed some kind of treatment or care. Share how the situation made you feel. Then translate that concern to your parents. Explain how that experience helped you recognize that you need to talk with them, so you know what they want before they end up in the same predicament. Remind them that you can’t honor their wishes if you don’t know what they are.
2. Springboard the conversation from current events.
Sometimes current events will perfectly set the stage for a conversation about the future. Perhaps you can bring up a local news story where someone suddenly passed away in an accident, leaving a family behind. Or you may find an opening in celebrity news, such as a report that a famous entertainer may not have had an estate plan when they passed away. Whatever springboard you choose, explain that the story made you realize that you—and your parents—could find yourselves in a similar scenario with no warning. Point out that you should all discuss what you would want if something similar happened to you.
3. Gather inspiration from pop culture narratives.
A storyline from your parents’ favorite movie, TV show, or book might be a helpful way into the conversation. Or you could watch a show or movie together that touches on themes of aging, illness, or broader life changes. It doesn’t have to be a tear-jerker or something overly dramatic. Something as trivial as a tv commercial can be the natural catalyst for a productive conversation.
4. Be the guinea pig.
Start planning for your own future and share your strategy with your parents. If you have siblings, encourage them to participate as well. Your planning process might inspire your parents to start their own. Alternatively, you can suggest that you work through the steps of planning for the unknown together, so your parents don’t feel singled out or patronized.
5. Let your parents create an opening.
Do your parents muse about the future in passing? If so, don’t quickly dismiss their concerns by reassuring them with comments like “You’re too young and healthy to think about that!” Their musings can be the natural point of entry for a conversation about the future. It might even be their way of working through their own feelings about mortality. As hard as it may be for you to imagine life without them in it, it’s harder for them to contemplate their end.
However, you choose to start the conversation, it’s essential that you don’t put it off. It’s never too early to start talking about aging but there is such a thing as too late. Starting the conversation sooner helps everyone engage in the discussion in a way that is as comfortable and productive as possible.
Most importantly, however you choose to break the ice, remember to take the opportunity to tell your parents how much you love and care about them.
For more tips on planning the conversation, check out Talking with Aging Parents About Their Plans for the Future.