“The Talk”: Why It’s So Hard to Have Healthy Conversations with Family

Why is Having “The Talk” about Aging So Difficult?

One of the topics we get asked about most is how to have “the talk” with aging parents. We actually consider “the talk” a misnomer because we don’t think you should tackle such important issues in one conversation. Nonetheless, almost every family faces challenges when it comes to talking about aging and care needs.

What makes it so challenging? Though the factors can be different in every family, we’ll outline some common challenges and how you can foster better conversations.

How We Talk Matters

The heart of the problem may be the way we’re talking to our aging parents. Check out these common mistakes many of us make when talking to elders. Along with general principals like not being condescending or treating them differently because they’re old, have you considered their own worries and concerns? We might be so worried that we forget to ask and listen to their struggles.

Families face a timing barrier too. We’re often managing competing demands and just want to take action. This usually comes from a place of concern, but it can cause “the talk” to fail. The TEMPO method tells us the factors that should be in place for these conversations. Timing is #1. These are big conversations, leading to potentially life-changing decisions. Our elders need time to process. If we rush the talk, we risk alienating our parents. Or, we may find they backtrack on decisions later. Invest the time now for better results. 

Think about the environment, who needs to be involved, and how to approach the topics. Take time to listen. Though we’re discussing “the talk”, we really believe you need to initiate conversations about aging at different stages. This allows your elders time and space, and it provides opportunities for planning. A crisis is not the time to try to start talking about issues. 

Are your parents getting older but you’ve never discussed plans for their care? Do you have concerns but not sure how to get the conversation going? Reach out to us for a free consultation with our aging wisely experts.

Family Dynamics and “The Talk”

As discussed in our article Why Your Elderly Mom Doesn’t Care That You Want Her to Get Help, history matters. This is your Mom and she still thinks of herself that way. Sometimes people say caregiving is a role reversal, but it is really much more complex. If you’re looking at it that way, it will be difficult to have a healthy conversation.

Building from an Unstable Foundation

The specific dynamics of your family matter too. These aren’t easy conversations. Without a good foundation to the relationship, you may not have much of a starting point. So, what can you do if you don’t have a good relationship with your parent(s)? Caregiving sometimes provides an opportunity to rebuild relationships (or even build one that has never really been there). But, it’s not always possible. 

You may need to seek help from a third party. First, you might want to talk to someone about being a caregiver when there’s been trauma, conflict, or estrangement. That is a lot for you to deal with on top of the stress of caregiving. If there’s a possibility of mending the relationship, you may need a professional to guide the conversations. And, whenever you have problematic relationships (with parents, siblings, etc.), you’ll benefit from a professional advocate. They can mediate the conversations and provide a professional, neutral point of view. Sometimes when the relationship is beyond repair or continues to be difficult, you need a care manager working directly with your parent while you stay more removed.

Who and How

Another aspect of your family’s dynamics that comes into play in “the talk” is sibling relationships. As mentioned above, if you have potential conflicts, you may want to have an outside party involved. But, beyond that, siblings tend to play certain roles. Dad might listen more to your oldest brother when it comes to financial decisions. Mom might think of you, the youngest sibling, as her baby and not take your advice seriously. Or, she might be closest to you and ask for your help first.

While these dynamics can be fraught, you can also use them to figure out the best approach. Sometimes you can “divide and conquer” by handling different tasks or parts of the discussion. This might go beyond siblings to other family members (or even friends or professionals). If your parent tends to respect a certain person’s opinion, leverage that to move these discussions forward.

When The Talk Keeps Hitting a Roadblock

If you’ve looked into the challenges above and tried different things, you might still keep hitting a wall. We recommend that you keep trying to have the talk and try different approaches. Use windows of opportunity, such as friends' situations or a temporary illness to discuss what-ifs. Set boundaries if your parents refuse to take steps and continue to have crises. Read Six Successful Strategies When Your Elderly Parent Refuses Help.

Having difficulties with "the talk"?

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