It’s Time to Talk – Tips to Unite on Mom and Dad’s Care from the Beginning

Group of three seniors talking and laughing on a couch at home.
Senior care negotiations work best with preparation.

Simmering childhood rivalries. Pain and fear over imminent death of a parent. Speculation about inheritance, and suspicion of other siblings can all cloud the first meeting about mom and dad’s senior care options. Get out ahead of any potential family strife when you handle the conversation delicately.

Prepare for the Call

If you are the one to broach the subject first, understand that you may be offering a reality that does not fit with your siblings’ perception of the parent’s capabilities and condition.

Write down all instances when you:

  • went to the parent’s home after a frantic phone call or received a frantic phone call from him or her; did you receive a frantic phone call from Mom or Dad and have to rush over to their house?
  • witnessed incidents when the parent was confused about locations in the neighborhood or missed paying bills;
  • witnessed incidents when your parent was confused about something they’ve always done;
  • Have they missed paying bills?
  • Do you have to drive the parent to a doctor’s appointment and acted as the “ears” during it;
  • went through the refrigerator and removed old food; Have you found rotting food in the frig?
  • helped clean the parent’s home after noticing dust and dirt build up; Did they fire the cleaning lady and now there is dust and dirt built up?
  • noticed the parent dressing inappropriately; Are you noticing they are wearing soiled clothes?

Deliver this news without emotion and be prepared for your sibling to challenge you on all points. Why?

Typically, the first stance a family member will take is denial. In fact, upon hearing that their parent is losing independence, a sign of impending disability and death, many adult children go through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Those who initiate the conversation may have already waded through these murky emotional swamps alone.

Initiators, too, must prepare themselves to be the target of the fraught feelings. In the vein of Shakespeare’s famous, “don’t kill the messenger!” quip, know that you are indeed the messenger and prime target of intense emotions. If the conversation about mom and dad’s senior care becomes heated, try to get off the phone graciously (before anyone says anything they’ll regret) and call another time. Even with nothing resolved, your best strategy is to give it a few days.

Beforehand, the meeting initiator should get as much information as possible about the senior’s financial situation, including assets, expenses, the value of the home and whether any loans still exist on it. Is there a trust and is it up to date?  Are there valuables around that you know nothing about?  Do you know your parents’ wishes for health care?  Keep a sharp eye out for long-term care and other insurance information. Ambitious adult children will create a spreadsheet of assets and liabilities as well as monthly income and expenses. Getting as much down in writing goes far in avoiding the second-guessing and resentment that can emerge when considering senior care options.

Meeting or Conference Call

If you can’t meet in person, today’s cell phones make it easy to have a three- or four-way conversation. In families where relationships are already strained, bringing in a family attorney or elder care consultant could keep everyone polite and productive.

In the best cases, when managed carefully, the family meeting for a loved one’s care can bring siblings closer.

All involved should share and pool information about routines, doctors, medications, activities, bills and friends. A Google Doc or simple photocopied page passed to all helps everyone feel they have a say and a measure of control. Emphasize that parents often create a different story about the same issue for each child. Communicating regularly helps keep the story straight.

The next step in the meeting should cover what needs done and the adult child who is best at which task. The more patient siblings tend to spend the most time with the parent. The short-tempered sibling’s talents may be best put to use calling doctors, arranging appointments and gathering information from the many local and nationwide senior resources (LINK to the guide here.)

The sibling that has been providing the most care to this point must ask other siblings in concrete language to take over certain shifts. Sending martyr-like mixed messages and thinking they should just know to ask or come out and volunteer is counter-productive. Give them a time and date to show up.

Keep Your Senior Loved One’s Final Years Tender, Not Troubled

Divorcing, feuding spouses aren’t the only adults running off with dependent family members. There have been many cases of adult siblings busting mom or dad out of the nursing home or moving them from one house to another to evade a sibling. These battles over mom and dad’s senior care too often end up in court (and the news), destroying relationships and eating up entire estates in legal fees. But these are worst case scenarios.

Have questions today? Feel free to call us at 619-291-4663 or email us at [email protected]. After 13 years serving San Diego families, our founder, Sheila, still oversees every senior caregiver match.

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