Having Tough Conversations

Even when Mom & Dad don't want to

Having tough conversations with aging parents

Having tough conversations with aging parents can be challenging, especially if they are resistant to discussing certain topics. If you are a caregiver, chances are you have struggled with this at some point. Though difficult and sometimes frustrating, there are some conversations that just can’t be avoided. Every family is different and the conversation topics will vary, but the common thread for all is the importance of having them. In this post, we outline a few common conversation topics and a few tips for approaching them with loved ones.

Things to Talk About

  • Health care: You may need to discuss your parents’ health care wishes, including their preferences for medical treatment, who will make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so, and whether they have a living will or health care power of attorney in place.
  • Finances: It may be necessary to discuss your parents’ financial situation, including their retirement income, savings, and any debts or expenses they have. You may also need to talk about their plans for the future, such as whether they want to remain in their current home or move to a different living arrangement.
  • Living arrangements: As your parents age, it may become necessary to discuss their living arrangements. This could include whether they can stay in their current home, move to a retirement or assisted living community, or live with family members.
  • Transportation: If your parents are no longer able to drive, you may need to discuss transportation options with them. This could include the use of public transportation, hiring a driver, or using ride-sharing services.
  • Caregiving: If your parents need assistance with daily tasks, you may need to discuss their caregiving needs. This could include hiring a home care provider, using in-home care services, or moving to a facility that provides assisted living.

How to Start the Conversation

This largely depends on the type of communication that already exists in the relationship and may be different for every family. Generally, here are a few dos and don’ts for navigating this with your loved ones.

The Dos

  • Start the conversation early: It’s best to have these conversations before they become urgent or critical. This will allow you and your parents to have more time to plan and make decisions.
  • Approach the conversation creatively: If resistance is high, you may need to approach the conversation indirectly. For example, “Dad, today I visited with my attorney to get my estate plan and life documents in order. How did you feel when you and mom did that?” Or “I saw Mrs. Smith today. She recently moved to XYZ retirement community and is really enjoying the clubs and activities with her new neighbors. Have you ever considered living in a community like that?
  • Pursue the conversation gently: Conversations like this may take some time. Ease into them with care and allow the conversations to develop naturally, when possible.
  • Choose a good time to talk: Make sure you both have enough time to talk and that you won’t be interrupted.
  • Listen to your parents’ concerns and respect their wishes. It’s important to really listen and understand their perspective. The best solutions will likely be something born of understanding and compromise.

The Don’ts

  • Wait until there is a crisis to have the conversation: It’s never a good idea to have consequential life conversations while in the midst of a crisis. Emotions may be running high and that will make everyone involved less rational. If it cannot be avoided and attempts at talking are unproductive, consider allowing an objective third party to assist in leading the conversation.
  • Don’t try to bully or coerce your parents into making a decision: Although your parents may be aging, they are still people with opinions and preferences. It’s important to respect their autonomy and allow them to make their own decisions as often as possible.
  • Don’t avoid the conversation: Pretending a situation doesn’t exist by not acknowledging it will backfire. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s important to have these conversations in order to plan for the future and ensure that your parents’ needs are being met.
  • Avoid ultimatums: Issuing ultimatums rarely works and only results in damaged relationships. There are times when a tough choice has to be made, but making a unilateral decision of any kind should be strictly a last resort and should be avoided whenever possible.


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Liz Craven
Author: Liz Craven

Liz Craven, along with her husband Wes, owns Pro-Ad Media, publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, serving the local community for over 28 years. Liz lives in Lakeland and is very active in the local community, specifically in the area of aging. Liz serves on a number of local boards and committees including the Lakeland Vision and Age Friendly Lakeland.