Once or twice a month I speak to groups of older adults about remaining in their homes as they age. I usually share a little folk wisdom, saying, “You know you’re getting old when you stop blaming your parents and you start blaming your kids.”
At 47 years of age, I know I’m getting older because I’m not ready to stop blaming my parents, but I am starting to blame my kids as well. I usually get a few laughs and many nods of agreement, because the audience is experiencing the changing dynamics of their relationship between themselves and their parents or adult children.
Changing family dynamics
For the most part, today’s older adults are able to live relatively independently as parents and grandparents into their 70s, 80s and 90s. But at some point, a medical crisis comes along that quickly changes the relationship between parents and their adult children. It marks the beginning of a strange role reversal when our children begin to take on more responsibility for caring for us.
This family dynamic is becoming more pronounced with the complex world of financial and legal issues, medical options and long-term care needs. And because we’re living much longer, often with chronic diseases and debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, the length of time older adults need significant support can last for decades.
But initiating a conversation between parents and children on these issues ranks right up there with that talk about the birds and the bees that took place decades earlier.
Options for in-home care
A while back, the adult daughter of a prospective client came to me to inquire about options for in-home care for her parents. Sharon had tried to discuss hiring in-home care with her parents, a conversation that was generating conflict with her mother. So she decided to do some homework before approaching the topic again, hence her call to me.
When she explained her situation, I came up with a suggestion. Rather than push the issue of home care just now, why not take a step back? I had just gone through the process of creating my own advance directive through a program at El Camino Hospital’s Health Library, and it had a huge impact on me.
I recommended that she ask her mother for a gift and also tell her she wanted to give that same gift to her own children. Would she be interested?
Sharon took my advice and started by explaining to her mother that she herself was reaching that age where she felt her college-aged children needed to know her wishes regarding medical decisions, mental incapacitation, etc. She felt the gift of making her wishes known would help ease those decisions when the time came to make them on her behalf. It would provide comfort at a time her children would most need it.
So they sat down one afternoon at her mom’s house and discussed it together. For the first time, it felt more like they were walking the path together. Not only did it achieve its purpose of their both filling out their advance directive, but also, perhaps most importantly, they got the overall conversation started regarding future care needs.
Since then, they’ve been able to move on to other matters related to both of their wishes and desires for later life – the very decisions that seemed so hard to talk about before.
A few months later, Sharon’s parents made the decision to ease into getting care at home a few days per week. It was a positive step forward that allowed them to maintain flexibility to make other long-term care arrangements down the line. In the meantime, it provided a greater degree of independence and maintenance of their quality of life.
If you or your parents have estate planning documents in place that may already include an advance directive, ask your attorney how this may affect any living wills or other legal documents. This can be a time to have your parents review and update theirs in tandem with yours.
If you would like to explore this with your parent or children, I’ve posted several links to advance directives on my website at www.homecare-california.com/advancedirective.