Q: My parents are getting old. My two brothers and I will be home for the holidays and I really want us all to sit down with Mom and Dad and make a plan for how to support them as they age. When and how should we do this?
I know that your concern about your parents getting old comes from a place of love. It sounds like you’re doing some real thinking about this from their perspective, and you want to find a way to include everyone involved. I applaud you for being proactive.
I think your instincts about timing are spot-on. It’s natural during the holidays to think of family – past, present, and future. A warm holiday setting feels like the exact kind of loving, caring environment you want when you approach your parents about supporting them as they grow old. When you bring up an emotional topic like this during the holidays, it’s much more likely to feel organic and authentic — like it grew out of a natural conversation — as opposed to being artificial and forced.
But here’s my tip: In this situation, don’t go into too much detail, or belabor the point, or expect some kind of miraculous result. Instead, approach it with a long-term perspective. This is a moment when you need to plant a seed, not try to grow a full plant all at once. Of course, you want to be intentional about how you plant that seed, but you need to know this is a much longer journey to growth than can be achieved over the holidays.
Waiting can be tough. When we are dealing with conflict, or are unsure about an outcome, what we want most is resolution. Instead, I’m advising that you rely on patience. You can’t control all the ways a plant grows, lives, or dies, but you can exert some influence.
What you probably don’t want to do is plan with your brothers beforehand. If you approach your parents and say, “Tim, Rob and I talked, and we think x, y, z,” that could create a feeling of secrecy or even betrayal. Remember that for parents, getting old can feel like losing control, and you don’t want to emphasize that feeling for your parents. Unless there’s some preexisting drama between you and your brothers, chances are they’ll be supportive, and probably thankful for you broaching the subject.
I recommend waiting for a loving, active moment, and just mention it. Like when you’re in the kitchen preparing dinner, or telling stories around the fire. You can say, “Mom, I was wondering how you and Dad are thinking about aging.” Try to get a sense of their expectations for their future.
But don’t expect to go into the nuts and bolts of exactly how to support your parents as they grow old. Remember, this is the beginning of a much bigger conversation and implementation. Just casually mention your thought and then go back to whatever you were doing before. The big thing is to let them know you’re thinking about them and that you care.
Don’t worry if they don’t respond immediately. Just know that once you’ve expressed concern about your parents aging, they’ll think about it and talk about it. You’ve created the context for your seed to grow.
If they don’t reach out to you themselves, then call after the holidays and bring it up again. Ask them if they’ve had the opportunity to think about the topic a little more. Let them know you’d still like to have that conversation.
Regardless of how they respond, over the next months and year, keep watering the seed. Keep giving it light. You don’t have to bully or push. Just nurture the plant, and watch it grow into something of significance.