Five tips to have an amicable, respectful conversation about senior living
When introducing the topic of senior living to a parent for the first time, it is important to remember all of the different options available and not assume your preference will also be your parent’s first choice. For example, if an adult child lives far away from his or her parent, the adult child might think the parent should relocate to a senior living community near his or her home. However, a parent may not want to leave his or her friends or the community. Remember to keep the spectrum of options in mind, and aim to understand how your parent feels about each one.
Dorian Mintzer, PhD, a licensed psychologist, and co-author of The Couples Retirement Puzzle: Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together, offers five specific tips for discussing senior living successfully:
Set the stage
Remember, life transitions can be stressful and emotional, especially when that transition is moving. In fact, a major change in living condition (new home, remodeling, deterioration of neighborhood or home, etc.) ranks 28 out of the 43 most stressful life events on The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory.1 When talking about changing living situations, a parent could also be thinking about losing memories and letting go of comfort zones. Find out which part of the transition appears most difficult for your parent, that way you can be especially sensitive as you both begin this process. While noting this transition is associated with many losses for your parent, also remind him or her there are numerous potential gains to focus on when considering a senior living move.
Let go of expectations
Dr. Mintzer encourages adult children to remember they have already achieved an important goal for this conversation: they initiated it. It is critical in the first discussion to introduce the topic of senior living free of agendas and expectations. Do not expect to have a plan or make a decision by the time the conversation ends. Simply be an active participant and listen to how your parent feels and thinks. And remember, there is no sole, correct path when it comes to senior living. It is up to you and your parent to find the option that best works for him or her and the unique situation.
Use “I” statements
As Dr. Mintzer explains, despite their best attempts, “you” statements can come across as shaming and accusatory, and can instantly put your parent on the defensive. Instead, she recommends employing the basic philosophy of “I” statements to voice your concerns.
Listen without interrupting
When discussing the topic of senior living options and aging, ask your parent open-ended questions as much as possible. And, most importantly, be patient with his or her responses. Be an active listener, but avoid interrupting your parent. If your parent is not actively engaged in the conversation when it first begins, do not be afraid to press for more information by asking him or her to elaborate. For example, “tell me more about that.” Or, “what do you mean by this?”
Discussing the transition to senior living can be an emotional and challenging conversation for both adult children and parents. Consider taking breaks for both parties to digest information and clear heads before returning to the discussion. By pausing to go for a walk together, make dinner, or play a game, the transition dialogue can feel more natural.
The senior living discussion may be difficult, but it’s definitely not insurmountable. Be sure to put your parents’ needs and concerns before your own for the most amicable results.
For more helpful hints on how to discuss a potential move to senior living, download our free eBook - Tackling Tough Conversations: How to Navigate 5 Steps in a Senior Living Move