Trying to involve every member of a family in conversation in the midst of a crisis is challenging and often doesn’t yield optimal thinking or effective problem solving. In the moment, everyone’s attention is focused on the immediate situation and not on the bigger picture.
One pivotal conversation is related to the type and manner of care an aging parent will eventually need. This conversation is one of the most difficult that can be had, but putting it off serves no one in the family unit. It’s better to do so in advance so when a crisis inevitably occurs, the family has shared understanding and is aligned with a plan of action that makes sense financially and emotionally and one that serves the interests of the parent.
Bringing families together in a safe space for open, heartfelt dialogue is one way to help ensure peace of mind for the entire family. These intergenerational conversations allow the parents as well as the adult children to express their individual vision for various options for late and end of life care. Important questions like will mom or dad receive care in home or in an institutional setting, are there family resources available and sufficiently able to provide care to the level it will be needed, and many other questions can be raised and addressed.
It’s my experience in facilitating many of these conversations over the years that families may be hesitant to express their thinking to and among each other. Having a facilitated dialogue helps to neutralize emotion and provides the forum for each person to have their opinions and ideas voiced. Often families discover things mom or dad may really want to see happen in late life that the children may never have heard before.
I’ve seen families in which assumptions were made about how care would be delivered only to find out during what we call a Caring Hearts Conversation that the parents want something completely different for their late- or end-stage care.
In one case, an eldest daughter assumed that her mother would eventually live with her and that she would be the primary resource for care. During the whole family conversation, the mother revealed that she did not want to live with any of her adult children but preferred to live in a local assisted living environment with friends from her own social network. The community provided for activities and offered continuum care that would see her all the way through end of life. She never expressed her intent because she didn’t want to hurt her daughter’s feelings. The daughter was actually relieved and shared that she had valid concerns about her ability to deliver care while being fully present for her own children and career.
I believe more families need to engage in dialogue to help them arrive at an aligned, well-considered path before a crisis pre-empts thoughtful planning.