The first step to becoming an adult-son or -daughter caregiver is to talk with your parents about their situation. Parents usually feel strongly about living independently regardless of health problems and aging. Discussing health, day-to-day capabilities, and finances can be uncomfortable for both parents and children; but it’s important to have these family conversations before problems arise or a crisis occurs. There are ways to break the ice, making it easier to bring up this delicate subject:
- Use a relaxed approach that doesn’t threaten your parents’ independence. Remember that everyone wants to remain in charge of their own lives. Caregiving is not about taking away control. Avoid the temptation to reverse roles: You and your parent should have equal positions.
- Don’t change your usual style of communication. Your parents may become suspicious of your motives or you might appear insincere.
- Share your own emotions about your parents’ changing situation, and encourage them to do the same. “I know you’ve always prided yourself on being independent. I imagine it’s difficult for you to ask for help. Am I right?”
- Ask your parents about their current needs, their concerns or worries for the present and future, and their goals. Don’t assume you know your parents’ needs and preferences.
- Raise the issues indirectly by relating to someone else’s experience or something you read about. “I know you’re taking several different kinds of pills at different times of day. Would it be helpful to have a medication organizer like Aunt Bessie uses?”
- Watch for openings your parent provides. “You mentioned how uncomfortable your hands are because of arthritis. Have you seen your doctor lately? Does it affect using your hands for daily activities?” or “I know you’ve been going to the doctor and taking a lot of medicine lately. Is your insurance covering everything okay? Are you having trouble getting your claims filed?” or “I noticed the car has a broken side-view mirror. What happened?”
- Depending on your relationship with your parent, you can give him/her a list of your concerns and schedule a time to sit down and talk about them.
- State your concerns in the “I” form. (“I feel…,” “I need…,” “I expect…,” or “I’m worried about you” are less threatening than “you” statements.)
- Be careful not to make your parents angry or revive old family disputes.