Adult children and their parents need to have that ‘other talk’

Although elder care is such an important topic of discussion, many families have trouble talking about it.

During a recent online chat with Tim Prosch, who wrote “The Other Talk: A Guide to Talking With Your Adult Children About the Rest of Your Life,” several readers had questions that didn’t get answered. I want to address some of them.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

Q: What do you recommend if your adult children don’t want to have the other talk?

A: A survey last year by More magazine found that 81 percent of adults said they want to help care for their aging parents. The survey participants felt that they owed their parents the “same type of physical, emotional and financial support they have given us.”

We often complain that seniors shut down and don’t want to share information about their wants and needs when they can no longer care for themselves. But it can also be true that your adult children don’t want to face the issue, either.

Maybe your adult children are just so busy with their own lives that they don’t see the importance or urgency of having the discussion. Maybe having the talk means facing the fact that they may become your caregiver, and that can feel overwhelming, especially if they are concerned about the cost.

To get the conversation going, write your children a letter, or send a short e-mail or text laying out the major issues you want to talk about. See if this might open the door for a discussion. Then schedule a meeting. Avoid holidays or a special occasion unless that’s really the only time you might see them face to face.

There’s also a third possibility as to why your adult child or children don’t want to talk. Your relationship may be fractured, and there’s some hurt that has to be healed.

Try to dig deeper to see what the real issue is as to why your children don’t want to talk.

Q: My mother is in her mid-70s. She had a rather painful childhood (war refugee along with parents, both siblings died young) and as such often refuses to discuss certain issues. Luckily for my sister and me, Mom is organized and has a will, plus keeps her personal papers organized. But, for example, I don’t know where she wishes to be buried (or if she’d like to be cremated). I am afraid of bringing up such topics. She has the unfortunate habit of just shutting down conversations if she doesn’t like the topic or if she feels at all offended/hurt. Any advice?

A: Put aside your fear and just ask. The worst that can happen is that she shuts down, and you’d be right where you are.

It might be easier to address the issue by talking about someone else’s funeral. That might open her to discuss what she would want.

Or instead of having a talk with her, give her a funeral-planning checklist. The Federal Trade Commission has a series of articles that can help you put together a planning guide she can fill it out without having to discuss her death. Search for “Types of Funerals” at FTC.gov. And frankly, if she won’t talk or write down what she wants when she dies, just do the best you can to honor her. Don’t feel guilty about the decisions you have to make if you tried but couldn’t get your mother’s input.

Q: I’m 65 and hubby is 72. We have one grandchild, not yet 2, who lives two hours away from us. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a tiring drive, and we don’t get to see her more than once or twice a month. We’re thinking of moving to where she lives, but it’s an expensive coastal Southern California city, and it would mean a mortgage. We could afford it, although cash flow would be much tighter than it is now in our paid-for inland city home. Like you, I abhor debt, and we have none now. Does moving seem worthwhile? (Renting is really expensive in this coastal city, too, so that alone would not cut the expenses.)

A: It’s time to talk to your adult children. You may be able to do a number of things that don’t jeopardize your financial security by moving.

Perhaps, if they have the room, you can make longer visits. Or the parents can let your grandchild stay with you at times, giving them a needed break.

The most important thing is let them know you want to be more involved with your grandchild and together come up with some alternatives that allow you to be active grandparents.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or michelle.singletary@
washpost.com. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

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