The holiday season is in full swing, and everywhere you look, there’s a reminder to make the days merry and bright. But the thought of talking with a parent about moving to assisted living —especially around the holidays — might have you feeling guilty, stressed, or wanting to avoid the conversation entirely.
If you know it’s time to talk to your parents about assisted living but you are afraid to do so with the holidays around the corner, here are some things you may want to consider.
If you’ve already noticed changes that indicate it’s time to start considering assisted living for a parent, avoiding the conversation can leave you making a last-minute decision in a crisis. The holidays might actually offer a time for your family to begin the discussion in an environment where everyone is thankful for one another and open to talking about the future. But the way you approach the conversation can make all the world of difference.
Here are three tips for approaching the conversation.
How to Talk to Your Parents About Assisted Living
Maybe you don’t get to see your aging parent and siblings as often as you’d like, but Christmas dinner isn’t the perfect occasion to sit everyone down, share a list of concerns you have about Mom living at home alone, and figure out when she should move into assisted living.
Instead, identify a time when you will all still be in one another’s company but isn’t necessarily the day your family had planned on spending quality time together reminiscing about years past and talking about what you’re thankful for.
The day after a family gathering or a few days before can be a great time to gently begin the conversation. Rather than focusing on your concerns, approach the conversation by asking your parent how they’re doing. Does your parent notice the need for change at some point, or are they completely oblivious to the concerns you or other siblings have?
If your parent isn’t showing signs of having a shared understanding that things aren’t going as well as they could, you’ll likely need to have a series of smaller conversations with your parent before the topic of assisted living comes up.
Avoid the temptation to plan a family meeting. Family meetings can feel threatening and overbearing and more like an “intervention” than family support.
Instead, pick a day when you and your parent are well-rested and relaxed. Have the conversation in a more natural way, such as at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee. After relaxing and enjoying one another’s company for a little while, look for an opening when you can move into a more serious conversation.
If you haven’t already, be sure that you’ve had the conversation with siblings to gauge their understanding and interest. Family dynamics can make or break a successful conversation. If others in the family are hesitant about the assisted living option, perhaps focus your energy and efforts on discussing potential solutions before involving your parent.
Avoid Assuming How Your Parent Feels
If you’re nervous, that’s normal. Maybe you’re bracing yourself for an angry response from your dad or a guilt trip from your mom.
But don’t assume you know how your parent is going to react, either. Some seniors actively pursue living in an assisted living community so that they can take advantage of its many benefits. Others know that their current living arrangement is less than ideal but aren’t sure what other options there are.
Maybe your mom or dad has already started exploring options but isn’t sure how to approach the conversation with you.
Regardless, the only way to know how they feel about it is to talk about it. Conversations don’t have to jump right to, “Mom, have you considered moving to an assisted living community?”
Instead, consider asking questions such as, “Is there anything you wish you could do but is hard to do because you live at home by yourself ?” Another way to gauge how your parent feels about the topic is to ask them about a friend who lives in an assisted living community and how they like it.
Find Ways to Be Reassuring
The goal of these conversations isn’t necessarily to come up with an answer overnight but to begin what will likely be a series of small conversations to come.
Although you might feel ready to make a decision, your parent may need time to ease into the idea. For some seniors, the fear that they’ll be dropped off and forgotten about can be paralyzing.
Discussing an assisted living move around the holidays gives you the opportunity to reassure a parent that very little will change in regards to how your family celebrates holidays. It’s common for families to pick a parent up who lives in assisted living for an off-site family gathering and even have the parent stay overnight for a few days before returning to their home. Other families choose to gather in the assisted living community for in-home celebrations and large family meals.
If the conversation warrants it, allow your parent the time to find the words to express how they’re feeling, and then take time to put their mind at ease. Your parent will likely have fears about assisted living whether it’s the holiday season or not.
Consider reassuring your mom that she will still be the one to lead the family’s “Silent Night” song after dinner or that her favorite chair where she watches all of the grandkids open their presents still has her name on it.
For more tips on how to talk to your parents about assisted living, download our How to Have “The Talk” checklist, print it out, and use the tips to begin rich conversations about the future.