While there are parents that welcome ideas and appreciate you being straight with them, there are just as many parents who are more private and don’t appreciate a discussion about their driving ability or whether it’s time to move into an assisted care facility.

How to raise sensitive subjects is further complicated by the fact that each party has different goals. As the adult child you want to help your parents solve a particular problem. However, for the ageing parent, it’s about holding on for as long as possible to their independence and each concession is viewed as a small loss. And remember, it will happen to all of us, so one day you will be in the same position.


Below are 5 tips to help you broach tough topics, whether it’s moving out of the family home; giving up driving; end of life instructions; day-to-day living assistance or financial considerations:

1.       Gather the facts

Before you even broach the subject, arm yourself with the facts. Know what the options are and approach the conversation as a dialogue. Do not try to dictate a solution or convince of a position, simply gather the facts and present the options in an informed manner. Depending on your parents’ needs, you might need to look at the assisted care options in their community, research resources for in-home care help or look into alternative transportation options.

2.       Lay the groundwork

These are generally not the kind of conversations you want to spring on anyone, so take your time to get a feel for how your parent might feel about the subject. Starting off with an implied criticism – “the garden’s looking a bit overgrown, need some help?” is not the way to go.  You could rather say something like “how are the roses this year?” and see if it leads to any comments about it getting a bit much to manage.

3.       Don’t shoot the messenger

Consider that you might not be the best person to have this conversation with them. Is it better coming from their priest, doctor or a close family friend? These relationships are a lot less fraught with emotional intensity and years of relationship baggage so may be more positively received.  

4.       When the timing is right

If you approach this gradually, at some point an opportunity will present itself and your parent will make a comment, you might notice them struggling to get up some stairs or you could refer to an article in the newspaper as a conversation starter. From there on it’s important to listen and follow their cues.

5.       Listen twice as much as you speak

That old saying of ‘you have two ears and one mouth’ is especially true when it comes to hard conversations. Spend time listening and really trying to understand how your parent feels. This is a conversation that might recur over some time before a decision is reached. Be prepared to let it percolate and then follow-up again at a later date, making it clear that you are comfortable with whatever the decision is. Take the pressure off, but know that if it becomes a safety issue that you might have to get a third party like a doctor or lawyer involved.


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