Cover all the practical topics, but don't get so focused on a checklist that you lose sight of what this is really about. It's not a business deal. It's someone's life. Be gentle. Be compassionate.
It's OK to laugh and you may very well cry. These are not the easiest conversations, but they will be some of the most important ones you will ever have. You'll be glad you took the time, and so will they.
Talk in Person – If at all possible, have this conversation face-to-face. If you don’t live in the same town, carve out time around the next family get-together or arrange to spend an extra day so you can talk. If your only option is the phone, be sure to pick a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted or cut short.
Make it About Them – Remember, this is not about you or your needs or your opinions or your hopes for their future. Keep it focused on their lives and their wishes.
Have a Sense of Humor – This doesn’t have to be, nor should it be all business. And it shouldn’t be dreary. Relax. Smile. Be reassuring. And don’t be afraid to laugh. Humor is a great icebreaker.
Listen, Really Listen – Ask questions. Listen. Be open and respectful of their opinions, even if you hear answers you weren’t expecting or don’t like.
Let This Go Where it Will – While you have a purpose, allow this conversation to meander in other directions. Your parent or loved one might have things to discuss that are not on your list. You might discover things and go places that you never expected. That’s the joy of this journey.
Don’t Arrive Bearing Piles of Statistics and Forms – You will immediately overwhelm everyone involved. It’s great to be informed and prepared, but don’t inundate your loved ones and don’t be overbearing. Remember, the first step is to hear from them.
Don't Make Plans and Decisions Ahead of Time – It's tempting to talk with other family members, figure everything out, and then present your plan as the ultimate solution. Don't. While you have good intentions, this is sure to backfire, as it will make your parents think that their wishes and needs weren't considered. They would be right.
Don't Talk When Emotions Are Heated – It’s best to talk when everyone is calm and rested, and when you won’t be interrupted. If things start to break down, if tempers flare, then call it a day. Let them know it’s okay and that you can sort things out at another time. Sometimes it’s helpful for everyone to agree from the beginning on a common goal. If things get sidetracked, restate the goal to redirect the energy and efforts.
Don’t Drift Into Old Hurts – Easier said than done. But try to steer clear of old, destructive thinking. Take a deep breath. When things revert to that old place, move somewhere else. Change topics. Or try a new approach.
Don’t Treat Them Like a Child – If your parents are already a bit frail, confused or dependent, you might find yourself treating them as helpless children. Resist this temptation. We all deserve respect, no matter our age or health.
Don’t Push – Allow your parents to make their own choices and resist the temptation to force decisions on critical issues unless their health or safety is at risk.