Four Tips for “The Talk.” Helping parents prepare for their latter years.

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For those of us in the so-called “Sandwich Generation” there are two dreaded conversations: Lecturing our teenagers on the necessity of safe sex.  And talking to our parents about preparations for their latter years.

In both situations, the other party is no more eager than we are to have “the talk.” So as with most things that really have no pressing deadline, we let it slide. Here’s the bad news: It isn’t going to get easier. And here’s the really bad news: If you wait too long, both conversations will be entirely moot.

As far as the teens go, you’re on your own. But here are a few pointers to ease into the talk with your parents.

  • Don't assume the worst: Even if you are 100% certain your parents haven’t given their future a second’s thought, give them the benefit of the doubt. Everything about this conversation is likely to make them feel defensive—especially if you couch it as trying to take care of them. They are the parents; they are supposed to take care of you. You are upsetting the natural order here, and it’s insulting.
  • Make an example of someone else: Do your parents have friends or your friends have parents who didn’t adequately prepare?  Now is the time to leverage their misfortune. “Wow, Mom, did you hear about Mrs. Smith losing her house? So sad—and so unnecessary. I would hate to see that happen to you. What plans have you made?”
  • Don’t make it age-related: Do you have a will? A health care proxy? Advanced directives? Long-term care insurance or a reasonable plan to pay for help should disability come your way? (Me neither, but we both should.) If you haven’t gotten around to these things yourself, you have the perfect excuse to bring it up. “Tom and I want to make sure the kids will be all right if we get hit by a bus, so I’ve been checking into which legal documents we need. Evidently, everyone should have X, Y and Z. What arrangements have you and Mom made?”
  • Have reinforcements: If you have the good sense not to be an only child, it can help if your siblings are united on this front.  Not that 8 of you gather around like an intervention (that comes later, when you are trying to pry the car keys out of your reluctant parent’s hand), but so you know you can count on their support when your father says indignantly, “Marjie was here last week talking to me abut Advanced Directives, like I have one foot in the grave!”

This is part one of a series. Also see: Putting the House in Order: Six things your parents should think through before they need to.