How to Have Caregiving Conversations Early

The sandwich generation is defined as adults who are not only raising and supporting their own kids, but they’re also caring for an aging or sick parent. It’s a huge load to bear without support and proper resources.

One third of Canadians are caring for an aging loved one. How can we know when the time is right to begin caring for them? How do we handle differences of opinions within the family as to how to best care for them? And how do we manage our emotions and maintain our own health and energy in the process? These are all common questions.

You’re not alone

It is important for members of the sandwich generation to recognize that they are not alone and that there are resources out there that can help them. Firstly though, it is important for the sandwich generation although still very young, in relative terms, to have their own affairs in order. Even those that are just out of college or purchasing their first time homes, they should also be getting things in order such as a will and a power of attorney, because those are important things to have in place at any age.

As our loved ones are aging, it’s important that we have respectful conversations about their wishes. That we open up the dialogue about, what would you like should something happen? And who’s going to get what? Is there some things in the home that you’d like others to have? Start having those conversations when there’s no crisis, there’s no pressure, when no one is in the hospital, and nobody’s dying.

Have conversations early

Start conversations about illness, death, wills, etc. before any signs of cognitive decline or any kind of dementia or any type of injury or illness. Start talking before any of those challenges occur to ensure you have really open and honest conversations.

After Pierrette’s parents died and she was working with a lot of families who were going through the process of downsizing and moving, or dealing with an estate, she started having these conversations at the dinner table just saying, “Do you guys have a will? Do you have things already in place that… ” She also asked her family members, “What are some of the things that you want? What are some of the things that you have or that you’d love to give to others?”

If there is a family member that has something of value, such as expensive jewelry then it is important to have a conversation around who would like to have what pieces of jewellery and document their answers. It may be hard at first, but eventually they may say, “Let’s catalog it and we’ll put a list down of who gets what.”

Conversations like this may be difficult, but should something happen, it’s covered and prevents family members from arguing later on. You won’t have to make that decision, and no one else will either. There won’t be any fighting as ownership will have already been determined long before its time.

Discuss personal wishes

If something happens to your parents or a loved one, do you know their personal wishes? Do they want a DNR (Do-Not-Resuscitate)? How do they want you to care for them if something happens in their end of life journey?

These are hard conversations to have, but they’re much easier to have now, and there are resources online, including these Advance Care Planning tips found on our own website.

For adult children who want to have this conversation with their parents or the parents who want to have the conversation with their child, fill out the documentation first and say, “Here’s something that I filled out. Let’s have a conversation.” Or, “I’d be curious to know what your wishes would be?”, and you can just leave material behind. You could also say, “I had a conversation with a friend, and they’re going through something really hard right now. I would really like that to not be our experience. So, here’s some things that she’s going through that maybe we can talk about together.”

You’re not making any decisions, you’re just being curious about desires and wants and needs, and having an open dialogue about it, so at least some things have been discussed. And if there’s other siblings who are not local, record the conversation with notes or record it with your phone so that your siblings can also hear what your parents’ wishes are. You can save that in a drive so that later the entire family has the same information. This once again avoids unnecessary feuds and disagreements.

Keep the conversation casual

Again, the key is to keep the conversation casual even with other family members. And it does not need to be a long conversation. If you’re not in the same city, you could discuss it over FaceTime or, if possible, over a cup of tea, a cup of coffee or over a light lunch – keep it casual to remove the stress.

Keep the conversation respectful

We all have our own wants and desires about how we think something should unfold, but we may not know the wants and desires of others. So, while a person is talking nod and make sure they see you are listening. When we have open conversations and we keep it respectful, we allow others to share what they think and what they’re feeling. We’re not judging, we’re just having an open dialog so that we can circle back to it later.

These conversations can be very emotional, very charged, and you’re also dealing with your own feelings of what’s going on while you’re trying to look out for somebody else or trying to decide for the family. So, this is why having these conversations early helps.

It’s important to remember that when it comes to discussing personal wishes with your parents or loved ones, that you remember they are adults. They’ve been independent, they don’t need you to tell them what to do, but you certainly can give them resources so they can make their own decisions. You can let them know, “I’m not deciding for you. I’m just here to be a resource and help you through learning what you want. If something happens, I can make those decisions for you based on what you’ve already told me/us.”

Another idea to get a conversation started is to pull personal stories or stories from social media in and say, “I’ve read about this and I would hate for this to happen to you, to us. What could we do now to prepare for that?”

What to do when not everyone is on the same page

Sometimes arguments will emerge and sometimes fighting becomes a grudge. It happens. When it does you have to either separate yourself from a loved one because it’s very toxic or you come together and you see each other’s point of view to find some middle ground. Sometimes you may need to bring a mediator in if it gets to those extremes. If you’re dealing with property and you’re dealing with an estate, that’s where lawyers are involved.

It’s really about seeing the point of view of the other person and not just seeing your own way of thinking. When we feel we’re right, it can be difficult to hear someone else’s point of view.  What can help is saying, “I see what you’re saying. This is what I’m seeing. What’s the middle ground?”

These conversations take a lot of maturity. We encourage you to take the emotions out of the conversation and focus on facts by being respectful and compassionate with each other, despite how hard matters can be.

Do your own due diligence

Take it upon yourself to see what resources are available in your city and local area. What are some of the things that you could do to help prepare yourself that you can share with your loved ones?

Take responsibility and use this time to be a guide and a resource for your loved ones.

We don’t know what we don’t know. And when we do know, we can do better. If you’re informed and you’ve done some research, you can start to put some things in place or having tough conversations using resources you have put together.

Although conversations around aging and personal wishes are never easy, they are necessary. Just remember to keep them casual and respectful – for everyone involved.

VIDEO: You can watch the full interview with Pierrette Raymond, founder, and Sue Liko, Managing Director, on RealTalk with Sarah Roberts. These tips and many more are covered including their personal experiences with caregiving for their loved ones.

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