The time comes when the tables turn in life and we begin to worry about our aging parents, just as they worried about us growing up and establishing ourselves. We foresee the future and the possible inability of our folks “keeping up” with things, particularly a larger family home. Having this downsizing conversation with aging Mom and Dad can be rather intimidating and somewhat awkward. However, using just a few strategies and communication tactics geared toward the tough talk will make it much easier on both you and your folks.
- Start Early: It really never is too early to begin discussing plans for the future, especially when health and safety is concerned. In fact, it’s best to begin opening the lines of communication regarding paring down on things and possessions before the task becomes absolutely necessary and there no longer remains time to talk, or before they become too resistant. Present the idea somewhat early and strategically often. There is something to be said for planting the seed.
- Ask Questions: It’s certainly appropriate to observe your parents in their own element, but it’s also important to ask them exactly how they are feeling. Are they enjoying the continued yard work or has it become overwhelming? Are they enjoying the extra space and empty rooms or does the house feel lonely without all the kids around? Are they happy where they are or feeling somewhat isolated? Understanding how your folks feel, rather than assuming certain things about the situation, shows concern, care, and your love. It may also be a good idea to reminisce with them, share in the family memories, ensuring the past has not been and will not be forgotten.
- Offer Suggestions: Once you have a sense of how they may or may not respond to your suggestions of cutting down on space and clutter, for their benefit and for your peace of mind, you can begin to offer suggestions about certain areas, certain floor plans, the reasoning behind your ideas, and even present your ability to help research and find a new space. It’s important to continue to ask questions and emphasize your concern, but also that the decision remains theirs.
- Leave Them in Control: As long as your conversation begins early enough and your parents are still capable of making healthy decisions, it is essential they know and understand the decision to move is ultimately theirs. Of course you’ll want to interject and insist, and it may come to that in the future, however, they need to feel appreciated, valued, and responsible for their lives and their future.
It’s a tough topic and a tough conversation to have, but approaching the idea of downsizing with your parents doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. And, once the lines of communication are wide open and the decisions are made, don’t forget to help with all the dirty work of moving!