How can I be active in planning for my parents future?
November 29, 2011 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I take a more active role in my aging parents lives? More details and thoughts on finance and marital strife, and lack of open communication inside.

I'm in my early 30s, my brother is in his late 20s, and my sister is her early 20s. Our parents are in their early 60s. Their financial situation is not good, and their marriage is far from happy, but neither of them are terribly honest and open about how they are doing, often glossing over with "oh, we're OK," or "it's tough now, but we'll make it work."

I hear my older co-workers talking to their parents, trying to manage their lives, and I realize that at some point, my siblings and I will have to take an active role in our parents lives. I figure it's best to start understanding their situation early, instead of trying to recreate the past when either of them is less than mentally stable.

They made some financial investments that were great when the economy at large was doing well. Now those investments have faltered, so Dad is still working full-time. During the week, he stays in an apartment 2 hours away to save himself from a 2+ hour daily commute. When he's at home on the weekends, he and my mother argue over many things, often starting as misunderstandings. It's come to the point where they're talking about moving further apart, but they (as far as I know) haven't mentioned divorce. They've had marriage counseling, but my parents didn't feel like they got even treatment. I know one response could be "find another counselor," but I don't think they're too open to that at this point.

Because their finances are in trouble and their marriage is rocky, I feel that they'll bristle a bit about their kids trying to get involved with their messes. Can you recommend resources for young adults to talk with their parents about unpleasant realities, especially with a family that doesn't discuss those things? Thanks.
posted by filthy light thief to Human Relations (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We're dealing with this a bit and let me recommend that you become even less involved in their marital issues than you already are. It is awful to watch loved ones be unhappy, but you can't change a marriage that has been building patterns of communication and resentments for longer than you've been alive.

Financial and health issues are more your business, although not in the sense that you should give advice. More that you need to know the basics in case something happens.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:12 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does your company have an Employee Assistance Program? If they do, call it, tell them these things, and they should be able to provide you with resources. In my experience, they often have pamphlets that you can use as conversation starters: "hey, look, they passed these out at work talking about how to get finances in order; we should do this before it's too late".
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2011

How do you feel about your parents coming into your life and telling you how to communicate with your partner and how to better manage your money? If they approach you for help, that is your opening to listen and perhaps offer suggestions but until then you should really just focus on having a healthy relationship with each of them.
posted by saucysault at 12:02 PM on November 29, 2011

I agree with those above that say to pretty much stay out of the marital and financial stuff. But if you haven't discussed it with them before, it might be worth going over things like whether or not they have a will, end of life decisions, and care should they get sick. Bring it up with them once - and tell them that it comes from a place of concern and wanting to do right by them, according to their own wishes. Maybe follow up once, but then leave it at that.

I completely understand wanting to try and figure out things for aging parents - and that this usually comes from a place of wanting to help and making things easier for them, but ultimately, they're still their own, sovereign people. I have at 31, lost both my parents. My mom 20 years ago from cancer, and my dad unexpectedly 4 months ago. It is a messy, long, frustrating, time-consuming mess - and dad even left a notarized will and fairly good financial records. It is a long and difficult process, but it is made easier to have a will and have some semblance knowing what was wanted by those that passed. Ultimately, this is just one of those things that you can't force yourself into. They may very well not want you to take an active role in their lives, unless it includes going out to lunch, going for a walk, and involving a whole lot of listening.
posted by raztaj at 2:46 PM on November 29, 2011

Let me try to rephrase my thoughts: I don't want to tell my parents what to do, but to be treated as an adult who can handle Serious Discussions about Tough Topics. It's not that they treat me and my adult siblings like children, but they gloss over so much, telling us only enough to make us concerned, then saying they'll work it out somehow.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:06 AM on November 30, 2011

It sounds like they have been clear in setting boundaries about not taking advice from you and your siblings. Perhaps they would like to talk to you, vent about problems, or open up about their lives but every time they tryed it one of you jumped in with "good natured advice" on how they could live their life better and that is now their natural defence.

Practice listening to them without proposing solutions or pressuring them to solve the problem right then and there. If they bring up a specific problem ask if they have had that kind of problem in the past. Or, you could say something like, "Yeah, I remember when I was ten we had [this problem] and you solved it [this way]. That must have been a tough time for you." This lets them know you think of them as having positive agency in their life and the ability to solve their problems constructively while also acknowledging their feelings.

You shouldn't be concerned about what they tell you, you should expect them to solve their problems themselve in the way that feels best for themselves just like all adults.
posted by saucysault at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2011

As for resources, improving your own communication style so that you can model good conversation skills would be most helpful. Oddly enough, the Feeling Good Handbook is one I found helpful for difficult conversations and Non-Violent Communication (not what is sounds like) is another very helpful one.
posted by saucysault at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2011

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