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Opinion: Holiday visits with parents who are still ‘HIPP’

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Mom and dad are growing old.

Maybe this is not a news flash in your family, but some will make the discovery for the first time in the holiday season. And it will hit them hard.

We are in the midst of the holiday season, and unbeknownst to adult children, this may prove to be the most important time of the year for them. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two times of the year when adult children are likely to return home to spend the holidays with their parents.  During some visits, things do not go as planned. Perhaps they come home to find some changes in mom and dad. They may have picked up on clues but now they come face to face with reality: Their parents are aging.

Somehow, they are different. Mom may not be as neatly dressed as usual, and dad has some dents and dings in his car that you don’t recall from the previous visit. You may ask, “What do I do?” This scenario provides you with the opportunity to have a conversation before the crisis.

To begin, we must understand the generation that has come before us. They are what I have coined as HIPP: hard-working, independent, proud and private. They worked hard for their assets, they do not believe in handouts, they are fiercely independent, and they’re very private. Once you have this understanding as a foundation, you can act accordingly to get the best outcome with dignity for your loved ones. 

Your first task is to draft other caring family members into the effort and encourage dialogue among them. Have a family meeting and discuss the situation privately with them. Be prepared for this meeting to be emotionally charged as some will be hearing about your loved one’s deterioration for the first time. Form a team of like-minded brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. Let everyone have their say. Practically, can the loved one stay in the house independently? Does the loved one need assisted living resources? Cover the practical matters. Does the family member still drive? Should the vehicle be taken away to protect others from being hurt?

Once a consensus is reached, you will enter into what may be the hardest conversation of your life. But it’s one made out of love and concern. As a group, perhaps with one spokesperson, arrange a dinner at the loved one’s house on a weekend where everyone is fresh and has time. Pick out the most comfortable space in the family house, and gently open the conversation with how much you care about the parent or loved one. An ideal time will never present itself, but do not wait for a crisis. Ask loved ones what they want to do so they know they are in control and don’t feel ambushed.

During the first conversation, you are simply going to cover general subjects of interest like aging, health, housing and finances. What does your loved one think would be an acceptable path toward keeping independence with small doses of help? Don’t rush the conversation – this may take a few meetings. 

I know one daughter who opened her family meeting by telling her mother that she noticed there were a few scratches on her car. She simply asked if she knew how they got there. When the mother was not sure, the daughter said, “Let’s go look at your car.” When the dents were “re-discovered” in her mother’s presence, the mother admitted how much difficulty she was having parking the car in the garage. The daughter validated her concerns, and softly said, “I bet we can find a solution together for this.” While it diminished the mother’s freedom, the collective effort meant that the mother would not accidentally injure herself, or others, behind the wheel.

Enter this holiday season knowing that there is a lot of joy to be had, and keep in mind it may be your turn to begin the process of taking care of mom and dad.

Constance Moore is a client care specialist with Commerce Trust Co. Her coverage area includes much of Commerce Trust’s Eastern Region, including Springfield. She can be reached at constance.moore@commercebank.com

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