It’s Time for that Other Talk with Your Adult Children

When we read Tim Prosch’s book, The Other Talk: A Guide to Talking with Your Adult Children about the Rest of Your Life, we knew we wanted him to come and talk to our clients. And I’m happy to remind you that Prosch will join us at noon on September 4th for a luncheon and discussion. I hope to see many of you!

A strategic marketer, Prosch says he was inspired to write about these important family conversations by a common refrain he heard from Boomers: “I’ll never put my kids through what happened to me with my parents.” His need to address the conversation so many dread also sprang from his own struggle caring for his mom who had Alzheimer’s and his dad who had MS. He writes, “Dealing with their physical deterioration with Alzheimer’s stealing away Mom’s ability to speak and to control her anger and MS conjuring up in Dad’s mind a variety of dark conspiracies and eerie hallucinations was excruciating. But certainly the most challenging was the role reversal that I found myself in . . . becoming my parents’ parent . . . with no planning, no expertise, inadequate resources, and, most significantly, no direction and no buy-in from my parents.”

Let’s face it, families find themselves in tough situations with their aging parents because most have never discussed end-of-life issues. The adult children don’t want to think about their parents dying. Nor do they want to experience a role reversal where they seemingly parent their parents. And, of course, the parents struggle with giving up control to their children.

Prosch’s book provides a roadmap for changing that painful dynamic. Rather than having the children take control or the parent give up control, he advocates planning to share control. In a recent interview with the Journal of Financial Planning, he stressed the need to reframe how we think about our later years and change the focus of the conversations with our children. “It’s not about the end of your life. It’s about the rest of your life. It’s about the living that’s going to come ahead and how we are going to manage it as a family, as a team,” he noted. “We need to make it more of an active corroboration between all members of the family.”

How might that shift play out? Think for a minute about that stressful situation when an adult child suspects his or her parent should no longer be driving. Taking away the keys, which is often the first step in the role-reversal process, can become a painful confrontation. However, Prosch suggests getting everyone—adult children and spouses—together decades in advance to discuss the topic.

He also notes that many families benefit from setting a trigger point through a third party, like the parent’s doctor. Relating the driving discussion he had with his own children, he explains, “When I go for my annual physical, if my doctor decides that my mental acuity or physical acuity is such that I shouldn’t be driving, then we both agreed in writing that I will stop. I literally have a document that I signed, my doctor signed, and my kids signed. I’ll be honest, when it comes to that point, I’m sure going to fight it. But all they will have to do is pull out that document and say, ‘Remember dad, we agreed to this.’ And I’ll say, ‘You’re right.’”

Prosch adds that once the keys are gone, families often fail to discuss and develop future transportation solutions, from coordinating public transportation and family help to hiring a driver. Arguing that everyone should feel positive about the transition rather than the child feeling like a villain and the parent feeling like a prisoner, he notes, “Part of losing the car keys is losing your independence. However, if we can get around that loss of independence, then for me, to stop driving just means I’m safer, the rest of the world is safer, and my life isn’t over.”

Prosch insists that the onus sits squarely on the parents to start discussions about their future living arrangements, medical care, and health care proxy documents. “As a parent, you bring permission to have the talk,” he told the Journal of Financial Planning. “The adult children hold back, because the parents don’t want to talk about it.”

And, as controversial as it may seem to some, he also advocates that parents share the details of their wills in these discussions. His retort to the pushback from people who feel their financial situation is not their kids’ business is simple: “Your whole financial situation is going to end up in their laps anyway, so why don’t you, as a group, begin to plan for it?”

For the Baby Boomers, demographic trends should serve as a catalyst to spark the Other Talk. According to Prosch, a Perfect Storm that has been brewing in geriatric care will hit the Boomers just as they reach age 65. It’s estimated that the 65+ population will grow 60% between now and 2025 and that today’s 65-year-old will live for another 18.5 years on average. Yet, at the same time, the supply of primary care and geriatric doctors and nurses is declining.

“The implication for Boomers and their kids is that the competition for geriatric health care resources will become ever more fierce with each passing year,” he says. “Therefore, families need a real sense of urgency to plan and prepare for a whole new set of challenges when their Boomer parents enter their last chapter. Boomers and their kids should have the Other Talk now, then keep on talking.”

We’ll hear more advice from Prosch when he joins us on September 4th. I invite you to bring your concerns and questions and look forward to a robust discussion. If you think you can attend the September 4th luncheon, please call Kate to RSVP or determine if any openings are available for the luncheon.

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