How to have 'the talk' with your children … the other talk

(BPT) - By Ken Latus, Vice President of Risk Products, Northwestern Mutual

If there is one universal truth, it’s that parenting is hard. As the father of two boys, we’ve navigated oftentimes sensitive yet important topics across the realms of school, grades, friends and family. And of course, we’ve also had “the talk.”

Whether your parents sat you down alone, or with your siblings for a discussion about the birds and the bees, or it was brought up while watching a movie that was a bit more grown-up than they realized, it’s a moment we likely all recall (and possibly count amongst the most cringe-worthy).

According to Northwestern Mutual’s Planning & Progress Study, Americans would rather talk about the birds and the bees than finances. Which is why I want to point out the importance of the other talk — the one about planning for your future. The future where you are old.

Just like that birds and bees conversation, sitting down with your kids to talk about how you see yourself aging is best handled with some forethought, and an upfront understanding that it might be a little uncomfortable for both of you.

But it’s so important that you do talk about it. And it should also be an open and ongoing dialogue as you age. So here are three steps to help everyone get on board and feeling more prepared about what lies ahead.

1. Decide when and how to open a dialogue

Depending on your age and health, the age of your child(ren) and your family history, the urgency of this first conversation may vary. Are your children watching as you care for your own parents? Is dementia lurking in your family tree? Do you want to preempt a conversation before something serious happens with your health? Have you discussed the basics of your financial situation with your children?

These factors help guide the timing of this initial discussion. Once you’ve established that, you can gather your thoughts around key topics, including:

  • Where would you like to be as you age? In your home? In the same city as your children?
  • Who are you expecting to care for you?
  • How will the costs of your care be covered?

Keep in mind your situation and preferences may change as you get older, so talk to your kids about how you will keep them updated.

2. Provide a heads-up and pick a comfortable setting

If reading this makes you recoil a little, you’re not alone. Our 2019 CARE Study found that, despite their own experience, 72% of caregivers have not planned for their own long-term care needs. Still, it’s important to face the initial discomfort to help build a future where desired choices are available for you and your family.

First up — don’t ambush anyone. Let your kids know ahead of time what you want to talk about. It shouldn’t feel like some sort of family intervention.

Then, ease mutual discomfort by having the conversation in a relaxed environment. Maybe, it’s at your favorite beach hangout with a cup of coffee, walking the dogs at the park, or during a Sunday morning round of golf where you talk about the proverbial “back nine” of your life. The right environment can put everyone at ease and remove some of the pretense and stress from a difficult topic of conversation.

3. Keep the lines of communication open

It’s tough to talk about aging and long-term care, but what’s even harder is when parents and kids don’t talk about it and then find themselves trying to handle the realities of caregiving with no roadmap.

Use the moment as an opportunity to open the door to continuing conversations about what you hope for as you age, what would make you happy and the preferences that would make you most comfortable. Health and finances are fluid, so the conversation should be, too. If you start these conversations early enough and check in often, there will be plenty of time for in-game adjustments.

Long-term care is a not just an aging issue, or a financial issue … it’s a family issue. It’s never too late to have the other talk. And it’s a good excuse to spend quality time with your family while you can all appreciate and embrace it. Most importantly, your children will be grateful you helped them navigate this stage in family life, the same way you led them through so many of life’s other big moments.

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