Make me a Sandwich
There was a time not too long ago that I thought to myself, with one kid in college, and the other in his junior year in high school, that I was about to launch into a whole new phase of my adult life. One of the things that I recall from reading about parenting when we started on this journey was a great piece of advice:
“You’re not raising children. You’re raising children to become adults.”— some guy
That take on the “mission” of parenting always struck me as being simple and profound (the best advice usually is). And as my kids have become more and more capable, moving towards their own young adulthoods, I’ve watched them navigate some of their own challenges with more and more confidence and, well, I was starting to feel pretty awesome about that. To be sure, they still require occasional parenting, but it definitely feels a bit different these days.
At the same time, my own parents have moved into a whole new phase of their lives which has required a great deal more involvement on my part, and I have come to really understand the meaning of the concept of the “sandwich generation.” As my mom and stepdad entered into their late 70s / early 80s, it became increasingly clear that their living situation was getting more and more challenging for them to manage on their own. A few years ago, we started talking about the possibility of their moving into an assisted living situation. The key here is that we had a conversation that started with a specific health-related situation, and the topic was fairly easy to bring up as a result. Over the course of the next year or so, we spoke about how the transition might happen, and what steps we needed to take.
To say that it was all smooth sailing would be a bit of a stretch. While the conversation started out on a positive note, there were definitely times that were pretty uncomfortable. Talking to anyone, let alone your parents, about their spending habits and how things might have to change is not the easiest thing to do. Likewise the conversation about driving was of course necessary, but not particularly easy. Doing all of this from Nevada when my parents live in South Florida made it even more of a challenge, as well.
What’s on the Menu
While I don’t pretend to have all the answers about how best to help your parents transition from independent to assisted living, I will say that there are a few things that stand out as pretty important that everyone facing this with their parents will likely have to deal with:
- Power(s) of Attorney
- Driving privileges
- Healthcare Directives and Living Wills
- Medicinal Management
- Finances and Budgeting
There is also an entire industry devoted to helping people with this process, from websites like A Place for Mom to elder navigation consultants. Like anything else, it’s worth getting a referral from someone you know or trust when considering hiring an expert, but I definitely recommend looking into them when you get started.
What it Means
Most importantly, I recommend patience and empathy. As we navigated the details of this transition over the past year or so, I tried to imagine myself in 20 or 30 years having these conversations with my own kids, and how it will feel if and when I get to the point that I need to have help with “activities of daily living.” Living between these generations has been an education for me. Watching my kids becoming more adult-like every day, and also seeing my parents as they have had to rely on others for their care has reminded me just how important family is to me, and that being a dad means not only looking out for my kids, but also for my aging parents, as well.