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The Truth About Staying in Control: Communicating with Adult Children

Getting older is inevitable, and you want to know that your loved ones are fully prepared to care for you later on. Being a parent isn’t easy; learning to extend expectations and trust for your future to your adult children can take time. Your wants and needs should be supported by ground rules and boundaries you and your children discuss together. These conversations don’t have to be uncomfortable if everyone is prepared to say their piece and then actively listen.

Family Types

Every family is different. No two situations are exactly the same, from varying dynamics to conflicting personalities. Several factors determine how involved a loved one can be as you age, including distance, time, and communication styles. These elements all contribute to their level of participation in decision-making. Families will fall into one of these seven categories of involvement:

  • Uninvolved
  • Supportive and available
  • Supportive and actively involved
  • Controlling and unavailable – distance
  • Controlling and actively involved
  • Proxy decision maker by design – assigned
  • Proxy decision maker by default

Knowing which category your family falls into will help you determine potential challenges you might face while giving you an idea of how things can seem from their perspective.

Steps to Communicate Effectively

Whatever type of family you have, families work best together when they’re informed. If you want the best results, you need to cover all of your bases and communicate as effectively as possible.

Expressing your needs can be intimidating, but those who care about you will be better equipped to make changes if you openly communicate. Moving forward with honesty, you can feel confident that your loved ones are hearing your needs and wants.

#1 Preparing for the Conversation

In most situations, it’s a good idea to meet with key players in your life before involving extended parties such as spouses, grandchildren, sons/daughters-in-law, etc. This initial meeting will determine if a bigger meeting is even necessary. It will also prepare the more crucial parties for this conversation so they can back you up.

#2 Decide What You Want to Communicate

Before you jump into a conversation with a loved one, it’s essential to take the time to sit down and determine what exactly it is that you want to talk about. What do they need to know about your wants and needs to prepare them for the future effectively? You want to ensure you are clear and confident about your desired outcome. A few potential topics to discuss are:

  • Life Plans
  • When you want them to get involved or take on new responsibilities
  • Your estate and plans you’d like to establish for the future

#3 Determine Your Method of Communication

Effective communication is the responsibility of the communicator, AKA you. Lack of positive results is most often due to assumptions or misunderstandings. Deciding the best channel to communicate what you need to can determine your conversation’s success. These can be:

  • Face-to-face
  • Written
  • Verbal
  • Phone call

Regardless of the channel you choose, it’s important to remember the 7-38-55 rule created by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in Los Angeles: 55% of the impact of what you communicate is the result of body language, 30% is your tone of voice and 7% is spoken word. So it’s key to be mindful of your body language and ensure it communicates what you want to.

Conversation Starters

Most often, the hardest part is figuring out how to start these conversations. Where do you begin? Don’t be afraid to drop conversational standards for something this important. Your tone and approach indicate just how much this means and the work you’ve put into preparing this discussion. To give you a little nudge, feel free to utilize one of the following conversation starter examples:

  • “I went to this seminar the other day and want to share with you what I learned. When do you have some time to get together.”
  • “Your dad and I were making estate plans and wanted to share with you what we’re thinking, and we’d like your feedback.”
  • “When would be a good time to schedule some time to talk? I have some things important to me that I’d like to talk about.”
  • “I put some thoughts down on paper, and I’d like to talk about them.”
  • “My goal is to make life easier for you and me, so I wrote down some things that I’d like your feedback on.”

#4 Decode the Feedback

Once you receive feedback from your loved ones, your job turns into the receiver, and it’s your time to decode how they feel about your plans. That could either be verbal feedback or, the #1 source of feedback, nonverbal. Reading body language as you deliver your message could help you determine how it’s being received and what specific things could be potential issues.

Give your family room to react and space to process. We all deserve a little grace with hard discussions; sleeping on it can make a real difference. Be prepared to feel tested by certain responses, but how you act on that feeling can help or harm constructive conversations.

Where to Go From Here

At the end of the day, you want autonomy and control but know you might need assistance later on. Once you successfully have these conversations with your family, you can breathe a little easier, knowing that you delivered the message to the best of your ability.

Want to learn more? Register for our next seminar here.

General Information, Health & Aging, Retirement & Planning