Changing Families, Changing Conversations

By Lola Munis, BSN, RN

The times they are a-changin’ – and so is the American family. A striking shift is the number of adults caught in the sandwich generation, providing care of some sort to a generation older and a generation younger than they are.

Frankly, the numbers are staggering.

  • One of every two adults is, in some way, caring for and supporting both their kids and aging parents.
  • Three in ten adults are grandparents, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 65.
  • More than 2.7 million grandparents are either the sole caregivers to, or participate in raising, their grandkids.

Shifting roles call for conversations between children and parents that previously might have been considered inappropriate or unnecessary.

To ensure productive conversations, we offer our top four tips:

  • Knowledge Is Vital. Plan ahead whenever possible. People are generally more open to talking about health and safety issues before a need is imminent or a crisis occurs. When people are able to plan ahead, they have more of a sense of control over important aspects of life. Though it’s not always possible to meet expectations, in order to honor your loved ones, it is vital to at least know and understand their wishes and preferences.
  • Be Respectful. Delving into personal matters can be met with resistance, especially if heartfelt conversations are out of character. Consider your family’s unique history and dynamic, and proceed with a curious spirit. You might start a conversation by acknowledging the circumstances and expressing a desire to be helpful. For example: “Mom, as you’re getting older, I’m concerned there may come a time when you are no longer able to care for yourself. I’m wondering what you are thinking and am curious about your wishes and preferences.”
  • Questions, Not Opinions. Opinion statements tend to make people feel the need to defend themselves. Asking questions, however, suggests a willingness to discuss the situation and an openness to exploring issues and considering alternatives. Listen with the intent to understand, and give others time to talk without interrupting.
  • Slow and Steady. It’s helpful to start with a few questions about health and safety issues. Having these conversations on a regular basis will help to normalize the discussion and it won’t seem so foreign when the vital questions are asked.

Example of Questions

  • If you were to find yourself needing help with everyday activities and personal care, what are your wishes? Are there certain things you would or would not want to consider?
  • How important is staying in your home? Are there expectations you have of me that would be helpful for me to know?
  • If there comes a time that I have serious concern for your safety (e.g., driving, falling, living alone, managing meds), what would you want me to do and how would you want me to express my concern? What if you’re stubborn and resistant?
  • Compared to a couple of years ago, are there certain activities or tasks that you find yourself putting off or avoiding because they’re challenging or tiring?
  • To help you maintain your independence, what might be wise to start exploring and easing into rather than waiting to experience a sudden or unwelcome change?
  • With your arthritis, how comfortable are you going up and down the basement steps to do the laundry?

These are just a sample of conversation starters.  You never want to look back with 20/20 vision and say, “I wish we had talked about….”


If you have questions, or would like more information on the types of services that are available to keep your loved one safe in their very own home, contact Lois Munis of Home Helpers & Direct Link of Wilmington.  She can be reached at 302-746-7844, email her at, or visit


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“ One of every two adults is, in some way, caring for and supporting both their kids and aging parents.”

“50% of people age 65 and older have difficulty performing one or more of several instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., cooking, driving, housekeeping, money management, and shopping). For people age 75 and older it’s 75%.”


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