A chat about the birds and the bees, or the sex talk, is a moment that no parents looks forward to when they bring a precious innocent baby home from the hospital. If the kid knew what was coming, they wouldn’t be looking forward to it, either.
Talking about sex, puberty, masturbation, pregnancy, STDs, and all the rest with your kid (or your mom and dad) is super uncomfortable, but we do it, because we don’t want anyone to be unprepared when and if the moment arises.
We want to be on the same page, to know that our kids understand the basics and learn the truth – not whatever their friends or the internet are saying – so they’re not blindsided by a pregnancy or disease.
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Your parents (should have) ignored all of the discomfort and gone ahead with a talk they knew no one was going to like because they knew it was the best thing for everyone in the long run.
Now, experts say you’ve got to return the favor and push a talk about another uncomfortable topic – the death talk.
No one likes to think about losing their parents, and parents don’t want to think too much about leaving this world for whatever comes next. That said, there are many arguments for not pushing it off another day – namely that not one of us knows when our last day is going to be.
And if you’re avoiding the talk because you think your parents have already figured everything out, the truth is, many people haven’t. The best time to do it, according to Paul Malley, President of Aging with Dignity, is when everyone is still healthy.
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“There are families that are being put on the spot with a phone call from an emergency room or an ICU and their loved one can’t communicate anymore. And then they’re left to guess.”
This advice also applies to illness that can crop up as parents age, like dementia and Alzheimers, that make it hard for them to tell you how exactly they want the end of their life to work.
Hashing things out ahead of time can not only ensure your parent or loved one is treated the way they want to be, but it can also ease tensions between family members who might not agree with each other on how to proceed.
“There is never the question ‘Is this what they would want?'” says Sarah Roffee, co-founder of Kind Minds Therapy. “Because it’s already out in the open and they have confirmed with you directly that these are your wishes.”
If you’re convinced that you need to have this talk with your parents, but aren’t sure where to start, many experts recommend the Five Wishes program. It was created in 1996 and helps families create a living will, power of attorney, and resolve issues related to comfort and religion.
It’s basically a five-step checklist you can use to begin the conversation and resolve the big questions.
The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t
The Kind of Medical Treatment I want or Don’t Want
How Comfortable I Want to Be
How I Want People to Treat Me
What I Want My Loved Ones to Know
Malley says that “the whole idea with five wishes is that it keeps the discussions and the documentation simple and it’s intended for families to be able to use on their own. So you don’t have to consult with an outside expert. You are the expert on what’s important to you and to your family.”
He has some advice on broaching the subject, too, and advises starting with how much you love and care about your parent, and that you want to make sure they’re taken care of as they want to be in the future.
“Start with a simple statement of, ‘I want to be a good son or daughter to you, mom or dad, and I want to make the right decisions for you. So help me to understand what’s important to you.”
The Five Wishes program attempts to take things out of legal language and translate it into language any family can understand. Malley and the others who created it hope that their list of wishes can make this uncomfortable but necessary talk easier on everyone, without losing the focus on what’s important.
“There’s a message of empowerment to the person who’s filling it out. And also a message of instruction to the family. Because most of us don’t have experience being at the bedside of somebody who’s sick. We all want to do the right things, but most of us don’t know what the right things are. And when a family completes Five Wishes together, they have practical things that they can do for one another to show them that they are loved.”
Also, you know. You’ve probably got kids of your own, now, so this will be good practice for being on the opposite side of the sex talk.
Just know that your parents love you, you love them, and open lines of communication have always been the best way to get through all of the tough stuff.