On some level, we all think our parents will always be there. We lead our busy lives. We work. We socialize. We run errands. We remember to squeeze in phone calls or visits to our parents somewhere in the tiny pockets of free time we have between all of that. We may not make as much time for them as we should. We give them what’s left, after everything else. It’s really sad to hear it out loud, but I’ll admit that I’m guilty of it. I think we just sort of believe that, some day, we’ll get around to dedicating more time to them. But, all along, while we’re so busy building our empires, our parents are aging. I mean, we’re all aging, but they were already far ahead of us, so they can go from vibrant, active upper-middle-aged individuals to the senior category fast. Hey, when your parent turns 65, those discounts start rolling in. The senior discounts. They have to make a lot of official changes pertaining to health care and life insurance policies and things like that. Your parent may already be past the 65 mark, or approaching it. Don’t let their aging catch you off guard, because then it can be too late to do some of the things you said you’d do “some day.” Here are things to do with your parents before they get too old.
Get their stories
They have incredible stories. They’ve done a lot of living. They may have tried to tell you their stories when you were young, and you had no attention span, or you just didn’t appreciate their wisdom. Get their stories now. Ask them about phases of their lives that you weren’t there for. Get the full picture of what they’ve experienced.
Show them your life
Bring them along for a day in your life. You know how some offices have bring your kid to work day? How about you have a bring your parent to your life day? If you can, have your parent pop into your workplace. Take her to your favorite dog park and coffee shop and fitness class. Take her to meet your friends for a drink. Has your parent ever really seen a full day in the life of you?
Take a trip
Go on that trip you always said you’d take together. Your parent won’t always have the health or stamina for long flights with layovers, and all-day walking tours, and wine tasting safaris. Traveling together takes you away from the usual obligations and distractions of regular life so you can really bond and focus on one another.
Learn from them
Your parent has a lot to teach you. Maybe they tried to teach you, but you didn’t listen. Recipes. A second language. How to fix a car. How to garden. How to make sculptures. What is your parent great at? What skill could she pass onto you? Give her the time to finally pass it on. One day, it will be one of the few things you have left of that parent. It’ll be a way they live on in you.
Just do it. If you don’t live in the same town, even if it’s tough, make the time. Don’t selfishly use all of your vacation days on trips with friends or your romantic partner or for a solo spa weekend. Use some to visit your family. Don’t only do so when it’s convenient because it rarely is.
Discuss their plans for aging
It’s also important to do some not-so-fun stuff, but necessary tasks: talk about their plans for aging. Would they like to move into a retirement home? What kind? Have they found some they like? Where will the funds for that come from? What would they like to have happen if they become immobile? Do they want a live-in nurse? Do they know how they’d pay for that?
Involve them more
Involve them in your big stuff. Are you house hunting? Invite them to look at some places with you if they can. If they live far away, send them the listings to look at. FaceTime them when you’re on site. If you’re building a business, call them and ask for their input sometimes – when you feel it’s appropriate. Make them feel essential and needed.
Just have lunch, go to the movies, etc.
If you live nearby, just incorporate your parents more into your regular social time. You can go get mani/pedis with your mom, rather than just visit her briefly after you’re done getting a mani/pedi alone. Ask them to go to the Farmer’s Market or dog park with you. Ask them to grab a quick lunch on your lunch break.
Say what you need to say
Whatever it is. You’re angry about something. You’re grateful for something. They impacted you in a huge way with this or that. You forgive them for something. You’re sorry about something. One day, they will be a bit too tired, and possibly even too forgetful, to hash out these things, and you’ll feel emotionally blue balled.
Get important names and numbers
They likely have certain individuals who you are meant to get in contact with, should anything happen to them. That “anything” could range from death, to becoming disabled, to losing their memory. Remember that very few individuals are just in prime shape until the day they pass away. There may be other phases that are difficult to navigate until then, and your parents may have doctors or financial advisors or relatives you’re to call if that happens.
Make sure they’re protected
Make sure they have plans in place for everything. Their home. Their investments. Their cars. All of their assets. Do they have trusts in place? Executors of wills designated? Is there someone who is meant to take over their finances if their mental fortitude declines to a point where they are vulnerable and can’t take care of their own finances?
Ask about their bucket list
Back to the fun stuff. Ask your parents what their bucket list items are. Maybe they hadn’t thought about it. Maybe you can help facilitate some of those things for them. Maybe you can accompany them. They may not feel comfortable treating themselves to this cruise or that adventure. Perhaps you can be of help there. Anniversary gift? Birthday gift?
Go through boxes
Your parents likely have entire boxes – no, entire rooms – full of stuff they don’t know what to do with. Your old stuff. Their old stuff they don’t use but maybe you want? If not, should they sell it or donate it? Your grandparents’ old stuff. Talk to them about their desires for this back stock of goods so you can handle those items in a way they’d want, should that fall on you.
Look, this may not be plausible for everyone, but, if you could potentially move closer to your parents, maybe it’s worth it. Hey, you’ll have free babysitters whenever you want. The alternative is just waiting until they’re in poor health, and then temporarily moving there, uprooting your life, to care for them at a time you can’t really even enjoy the relationship anymore.
For goodness sake just call more. You don’t have to have a half-hour of free time every time you call. You can call and say, “I have five minutes to chat and just wanted to say hi.” Text more. Send them cute videos and photos of your life. De-formalize your communication, so you don’t feel this pressure to put aside an hour to chat each time you call. You can talk a little bit, every day.