Talking with your parents: Part 1 – The Groundwork

“I want to talk to my parents about end-of-life…but it’s such a hard topic to bring up!”

One thing we hear again and again from our users is that they want to use Cake to start a conversation with their loved ones, especially their parents.

We know it can be an awkward thing to bring up, so we have created a guide and free materials to help you get started.

In this three-part series, we’ll cover:

  1. What to think about in planning for the conversation
  2. How to bring up the topic with your parents (including helpful language from palliative care physicians)
  3. Sample conversations and email templates that you can use TODAY

Part I: Preparing for the talk

You might have already tried to bring this up with your parents, or you might be guessing how your parents will respond to any conversation related to preparing for end-of-life.

Common ways we’ve seen people deflect and avoid this topic:

  • “I’ve done this already.”
  • “We can do it later.”
  • “Why do you want to talk about this now? Do you think I’m going to die soon?!!?”

Your knowledge of their personalities is an important factor in figuring out the best approach. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Their coping style. Cancer doctors sometimes think about people’s coping styles broadly  as “monitors” and “blunters.” These descriptions come from health psychology research looking at how people respond to information, especially serious illnesses like cancer.
    • Monitors” are people who cope by seeking out more information
    • Blunters” tend to prefer distraction and avoid practical planning

If your parent has more of a “monitor” coping style, providing them with information about different options can be helpful, but they may also need more reassurance throughout the conversation. On the other hand, a “blunter” may prefer to keep it simple and will rely more on you to suggest what you think would be the best. You can emphasize that it’s important to know what they want, not what you think they would want.

  • Their communication style. Consider how your parents usually deal with difficult conversation topics. Is your parent someone who likes to think carefully about what they say first? In that case, you might tell them about Cake and allow them to explore it on their own before sharing their wishes. Alternatively, do they prefer to think out loud? Then it might be more fruitful to talk about the questions in real-time.
  • The context. Are your parents healthy or ill? Has anything happened in their lives recently that might bring this issue to the forefront? For a parent who is sick, there’s more urgency. This can make the conversation more challenging emotionally, but also provides an anchor to engage everyone in the family. Medical issues can provide starting points for the conversation, especially if your parent designates you as a healthcare proxy or is deciding about a treatment.
  • Your biggest concern. Sharing your #1 concern can help set priorities for the conversation. Whether it’s medical decisions or financial planning, are you particularly worried about one aspect of end-of-life?  Here is a comprehensive list of the different aspects of end-of-life planning.
  • Comfort and trust with technology. If your parents are already comfortable using Facebook or LinkedIn, then the Cake app will be a very simple tool to use.  If not, you can walk through the app with them or start to look at other apps that can be particularly useful for older people, which could serve as an introduction to adopting apps in their everyday tasks. Some include simply making displays and buttons on a smartphone easier to navigate. If you worry that your parents wouldn’t want to use a website or app, it might be easier to talk in person, even if it means waiting until the next family get-together, or perhaps encourage a sibling who lives nearby to do so.

Ready to start? Check out part 2 of this series for tips on what to actually say.


Planning diagram

Here are some of the factors that go into talking about advance care planning: what’s happening in your family at the time, what your parents are like as people, and what you’re hoping to learn!

Have you already had the conversation?

Let us know how it went!  We want to hear from you about what worked and didn’t work–tell us your stories!

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