Having “The Visit” at the Holidays

For many families, the holidays are one of the few times when adult kids, parents, grandkids, and grandparents get to see each other. That time together might be the best time to have a planned “Visit.” There are two common topics for the Visit: 1) finances; and 2) health and home. Today’s post will deal with finances.

Members of the Greatest Generation are notorious for keeping quiet about money. Yet, as they reach old age, their Baby Boomer kids begin to wonder, “Do Mom and Dad have enough money to live on?” “What if they need in-home care?” “What if they need to make modifications to their home?” “Did they really need those $5000 new windows, or are they being scammed and not know it?” “If I had to pay bills for them, where do they keep their money?” “What if they have money or accounts stashed somewhere and they forget about it?”

Some parents may discourage the money topic by cutting conversations about it short.  Perhaps they do not want to acknowledge their own mortality.  Perhaps they are embarrassed about falling victim to a scam already.  Perhaps they see all of their kids as spendthrifts who will not be responsible (regardless of their age, education, and career status).  Perhaps they are afraid of having the keys to their car, or their home, taken away.  And it’s not always the parents that don’t want to talk about it.  Sometimes the adult kids are uncomfortable talking about their parent’s mortality, and they are the ones cutting off the communication.

Regardless, every time the topic, and its underlying emotion, is avoided, it feeds an elephant in the living room. If not acknowledged, it stays there, and gets bigger, until a crisis erupts, and everyone is forced to talk about it under duress.

family-at-holidaysHow do you bring up the money topic before a crisis?  Try owning your discomfort about it up front. “There’s something I am struggling with talking to you about,” might be a good beginning, for example. Then let them know what you want to talk about: “There are two main concerns that keep coming up for me, and I need your help.” However, if they still shut down, keep your cool, and be empathetic: “If I were in your shoes, I would find this hard to talk about, too. Perhaps this wasn’t the best time to bring it up.” Try writing them a letter instead to keep the conversation going.

But, if you find the discussion goes even better than you thought, let them know how relieved you are: “Wow, I was so worried about talking to you about this, but I feel better now.” You may find you have paved the way for more open conversation, and even happier holidays with the family, in the future.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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