• Karen McPhail, RN, BSN, MSN, CCM, CDP

Reflections & Lessons Learned: Why it is Not Always Wise to Follow in Your Parents Footsteps



I have found that it is not always wise or prudent to follow in our parents footsteps...

Please do not get me wrong, my parents were amazing individuals with many gifts and I am truly fortunate to have had such wonderful people in my life! They were both compassionate, kind, giving, and excellent mentors. I think of them daily and reflect on many of the choices that they made in their lifetimes. My parents made excellent choices regarding business, careers, finances, travel, and other areas. Everything was on track and organized until they grew older. Like many my parents simply did not want to face the future and hoped that if they ignored some areas that they would simply go away. However, most things are better faced head on and planned for as we simply cannot avoid the future or what will or may potentially occur. That being said, I definitely have some lessons learned from my clinical practice and direct experiences with my family!


Here are some of my lessons learned, that I hope will assist others in moving in the right direction or at least in reflecting on their choices and impacting positive changes:

1. Mobility and safety: My parents both fell on many occasions, my mom more so than my dad. As a result, I will always use a cane, walker or whatever adaptive device that is advised, as I know that it will help me to stay safe, and potentially prevent life limiting or quality of life reducing injuries! Safe mobility is key! I will adapt my home to truly meet my needs overtime. I know that I cannot prevent every fall or injury, but I will do my best to follow the advise given, try to avoid high risk activities, and be open to change and guidance.

2. Decision making and communication: My parents were the ever optimistic peace makers! They did not want to offend anyone and unfortunately their lack of communication and transparency of information across the family led to avoidable conflict. I will choose decision makers who I feel with confidence will abide by my expressed wishes and choices! I will be upfront and ensure that all key family members understand my choices and the purposes for them. I will do my best to set things up for success and not conflict in the end. I want to be remembered for the special moments and the positive impact that I had on others - not for causing family conflict and hurt feelings.

3. Personal Possessions, Gifting, and more: I advise making a clear list of personal possessions and how you would like items distributed early on. Use an Elder Care Attorney for estate planning and a care manager to have as a primary, non family contact, advocate, and liaison to guide the way. Try to downsize over time and be realistic with items. Try not to leave it to your family to clean out 50 years of possessions in the primary home after something happens. It is hard enough in the end to lose a loved one without having to spend days, weeks, or months deciding with guilt on what to keep and what to donate. I feel that it is best to address decluttering and downsizing early and gradually over time if possible in a positive way on your terms. Having an organizational expert can be helpful for this. I also advise gifting items that you are not using so that you can see your family enjoy them. Actively build positive memories for all involved when possible. Perhaps give some items to family members as birthday or holiday gifts over time, so that they associate the items with a positive family tradition or memory, rather than as a part of loss and grieving.

4. Expressing wishes: My parents never wanted to discuss retirement, death, or future plans. Instead of planning for the future completely and clearly, the future in many ways, due to circumstances was imposed upon them sadly. Plan ahead! Think about doing relational estate planning and long term care planning to ensure expressed wishes are clearly noted! Execute proper legal documents early on, reevaluate annually, and participate actively and honestly in the plans and choices if you can - rather than having others potentially make choices for you in the future! If legal documents are executed properly people are then acting on your expressed wishes rather than making decisions or choices for you down the road. Think about who will actively support your wishes as a legal decision maker and what is truly important to you in terms of living, care support, and more. Do not make decisions as a result of pressure, guilt, or feelings of obligation. Remember that if you have a family bully they will only get worse overtime - plan accordingly. Have input into your life and your future - otherwise, you may be unhappy with the choices made or leave others with a lack of closure and doubt in the end.


5. Legal Decision makers: In the end, as I tell all my clients - the choices are always yours to make. If you are a legal decision maker for a loved one remember that you may not agree with all their decisions and choices outlined, but you need to feel comfortable supporting and acting on the expressed wishes for the individual. If you are going to be a legal decision-maker for a friend or family member, remember you cannot put your personal biases in front of their choices.


I have learned from my personal experiences and professional practice that the key to aging well is in having transparency of information and proactive preplanning for the future. Reach out today if you need guidance or support in this regard. We are always happy to forward a free copy of our long term care planning guide and template.





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