We Need to Talk About Mum and Dad With Jean Kittson

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Jean Kittson

We spoke to Jean Kittson about primary care for her elderly mum and dad.

The remarkable Jean Kittson

Jean Kittson has been a public figure in Australia for many years. Most recently, Jean starred in 2022’s Celebrity Apprentice show. She is a regular panellist on ABC 702 radio drive program, Thank God It’s Friday and a weekly panellist on Today Extra, Nine Network. She has been a regular columnist with New Weekly, Sunday Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald – Sydney Magazine, Inspire Magazine, the Readers Digest Health Smart Magazine and the online magazine, The Hoopla. 

Jean is also the author of three books, her first being ‘Tongue Lashing’. Her second is a best seller – ‘You’re Still Hot To Me – The Joys Of Menopause’.  It’s her latest book, ‘We Need To Talk About Mum And Dad’, which we want to focus on today. Launched at the beginning of Covid in March 2020, it has also gone on to become a best seller.

What many of you may not know is that along with all her media commitments and book writing, Jean has been caring for her elderly parents for many years. All the while continuing to balance her public appearances. Jean found the whole experience of being a primary carer overwhelming. So she wrote a valuable book called ‘We Need To Talk About Mum And Dad’. This book has been a huge blessing to thousands of carers. It is full of valuable information and Jean’s own personal experiences that any carer can benefit from reading it.

What is the book about?

“We Need To Talk About Mum And Dad” may have all the answers to the questions about caring for your elderly and ageing loved ones.  This is another reason why we produce the Australian Carers Guide every three months. So to find out if Jean had those answers, I sent our Sub Editor Rita Merienne to speak to her. She asked her about her book, a now valuable must-have resource for carers. We also wanted to hear about her parents and their current condition. And we wanted to know how she is coping with caring for them with such a busy lifestyle. Enjoy the read:

We need to talk about Mum and dad

Love Is Not Enough!
How many times have you made the wrong decision on your caring journey?
How many times have you said, “I wish I knew that before”?
How many times have you asked for all the information about parenting your parents to be in one place?

I asked Jean if having all the vital information for caring for elderly parents all in one place was the reason she wrote the book. Jean said, “Yes. Having been an advocate for ageing for some time, Jean knew that many carers were asking the same thing. So that’s why I decided to take the time out of my schedule and write this book. I just felt compelled to help other carers, not waste as much time as I did trying to find all the relevant information that most carers would need.”

During our conversation, Jean said the people she interviewed for the book were all very capable people. However, caring for their ageing loved ones brought them to their knees. It is tough. There is no shame, no blame, no judgement, just acknowledgement and understanding. It is easy to be overwhelmed, especially when we don’t know where to turn to for help. This is exactly what this book is all about.

How can this book help carers?

The book explores most aspects of “parenting our parents”. Additionally, it provides an easy-to-read practical guide to make the caring journey easier. Jean covers so many practical issues, from estate planning to managing grief. Her insightful book takes you through many of the scenarios you will face parenting your parents. Informative with a touch of humour and filled with case studies so you can see you aren’t alone on the caring journey. I highly recommend this book to you and your siblings.

With honesty and frankness that is extremely refreshing, Jean explained that she probably started being “concerned” for her parent’s care far too early – when they were in their mid-70s, over 20 years ago. Age 75 was too young for her parents – they were very self-sufficient. They didn’t need to be parented by Jean. It is also a very long time to be on the caring journey.  

Care can sometimes be seen as patronising. Talk to your aged loved ones and ask them what they want and what they need. Make sure you are all on the same page when it comes to finding the right care.

No, we didn’t say it would be easy. There is a very fine line that can be easily crossed.

Jean shared that parenting her parents was an emotional journey. In the beginning, she had no idea of the right place to source information and get the help needed. It is the reason she wrote the book.

Understanding the implications of the decisions

From retirement villages to aged care homes or staying in their own home with more support services and even the granny flat agreements. There are options for care. However, those options can have financial implications for everyone.

Speak to a professional and get the right information.

But it is more than that, it is important for everyone to have an understanding of the implications of the decisions made.

Helping your aged loved ones to make the right decisions is important. Taking the emotion out of the discussion may mean you need a third party to help out, so please speak to a professional and get the right information. Caring for someone is all about humility. Don’t be embarrassed to reach out to people who are experts in their field. We don’t have all the answers, so access the people who do.

From removing obstacles for safety to financial advice and everything in between. Starting the conversation early doesn’t mean the care starts early. It’s about knowing what your aged loved ones want, what their financial situation is, what their medical conditions are and what options are available. Knowing is different to implementing.

Every situation is different, but similar documentation is needed for sourcing care or advice.

What if we come up against Resistance

Resistance is a huge challenge when we are parenting our parents. The reasons for resistance can be many as they are varied – grief, anger, fear, loss of control, being ignored, or not understanding what is needed.

Working with our aged loved ones, not against them, is the key to a successful and harmonious caring journey. As Jean points out, our aged loved ones being involved with decisions and discussions about their care helps them feel in control. It can also alleviate some of the resistance.

All relationships take work, and when you start parenting your parents, this can be very challenging, especially if you have had difficulties throughout the years.

Some people have been parenting their parents for years. Some people haven’t spoken to their parents in years. When it comes to parents needing care, it seems the past doesn’t matter. We just get on and do what needs to be done.

But it doesn’t mean it is easy.

We all have to find out our own way of caring – some of us take a hands-on method and do everything for them, and some of us sit back and just let it happen. Neither is right or wrong. If we plug every hole and do everything for our aged loved ones when things go wrong, then the right services aren’t found or adjusted to meet their needs.

But if we sit back and let everything go “wrong”, then our aged loved ones don’t get the care they need.

We did say that parenting our parents wasn’t easy, didn’t we?

Helicoptering parenting our parents or letting them stubble and finding their own way. Neither is appealing or the best way to approach the caring journey. There is a middle way – you just need to find the right path for all of you.

What else is in the book?

Resources in the book include:

  • 200 Questions to ask prior to going into an aged care home
  • Questions to ask home care providers
  • Useful websites
  • The golden rules after being admitted to a hospital

And much more!

Jean has incorporated advice, humour, information and lived experiences in an easy-to-read practical guide, and she has shone a light on topics everyone parenting their parents needs to know. She has provided a few more pearls of wisdom for your caring journey:

  • Every aged loved one needs an advocate – are you your parent’s advocate?
  • Caring for our parents is not a burden – in a blink of an eye, we will be there too!
  • Siblings have different perceptions – open and honest communication is important.
  • Taking about the care needed will give your aged loved ones more control. Listen with empathy and compassion.

We’d like to share a few words from Jean’s book with you:

We all think we know what to do when the time comes, and there are many times that do come between frailty and ageing and helplessness and death, but we don’t. It is always difficult. Love is not enough. We all need help to know what to do, even what to say.

Aged care is about life and it is about humility.

“We Need To Talk About Mum and Dad” is amazing and the best resource for people parenting their parents we have found. Not all things will resonate, but the information provided is priceless and will help you in ways you never realised. Some people at 70 don’t need parenting. However, some people do. You know your aged loved one, and you will know if you are helping them or patronising them.

Jean’s parents have each other, which is very important, being in their mid-90s and still living together in their retirement village. Loneliness in our aged loved ones is something we need to consider, don’t underestimate the power of engagement and inclusion. Caring journeys need to ensure our aged loved ones are included and engaged and feel that they are contributing.

We Need To Talk About Mum and Dad is available at all good bookstores.

Caring has stepped up a notch or two for Jean as her father is currently in hospital. All of us at Australian Carers Guide send our best wishes to Jean and her family.

About Jean Kittson

Jean Kittson AM is an Australian performer, writer and comedian in theatre and print, on radio and television. Read more of Jean Kittson’s articles for Australian Carers Guide here.

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