I’m grateful to be an optimist.  I love focusing on the good in life.  On the bright and joyful sides of things.  Not on their shadows.  Optimist or pessimist, though, I think it’s natural to turn away from scary and unpleasant issues.  Avoid them.  And hope they’ll somehow go away.

Moreover, it’s summer!  How dare I write a post pushing you toward unpleasant topics in the midst of relaxation and joy? 

I dare, because these “grown-up topics” are important.  Because we’ve had some losses in our family of late.  Losses which, as my husband aptly noted, reminded us that “we’re now the adults in the room.”

And I dare now, because in the summer, when perhaps things might be slower at work, you might just have some time to address a few of these.  To have critical conversations with your loved ones about them.  To ponder how you’d answer some big questions.

The five things on this list aren’t just important for parents.  They’re important for everyone.  But, at least for me, becoming a parent threw all of these topics into sharp relief.  Creating life necessarily made me think about life cycles.  And about how nothing in this one wild and precious life is permanent. 

These became issues I didn’t want my kids – or others in my life – to have to grapple with if something were to happen to me.  So I challenge you to breathe deeply into each of these subjects.  Then, do some thoughtful, mindful planning around each of them.

5 Topics We Parents Avoid At Our Peril

1.  Writing a Will.  If you haven’t done it yet, now’s the time.  In a will, you set forth your wishes as to how you want your property to be distributed upon your death.  My husband and I sat down with a local trusts and estates attorney before we had kids to draft our first wills.  When our sons were born, we returned to him so he could update them for us.

2.  Guardianship.  If something were to happen to you and your spouse, who would become the legal guardians of your child or children?  Chances are, you have an opinion on who might be a good fit for the role, and who probably wouldn’t.  Better to have the peace of mind that your kiddos will be well-cared for, than to leave it to chance.  Think broadly about your community (blood and non-blood relations) and about who would be the best caretakers for your children.  Be sure to ask them if they would be willing to serve in that capacity.

3.  Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will.  What happens if you get into a serious accident and can’t make decisions about your own health care?  Do you know what measures you’d like health care professionals to take on your behalf?  If you have an opinion, better to document it now.  A health care power of attorney is a document in which you designate someone to be your representative or agent, in the event you are unable to communicate decisions about your own health care.  A living will, or advance directive, lets you state your wishes for end-of-life care, if you can’t communicate them yourself.

4.  Funeral and Burial Wishes.  In a document separate from your will, consider articulating your wishes regarding end-of-life preferences.  Do you prefer a funeral or memorial service?  Where?  Do you prefer to be cremated (and if so, where would you like your ashes to be stored or disposed of)?  Or buried (and if so, where)?  Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you have a preference on how these things should happen, better to express it in writing now. 

5.  Purchasing Life Insurance.  You probably want your children to be able to afford college, even if you’re not around to pay for it.  And there’s definite peace of mind that comes with knowing your family will be okay financially, even if you aren’t here to support them.  My husband and I bought life insurance policies before our kids were born.  We then revisited the topic and added additional coverage after they came along.

Okay, so perhaps I’ve convinced YOU to address these topics.  But what about your significant other?  You can’t make these decisions alone, to be sure.  How to start these tough conversations?  Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

  • Remind yourself – and your partner – that by tackling these issues, you are helping your children and your family.  You’re taking the burden off of them to decide these things.
  • Forward them this post and let them know you want to talk about these topics.
  • Read the New Parents’ Script for Tough Conversations: 4 S’s to Remember, and think about your shared commitments as you begin this conversation.

I know, I know.  As a working parent you have a to-do list a million miles long.  You’re just barely making it through the day.  Let alone the week.  But making these important decisions now will help you sleep better at night.  Which is worth its weight in gold (or pumped breastmilk), right?

Heading back to work soon after maternity leave?  Get help with the transition and meet other new working mamas by joining the next session of Mindful Return.

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