“There are four kinds of people in the world: People who have been caregivers, people who are caregivers now, people who will become caregivers in the future, and people who are going to need a caregiver.” – Rosalynn Carter
An aging parent will sometimes struggle to transition from caregiver and provider to someone who needs a caregiver or assistance to do things that were once second nature. Aging is difficult, and the fear of being perceived as a burden or someone incapable of taking care of themselves can sometimes cause a parent to refuse aid, even though they need and want the help.
Understand why elderly parents may refuse help
So, if you are a little frustrated and tired of arguing with your elderly parents, you are in the right place. But before we share some strategies on how to get your parents to listen to you, let’s discuss why they may refuse help in the first place.
Is it you?
There’s a funny scene in the 90’s television show Seinfeld, where a woman breaks up with George and gives him the infamous “It’s not you, it’s me” break-up line. George gets upset and proclaims, “nobody tells me, it’s not me. If it’s anybody, it’s me!”
When it comes to communicating with your aging parents, sometimes you have to look in the mirror and say, “maybe it’s me.” You may have a genuine concern for your parents and want to help, but as an adult child, you have to understand the relationship dynamics, choose your words, and communicate them carefully.
Loss of Independence
Aging parents often reject help out of the fear that they will lose their independence. No one wants to be perceived as incapable, especially when that projection comes from someone they have loved and taken care of their entire life. A senior’s ability to take care of themselves is a part of their identity. Consider their motivation for rebuffing your help efforts and begin strategizing on aligning goals.
Sometimes, things that you thought mom and dad had taken care of they didn’t. They may have made some financial mistakes or have more health issues than you know. It can be embarrassing to reveal what they have been hiding for months or years. And, your loved one may know that these hidden truths will have to come to light if they accept help from you.
A few tips for communicating with aging parents
No one said it would be easy. Here are a few tips to help open the lines of communication and get your loved one to listen.
Plan for multiple conversations
Be prepared to have multiple conversations. In most cases, sensitive subjects like driving, finances and senior care don’t resolve in a single talk.
The key is to have different goals for the conversations. Every time you speak with a loved one about getting help, an immediate decision doesn’t need to be made. Sometimes, you want to drop hints over multiple talks, building up to a more serious conversation. Plant the seed, so they can start nurturing the ideas for themselves.
Share your advanced care plan
Do you have your medical and financial documents in order? Have you done any estate planning? Have you thought through where and how you want to live as a senior? It’s not just your parents that need to make tough decisions about senior care.
Start planning for yourself and share your fears and anxiety about the process with your loved ones. If they know you are going through the same process, it could lead to some realizations and make them more receptive to suggestions or a conversation about getting help.
Collaborate on decisions
It’s really hard to feel independent when someone else makes important life decisions for you. So instead of telling a parent what they need, be kind and patient and let them know you are available if they need help. Let your parents know that you are learning and make yourself available to discover solutions together.
Don’t get into arguments
It can be very frustrating when a loved one is not accepting help, but getting in a yelling match will not increase your odds of getting your parents to listen. Instead, voice your concerns calmly, and if you notice your parents are getting upset, it’s time to take a break.
Take a step back
In the end, you have to know your limitations. If your parents are still capable and mobile, you have to accept that your loved one is an adult. Sometimes it can help to take a step back and let things cool down. But at the same time, let your parents know you will always be available if needed.
What to do if nothing works?
What do you do if you have tried to be empathetic and considerate, strategic and collaborative, and nothing still seems to work? Consider bringing in reinforcements. Your loved one’s doctor, pastor or spouse may be able to communicate in a way that you can’t. Consider calling adult protective services in extreme situations where your loved one really needs assistance.
As an adult child trying to help an aging parent, be patient and empathetic and remember Rosalynn Carter’s words, “There are four kinds of people in the world.” While you may be the one who is the caregiver now, one day, you will need someone to help you again.