What to Do When Your Aging Parent Doesn’t Want Your Help

9 Tips for Making Conversations with a Parent Easier

Son and mother sitting on a couch having a difficult conversation. Mother has her back to son.

According to the article “My Parent Is So Stubborn!” published in the Journals of Gerontology, 77% of adult children say their aging parents are stubborn when it comes to managing their daily lives.

Role reversal with an aging parent, whether gradually over time, or suddenly because of a change in a parent’s health, is never an easy shift. As difficult as this is for you, it’s much harder for a parent.

So why is mom or dad completely resistant to your good sound advice? Imagine seeing physical or mental changes occur in your body that prevent you from driving safely, paying your bills on time, or even bathing without assistance. Add to that the natural strain that occurs when you’re told you can’t do something, rather than encouraged and herein enters the perfect storm between parent and child.   

If you’ve approached your loved one about safety or health concerns and were met with resistance, here are four tips for approaching the conversation, empowering your parent, and finding a solution.

Listen and Validate

Having conversations about aging can bring you closer to the people you love. It can also cause unwanted conflict. The first step to avoiding conflict is in your approach when having a difficult conversation with a parent.

Here are 3 tips for getting the conversation started:

  1. Start your conversation with questions rather than expectations. If you are concerned because of an increase of falls at home, try asking a question like, “Mom, you’ve had a few falls lately. What do you think is causing that?” Or, “Mom, with the falls you’ve had lately, what are some things you think we can do to keep you safe?” 
  2. Try stepping into your parent’s shoes and understanding how they might be feeling.
  3. Validate, rather than deny or overlook your loved one’s feelings. Say things like, “I understand how you would feel that way” or “I can see why you might feel that way.” Don’t follow these sentences with “but”, instead allow your parent the opportunity to feel supported before seeking their input on potential solutions.

Let Your Parent Make the Decisions with Your Guidance

Two of the most powerful questions you can ask a parent is, “Dad, what’s most important to you?” and “Dad, what can I do to help you?” Assuming your parent is ready for you to dive right in and start managing their finances or be present every time they need to shower can come off as controlling or overbearing. Instead, try these tips:

  1. Ask for their opinion, rather than telling them what to do. Use options to narrow down the choices to ideal, safe solutions that avoid a recurrence of the problem your parent is faced with. For example, if mom or dad has had several falls in the shower lately, possible solutions would be having a care aid, letting you help your parent shower, or at the very minimum getting a shower chair and modifying the shower head so it is removable to allow your parent to be seated while showering, as a step towards a safer bathing experience.
  2. Remind your parent that their opinion matters. Try saying things like, “Mom I want what’s best for you, but I also respect that it’s your decision. Do you mind if I share my thoughts with you and we can talk about possible solutions together?”
  3. Make sure siblings are on the same page. You want to be in agreement with your sibling(s) about the ways you will approach the conversation and support your parent.

Looking for more advice on handling challenging family dynamics? Download this guide

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Watching your parents age isn’t easy. When you get anxious about your parent’s safety, think about what’s really going on. Are you really frustrated that your dad doesn’t keep the house cleaner, or are you sad because it’s hard to watch him decline further and require more help?

Unless your parent’s safety or well-being is in jeopardy, look for ways to address your fears and desires while respecting their preferences. Focus on the big picture, and avoid fighting about minor issues. Ideally, you’ll have many have relaxed conversations about caregiving long before a health crisis.

  1. Avoid turning every conversation with your parent into a serious conversation about the support they need.
  2. Seek opportunities to spend quality time with your parent away from the difficult conversations. Your parent seeks a connection with you as much as they need your support and balancing the two will allow you to approach the difficult conversations easier.
  3. Use if/then statements to navigate challenging conversations. For example, “Mom I am worried that if you stay at home alone and fall again in the shower, then you wouldn’t be able to reach the phone and call me for help.”

 What Older Parents Really Want from Their Adult

Consider Assisted Living

If your parent needs help with activities of daily living (like showering or medication management), or simply can’t keep up with household chores, repairs or maintenance and won’t accept help from you, it might be helpful to consider assisted living

Assisted living communities take the burden of caregiving responsibilities off of you, while your parent has their own apartment, furnished how they like, without the worries of home maintenance.

Sometimes it’s easier for a parent to talk to a professional rather than their son or daughter, and they might be more willing to listen to the advice of a doctor, lawyer, care manager, or an assisted living counselor about the importance of getting the support they need while they are still very capable of making that decision.

You parent’s friends can also be great resources. If your mom has a friend who is enjoying her life in an assisted living community, stop by for lunch so she can see what it’s really like, or schedule a visit to one of our Highgate Senior Living Communities.