It’s common for elderly parents to accept the help they need due to physical or mental decline. It is a delicate situation that can create a lot of stress for everyone. As long as your parents are still mentally able, they have the right to choose their living situation and decline help.
While you want to respect their wishes, you also do not want the problem to escalate to a crisis in which your parents become endangered. Fortunately, there are ways of offering parents assistance in a respectful, diplomatic way to effectively convince them.
Why Parents Resist Assistance
It may be evident to you that your parents need assistance. Many people attempt to take a logical approach in discussing the matter with their parents, pointing out the issues they’ve observed and how this demonstrates that the parent needs help. However, the logical approach is likely to backfire. In many cases, parents react with anger and resentment.
To understand your parents’ reaction, you have to know that your parents are motivated by an irrational emotion: Fear. American society places a high value on self-reliance. By suggesting that your parents cannot exist as independently as they used to, you may be threatening their very identity and sense of self. If they aren’t people who can live independently, as they have always done, then who are they? This fear sometimes causes them to lash out irrationally at the notion that they need any extra help.
Aging often requires a role reversal in which the child must become the caretaker of your parents. However, no matter how mature and competent the child becomes, parents will always view their children as the kid. They may view their efforts to provide care for parents as a lack of respect, even when approached with the best intentions.
In many cases, your parents may be genuinely unaware that there is a problem. It is sometimes difficult to recognize a gradual decline in oneself or one’s spouse when one lives with it from day to day. It sometimes takes an outside perspective from someone who may not visit daily to see the changes.
How To Help Parents Accept Assistance
Fortunately, there is a middle ground between allowing your parents to engage in self-neglect and taking a heavy-handed approach that calls your parents’ rights into question. The following strategies for assisting parents have proven effective at encouraging them to accept and avoid anger and resentment that the conversation may elicit:
- Assess your parents’ needs. Figure out the areas in which they need the most help and make those your priorities.
- Listen to your parents’ concerns and show respect for their emotional state. Ask them questions about their concerns and their preferences when it comes to receiving help.
- Be patient with the process. You may have to have a lot of small conversations with your parents instead of one big talk.
- Frame the conversation using “I-statements.” Instead of focusing on the behavior of your parents that causes concern, talk about problems in terms of how worried you are. Parents may become resentful if you imply that they are no longer able to take care of themselves, but they typically do not want to burden anyone. Therefore, they may be more willing to accept help for your sake rather than theirs.
- Talk to close family members about your concerns. If you can reach a consensus about the areas where your parents need the most help, you can present a united front when talking to them about it.
- Instead of dictating what your parents should do, provide them with several different options. This lets them decide what course of action to take and prevents them from feeling that they are losing autonomy. The choices you present should all address the most pressing concerns you have about your parents’ health and safety.
- Providing care for your parents should be a step-by-step process. Offer to do small things at first, then as your parents get used to the idea of accepting help in a small way, make more suggestions for other ways that assistance might be beneficial.
- Because the role reversal between parents and children can be uncomfortable for your parents, they may not accept suggestions from you. Enlist the help of authority figures whom your parents know and trust, such as their doctor or a community member, when discussing ways they could benefit from assistance.
With the right approach, parents will be more accepting of help in most cases.