Tips and resources to help you throughout your caregiving journey

Understanding your aging parents: why they refuse help

Do you get where your parents are coming from when they are reluctant or downright refuse to ask/accept help at home? Do you deeply understand their reasons? If there is any hope in getting past this impasse, it starts with understanding.

The key to a deep understanding is an open mind and heart. You may or may not be in love with this kind of language (was that you rolling your eyes?) but it really is what the situation calls for.  Of course, the other alternative is judgement, manipulation, impatience, frustration, and anger.

Why is an open mind and heart the key?

All of life’s big issues are embedded in the issue of accepting and refusing help. This is about how both you and your parents deal with: change, the body, control and lack of control, identity, independence and dependence, aging, dying, and death.

“Whoo,” you might be thinking. “Do you have to get so heavy?” In a word, yes. Neither you nor your parents are served by being superficial.

If it feels daunting right now, please be reassured that we can go right to the horse’s’ mouth, so to speak, to better understand resistance to ask for and accept help. That’s exactly what some researchers did.

Why your parents may be reluctant to accept help 

  • Difficulty facing the reality that there is an inability to do tasks
  • Don’t want to be perceived as a burden
  • Concerned about being exploited or taken advantage of
  • Struggling with loss of independence and control

All four themes revolve around negative meanings attached to aging and declines in functioning that can occur with aging. This stirs up great compassion in me and reminds me of Bette Davis who said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” I am hoping, of course, that this stirs up compassion in you for your parents.

These themes make so much sense to me. We live in an anti-aging society, where we promote and value independence to the nth degree. Putting reluctance into this broader societal context also prevents slipping into explanations that focus on mom’s stubbornness or dad’s pride. They very well may be these things, but there is more going on than personality traits.

What can you do with this information? I presume you want more than dinner conversation material. The older adults in this study offered strategies to overcome their own resistance. I have made further suggestions on how you as a daughter or son can help your parents move through their own resistance—this is where your open mind and heart come in.

3 strategies to overcome resistance to accept help

  • Reframe independence. The truth is we are interdependent from birth to death. This can balance the lie belief that the essence of an adult identity is independence. You may be resistant yourself to the idea that you are interdependent. That is precisely what makes this all so complicated—it may not just be your parents who are resistant…

Think about ways you still depend on your parents (if you can’t come up with anything, ask your honest friends and siblings to help you with your list).

You could depend on them for advice, support, their tools or some other household item, feeling loved, looking after the grandchildren, and yes of course, money. If you want your parents to reframe independence to the truer picture of interdependence, you have to be prepared to see your own interdependence. Share this with your parents!

  • Acceptance of help gives others an opportunity. This is the recognition that many older adults have felt joy and satisfaction from helping others in the past, and this is now an opportunity to give this experience to others (caregivers). As a daughter or son, this one is simple. Tell your parents what being able to help gives you.
  • Overcoming the initial ask. This is about getting past the initial discomfort. Acknowledging discomfort can help you move through it.  If you aren’t used to such a direct conversation you can say, “If it were me, I would likely be feeling…”

In an ideal world, your parents will be as open minded and heartfelt in understanding why you want them to accept care in the home. People who maintain strong positive relationships are generally happier in life—we are social beings who need to connect with one another. At the very least, you can bring your own openness and deep desire to understand the situation.

 It all begins with a conversation! What will you take from this to your next conversation with your parents?

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