Dealing with stubborn aging parents might be one of the most frustrating and challenging situations you will encounter. But, you are not alone. The Journals of Gerontology study found that “Over 77% of children and 66% of parents reported parents acting in ways attributed to stubbornness at least sometimes.”
Understanding and accepting the circumstances that contribute to stubborn behavior will help. Up to a point, adults can make decisions that are not in their best interest. With enough patience and flexibility, you can make some progress, and we will show you how.
When your parents need help with their home, personal care activities, transportation, and medication management, you want to assist them. And then they refuse that help stating that they are doing just fine.
Some medical appointments are routine and not urgent. However, if your parents have medical conditions that need follow-up or medication adjustments, these appointments become more critical.
When you visit your parents, you might become aware of safety issues in their home. They ignore routine maintenance problems, not adding accessibility features, and ignoring fall risks like clutter and stairs.
If your parents refuse to share healthcare and financial information this could put you at a significant disadvantage when the time comes to assist them with healthcare and financial decisions. Without legal authority, you will have little recourse.
On the one hand, minimizing disabilities might seem like a positive perspective! But, when it is evident that physical or mental impairment indicates the need for assistance, this attitude can be detrimental.
Perhaps your parents always had a bit of an angry and resentful personality. Or maybe as they have grown older, the loss of independence and control has left them frustrated and irritable. Anger can be a way of trying to assert control of their situation.
Perhaps your parents demand your time by calling several times a day or asking you to come over to attend to their personal needs or help with routine maintenance issues. It is normal for aging parents to ask for help, and you are happy to oblige. A problem arises when their demands become unreasonable and interfere with your life, or they refuse to let anyone else but you help them.
You may recognize some of these scenarios, and there might be several going on simultaneously. Dealing with stubborn parents can take enormous patience and compassion. We will walk you through some strategies to keep your sanity and relationship intact.
As you assess the situation, try and get some perspective on what is really going on with your parents. Is their behavior new or an exacerbation of existing personality traits? Aging brings up emotions like fear, anxiety, and loss of control and independence. Recognizing that these emotions might be driving stubborn behavior will help you be more forgiving. As an aging parent’s adult child, it is natural to want to rush in and fix the problem. Take a step back and realize that this might not be the best approach.
You are still the child. Treating your parents as children by making decisions for them or threatening will only inflame the situation. Treat your parents with respect and give them choices. Try and make communication a collaborative effort that honors their decisions and feelings. Listen with an open mind.
The fact is this may not work, but it is worth a try. For example, if your parent’s home has safety issues, contact Ruby to schedule a home accessibility evaluation. Present the idea as a way to help your parents age in place. Broach the idea of in-home personal care to help your parents with cooking, transportation, daily living activities like bathing and dressing—the more professional eyes on the situation, the better.
With stubborn parents, accept that you will probably not get your way. Go into any conversation knowing that you will need to compromise. Have alternatives in mind that might be more acceptable to your parents. A good rule of thumb is “start low and go slow.” For example, if they are resistant to in-home help, offer a very minimal schedule where they can cancel at any time, but try to reach an agreement on specifics. “Mom, what if we have a caregiver come in once a week for one month and see how it goes?”
You want to fix everything, but accept that you can’t. Consider prioritizing problems and choose those that you can tackle with some success. You might have to let the others go and revisit at another time.
Yes, you are incredibly frustrated because you want to help your parents, and their stubbornness is thwarting your efforts and making the situation worse. Dealing with irrational behavior can bring out strong emotions like anger, anxiety, and irritability. Expressing those emotions to your parents might make them even more defensive. Find healthy outlets for your feelings by talking with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist.
Letting go might be one of the hardest actions to take when dealing with stubborn parents. You are human, have limits, and your own life to manage. When you can say to yourself that you have done everything you can, you might have to let things go. Will they get worse? Yes, they might and be prepared to respond to a crisis like a fall or medical event. Sometimes walking away clears the air and gives your parents time to reconsider some of your suggestions.
Dealing with stubborn aging parents can take an emotional and physical toll. Compromising your health won’t help anyone. Take care of yourself by focusing on the basics of good health such as exercise, mindfulness, good nutrition and plenty of sleep.
Dealing with stubborn aging parents is a challenge but achievable by following our tips.
At Ruby, we are firm believers that aging in place is viable and desirable when done safely. We can play a critical role in making that possible by creating an accessible and safe home environment giving you and your parents some peace of mind.
Here's how to ensure safety in small spaces
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