Parenting Your Parents: When They Won’t Accept Help

Allison’s 80-year-old mother, Roberta, is a homemaker who raised four successful children. When her children were younger, her husband worked late and traveled a lot for his job, so she did everything from cooking dinner, helping with homework, and preparing lunches each day to getting kids ready for bed and driving them everywhere.

Roberta has so much pride that she has insisted on doing everything herself for most of her adult life. She has helped with her grandchildren and even her great grandchildren, and for her, it’s been a labor of love. Although she has had arthritis, heart problems, and some memory loss, Roberta still insists on going at the same pace as she has been to continue to assist her family. But who will help Roberta? No one if it is up to her!

Allison has been asking her mother to accept help for months — ever since her health concerns began making it difficult for her to stand long enough to prepare a meal, let alone clean the house. But her mom keeps saying that she doesn’t want help. She wouldn’t even relent when she fell and landed in the emergency room with a broken wrist. Allison is trying to figure out the best way to help her mother get over her stubbornness and accept assistance.

When a Parent Won’t Accept Help

Worrying about the safety and health of your frail or ill older family member at home can consume your thoughts, making it difficult to focus on other important demands in your life.

Aging parents often have their own fears about aging and what this will mean for their health and independence. They can also worry about being a burden to their children, or in Roberta’s case, they are set in their ways, have been independent for most of their lives, enjoy helping their family, and have too much pride to accept help.

What Can You Do When You Want to Help Your Parents but They Don’t Want It?

Kaiser Health News recently featured Parenting our Parents (POP) founder and author, Jane Wolf Frances. Frances, a psychologist, is the author of a new book, “Parenting Our Parents: Transforming the Challenge Into a Journey of Love” and founder of Here are some tips that she (along with other experts in the field) are offering to assist people in this situation:

Consider where your parents are coming from: Most of us cherish our independence and most of us want to stay in our homes for as long as possible. Learn what is behind your parents’ reluctance to seek or agree to help. Listen, probe deeply, and do not move into problem solving or fix-it mode. You first need to understand where your parents are coming from.

Explore your motivation: Ask yourself whether your motivation is to help your parents or manage your own fears? Take time to consider whether it is safe for them to live independently. If safety is not an issue, it may not be worth it to impose your standards. If something is bothering your parents, you can offer your help. If that something is annoying only to you, it may not be worth the possibility of tension or a heated argument. Save your time and energy for safety issues and for when help is truly needed.

Be patient: Give your parents time to adjust. For example, at first, author Jane Wolf Frances’ 87-year-old mother and her father wouldn’t consider moving into a more manageable home closer to their only daughter. Jane deferred to her parents’ fears that they were going to be losing something essential. She didn’t rush her parents. She knew they had slowed down and needed time to process change.

Be positive: When Jane’s parents’ physician was concerned about their ability to live independently, she approached them again. She noted in a positive way that “a move to assisted living that is closer to family would be a fresh start, allowing the family to spend more time together.” After several positive conversations, her mother finally agreed.

Stay calm when disagreements arise with your senior parents and tamp down your emotional reactions. Listen carefully to your parents’ concerns and let them know you’re trying to help them accomplish their goals, not impose your agenda. Try to put your own anxiety to the side and help make this time meaningful for them and for you. Most of all, your parents want to feel emotionally connected and accepted, even in a diminished state.

Suggest your parents do a trial period: They may be more willing to try things differently if the plan isn’t seen as being carved in stone. Do a trial period and set a date to revisit the plan.

Offer several care options and resources: Think as broadly and creatively as you can about options. If your parents don’t want a stranger from a home healthcare agency in the house, for example, you may be able to come up with a different solution. Perhaps they can still do some of the things they have always done, and agree to assistance with other things from family, friends, or professionals. You may be able to strike a balance between what you want for them and what they want for themselves.

Keep the conversation going: Consider this to be the beginning of an ongoing conversation. Trust can build over time with regular and ongoing discussions.

Let them know you’re on their side: Remember, it’s primarily your parents’ decision about how their end of life plays out. As long as people are capable and legally competent (meaning they have not been deemed incompetent by a court), decisions are theirs to make. And while it can be difficult to accept, competent people have the right to make so-called ‘bad’ decisions.

Respect your parents’ wishes and let them know you are on their side. Remember, it’s okay to talk openly about their choices if they are willing to have the conversation.

Be an advocate for your parent: Denying they need further help can impede your loved one from getting the assistance that they really need. Find experts in your community who can help. Plan ahead and research local assisted living communities and nursing homes that are equipped to meet their needs — perhaps not now, but in the future.

Parenting Our Parents has helpful community forums for those with aging parents. Hopefully, applying these tips can help you avoid power struggles with your parents and communicate more effectively to help your parents maintain their quality of life while staying safe. Remember, the best you can do is to be supportive and helpful!

Caregivers and Loved Ones Need to Think About Long-Term Care in the Future

How has caregiving impacted your family? Are you on the same page with your parents or still working out communications issues? Are you now considering assisted living or nursing home care? If you or your loved one is over 65 or suffering from any sort of serious health condition, the best time to do Medicaid Asset Protection planning is now. Whether you or your loved one is years away from needing nursing home care, is already in a nursing facility, or is somewhere in between, the time to plan is now, not when you are about to run out of money. Please don’t hesitate to call us at any time to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.