“My in-laws aren’t aging well and need help, but they won’t admit it. My husband is an only child, and they’ll only let him do a few things around the house. I try to suggest changes, and I get ignored. I can’t make any decisions, so it feels like I’m just watching the train wreck.”
Seventy-seven percent of adult children say their aging parents are stubborn when it comes to managing their daily lives. They may avoid making medical appointments, insist on doing yardwork when they shouldn’t, or refuse to consider caregiving services or a senior living community. This can be stressful for you and cause tension with your parents or in-laws.
While there’s no guarantee you can change their minds about anything, there are some things you can do to help reduce the frustration and perhaps help them see things from a different perspective – one that will allow them to accept at least some help.
Understand the reasons why. Some of their stubbornness or resistance may stem from fear. They may be afraid of losing independence, so insist on doing things the way they always have. They might be worried about losing functional or cognitive abilities. They may think no one else understands their physical or emotional issues. Try to have some gentle conversations to get to the heart of the matter. Be sure to listen and validate their feelings. Knowing they’re being heard and understood may make it easier for you both to find the right solutions.
Prioritize problems. Not every problem is the same, and not everything is a problem. Make a list of the issues you perceive as problems, then prioritize them by which ones need attention first, which ones you’ve already taken action on, and which ones don’t need to be addressed right now. You may discover some things aren’t really problems – just irritating habits. For example, making their home safer is more important than how often they clean out the freezer. This also lets you focus your efforts on one manageable thing at a time – which will make your conversations with your parent or in-law a little easier.
Offer options. It may be tempting to communicate with phrases like, “You need to do this,” or “Make that appointment.” But this risks making them feel you’re treating them like a child, which will only make them more stubborn. Instead, offer options they can choose from. It lets them be in control and actively participate in the decision-making process.
Look for outside influences. Some people won’t believe something unless it comes from a professional or someone else they respect. Advice and recommendations that come from their doctor or faith leader may carry more weight with them. Professionals can give them accurate answers about physical ailments, pointing the way toward treatments, therapies or rehab services at senior living communities. Another tactic is to engage their peers. If you know of seniors who have similar experiences, or who are enjoying life at an assisted living community or another senior living community, arrange a lunch where they can share their stories and offer new options your parents might not otherwise consider.
Accept your limitations. There’s only so much you can do. It’s their life, and you can’t make them do anything they don’t want to. Unless they’re truly endangering themselves or others, they need to make their own choices. You can express your concerns for their safety and well-being, and let them know it’s coming from a place of love. But rather than continuing a fight you won’t win, use your time together to enjoy each other’s company as much as possible.