As our aging parents become increasingly fragile and need more support, it can be difficult to offer help without making them feel overwhelmed or like they are losing their independence. When your parents tell you they don’t need help, but it’s obvious they do, it’s important to find a balance between offering support and letting them remain in control of their lives. Given that 70 percent of people over 65 years old will require some form of assistance in their lifetime, starting the conversation about accepting help is necessary.
Here are 5 tips for offering help and still letting Mom and Dad feel independent and in charge:
Respect Your Parents’ Wishes About Their Life Choices
It’s important to respect your parents’ wishes, even if they aren’t what you would choose for yourself. Your parents may not want help with certain tasks or be open to having someone come by regularly. If this is the case, it’s okay! You can still offer assistance without taking over all of their responsibilities.
If your parent does ask for help and allows you into their home, remember that they still have autonomy over their life choices—even if those choices involve giving up some control over daily tasks like cooking and cleaning up after meals. Be respectful of this autonomy by allowing them to make decisions about how much assistance they need from others, including family members.
Even if it’s obvious that they need assistance, it’s important to honor their decisions and not push them into something they don’t want to do.
Ask Open-Ended Questions About Help at Home
When you’re offering help to your parents, it’s important to ask open-ended questions. This is a way of asking that doesn’t put the burden on them to come up with an answer. Instead, you can simply say something like: “How can I help?” or “What do you need me to do?” It’s also important that when you offer your assistance, don’t be pushy about it—just offer up what you can do and see what happens!
Taking advantage of every opportunity is a way to have the conversation without having to be the one to bring it up. This indirect approach is particularly useful if the topic is sensitive. The next time someone brings up a topic relating to senior care while you and your loved one are present, make it a point to ask your loved one’s opinion.
Offer Practical Assistance and Suggest Senior Resources
Rather than making sweeping changes, start by making small suggestions to help your parents. For example, you could offer to help with grocery shopping or suggest they hire a lawn care service to take care of the lawn.
Grocery shopping: If your parent is still driving and has a car, offer to take them grocery shopping once a week or so. This will save them time and energy, as well as give you an opportunity for some quality time together.
Transportation: If your parent doesn’t drive anymore but needs help getting around town, offer to take them where they need to go–to the doctor’s office or the grocery store, for example. Or if they don’t live close enough for this kind of regular transportation service (or if it’s simply too much work), consider hiring an Uber or Lyft driver who can meet up with your parent at home when necessary; this way there won’t be any extra driving involved on either party’s part!
If your parents don’t want help from you directly, there are still ways to offer assistance. Connect them with community resources, such as senior centers and meal delivery services, to make their lives easier.
Be Patient and Understanding with Your Aging Parents
The most important thing you can do for your parents is to be patient and understanding. They may not want to make changes, or they may not have the energy to do so. Don’t rush them into making decisions or giving up their independence; they’ll be more likely to accept your help if they feel like their choices are still in their hands, rather than being forced on them by someone else (which could lead to resentment).
It is important to remember, you are their partner – not their parent. Nobody likes being told what to do, so don’t approach them with a pre-determined plan. Making important decisions about their lives prior to consulting with them will hardly ever go over well regardless of how good your intentions are. Doing so could place an unnecessary strain on your relationship and cause them to feel resentful towards you. Everyone, including your loved one has the inherent right to maintain control of their lives.
If your parents are resistant to help, focus on safety first. You can suggest installing grab bars in the bathroom or a medical alert system in case of emergency.
Make Sure Your Parents Feel Valued and Wanted
It’s important to make sure your parents feel valued. You can do this by acknowledging their feelings and opinions, respecting them, thanking them for their advice and showing that you value their opinion. Approaching the topic with empathy is about making an effort to understand your loved one. No one wants you to feel sorry for them; seniors are no different.
If you’re having trouble finding the right words to say, try these phrases: “I’m sorry this has been so hard on you.” “I appreciate your help.” “Thank you for being there for me.”
Empathy does not come easy for everyone. Here are some other ways to express that you care:
- “You’re very special to me.”
- “I worry that something may happen to you when you …”
- “I’ve been thinking about you lately.”
- “I love you and I want you to be happy.”
These phrases may help you find the right words to use, but it’s equally important to pay attention to how you say them. And always remember to listen to their response.
“Five Tips When Aging Parents Ask for Help,” written by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributor.