Many adult children will experience the refusal by an aging parent or loved one of the help and support they need in order to live safely. Failure to recognize the powerful forces that drive this resistance will doom the efforts of adult children. An aging person’s developmental tasks and psychological needs are different from our own. They have a powerful need to maintain control and independence. Adult children, who are often overscheduled, are driven by efficiency and competency. Here are five steps that will help adult children put their needs aside and delve into the world in which the aging person is living in order to help them get the support they need.
1. Start the conversation.
Identify who has the best rapport with the aging parent. This person should begin the conversation. First bring your observations of what you have seen and heard, then ask what they think may be going on. Acknowledge how difficult this is and that you are not there to take away their rights but to support them. Ask them what will work for them.
2. Become a partner, not a parent.
“Parenting your parent” is a formula for disaster. It undermines the powerful need they have to maintain their control and independence. This approach becomes a psychological game through which you assert control and they instinctively assume the role of the child. They will resist even if it’s irrational and not in their best interest.
3. Collaborate and compromise toward a common goal.
When you are partners, you can work together to determine what will work. You are trying to establish honest, ongoing conversations about their future. You won’t get the answer you want today. You’re laying the ground work toward understanding your parent’s feelings, wishes and needs.
4. Establish a “heart” connection with your aging parent.
This is probably the most important principle and the one that really helps to melt resistance. It can be helpful to say something to the effect of, “I know I’m probably being a bit selfish, but I love you so much and I want you around forever.” In this situation, you can’t say I love you enough!
5. Make sure your intentions are clear and you’re not trying to manipulate or coerce.
Whose peace of mind you are really worried about — yours or your aging parent’s? They need to see they can trust you. This is how they will walk alongside you and begin to work with you.
Sara Carpenter White is the founder of Grey Sage Inc., a geriatric care management company started in 2012. Sara is a registered nurse, licensed clinical social worker, and holds a certificate in gerontology.