When Our Parents Refuse Our Help

Originally published in allaboutestates.ca on June 28, 2013

I speak with adult children daily who call because they are concerned that their parent is not doing well and they feel, needs help. I have found that the refusal to accept help may fall into a number of different categories.
1) Denial: Refuse to accept reality of the situation
2) Responsibility: No one can do it as well- it is my job
3) Ignorance: We are both fine
4) Cost: Why should I pay for service when it is available publicly?
5) Shame: I should be able to manage, why can’t I?

Sometimes, their parent may have remarried and a new spouse is involved. They express concerns that the new spouse, as primary care provider to their parent, is not coping. After listening to their situation, they are correct, it appears that their parent and the step partner, do need help in managing the day to day caregiving responsibilities.

While I have found that ‘reverse guilt’ often works with a parent, it may not be effective on a parent with dementia or if your parent is with a more recent partner. What is reverse guilt? It is saying to your parent that you need the assistance and could they please agree to (care in the home or a professional consultation) for your sake. You are asking them, as their busy overwhelmed and overworked child, if they could agree to this intervention as you are not managing well and you could benefit from the assistance. This approach does work.

When cost is raised as the barrier, it may be preferable for the adult child to pay for the service. Coupons for taxis or housecleaning or decluttering or an afternoon off and arranging for a Personal Support Worker for a few hours, may be gifts to both of you. Similarly, our consultation services are equally valuable to the adult child and having an opportunity to learn and be informed of resources and options, even if it is behind the scenes, is critical. We have held family conferences by teleconference when the family needs to come together and live in different cities. Often the older family member is not part of this initial discussion and a strategy may be planned on how best to engage them.

Other times, it may seem to the care provider, that they are failing and not doing a good enough job. This too may be true, however one has to find a way to engage them without making them feel inadequate.

Sometimes a crisis needs to occur before change can be introduced.

While every situation is unique, there are similarities and common refrains that many families share.
I look forward to hearing about your experiences and successes.

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