One of the most common challenges that adult children face is stubborn aging parents. Such a situation can often place significant strain on the relationship between a parent and their child. At the same time, it can often make you feel like you are being undervalued and that your efforts are in vain.
Precisely what this stubbornness looks like can vary considerably, as can its implications.
But, caregivers and families often find that they are in a challenging situation and one that is difficult to resolve. The stubbornness can often be extremely stressful for all concerned and may even be putting the senior at risk.
Which begs the question, what do you do? And, when is it time to seek help?
Ways to Resolve Challenges
As you will already know, there is no easy solution for tackling stubbornness in aging parents.
After all, aging parents are adults in their own right and they have lived a full life of their own, where they have been able to make their own decisions and choices. Many of them are also resistant about taking advice from their children, as doing so can feel like a reversal of roles.
For that matter, how would you feel about somebody telling you how to live your life?
Chances are, you would resent it, regardless of the circumstances and whether the advice was necessary. So, it’s not hard to see why older parents are resistant as well.
As a result, finding solutions is truly an individual challenge and will strongly depend on the specific situation and the relationship you have with your parents.
However, there are some steps and approaches that you can take that may help to resolve a situation before you get to the point of needing to seek help.
Examination and Evaluation
First of all, what does the stubbornness look like?
In some cases, it could be something like your parent not wanting to take your advice in certain areas. Perhaps they are stubborn about their finances or something that’s in their will.
Maybe they simply refuse to try out a specific activity or conversely, maybe they don’t want to give up something that they enjoy.
All of the examples above may be frustrating but, in many cases, they’re probably not causing any major harm. At the same time, your parent isn’t required to agree with everything you say or want.
On the other hand, there are many cases of stubbornness where the parent may actually be putting themselves at risk.
For example, a parent may not be willing to take their medication or they may want to continue driving, even after they have had (or nearly had) accidents.
With that in mind, evaluating the situation is critical.
In particular, you need to consider how much of a problem the stubbornness truly is and what impact it has on the well-being of the senior and on your own situation.
In some cases, the underlying issue may be relatively minor and not particularly significant. If this is the case, there could be more grief associated with fighting and debating than with anything else.
Additionally, you may find that you are the one being unreasonable.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for your family – but it’s very easy to try and do so by pushing your family member in a direction that they don’t want to go. For example, the senior may simply not be interested in a specific type of program or event.
When this is the case, pushing the issue may offer relatively few advantages and can simply serve to create tension. If this is the case, it may be worth simply backing off.
However, if the issue at hand is significant and needs to be addressed, there are approaches that you can take to do so.
One of the most significant ways to combat stubbornness in aging parents is to understand (and adjust to), the underlying cause or causes. This is particularly true if your parent is stubborn about just a few areas.
For example, aging brings with it a loss of independence, something that many people find devastating. As a result, they may stubbornly cling onto the independence they do have left.
This is actually a key reason why many seniors don’t want to stop driving, even in cases where they truly do need to.
In other cases, seniors may be stubborn about a particular topic because of difficulties. For example, some seniors may be unwilling to bathe often (or at all). There are a variety of potential reasons but one is the physical challenge associated with doing so. If this is occurring, there are various tips and tools that can help overcome personal hygiene challenges.
Seniors may also be stubborn for emotional reasons. Fear is one example, embarrassment is another. In most cases, there will be ways to decrease the emotional impact and make the goal seem less difficult.
With this in mind, the more that you can understand about why a senior is being stubborn, the better you can try to help. You may even find that understanding opens up a door and makes it easier to work out a solution.
For example, if your parent doesn’t want to be dependent, you can look for ways to make tasks seem beneficial to you as well. So, if you’re planning to take them to an appointment, you might talk about how it will be nice to get out of the house and spend time some time with your family member. This will often make them more receptive to the idea.
In some cases, the answer may also be to back off.
While they mean well, children of aging parents can also be overprotective, which may serve to drive a wedge between them and their parents. There is a great article on the topic over at The Atlantic, which highlights the line between caring and controlling, particularly how aging adults and their children may differ in where they consider that line to be.
If you are attempting to control what doesn’t need to be controlled – then the simple answer may well be to let things alone. If you do so, you could find that issues of stubbornness decrease as well and your relationship with your parent improves.
Opening a Dialog
Discussions with stubborn parents can often end up in arguments but opening a dialog is still an extremely valuable tool. A key aspect to doing so is trying to avoid the same familiar path and not have the discussion turn into a fight.
So, for example, you might choose to focus on getting the parent to help figure out a solution or try to emphasize finding a middle ground. Doing so is often effective, as choice is a key component of independence. Many people feel threatened when choice is taken away from them, so providing some choices can be a powerful approach.
For that matter, compromise may well be key when dealing with stubbornness in parents. Realistically, you may simply be unable to get the answer that you’re looking for – but it may be possible to find a middle ground that is at least better.
For example, if your family member doesn’t want to shower, you could compromise with them bathing twice a week – even if you would rather they do so every day.
Many people find that offering a choice helps. In the case of a shower, you might ask whether they want to shower in the morning or the night today. This simple change can often reduce stubbornness and provides a greater sense of agency and control.
In opening up a dialog, you want to create a situation where it is safe for your family member to be honest about how they feel. Doing so can go a long way in resolving the immediate problem and creating a more positive relationship moving forward.
Stubbornness with Medical Causes
Now, in some cases, stubbornness can be a consequence of a medical condition. For example, some key symptoms of dementia include paranoia, suspicious and delusions.
Likewise, illnesses such as depression can often make a person resistant in key areas. For example, a depressed person may resist social interaction, along with activities like bathing and even eating. This is true for all age groups, including the elderly.
When stubbornness is related to a medical condition, the situation becomes that much more complicated again. In fact, it would be possible to write an entire book on coping with stubbornness in each one of these situations.
However, the first step will always be to talk to a medical professional.
They will be able to give you relevant information about the challenges that you’re facing and possible solutions that may be effective. At the same time, they will be able to help you understand which problems can be resolved and how to address the situations you face.
For example, talking to a parent with dementia often involves special considerations and an awareness of which debates are worth having and which ones are not.
When Should You Seek Help?
All of these approaches are important ways to help with a stubborn parent. But, the truth is that they won’t always be successful. Instead, there are many cases where a parent will not listen, regardless of what you do.
This can leave you with two key alternatives. One is seeking help and the other is continuing to live with the stubbornness. Which is best will entirely depend on the situation at hand. You may also find that you need to seek advice about what to do.
However, the best general rule of thumb is that you should seek help when the senior is a danger to themselves or to others – and when that situation cannot be resolved.
Whether or not this is the case isn’t always easy to judge, but it is a good starting point. For example, if the senior is regularly refusing to eat or is actively putting themselves in danger – seeking help may be critical.
Some of the steps mentioned previously may well help to solve the problem and this is always preferable.
Likewise, it is sometimes possible to make the senior safer, without addressing the underlying stubbornness. For example, this is why I had to report my own father to the DMV – a decision that was not easy to make.
Likewise, improving safety around the home and using tools like GPS trackers are also ways to promote peace of mind without harming independence.
But, at the end of the day, you may not be able to resolve the situation on our own.
If the stubbornness isn’t putting the senior in danger, then the answer may be to respond as best as you can and find ways to decrease the issues.
On the other hand, if the senior is in danger, then it’s important to seek advice and potentially assistance. The first step in doing so would be to talk to the medical professional involved in your parent’s care. They may be able to add additional directions or solutions. Likewise, they will be able to tell you who you need to talk to and what the next steps are.
In many cases, you would also need to find people to talk about the legal implications, especially as seniors are adults and do have rights. However, your medical professional should be able to point you in the right direction.
You can also find out additional information through the links below. These all go to external sites and cover some of the topics that we have talked about here. However, they are also useful in their own right and offer additional guidance.
- How to Handle an Elderly Parent’s Bad Behavior (from AgingCare)
- What Aging Parents Want from Their Kids (from The Atlantic)
- Aging Parents, Adult Children: Who’s Stubborn (from Boston Globe)
- 8 Expert Tips for When Aging Parents Won’t Listen (from Senior Living Blog)
- Are You Legally Responsible for Your Elderly Parents? (from The Daily Beast)
- Adult Children, Aging Parents and the Law (from The New York Times)
It’s also important to remember that you’re not failing if you seek help. Family caregivers typically have little to no training and face many additional sources of stress. Perhaps you’re trying to work while caring for your aging parent. You may also have children to care for and may face financial challenges.
Even if you are well-prepared, you may simply not be able to provide what your family members need. On the other hand, staff at assisted living facilities and similar locations tend to have much more training and experience. Sometimes, the best way to care for the person you love is to let someone else take over.