Advise My Parents? How?

by Robin Bush, ISR Communications

My father was a fountain of advice during my early adulthood until he reached his eighties and I was in my fifties. Then, the tables began to turn, and I found I began to be the one offering the advice. It was challenging because parents often don’t want advice from their adult children; it goes against the long familiar one-way street of advice from parent to child.

Once adult children are experienced in managing their homes, lives, health, and finances, they often see things they believe will help their parents live better lives, like how to downsize, where money should be held, and how to improve health. These “children” think, “Why won’t my parents listen to me?”

Here are a few tips for adult “children:”

ASK. Even if you see something you think is wrong, how your parents do things means something to them. Ask them why something is important to them. You might learn a great deal about how they think because of experiences they had earlier in their lives or a way of keeping their house that is easier for them. Asking helps you better understand their choices. Approach them with questions rather than presenting answers to things they may not feel are problems. If you notice slippery rugs, instead of taking one away they’ve lived with for 50 years, ask if you might help them hang it on the wall so they can see it but not have a risk of falling from slipping. If your parent is still climbing a ladder to clean the rain gutters, you can ask, “Have you thought about hiring a high schooler to come on weekends and help with outdoor maintenance?” You could offer to help find someone. To make the idea more appealing, you could suggest that maybe they would be willing to teach the high schooler something; older adults usually like to share their knowledge, and it makes them feel good to help someone younger.

RESPECT:  Don’t be patronizing and come across as if saying, “You don’t know what you are doing. Do it this way.” Instead, respect their decisions even if it’s not how you would do it. Suggest a conversation about alternatives instead of edicts requiring changes.

PATIENCE: Be patient. Change is often hard for older adults. Make changes in small steps allowing time for parents to adjust. One change at a time is enough. Don’t change where they keep things in the kitchen while you are changing which bank they use and selling their car so they won’t drive.

SENSITIVITY:  Your suggestions may impact your parent on a level beyond practical health and safety. They may feel you are removing their independence, or it may push them to acknowledge their lessening mobility or mental acuity. They’ve been in charge of their lives for decades and depended on their own judgment, and now you are suggesting they need help. That can be tough.

A last resort might be to say, “Will you do this for me?” That may be enough to tip the scale, but if not, let your suggestion settle in, don’t force it, let them think about it, and maybe later they will come around to agreeing with you, or you can bring it up again if a situation gets worse. They still may not make the change you are hoping for, but if they are not ready for a residential care facility, it is still their life. If they have their mental faculties, they get to choose but hopefully will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

At Island Senior Resources, we offer consultations for family caregivers on how to approach change with their parents. We talk about how to plan for changes while a parent is fully capable of understanding what they may need in the future. For more information, call our Aging & Disability Resources staff at 360-321-1600 (South Whidbey), 360-678-3373 (Central/North Whidbey), or 360-387-6201 (Camano).  You may also request assistance on the home page of this website