Imagine this scenario: Your dad is having a difficult time doing basic household activities and errands. You’ve offered to drive him to appointments, pick up a few groceries, or help organize his bills. And yet, every time you make an offer, he refuses to accept your help.
You’re worried and maybe even a little frustrated that you can’t convince him otherwise. What should you do?
First, you should know that this situation is not uncommon! We often hear from adult children concerned that their older relative just won’t listen or accept their help.
Understanding the reasons why they might reject your offer, and finding ways to empathize with how they are feeling, is a good first step to overcoming your loved one’s resistance.
Five Common Reasons Why Your Parents Won’t Accept Your Help
1. They want to remain independent.
While from your perspective, offering to do a load of laundry doesn’t seem like that big of deal, your parent may see this as the first step to dependence. And dependence can bring up a lot of fears. Am I losing control? Do I still have authority? First laundry, then what? Additionally, while it’s one thing to think, “I’m getting older,” it’s very different to experience the reality that getting older can mean needing extra care.
2. They are afraid to admit they need help.
This fear often relates to wanting to remain independent. The thought is, “If I admit to needing help with this small task, will it lead to losing control over everything else?” Additionally, your relative may be in denial about an illness or denial about a change in their abilities. Admitting they need help requires acceptance first.
3. They don’t want to be a burden to others.
Your family member knows you have your own busy life and schedule, whether that’s work, childcare, or running your own errands. They don’t want to add to your already heavy load.
4. They are private, or don’t trust others.
This reason can be true if you’ve suggested some kind of in-home assistance. While your parents may be comfortable around you, the idea of a stranger in their home can be off-putting. They may also question why you can’t simply provide the care they need or why they have to hire and pay someone to do something you are “capable of doing.”
5. They are uncomfortable with the role reversal.
If their familial role has traditionally been the one in charge and the decision-maker, it can be extremely difficult to accept a change in dynamic. They may resist your help because they are “still the parent and in charge.”
Keep in mind that the reasons why your family member is rejecting or refusing help are not always apparent. In fact, often the reasons can be intrinsic parts of the person’s value system or personal/psychological identity. In that sense, accepting help may even make them feel like they are losing themselves, and that is frightening.
That’s why establishing the “why” behind their resistance is so important. You cannot begin the work of calming any fears until you know the reasons behind them.
If you’re unsure of how to determine the “why” behind their resistance, start by asking! One way to ease into a conversation is to avoid starting with “you” statements, for example, “You need X and I’m going to do Y.” Instead, you might ask, “What kind of help would you want if you weren’t able to do everything yourself and wanted to remain safely in your home?”
Helping a Family Member Who Doesn’t Want Your Help
Iona is offering a special workshop on October 25, 2017 on strategies for caregivers to help a family member who doesn’t want their help. Offered in partnership with Brighton Gardens of Friendship Heights, the class will be led by Donna Tanner, MSW, LICSW, and cover practical tips for getting your family member’s cooperation, as well as expert advice if they continue to say no.