Real-Life Perspectives

Smart Strategies When Aging Parents Refuse to Listen

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I come from a long line of stubborn people. So it should have been no surprise when my 80+ year-old father refused to address an important (and, might I say, insightful) question I had about his estate planning.

I still found it bewildering and infuriating. He was the most loving and generous man, so I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t at least hear me out.

I am not alone. Many aging parents don’t listen to their children. One study, in fact, reported a whopping 77% of adult children say their parents are stubborn about getting help with day-to-day issues or heeding their advice.

I get it. Who wants someone to tell them what to do, especially their kid? It is this uncomfortable role shift, from the parent who is used to calling the shots and advising their child to that grown child now doling out advice to Mom and Dad. It doesn’t help to think, “cycle of life.”

So, what are you supposed to do when they aren’t with the program?

Tips for Aging Parents Who Won’t Listen

1. Pick your spots.

If you’re constantly giving unsolicited advice, of course they’ll tune you out. Save your suggestions, and decisions, for important issues—not something irritating but a safety situation, for instance.

2. Treat them with respect.

Leave lecturing and bossiness at the door. They’re not little children regardless of circumstances. Put another way, they are adults. Test out your tactics: would you be okay with how you were being treated if the tables were turned?

3. Think about how you deliver your message.

Might it be how you say it, not what you say?

4. Consider their motivation.

Why aren’t they listening? Are they scared of losing their independence or of the future? Could they be depressed, confused, or angry? What else might it be? As they said in the 80s, understand where they’re “coming from.”

5. Appeal to their interest.

There might be a milestone coming up such as a granddaughter’s wedding, a family trip, or an anniversary party that they would like to be able to celebrate. Might that persuade them?

6. Blame it on someone else!

A little manipulative, perhaps, but see if your parent might be convinced to do something for their grandchild’s, or your, sake. Let them know how much it bothers your granddaughter that you are skipping their medication, smoking around the baby or not getting the help they need.

Tell them that if they do something—have an emergency alert gadget, use a smart pillbox that reminds them when it’s time to take their medication, hire help or curtail their driving—you won’t have to worry about them the way you do now. Couch it in terms of doing it for you, not them.  

7. Present other options.

If you want them to hang up the keys, for example, research alternative ways of getting around (public transportation, ride sharing services, you and your family, or private buses). Let them know that if they stop driving, they can still be independent.

8. Accept that you may not be able to sway them.

Their decision might not be the one you would make, but unless they have a cognitive issue, they are entitled to listen or not listen, act or not act, and have the final say.

Some day I will be in my parent’s position and my kids will give me advice and requests. I hope I will listen to them carefully and they, in turn, will accept my decisions.

I have to work on my husband before we get to that stage, though. Did I tell you, he also comes from a long line of stubborn people?

Guest plog post by Sally Abrahms

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