It is so frustrating when our parents don’t accept our help or listen to our advice, isn’t it? We expect our teenagers not to listen to us, but our parents, shouldn’t they know better?
It doesn’t seem so. Almost daily, a member of the Working Daughter community expresses their extreme frustration that their parent won’t accept their help. Sometimes it is in the form of not admitting to a problem. “I know my mother is not feeling well. So why won’t she let me take her to the doctor?” Or, “Caring for my mother with Alzheimers has become too much for my father, but he won’t let me hire a home health aide.”
I’ve been there too. My mother had this tiny tell, a little catch in her voice, that I would detect when something was wrong. I’d call and ask her how she was doing. “Fine,” she would lie. I knew there was a problem, but I didn’t know what it was. A few days later she would call – and at that point the problem had become drop-everything-urgent. It made me crazy, and cranky. But know, I think I get it.
Before I explain, let me just say that one of the reasons I started Working Daughter was to create a space just for us. A place to share our thoughts, opinions, joys and rants. Back when I started caring for my parents, I found lots of websites, books and articles that shared the perspective of the aging parent. But none that shared ours. And yet caregiving is happening to us, disrupting our lives, changing our plans and routines and perspective. And I felt, and still feel strongly, that we deserve a platform that focuses on our needs. That said, recent life events have given me some perspective and insight into our parents’ point of view, and I share it here, not to negate what you are going through, not to shame you in to donning a halo and acting saintly, but in hopes it may help you find a way to work with your parents to get them the help they need, and you the help they need.
Needing help is hard.
Recently I became a widow. And that is hard on a million different levels. One of those levels is needing help. I absolutely hate it. I hate that I can no longer do many things without calling in a favor from a friend or family member. If something breaks (and many things have) and I don’t know how to fix it, I have to call a friend. If I want to move a heavy piece of furniture (one of the stages of grief is redecorating), I have to call a friend. If I can’t open a lid that is screwed on tight, I have to call a friend. If I am doing something for the first time, something my husband used to handle (which was pretty much everything), I have to call a friend for advice or a second opinion. And did I mention that I hate that?
I hate it for a number of reasons. I hate the lack of privacy. In the past, if I moved the sofa from the left side of the room to the right side, no one cared except for my husband who had to help me. Now, people need to know. Sounds trivial? It may be. But those people who I call on to help have opinions. “Have you considered putting it where the chair is?” “Can you see the TV from that angle” “Are those new throw pillows? Aka, “Should you be spending money on that?” Or, “Why don’t you just get a new sofa?” Aka, “Are you all set financially?” So not the end of the world, I know. But different. And strange. This introverted homebody now lives a community life.
I hate the waiting. I am so, so blessed to have friends and family who will help me. I know that. “Anything you need.” “Why don’t you call me for help? “How can I help?” So, so lucky. Now all I need to do is remember to schedule the help. I can’t spontaneously cook a burger on my new grill on a Monday night because the person who is going to hook up my propane tank isn’t stopping by until Tuesday. Oops.
I hate the vulnerability. As if losing my life partner doesn’t make me feel as vulnerable as hell, I know have to accept the fact that I know very little about a lot of important things. So, so vulnerable. I call a friend. “The car dealer says I need to rotate the tires. Do you think that’s true or are they just trying to up-sell me?” “The plumber quoted me $3,000 for the work. Is that a good price or am I getting fleeced?”
I hate the reason I need help. Do I sound impatient? Ungrateful? Spoiled? Maybe. But mostly, I am just adjusting. Every time I accept help, I have to accept why I need that help. And that means that sometimes I am less than gracious to the wonderful people in my life who are helping me, because their kindness is a reminder of my loss. And it’s reasonable, isn’t it, to take my feelings out on them?
The lightbulb over my head turns on.
Maybe when our aging parents resist our help, complain about it, conceal the need for it, and criticize it, it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with why they need the help. Maybe, they resent the disease that has taken their ability to be self sufficient. Maybe, they long for the days when they could take something down from the shelf when they wanted it, instead of when we stopped by. Maybe they don’t want to see the doctor about what ails them because they fear it will lead to needing even more assistance. Maybe aging has made them feel oh so vulnerable and they don’t need any more reminders. And maybe, like me, they were always a little surly to begin with.
So maybe, knowing this, you might be a little more patient, a little more understanding, introduce change in their life a wee bit slower.
And maybe not. You’re human after all. And you’re just trying to help. And aren’t they so, so blessed to have you?