A study directed by gerontologist Dr. Allison Heid indicated that 77 percent of adult children felt their parents were stubborn. This should come as no surprise if you are an adult child. What may be surprising is that 66 percent of the parents agreed they were stubborn.
So let’s look for the sources of stubbornness in seniors and then look for ways to open the lines of communication and cooperation.
‘Why won’t my parents listen?’
It’s frustrating (and sometimes terrifying) when senior parents won’t listen to sound advice about caring for themselves or, in some cases, avoiding endangering themselves by doing things they are no longer capable of safely performing.
Some of the stubbornness is a result of growing older, feeling the physical limitations, the shrinking of their social world, and the daily struggle to maintain health and some degree of independence. They may be depressed about the death of a spouse, family member or friend. If they don’t live near or see family, often they may feel that they are being excluded.
Isolated, perhaps angry about aging, or in pain, they may fear placement in a nursing home against their wishes. Also, some may be struggling with dementia.
A loss of autonomy due to physical challenges plays a part. According to the Heid study, adult children have noted that stubbornness rises when a parent’s disability increases.
‘What can I do to get through?’
- You as the adult child could just accept their limitations in influencing your parents. They are, after all, adults, and it is their life. Instead of beating your head against the wall, it might be best to reduce your stress and accept what you cannot change. Of course, this strategy should not apply if the behavior is dangerous. One flashpoint is when Mom or Dad have to quit driving. They are not only a danger to themselves but to everyone else on the road. If there is no agreement about surrendering the car keys, they may have to be taken, or the car disabled. Sometimes getting them to listen to reason is not the solution.
- Pick your battles. In a struggle of wills, it is easy to lose perspective. Re-evaluate the issues. Is it dangerous (Dad almost set the house on fire by smoking in bed) or is it merely annoying (Dad refuses to change his clothes more than twice a week)?
- Give them credit. It is tempting to try to take command as parents age, but they have been making decisions their entire adult lives. Ask for their opinion, and show you value their knowledge and experience. Seek agreement in a discussion; do not command action by a declaration.
- Appeal to their better nature. Tell Dad that you worry about him smoking in bed, and say it would make you feel so much better if he agreed to sit at the kitchen table or step outside to smoke. Note, you are not asking him to quit smoking, although you may work up to that later. Rather, you are looking for a compromise motivated by their concern for you or someone else they love.
- Look for the underlying cause of the stubbornness. Why is Mom refusing to take her medications? Is it a case of her not understanding how and when to take her medications? This may be a problem and an embarrassment she doesn’t want to admit. Also, it’s frustrating when your parents don’t tell you when something is wrong. Are they just being secretive, or do they not want to burden you?
- Bring in reinforcements. Perhaps you and your parents have a long history of bumping heads. Is there someone else you can bring into the discussion to whom your parents would rather talk? Perhaps someone who they consider the voice of authority, like their physician?
- Vent to someone other than your parents. You seldom settle a disagreement by shouting. In fact, you set the disagreement in a cement of words that cannot be taken back. Go share your frustrations (and perhaps a glass of wine) with a friend or relative and unload. Do not explode at a parent.
We understand how frustrating it can be to deal with stubborn people. Use the free resources we have available to you in our blog to help you navigate family dynamics.