Accepting you can’t change someone else is something most of us aren’t good at.
I for one hate that I can’t make people do what I want. I struggle with this feeling daily. “If only they would listen to me, if only they would do what I said”. Jesus probably felt the same way (imagine how many SMH’s he would have given us if he’d had a smart phone).
Humans do what we want. We make our own choices, and most of us can’t handle the consequences, but we do it anyways.
This is especially frustrating when it comes to loved ones.
Watching someone hurt themselves, whether its through poor relationship choices or poor health choices is very disheartening. And no matter how much we plead, cajole, beg, or yell, its up to the person to do what they want or need to do. And we just have to accept it, right?
Maybe. Maybe on some things we have to accept it. We have to let the person go and love them anyways and hope that they will figure it out.
But if you have a parent that needs to make better choices, there are some things that can be done to help them.
1. Make it their idea
No matter how old you are, in the eyes of your parental units you are still a child, and they know more than you.
You will discover this the first time you hear them say “well Dr.Oz said that blah blah blah” and you want to bang your head against the wall cause you’ve been telling them that for years. But it took Dr.Oz saying it for them to listen.
If you want them to do something, use the same tactics they used on you as a teenager- make it their idea.
Slip the information in as a ‘so I saw on Oprah that…” or “you know Mr. Smith down the street has been doing…”. Expose them to the information without having it come from you. The minute we start saying things a wall is going to go up, whether they know they are doing it or not.
That wall exists from years of the way we communicate as parent/child, and unfortunately it takes YEARS of practice before we learn how to communicate any differently.
Don’t get frustrated with this. Get smart.
2. Guide them with the right information that comes from OTHER sources (not from you directly)
This piggy backs on number one. Leave the article you want them to read casually on the counter top when you are visiting them. Find a documentary and watch it while they are around and get the conversation started. But have it as conversation only- not a pointed “this is how you SHOULD be doing this”.
Pick up pamphlets from your doctor’s office, or print things out from the internet. But avoid the “here you should read this” pushiness. Just make the information available. Pique their curiosity and fingers crossed you can start a dialogue. Then-
3. Help make the changes easy
It may not be that they are resisting change for changes sake, it may very well be that they are AFRAID of change, or that acknowledging the change makes them acknowledge their age or their health conditions, and THAT’S scary. So if they are at a point where they need or want to make changes but haven’t yet, find ways to make the changes as easy as possible.
Do they need to start exercising because of a health condition? There are tons of free classes and programs they can sign up for to get them started. Go with them the first time, or run through some exercises at home.
Are they home bound? Check out the hundreds of thousands of free videos on Youtube.
Don’t live near them? No TV? Find a college kid who might be willing to head over to their house a couple of times a week to get them exercising. Most larger colleges have Exercise Science or Kinesiology programs and these kids are looking for experience in the field. You can pay them rather inexpensively- $12 to $14 an hour, and you can provide them with programming they can follow off the internet.
If it’s their diet they need to change, before you tell them what they CAN’T eat anymore, have alternatives that they CAN eat.
Type 2 Diabetic? So they give up lots of bread, but they can make Paleo options that are delicious and low carb. Heart Disease? The doctor wants them to give up saturated fat- they can still eat turkey bacon, low fat cheese, and veggies with low fat ranch.
Yes, the planning might be more work for you. But in the end if you have a plan, and one prepared before you talk to them, then their level of resistance to change will be lower AND it will potentially prevent or diminish the arguments you could get into.
Your goal is to make it as easy as possible.
(They will love you for this one. I promise)
4. Set them up for success
This goes along with make the choices easy. If their world has just been flipped upside down because of a health diagnosis, or you see they need to make choices to prevent an issue, set them up for success.
Remember the last time you decided on January 1st that you were going to change everything? All at once? You were going to get up at 5am, run 3 miles, drink your kale smoothie, stretch, not drink alcohol, avoid sugar, not watch TV…. Remember how long that lasted?
Unless you have superhuman powers (and don’t get me wrong, some people do) its almost impossible to make a whole bunch of habit changes at once, because it requires so much willpower we literally become exhausted by the efforts.
Which means if your parents need to make a whole bunch of changes, set them up for success. Pick ONE thing they need to change- ideally the thing that will have the most positive impact on their health, and focus on helping them change that one thing. Then once that is a new habit, you can make other changes.
IF they have severe gastric upset/ heart burn, see if you can narrow it down to the highest culprit food(s) and then, building off number 3, before you tell them they should stop eating it, have an alternative ready!
Have them make one food change, then build. Taking away every food that they love in one foul swoop might crush their souls.
If they need to start exercising, get them moving for 5 minutes 3 to 4 days a week. Start small, and make it easy. Then build.
5. Don’t be unrealistic
Most of us won’t get our parents to make every change we want them to, or think that they should. Be happy if you can get them to adopt 30 to 40 percent of the changes they need to live healthier.
There is a reason they say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”- it’s not that they can’t or won’t learn, it’s that their behaviors are so ingrained into who they are its really hard to change.
They also might not care about it as much as we do. We may think using Splenda is paramount to drinking chemicals, but they just might want something sweet and have to manage their blood sugar…. The way their doctor told them they should.
If you’ve ever gotten overwhelmed with all of the health information out there, can you imagine what it would be like if you had twice as much information?
Our parents have gone through:
Low fat, high carb; high fat, low carb; fake butter, real butter, eat eggs, don’t eat eggs, eat red meat, don’t eat red meat, drink the diet soda, diet soda will kill you, eat the cheese, don’t eat the cheese, get walking, lift weights, run, don’t run, stretch, don’t stretch, drink wine, don’t drink wine, take advil, don’t take advil… and believe it or not I could keep going.
Most of them just want to be able to live out their lives in peace feeling moderately good.
They’ve lived through a time when modern medicine was the answer for everything, and now we are coming back to a place where not only does medicine have its limits, it may in some cases be doing more harm then good.
So be patient with them. I know it’s hard, and frustrating, and can be discouraging.
My goals with my parents are simple:
I would like them to stretch occasionally, practice their balance regularly, walk some, do some weight lifting occasionally, eat their vegetables, and avoid as much processed crap as possible.
If I can get them to do 50 percent of that, I will be happy. Because it isn’t my life to live, it’s theirs. And as much as we care about them and want the best for them, they get to do what makes them happy.
Let me know what you think about this in the comments below, and feel free to add what has worked for you when helping your parents with their health!
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