How to Involve My Parent When I Help Them

son talking with parents while using a laptop

Dear Elonda,

My mom has been living at home by herself since my dad passed away three years ago. She was doing okay at first but now she seems to be slowing down a bit and I’m trying to figure out how to help her.

To help her, I go over once or twice a week to do yard work, help with laundry, go grocery shopping for her—anything she needs done. I live nearby so it’s not too difficult to make the trip, although sometimes it’s hard to find a free moment.

Mom is appreciative but has also mentioned that it’s frustrating to her that she can’t do these things herself. She’s a very independent person and doesn’t like that someone else is getting her groceries and running her errands.

How can I make her feel included with I do things for her? Do you have any tips?


Kathy M.

Hilliard, Ohio

How to Help Elderly Parents Without Hurting Their Pride

Dear Kathy,

You’re not alone—many adult children struggle with the transition from child to caregiver when their parents start to need more help.

It’s tricky to find a balance between helpful and overbearing. There’s actually a term out there for adult children who do too much for their parents: helicopter children.

“Helicopter children observe their parents aging — losing their memory, eyesight, financial prowess or driving skills — and proceed to take over their lives and become overly controlling,” journalist Gary M. Stern writes in his article, Are You a Helicopter Child to Your Parents?.

While I’m not suggesting that you fall into this category, Stern does have some helpful tips for making sure your mom feels involved. For example, he recommends that adult children have conversations with their parent to see what the parent expects from them and to only step in when necessary.

Here are some other tips for helping your parent that I would recommend:

1. Give your parent a say.

Whenever possible, let your parent weigh in on the task you are completing. If your parent falls on the bossy side of things, this may be a bit of a hassle but in the long run, it can help them feel more involved and therefore make them more cooperative.

You mentioned that you do your mom’s grocery shopping. It may take some extra time if she has mobility issues, but I would encourage you to take her whenever possible so she can still choose her food for herself.

If that’s not possible, it may be a good idea to ask her to note what her preferred brands are when she makes her grocery list. That way, she can have more of a say in what you bring back to her.

2. Let your parent handle as much as possible on their own.

This may seem counterintuitive as you want to help your parent, but the key to involving your parent in tasks is to let them do as much of it as possible on their own.

For example, if you’re doing laundry for your mom, let her sort the loads or fold the clean laundry. You can do the heavy lifting of loading the laundry and switching out loads, but let her keep as much of her independence as possible throughout the process. Another example would be if you see her in the kitchen putting dishes away, don’t take them from her hands to finish the task.

And, of course, it’s always a good idea to ask what she wants help with and what she would prefer to do on her own. She may not be able to do all of her preferred activities, but it’s good to start the conversation.

3. Keep things fun and fulfilling.

One way to help both of you feel more engaged in joint tasks is to throw some fun activities into the mix. If you only ever see your mother when you have to do chores for her, you may start to put off visits.

Whenever possible, plan a fun outing with your parent. It doesn’t have to be anything major. You could go for a Sunday drive or catch a new movie you both want to see. This will help bring some levity into your new role as caregiver.

4. Beware of caregiver guilt.

Caregiver guilt is quite common in adult children taking care of their elderly parents. Sometimes it feels like no matter how much you do, you’re not doing enough.

Psychologist Barry J. Jacobs recommends a few methods for dealing with caregiver guilt, including to accept that guilt is part of the process and to tolerate ambivalence.

“Caregiving doesn’t make us angels. We’re still cranky humans,” Jacobs writes.

If you give in to caregiver guilt, not only are you having a negative effect on your own mental health, but it’s likely that your mother will pick up on the emotion and develop a sense of guilt of her own. If it’s a negative experience for both of you, your parent may resist your help.

There is one last thing I would recommend—if you haven’t already, you may want to look into assisted living as an option. Your mom may not need it now, but if she’s having difficulties living on her own then assisted living can be a huge help.

You said that she was independent, but assisted living doesn’t represent a loss of independence. In fact, assisted living allows residents to be as independent as possible. They can still do everything they enjoy doing but with the added convenience of services and amenities designed to keep them healthy and safe. If you’d like, here are some tips on starting the assisted living conversation with your parent.

I wish you and your mother the best!


Elonda Hall, ADC, DCP