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Prodding Parents to Get Healthy

Posted By Mark Sisson On February 5, 2010 @ 9:11 am In Health,How To | 63 Comments

Monday’s “Dear Mark” [7] sparked a great discussion about raising healthy kids, but the conversation really got going (in the comment board [8] and forum [9]) when readers lamented the hard-headedness of their parents.

Yes, we too often paint younger folks as the impulsive, devil-may-care madcaps or hapless Pied Piper targets. Truth is, there are plenty of those qualities in every age demographic. Kids aren’t the only ones who can dig in their heels after all. So, to take on the flipside of Monday’s question, what’s a Primal child (of any age) to do when Mom and Dad are the ones whose health needs a major overhaul?

I venture to say that many more people find themselves in the role of concerned progeny than those who commented Monday. Far too many of us, I imagine, have been grudging witnesses over the years to our parents’ destructive health habits – whether it be crummy diet, complete lack of physical activity, smoking, workaholic lifestyle, chronic stress, or – who knows –  compulsive use of household insecticides. Sometimes it’s ignorance on their part. Other times it’s denial. In some cases, it’s flat out apathy.

We drop hints at dinner. We drop pamphlets, articles or whole books on their coffee tables. At turns, we find ourselves lecturing. We argue. We offer to help – to make dinner, suggest some relaxation techniques or pay for a gym membership. In the midst of the back and forth, some of us deal with the frustration better than others. Perhaps those of us who recently moved out or are in the process of doing so are just glad to be on our own, away from the influence for a while. However, for many of us it’s an ongoing source of disappointment and even an emotional roadblock in the relationship.

The questions nag at the back of our brains and maybe tug at the heart strings a little. Why won’t they listen to reason? Why don’t they value their own health? Don’t they want to live to be there for their grandchildren – for me? How can it not bother them to be giving up decades of their lives or at least the hope of some additional active and independent years? What am I supposed to do here? Will anything I do or say make any difference whatsoever?

Step Back

As difficult as it is, maybe the first step in dealing with the quandary is this: we should all take a step back. (A big breath helps too.) There’s a certain freedom in accepting that you aren’t responsible for another person’s choices. Although you certainly have a big stake in their health, in their independence, in their well-being, in their being in this world period, the fact is and will always remain that you don’t run their lives. If you genuinely worry for them, it’s a painful realization, but at least it can stop you from beating your head against the wall. It’s not your fault. It’s not under your control. It’s sad and horribly unfortunate that they stand a big chance of missing out on some of their good years as well as your life and your kids’, but there it is. Ultimately, it’s out of your hands. Que Sera isn’t a comforting concept, but it can be a liberating one.

Don’t Apologize for Your Lifestyle

Just as they are going to live their lives the way they want, make no bones about doing the same for yourself. Stop feeling guilty for refusing your mother’s pie [10] at Thanksgiving if you don’t want it. Stop apologizing for bringing your own food to their house or turning down Sunday night get-togethers if that’s a good workout night for you. Stop caving to their pushing treats on the grandkids. Maybe the more you stand by your lifestyle, the more seriously they’ll take it. If not, you’ll at least feel more in control of your own life and less swept up by their choices.

Appreciate Small Changes

Just because you accept that you don’t control the ultimate outcome doesn’t mean you can’t leave the door open for them to change or that you can’t make the adjoining room all the more inviting. I’d never say give up encouraging your parents to get healthy. Nonetheless, it’s all about perspective. When you take yourself out of the role of health director or even rescuer, you’re in a much better mindset to encourage, see and appreciate smaller changes. You’re not caught up in the vision of deep and desperate change for them. Once you take the pressure off, they might soften up a bit and surprise you.

Offer Some Healthy Bonding Opportunities

So, your dad probably isn’t going to ever accompany you to a PrimalCon [11] event, but maybe you can convince him to go for a walk on a nice spring day [12]. Though your mother will never give up her carbs, she’ll love spending Sunday brunch at your house (with your food) when she can have fun with the grandkids. Invite your parents to participate in your life – and the lifestyle that goes along with it. Find things that both of you can enjoy and get something out of.

Finally, however frustrating or unchanging your parents’ choices are, enjoy your time with them. Live life to the fullest with them as much as you can. Show them you care and that you enjoy their company. Let them know they’re an important part of your life. In the best or worst circumstances, you’ll be glad you did. There’s an old fable in which the sun and wind compete to see who can get the coat off a man passing by. In the harshness of the wind, the man simply clutches his coat more tightly. In the sun’s warmth, he happily casts it aside. In the best circumstances, perhaps warmth and love provide the best inspiration for healthy change.

Have your own stories and strategies for prodding your parents or other family members toward a healthier lifestyle? Thanks for reading.


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