Arguing with Your Elderly Parents? Ask an Expert

A Caregiver Faces Hostility and Resistance

Help! I find myself arguing with my elderly Mom all the time. We always had a good parent child relationship. I’m the daughter who is closest to her, both physically and emotionally. As I’ve had to step in and help, she resists my every move. I was recently trying to clean out her kitchen, which was full of expired food, and she became openly hostile. Even though she’s having trouble bathing, I know she won’t let me help. My other siblings don’t understand why I can’t “make” her listen. She seems so sweet to them. But, that’s easy to say when you’re not the one who has to convince her to make the changes. Or, handle the day-to-day, sometimes unpleasant, realities.

Our Expert Responds:

Caregiving is especially hard when you’re every move meets with resistance. Unfortunately, the person who is doing the most often feels the brunt of the anger. Your Mom’s anger likely comes from a place of fear. It is hard to face aging-related changes and admit the need for help. You need a partner who you can talk to, and who can help talk Mom through some of the changes. During a consultation, a care manager can outline a plan with you (and hopefully your siblings as well).

It sounds like Mom is not going to take suggestions you make easily, and will likely not allow you to help with the personal care needs. The care manager knows how to approach these situations delicately. We may suggest using an ally, such as one of your siblings that she listens to, a friend, or a professional like her pastor or doctor. In addition, all the tasks shouldn’t fall to you. By getting some help, you can restore the good parent child relationship you once had. And, you can make sure Mom is safe and well taken care of without the constant struggle. It will not always be easy, but having a supportive “care team” helps. And, having a neutral party to guide the discussion may bring your siblings on board in better understanding the situation.

Facing resistance? Set up a consult with a care manager today.

Dad Thinks He Can Do It All, You Know Better

I’ve been helping my parents since my Mom returned from the hospital. I took leave from work and have been staying with them. Now, it’s time to return to work. I’m worried and they don’t seem to be (which worries me more). Dad and I got into a big argument last night when I brought up my concerns. He says he can handle things, but I’ve seen how little he can do and how tired he is. Dad has never done the household chores, so how will he handle things once I leave?

Expert Advice:

One of the most common responses to adult children’s concerns is “We’re fine.” This often turns into defensiveness and anger if the child questions it. But, you’re right in not wanting to simply leave them in this situation when you know it’s not safe or healthy. Let’s talk about who we may be able to enlist in talking to Dad. It may be Mom’s doctor, who can “prescribe” some in-home help and support. Or, Dad may have a friend who he trusts who’s been through something similar. Don’t forget you’re still “the child” in Dad’s eyes. Sometimes he needs to hear suggestions from someone else.

And, he needs to buy into the idea. Let’s strategize about what he might want and where he might be most willing to accept help, as a starting point. Nine times out of ten when someone gets in-home help, they wish they’d done it sooner. It’s the idea that’s scary…the idea of giving up control, needing help.

Let’s talk about the best ways to approach Dad so you can return home without constant worry.

Missing the Parent-Child Relationship

When I visit Mom now, I spend 90% of the time running errands and checking “to do’s” off the list. The other 10% is spent arguing with Mom. She feels I’m being pushy. Mom doesn’t realize how anxious I am to make sure things are okay. She has no concept of the pressure I’m under. Often, she thinks I can just schedule another visit and do this or that next time. I feel like we have no parent child relationship anymore. I’m like the boss coming in and yelling at the employee all the time. I feel regretful that this is how I’m spending these precious moments with Mom. How can I get back the parent child relationship and stop being taskmaster?

Our Care Manager’s Response:

This is so tough. You’re trying to do the best for your Mom. But, in doing that, your relationship is deteriorating. There’s basically no time for the relationship in the midst of all the tasks. Because you’re under pressure with limited time, you’re hurrying to get things done. You’re on a totally different pace than your Mom, which overwhelms her. This causes her to lash out.

It’s essential that you let go of some of the tasks to restore your relationship. And, your sanity. Let’s talk about the current situation and outline what needs to be done. Then, we can create a “plan of attack” (AKA care plan). We’ll look at what tasks you might be able to outsource. Additionally, we have a lot of time-saving tips and resources. The care plan will help you prioritize and reduce the pressure. Trying to pack in all the appointments and errands on visits is a no-win situation. With some help with tasks, you can regain quality time with Mom.

Get help. Save your precious time with Mom, save your parent-child relationship.

In our next installment, we’ll talk to a daughter who’s father is about to get kicked out of his care facility. We’ll delve into dementia caregiving dilemmas and where to turn for seemingly no-win situations.

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