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Caring For a Difficult, Unpleasant Parent

Now old age and disability are creeping up, and you are horrified to think that you may be called on to be caregiver to an elderly person you haven't liked very much for a long, long time.

Your parent has always been critical, self-centered, demanding, narcissistic, uninvolved, or frankly just plain nasty. Now old age and disability are creeping up, and you are horrified to think that you may be called on to be caregiver to an elderly person you haven't liked very much for a long, long time.

"They" say that we owe it to our parents to care for them in their old age, just as they cared for us when we were young. But what if your parent didn't provide you with the kind of care you needed? What if you didn't have a Norman Rockwell childhood full of love and support? What if you heaved a sigh of relief when you finally grew up and could leave home?

Under the best of circumstances caring for an aging parent can be difficult. When you face the possibility of having to make huge emotional, physical and financial sacrifices to care for someone you don't like very much, it can be simply awful.

So what do you do when your conscience, your relatives, social workers, neighbors and all the rest of the "theys" in your and your parent's life let you know they think it's time you stepped in and started giving your parent some "help."

Yes, running for the hills may be an option, but there are other and better solutions.

Not everyone will agree, but it is our firm belief that you do not have to personally provide care to your parent. As a daughter or son, you do have an ethical obligation, to the best of your ability and within your parent's financial means, to see that your parent receives access to needed care. You do not have to personally provide that care.

Because you have a moral/ethical duty to insure that your parent is not neglected or at risk, there are some things we suggest that you should do. The earlier you begin the process, the less likely it is that you will be faced with an immediate crisis.

Assess yourself. Sit down in a quiet place and ask yourself honestly how much you are prepared to contribute to your parent's care. How much time are you willing/able to spend? Are you able and willing to contribute financially if necessary? What will you and what will you not be able to do physically to help your parent? Would you be able to help with a move? Would you be willing to shop or do errands on a regular schedule? Would you balk at providing personal care? Would you prefer to let professionals take care of all these needs?

If you have a spouse or partner, talk this over very honestly together before you are faced with a crisis telephone call.

Evaluate Your Parent: Unless you are faced with a parental medical emergency you will probably have some time to assess and evaluate your parent and the kind/amount of care that is needed. If you don't have to, don't make immediate decisions until you've had a chance to make an objective assessment.

If you haven't seen your parent in a while you may have to pay a visit in order to get a first-hand understanding of what's really going on.

Have a Conversation: As difficult as it may be for you, if you and your parent can maintain a reasonable conversation, ask your parent's opinion about what kind of help, if any, would be helpful and acceptable. Don't be surprised if your parent is of the opinion that everything is "just fine."

If your parent admits to needing help, you can offer to either pitch in to the degree you are able, or you can discuss the option of looking for community support for the things you are not willing to or cannot do.

If everything is "just fine," barring major risks to health and safety, it does not pay to argue. Make your assessment observations and offer whatever level of support your parent will accept and that you are willing to give. You'll probably have to do this multiple times.

Get Professional Advice: You will find it enormously helpful to consult with a qualified geriatric care manager who practices in the area where your parent lives. If your parent is willing, have the care manager meet your parent. Paying a visit to your parent's home will allow the care manager to make a comprehensive professional assessment. Recommendations stemming from this kind of assessment will always be more accurate than if the care manager must rely only on the information you are able to provide.

If you and your parent have not had a warm relationship, chances are good that your parent wil not be receptive to having a care manager visit, but you never know. 

If your parent refuses to participate in a full evaluation, meet with the care manager yourself. A good care manager will discuss all of your immediate and long-term options with you and will have extensive knowledge of the resources available to your parent. The cost of a consultation will be well worthwhile.

A care manager can also help coordinate your parent's care IF your parent is willing. Some seniors are more receptive to care coordination from a professional than they would be to from their adult child. Other seniors will have nothing to do with a "nosey outsider." Unless your parent is not competent to make his or her own decisions, a care manager must have the senior's consent to manage care. You will have to play this by ear, but having a professional just a phone call away will always be worthwhile either way.

Start Early: If your parent is resistant it may take a while to get that first service in place, so introduce outside help as early as you can. If your relationship with your parent has been strained, you may be surprised to discover that your parent would still rather have you, rather than a stranger, provide the help he needs. If you have thoroughly thought about your boundaries in advance it will be easier to maintain them when you encounter this kind of pressure. Do not start something that you will not be able to finish. Making changes once you have committed yourself will be extraordinarily difficult, and changing the "rules" in the middle of the game is not fair to either of you.

Be Realistic: If your parent has always been difficult, things are not suddenly going to change. As Clint Eastwood said, "A man's got to know his limitations."  If you've given the best that you have and you see that care at home is not going to be feasible for you and your parent, there is no shame in looking into alternatives such as assisted living or nursing home care.

We all have limitations. As we said earlier, your duty is to see that your parent is cared for. If, for whatever reason, you honestly can't provide that care, then your responsibility is to help them find resources for the care they need. No more, no less.

For more information about how the caregivers at HeartWarming Care can help your family with your home care needs, call (253) 460-1574. We are a home care agency providing quality and affordable home care in Tacoma WA and the surrounding communities.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Musique October 06, 2011 at 11:48 AM
Love this!
Chris Barrett November 10, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Just remember that our children see how we treat our parents in their old age and will learn from us. Try to treat your parents the way you would want your children to treat you as you get older and become a burden.

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