Here’s what she says, on How to Cope With Difficult Parents:
“I am wondering how to help my mother find balance between needing help (which she does, living alone for the first time after my father’s death and having gone successfully through open-heart surgery and post-op) and asking for help (which she is very reluctant to do. She often has things she needs done but no one knows it, and then she is resentful because no one ‘noticed’ and did it without asking. On the other side of the spectrum, she is fearful of feeling ‘obligated’ to us for helping.”
If you’re in the same boat, read books like Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed-Out Children by Grace Lebow — it’s a helpful, practical resource.
And, here are a few tips for coping with your elders…
Tips for Helping Elderly Parents
More of my reader’s comment:
“I’ve tried to point out that we are family and despite having a husband, family and a job I can’t afford to quit, I’m willing to help as much as I can, when I can, and I don’t expect anything in return,” she says. “But it’s only a temporary fix and the same discussion appears over and over. What is going on?”
Try to figure out what your parent needs
Sometimes relationships and events aren’t what they seem. That is, if you’re constantly arguing with your elderly parent about all the junk she hoards and refuses to get rid of, you may not be dealing with a “hoarding” issue. It could be her fear of letting go, of being poor, of giving up stuff that represents her past. Or – as could be happening in my reader’s case – perhaps your mom is offended because she doesn’t feel noticed…which may mean she doesn’t feel loved.
Before you can give your elderly parent what he or she needs, you first have to figure out what the core issue is. This may involve talking to experts in elder care issues, joining a support group of other people with elderly parents, or just talking it through with someone you trust.
Figure out your “ideal situation”
Write down exactly what you want your life – and your parent’s life – to look like. Do you want to drive your mom to her hairdresser or doctor’s appointments every week? Wash her back every night? Visit her once every six years? Be painfully honest about what you can and can’t do to help your parent. And, be specific. Don’t just say “I want to make sure my mom gets the help she needs.”
What type of help does she need? What time commitment does that require? Who is the best person to provide that? Maybe hiring someone is the best solution – read Hiring a Caregiver – Tips for Family Members.
Find and implement permanent solutions
My mom lives in Saskatchewan and I’m in Vancouver. She’s only 66, so not exactly and “elderly” parent – but she’s seriously schizophrenic. I call her every two weeks, but rarely visit. Luckily, I have a good reason: she doesn’t cope well with in-person visits. She tires easily, and gets weirded out even easier. But, she belongs to a mental health group that meets three times a week and has a volunteer who drives her to her occasional medical appointments in nearby cities (she lives in a very small city). This is the permanent solution that works for us.
Take care of your “BFF”
One last comment from my reader:
“I can deal with being busy…not having a social life…and helping with two households, but I’m really overwhelmed with the emotional ups and downs,” she says. “Thanks for any advice you can offer.”
Maybe this should be the first, most important tip for helping elderly parents who don’t need help: keep yourself as emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy as possible. A BFF stands for “best friend forever” – and you are your own best friend. How do you treat your best friend? Are you letting her get exhausted, drained, bored, sad, listless, and depressed? It’s time to switch tracks! What does your BFF need? How can you give it to her – how can you help her so she can take better care of her elderly parent? (which doesn’t necessarily mean in-person visits every day).
You may also find Reducing Caregiver Stress When Caring for Elderly or Ill Parents helpful – it’s by B. Lynn Goodwin, author of You Want Me to Do What?.
Another book for helping elderly parents is Elder Rage, or Take My Father… Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents by Jacqueline Marcel.
Are you struggling to care for elderly parents who refuse to admit they need help? Comments welcome…