Caring for an Elderly Parent Without Ruining Your Relationship

Caring for an elderly parent can strain the relationship. Keep these issues in mind to protect your relationship while caring for a parent.

Caring for an elderly parent is not easy.  If you have elderly parents, you might have to provide caregiving services at some point.  Whether that concept means hands-on personal assistance with things like bathing, dressing, grooming, and feeding, or handling their finances and making decisions for them, this change in your roles can be challenging for you and your parent. If you enjoy a great relationship with your parent, the initial conversation about these issues may be easier and you may find the suggestions I made in this Kevin’s Korner very helpful.

But even if you don’t, its important to realize your parent’s condition may affect your relationship, and you want to be prepared so you can care for your loved one without worsening your relationship.  Here are some issues to consider about how to help your elderly parent without ruining your relationship.

It’s Usually Not “Leave It to Beaver”

Many people grow up seeing fictional families on television and wishing their parents and siblings got along better. No families measure up to the imaginary ones of fiction.  In fact, quite a few people have strained interactions with their parents.

Relationships carry the baggage of the past. It is not helpful for people to tell you to forget about the past. Your parent is the same person with whom you have had conflict, which means he or she will continue to do things that upset you. If your parent was extremely authoritarian or independent, it will be difficult for him or her to accept someone telling them what to do – especially one of their children.

Patience versus Doormat

You should try to be understanding of what your parent is going through, losing independence, feeling less valuable or powerful or no longer acting as a primary decision maker for the family. He might get confused and forget you already did things, he now accuses you of not doing. He might also be dealing with chronic pain and other health issues.  Some diseases such as dementia cause paranoia, and your parent might become suspicious of you because of it.

You should, however, set boundaries. Getting old does not give your parent a right to be physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive. Be firm with your parent, if any of these things happen. Being a dutiful son or daughter does not include being a doormat. Calmly inform your parent of the behavior that is not acceptable. You might need to have someone in social services arrange for counseling to help your parent adjust to the reality of aging and needing assistance.

Get Help

Caregiving takes a toll on the financial and physical health of the caregiver.  Understand that even though you love your parent, you don’t have to do everything.  Consider speaking with a care manager who can work with you to establish a care plan for your parent and help you hire other service providers to care for your parent.  This will relieve some of your burden, and give you a sense of comfort knowing your parent is cared for.  See this blog for more details.

The Silver Lining

For some people, this stage of life is a time to deal with unfinished business. You can talk out problems or questions. You might be able to resolve conflicts that could have caused you regrets down the road. The best approach for this goal to tread lightly. Remember that your parent might be frail no matter what they might think, and you should not assault them with a long list of criticisms and complaints.

Address only one piece of a small issue in a visit, and do not dredge up unpleasant topics in every visit. You do not want your parent to dread seeing you. Be the kind of person you might wish your parent had been when you were a child – kind, compassionate and nurturing.

Those of you who have enjoyed a happy, healthy relationship with your parents can deepen your mutual affection and interaction. Since your parent is no longer rushing around to work and raise a family, you can have uninterrupted conversations and create memories to treasure. People who have had strained relationships might reach the point at which they have pleasant times and treasured memories with their elderly parents.


A Place for Mom. “Parenting the Parent: Caring for Elderly Parents.” (accessed August 21, 2019 )

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