Do You Want to Care for Your Abusive Elderly Parents?

As the saying goes, you don’t get to choose your parents. Some are lucky to have loving parents and some are not. If you didn’t have loving parents, the good news is that you grow up and can have less contact with them, or maybe none. The bad news is that when your parents grow old they may look to you for help.

Your parents may not have changed which can make you feel like you did as a child. Slipping back into behaviors and feelings of your childhood can be very painful. These feelings may not change overnight but what can help is to remember that you have the choice to get involved and in how you interact with your parents now.

It’s not written in stone that you must take care of your elderly parents. For some this may sound harsh but for those who’ve suffered abuse by a parent, it simply may not be possible to care for them when empathy and compassion are needed.

The services of a guardian, geriatric care manager or perhaps an attorney may be the better choice for your parents and you. This person’s level of involvement can range from assuming total control to being the go between for you and your parents so you can avoid direct contact. If money is an issue, contact your county’s aging and disability services to find out what services are available.

You are not the powerless child you were. If you decide you want to–notice I didn’t say should–get involved with your parents care, it’s important to remember this. You have the right to be treated with respect and to demand this of your parents. However, if there is the possibility of physical abuse you first need to make sure you can keep yourself safe when you set this boundary.

Changing the family dynamic doesn’t come without consequences and fear of consequences often takes away a person’s power. As you think about how you want to be treated by your parents, think about what types of threats your mother or father may make and whether a) she or he can carry through on them and b) you’re willing to take that risk. Sometimes the thing we fear most never happens. You may be surprised that when you “call” your parents’ bluff, they don’t follow through with what they’ve threatened.

Consequences also hold people accountable. With that in mind, consider these three parts to setting boundaries. First, be specific with your parents about such things as what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior, how you expect them to speak to you, and what you will and won’t do for them. Second, be clear about what will happen if they don’t do what you ask of them. It may be that you’ll leave if they say or do something that violates your agreement and, if this happens more than three times, you’ll no longer provide care. The third part is that you follow through on what you say.

When you have this discussion, show your parents how you want to be treated by treating them in the same way. You don’t want to inadvertently be abusive to them.

Demanding respect and setting boundaries may make it so you can help your elderly parents. But I caution you in expecting an improvement in your overall relationship with them. For that to happen they’d need to have the desire and commitment to work on improving the relationship.

Making the choice to care, or not care, for your elderly parents isn’t an easy one. I encourage you to get support from relatives, friends or a counselor so that you don’t have to do this alone.

Would you like to talk about your specific situation?

Email, call or text (503) 243-2283.

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