Southwest Florida

Help Your Elderly Parent Without Ruining Your Relationship

Elderly parent
Even if your  family was like the Cleavers in “Leave it to Beaver,” providing care to an elderly parent can sometimes be difficult for the parent and the child.

If you have elderly parents, you might have to step in at some point and provide caregiving services. 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. 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 wish their parents and siblings got along like those families. But very few families measure up to the fictional ones. You and your parent may not have had the kind of relationship in which you would regularly get together for coffee or shopping. That’s not unusual; many people have strained interactions with their parents.

Relationships carry the baggage of 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. And you will do things to upset him or her. If your parent was extremely authoritarian or independent, it’ll be very difficult for him or her to accept someone telling them what to do – especially a child.

Patience versus Doormat

You should try to be understanding of what your parent is going through – losing independence and feeling less valuable and weak can be very difficult. Forgetfulness can also be an issue. Dad might get confused and forget you already did things – which he now accuses you of not doing. He might also be dealing with chronic pain and other health issues.

However, you should 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 that the behavior is not acceptable. You might want to consider having someone in social services arrange for counseling to help your parent adjust to the realities of aging and of needing assistance.

The Silver Lining

For some people, this stage of life is a time to deal with unfinished business. You may be able to talk out problems or get answers to questions. You might be able to resolve conflicts that could have caused you regrets down the road. But the best approach for this goal is to tread lightly. Just because your parent is frail doesn’t give you the right to beat her up verbally with a long list of criticisms and complaints.

Address just one piece of a small issue during a visit, and don’t dredge up unpleasant topics on every visit. You don’t 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.

For those of you who have enjoyed a happy, healthy relationship with your parents, this time together 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. Even children and parents who had strained relationships in the past may end up having pleasant times with each other.


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

Other articles you may find interesting:

Having the “Someday” Talk with Parents

Understanding Palliative Care

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