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Caring for a parent who didn’t care for you

Nobody ever said that caregiving for a parent was easy. It can rob you of personal, professional, and family time; eat into your finances; make you learn and perform all kinds of new tasks; and keep you on the go until you’re exhausted.

And that’s when you grew up in a loving relationship with your parent.

But what if you didn’t?

?What if your parents didn’t create a loving home environment, or put that much effort into nurturing you, or weren’t there for you when you needed them? If they had financial pressures, health issues, or emotional problems at the time, you may be able to understand that now, as an adult. But understanding doesn’t make the emotional pain go away.

So when you have to step up and care for an aging parent who needs help, “you can’t force yourself to invest your heart; you can’t expect old hurts to disappear,” says Lauri Scharf, care consultant with the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. “But that doesn’t warrant continuing the cycle of hurt,” she adds. “You can’t change the past, but you can create a better future” for yourself and your parent.

Here are some ways to help do this:

  • · Set boundaries – Consider care that minimizes direct interaction with an estranged parent, such as money management, arranging home care, or coordinating healthcare provider appointments. Or minimize personal contacts; calling your mother to check in every other day can be easier on you than being in constant touch.

  • · Look at the big picture – You and your parent will have disagreements. But, says Scharf, “[c]lashing over these disagreements can only lead to headaches, so instead of getting bogged down in trying to change your parents’ minds or even their attitudes, look at the bigger picture…In the long run, you want to keep your parent healthy.”

  • · Face your feelings – Even with boundaries in place, caring for an estranged parent can evoke painful feelings and memories. Neglecting them only complicates the situation. So if you’ve been putting off counseling to work through feelings of anger and guilt, now may be the time for that counseling.

  • · Use community resources – Libraries, senior centers, faith communities, and local Area Agencies on Aging for information and guidance. Adult day programs, meal delivery services, transportation services, and respite services to help your parent live well while reducing the load on you.

  • · Get disease-specific information – If your parent has a disease or chronic condition, chances are overwhelming that there are organizations with websites that can help you learn more.

  • · Delegate – “You should recognize when it's not in your best interest to take on specific responsibilities for the sake of your mental health,” Scharf advises. “You don't have to do everything. There are professionals out there that can be paid to assist. When resources are available, there's no shame in turning a task over to someone else."

Particularly in a situation with so many emotions involved, choosing the right kind of professionals is important. Many offer a set menu of physical services that don’t take of the client’s or the client’s family’s emotional relationship. Particularly when there’s estrangement between parent and adult child, this can be a serious mistake.

That’s why, at Senior Insights, we go beyond a list of services involving only the client’s physical needs. We base our coordinated senior care management plans on a thorough, three-part needs assessment covering not just potential clients’ needs, but also their families’. And we go beyond physical needs to learn about emotional, psychosocial, and cognitive needs, as well as priorities, values, preferences, schedules and interests.

Please contact us to learn more about senior care that’s good for both seniors and their family caregivers.

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