When you’re in the position of caring for your parent, it’s easy to revert to being a child again, especially if your relationship was never healthy to begin with.
It can be difficult to create a boundary as an adult if no boundaries have previously existed. How do we draw that boundary line? Consider how my friends George and Lucy handled a similar situation.
George’s mother, Elsa, lives with him and his wife, Lucy. Lucy takes the brunt of Elsa’s criticism, which may sound like this:
“She’s a sloppy housekeeper.”
“The food she cooks is too salty.”
“She doesn’t do the laundry the way I like it.”
George is snared like a fox in a steel trap. If he takes a stand for Lucy, he suffers the backlash from his mom. If he defends his mother to Lucy, she accuses him of choosing his mother over her.
George sought advice from his pastor, who explained to him that as our parents age they lose control of many things, including the authority they once held. Elsa lashed out in anger at Lucy, trying to control her situation.
“Ask your mother how she wants you to handle things,” explained George’s pastor. Asking for Elsa’s advice would give her the autonomy she craves. “Tell her that you’re all trying to make things work, and you sincerely want to keep her involved in the family dynamics.”
After much prayer, George was able to talk to Elsa. He told her that belittling or criticizing Lucy was not allowed. They would work things out together, the three of them.
“Since I talked to my mother about how I felt squeezed between her and Lucy, things have improved,” George told me. “I told Mom that she was an important part of our family, and we needed to get along. Sometimes she will join us in our prayer time together.”
Blogger John Shore, who tended his aging father, suggests offering parents options. “It’s important for them to continue to feel as if they, and not you, are running their lives. Let them decide everything they can about their own care and situation,” he says. Asking for your parent’s advice, as George did, is another way to show your parent love and respect, and to affirm their value, Shore says.2
As you try to maintain your sanity as a caregiver, it might be helpful to consider why your elderly parent is behaving a certain way. Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of people, former lifestyles, relationships, health, vision, hearing, ability level, mobility, or independence, according to Zanda Hilger of the Area Agency on Aging. Yet if people have not coped with loss and change well in their younger years, aging can be especially difficult, Hilger adds. Some people may feel a sense of helplessness, or they may respond in any number of ways —by being overly critical, rigid and stubborn, or depressed and anxious.
“When people feel that they have little control over the present or have regrets about the past, they may react in anger,” Hilger says. “They may lash out at family members—sometimes being most critical of those who are most supportive, since they know that these people will still love them in spite of their anger.”
Think about some of the parental boundaries you’ve set with your children. How do those transfer into boundaries you need to set with your aging loved one?
See this resource for additional information: http://www.familycaregiversonline.net/online-education/behavior-and-emotions-of-aging/
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