How To Deal With An Exceptionally Difficult Parent

…a 2 minute read

difficult parent

Before we start let me make this point first…

EMPATHY (…the rare ability some humans possess to walk in someone else’s shoes) will always, always be your most effective weapon against the negativity, toxicity, anger, and personal attacks that may come your way from an elderly parent or a loved one you’re caring for.

This can be pretty much the case with everything in life regardless of age, but in family caregiving everything is magnified 100X compared to real time everyday life scenarios.

Having said that, there are certain strategies and techniques you must quickly master to better cope and ultimately thrive as the caregiver of an exceptionally difficult parent.

I’m going to share these with you right now!

Sometimes, for reasons that escape most of us, our parents when they get old get bitter, refuse to accept help, become hostile and belligerent and ironically demand constant and undivided attention.

Every single case is different, every family is different and so are you, yet the underlying issues are very similar in context and day to day.

Everything is a criticism, everything sucks and stinks! –The food, the house, the TV shows, the laundry, your driving, the grand kids, the absolute gorgeous day with birds chirping also stinks!

Nothing is good enough and they’ll repeat it 87 times to make sure you know it too!

Then you have the constant contradictions, such as they don’t want to be a burden to anyone, yet they demand help for everything, including things they can still do on their own.

They complain about being lonely and isolated, but won’t accept invitations to social events, and don’t want visitors in the house.

They say they are hungry, but scoff at and won’t eat what you prepare for them.

By the way, we are not focusing on parents that suffer from depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses, though these cases also require specific strategies and tactics, I’ll write about these in a future post.

Today’s post is about dealing with parents that are just simply difficult to handle for whatever reason is there, and how you can manage and thrive in that situation like the caregiving Ninja you are!

So let’s focus today on how to deal with complaints and criticism which is where most people lose it when handling a difficult parent.


checkmarkFIND THE REASONING: Remember, drive with empathy, dig deep and find the real reasons behind the attitude. Your mom may hate what you just cooked for her, but it might be because it reminds her that she used to cook that dish herself not too long ago and now she can’t, because she can’t stand in the kitchen for too long, or has little strength to handle cookware. Figure out the reasons!

checkmarkSTAY CALM, COOL AND COLLECTED: Don’t get baited into a bickering contest or an argument where clearly there are not winners, only losers. Be the better person! When you respond assertively and softly, this actually has a calming effect on your parent and it will give you a chance to take the next step which is to…

checkmarkREFRAME THE CONVERSATION: Reassuring your Dad for the 30th time that he’s not a burden will lose its appeal pretty soon, not to mention its effectiveness. So don’t say to him “Dad you are not a burden”…instead ask him in a calm voice why he feels that way and remind him of all the love and caring he gave you when you were a child, and it’s now is his turn to cash-in the chips! Address the underlying reason (if you find it) any chance you get.

checkmarkAVOID BEING MANIPULATED: Family caregiving is like a chess game, your parent may constantly be scheming and planning how to get you enrolled in her unhappy and toxic world. Your job is to help her without becoming a victim yourself, kind of like trying to save a drowning person. You better be not just a good swimmer, but a strong one who knows how to rescue somebody, or you are going to get dragged under and die too!

So set firm and clear limits on what you are willing to do for them and don’t compromise, stick to the plan. Don’t cancel your anniversary dinner, vacation or daughter’s graduation because you Mom call you with, “this is it, I need you to come right away…” for the third time this week.

If your Mom accuses you of neglecting her, instead of arguing or worse changing your plans, simply and calmly say to her: “Mom I know it may feel that way and I know that you may not like to stay here but you need to know that I’m never ever going to abandon you, and I’ll be back on Sunday so we can watch movies together like we always do.” And then leave as planned.

Listen, I know it’s tough and not an easy situation to find yourself in, but with the right planning you can deal with anything life throws your way.

There are many other tactical tips you can apply to dealing with exceptionally difficult parents but I believe these four are the cornerstone of your strategy and a heck of a start! Apply them and let us know if you found success with them in the comment section below.

If you’d like to add a few tips of your own please do so, we love to learn from caregivers every day!

Untitled designClaudio Alegre is the CEO & Chief Content Writer for Angel Home Care Services on the Web and Patient and Family Advocate off the Web. He lives in Miami with his wife and 3 boys. He's passionate about healthcare and all things caregiving. He can be reached at [email protected] or directly at 305.220.4544
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