Caring for a Parent Who Didn't Care for You

Many of the families we work with share a positive, symbiotic relationship with their relatives. We hear stories of healthy, nurturing childhoods, supportive young adult periods, and caring late-life phases. These memories help give steam to adult child caregivers facing the tough job of caring for an aging parent. Taking care of elderly parents can be emotionally and physically challenging under the best of circumstances; having a shared history of a life well-lived together helps to meet those challenges. Some of our families, though, do not have those good memories to reflect on. These are the adult children of absent parents, alcoholics, workaholics, and abusers, whose parents have reached old age and are now needing help. How do these families handle a task that is already emotionally, financially, and physically challenging? How do adult children care for an aging parent that never cared for them?

In our years of work with these families, we have learned a few things about how these adult children sometimes approach caring for difficult parents:

-Some don’t. Some adult children refuse to get involved in their parents’ life. They acknowledge that care is needed and ask to not be involved in any decisions or work.

-Some create strict boundaries. We have worked with adult children that have decided how much time and energy they are willing to contribute to their parents’ care and stick to that decision. They limit their visits to once a week or twice a month and handle as much as possible remotely. To meet their parents’ needs and maintain their boundaries, some of these families hire Aging Life Care Managers and Daily Money Managers to do some of the necessary tasks.

-Some change their expectations. A few families we have worked with have successfully stopped expecting their parents to be loving, kind, appreciative or rational. They have found the ability to accept them as they are—even if their attitudes, behaviors, and words are painful—and to approach their job as the adult child caregiver with a sense of duty and sometimes even love.

-Some find healing. In a handful of instances, we have worked with families that have found this phase of life to be healing. The wounds of the past have been mended by this new togetherness and dependence of the older adult on his/her child. Affection that was missing earlier in life appears, and bonding occurs. This is rare but beautiful to witness. Both the aging parent and the adult child find new peace.

-Some continue to seek unattainable approval and love. We have witnessed adult children staying committed to caring daily for their aging parent even as the parent criticizes their every decision, demands more from their family, and demeans the adult child. In some situations, the adult child is still looking for their parent to express love or approval. They are thinking that if they work hard enough, meet every expectation or finally make their parent happy, they will have proof of their worth and ability to be loved.

Caring for an aging parent can be difficult even in the best situations and in the best families. Caring for an abusive or absent parent can seem almost impossible. There is no right way to handle this journey. The team at Hurley Elder Care Law approaches each family with a customized plan that incorporates their legal, financial, physical, social and emotional team by using a comprehensive team approach of lawyers, care coordinators and public benefits specialists. If you would like a complimentary phone consultation, please contact our office at (404) 843-0121.