So often, as caregivers, we bend over backward to help our loved ones. We anticipate their every need. Then, suddenly, there's an angry outburst from the very person or people we have given so much loving attention.
"Don't try to run my life!" Mom shouts.
"You think you know everything," Dad grumps.
"Well, since you're in charge, I suppose we'll do it your way," Mom says sarcastically.
You feel hurt and you wonder where you've gone wrong. You've only been trying to help. You've given up time your husband and children could use, to say nothing of your job. You've nearly eliminated any chance of "me" time for yourself, just so you could help your parents, and now they seem to be angry all the time.
This is tough. It's very hard to deliver the care your ailing parents need without them feeling you are taking over their life. Much of the time, this isn't about you. They are feeling their losses deeply.
When your mom had to stop the holiday cooking she was known for; when your dad had to give up the checkbook; when you became the person the doctor looked at when he'd hurriedly spoken after one of your parents' exams - those were losses for your elders. They feel diminished.
So, what can you do? They need you to help them, and generally they are grateful for your help. But there are these hurtful times when they seem angry with you, and it's hard to know what kind of response to give.
First, let me say that abuse is not to be tolerated. Some parents have abused their offspring since childhood, and continue to do so. If you are helping them now and they are chronically abusive toward you, you need to set boundaries. You need to state that you won't be treated like that, and walk away, saying you'll be back when they can be civil. If they are too frail to be left and they aren't in a care home of some kind, you may have to tell them you are hiring in-home help for them, since they don't care for your help. Then, do it.
However, many times these outbursts are just frustration and fear. Put yourself in their place because one day you may be there. They have lost many physical abilities. They have lost some (or in the case of dementia, many) mental capabilities. Their dignity and their legacy are diminishing before their eyes and they resent it. And you, the caregiver, are the target because you represent all they can't do for themselves.
Take a look at your approach and see if you can adjust some of your manner to be less "caring" and more like you just happen to be there helping out. Be very careful to treat them like your parents, as they still are your parents. You may feel you are reversing roles, and in some ways you are, but your attitude and language should not reflect this.
You may want to go back and read "Why You Can't Parent Your Parents." This post is about the issue that words can dictate how we act. Even if we don't mean to be condescending to our parents as we care for them, if we keep the terms "parenting our parents" and "role reversal" uppermost in our minds, pretty soon that attitude can be reflected in our behavior toward our parents, and we could find ourselves treating them like children.
Elders are not large children. They are people who have lived a long life and they have left a legacy, good or not so good - likely mixed - but still a legacy, during this life. Even if you are changing their diapers, you must do so with an attitude of respect. One caregiver I know used to tell her mom, "Don't worry, this will likely happen to me, too." She was a nonchalant as possible, doing what needed doing, but soothing her mother with attitude that this isn't such a huge issue. It can happen to any of us.
So, the next time dad is mad because you write the checks and he can't carry money, give it a thought. Could he have a little cash and carry his billfold? I used to keep expired credit cards in my dad's wallet, and he felt more in control. I made him business cards to leave after he ate dinner at the nursing home, so he could "tip."
We caregivers will be the target of our parents' anger at times. They are struggling with so many losses. We can better serve them, and ourselves, by detaching from their angry outbursts as best we can, and even go a step farther by examining our attitude when we are caring for them. Are we doing everything we can to preserve their dignity and minimize their inevitable feelings of loss?
As caregivers, we'll never be perfect. As parents and as care receivers, they will have difficult behaviors. All we can do is our best, but an inventory of ourselves, beyond just knowing we have good intentions, can be a good idea. Maybe some adjustment in our attitude will help them accept their own losses more gracefully.
Be prepared, however, for some anger. Know that one day, you may be in their shoes, and feel angry about your situation too. And you might even take it out on the person you most trust to not desert you - your caregiver.
Published On: August 24, 2009