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Posted: July 06, 2004

Practical Caregiving

The Never-Ending Complexities of the Adult Child as Caregiver

Difficult relationships with our parents are once again bulging my e-mailbag. It seems like a never-ending cycle that can start so early in life and fester into our caregiving years.

Take, for example, the situations faced by Nancy and Linda. Both daughters love their parents, but one of them hungers for the basic attention that has been missing since childhood, and the other wants to know how to help her father make decisions ? or perhaps make those decisions for him, when he doesn?t want that help.

Both women are right-minded in their parental love, but I think both need to change the way they?re dealing with their parents in their caregiving role. Read on and tell me if you agree.


Dear Jean:

My husband and I live next door to Dad. Mom died a couple months ago and Dad is being very irrational. He was in the hospital last month for a week because of his heart. He wants to sell the house they lived in for 44 years.

Have you come across any information or guidelines about when it's the right time to step in and help a parent who doesn't think they need help? Last night I was thinking about my dad's situation. It just seems that if he stayed where he is through the winter months, he would feel better and be able to make more sound decisions in the spring. I don?t want him to have another heart attack right now.

Nancy S., Little Rock, Arkansas

Dear Nancy:

There are no guidelines for stepping in to help a parent that doesn?t want help. The reasons you would step in are to protect your father or others from being harmed by something he does. You can?t try to stop him simply because you don?t want him to do something. Do keep an eye on him for signs of his becoming incompetent as well as his physical health deteriorating.

Whether he sells the house or not, you will probably continue to live close to him and you will see him on a regular basis. You will know when something has changed or when he is doing something dangerous. It sounds like your Dad is still capable of making his own decisions, and you can't stop him from doing that. Just let him know you wish he would wait longer to sell the house and then support whatever he does. He needs your love and support at a time like this.

Would it be possible for your husband to talk to him? Your husband may have more influence than you do with your father. After all, you are still your father's ?little girl? and you will always be his ?little girl? -- as strange and sometimes frustrating as that is.


Dear Jean:

When I was a child, my mother was always working as a career woman, even back in the ?50s. Dad was working hard on the farm. They both did the best they could for me, but they were raised by parents without emotion and so they gave very little of that to me.

When I became an adult and went out on my own with my own marriage, I am sure they were concerned because my marriage wasn't going very well, but they never showed it much or did much about it. They were always there with money, groceries, a loan or gift, but never what I really wanted and needed. I envied my friends who went to lunch with their Mom, shopping and such. Mine just handed me money and things and was too busy with her job.

She smoked for 40 years and is now constantly hooked to oxygen. We tried to get her to quit, but she didn't do it. So 40 years later when some bolt of lightening came and she quit, she is left with no lungs. On top of that she drank wine and ate cheese and crackers at 9:30 in the morning, or that was her lunch. She got too lazy to cook or eat, so she existed on butter sandwiches, a piece of cheese and bread, Ensure and stewed tomatoes.

I realize that she is ultimately paying the price for her bad judgment, but because I am the only child, and the only one to care for her, she tells the doctor that I am the love of her life. Where the heck was I all those years when I was supposedly the love of her life? In fact, if truth be known, if she didn't need me so badly, she wouldn't want me here now.

I feel so trapped! Then I feel so guilty for feeling that way. What a mess I am!

Linda E., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Dear Linda:

I?m sorry you had such an unhappy childhood. Even though you didn?t have lunch and go shopping with your Mom as a child, you have the time to have many lunches with her now.

It sounds like she did cause her current problems, but everyone does things that cause them problems later in life. Your mother is faced with the fact that she is going to die, and people in that situation are forced to realize what is really important in this life. Our children are one of those important things. Cigarettes and wine are not one of those important things, and she is living without those now. You are her child and you are more important, probably most important. And remember: With her improved diet, she is probably thinking more clearly now than before she became ill.

Why don?t you find it in your heart to forgive her and mend some of those broken fences between the two of you? If you need to see a counselor to get rid of your hurt feelings - see one. There is nothing wrong with talking to a counselor. In fact, they have helped a lot of people live a happy life.

All those bad feelings you have toward your mother will only cause you emotional and physical problems in the future. Please don?t wait until it is almost too late to give up those feelings. After all, when you are your mother?s age, you don?t want someone to say that you caused your own health problems because you weren?t willing to forgive your own mother and remained so unhappy.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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