“Parenting” Your Elderly Parents

by Family Caregiver Alliance

Mary, a 54-year old mother of two college-age children, has begun helping her mother Betsy with daily tasks and doctor’s appointments. She visits each morning to ensure her mother has showered, gotten a good breakfast and taken her morning medications. Since her mother’s recent diagnosis with beginning stages of dementia, Mary has noticed that Betsy is requiring more care everyday.  This is causing Mary to experience feelings of anger, sadness and stress as she takes on the caregiving role that has traditionally been held by her own mother.


Elderly mother and middle-age daughter sitting together

Growing up, your parents may have offered support, advice, discipline and care. Whether you needed to know how to fix your bike, or were seeking advice on how to diaper your first child, your parents may have been a source of guidance. However, as parents age, a growing number of family caregivers are struggling in an unfamiliar role as parental figure to their own elderly parents. Suddenly, the tables have turned and determining to how accept and settle into this new dynamic can be challenging.

There are a few steps that Mary, and the millions of family caregivers in similar situations, can take to help ease the rigors of “parenting” your own elderly parents.

Allow yourself to mourn the “loss” of your parent
Although they have not passed away, the person that you knew as your mother or father may be changing rapidly. It is okay to feel sad or angry about your relationship changing, and to allow yourself to mourn the loss of your previous relationship.

Maintain respect in your communications
Elderly parents may be stubborn as well as embarrassed that they require assistance from their children for what was once a simple task, like bathing or getting to the grocery store. While caregiving in and of itself can be stressful, it is imperative to talk to your parents respectfully, and ask them to do the same. Although it may be frustrating for Mary to explain to her mother why she has to take her blood pressure medication everyday, doing so calmly and clearly may reduce the chance of hurt feelings and a harmed relationship.

Set boundaries in your caregiving duties
Regardless of how much you love your mother or father, neither of you may be comfortable with having to assist him or her with bathing or toileting. However, taking the time to establish boundaries of what you are capable of, and comfortable doing, will allow you to create a care plan for your parents with which all parties are confident. Remember, outside help, like that of a home care provider, can assist with tasks that are outside of your comfort zone.

Plan ahead to ensure security
Long term care can drain a family’s financial resources. However, by taking time to plan ahead, children may still be able to talk with their parents about available resources in the estate to pay for care, as well as their desires for long-term care. A realistic plan may help you feel as though there is some roadmap for your parents’ future, as well as yours as a caregiver, and provide relative peace of mind in an otherwise unnerving situation. A recent FCA blog post,  “Making Ends Meet When Money is Tight,” may be helpful to you, as well as detailed information on financial and legal planning in our online fact sheet, Durable Powers of Attorney and Revocable Living Trusts.

Get Support
Finding support as you transition into the role of caregiver is imperative to avoid harming your own mental and physical well-being. An overload of stress can quickly lead to medical conditions such as high blood pressure and depression, as well as overall feelings of anxiousness and fear. Support from siblings and friends and turning to online forums and local support groups are some healthy ways to cope.

Transitioning from the role of child to parent is a major change in the parent-child relationship. Regardless of your previous relationship with your parents, it’s important to recognize your emotions about the transition and allow yourself to grieve in the process.  With the proper support, planning and patience, parenting your parents in their golden years can be a less stressful and a more rewarding experience.

We welcome you to comment on your own situation with an elderly parent, and which tactics helped you adjust to the changed relationship.

6 comments to “Parenting” Your Elderly Parents

  • Carol Levine

    While I appreciate the good advice in this blog, I resist the label of “parenting your parent.” It’s a glib way to describe a very important change in responsiblities that in my view doesn’t show adequate respect for either party. When I cared for my mother, she remained my mother and my job was to help her achieve whatever was possible during her final year. She never saw me as anything but her daughter. It’s not fair to a daughter to have to be parent to her children and her parents at the same time. And what if the care recipient is your spouse? What are you supposed to be then? His or her parent? Caregiving is hard enough without forcing people into labels that they don’t want.

  • aorvik

    Carol – Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. We appreciate your insights and certainly agree with the need to always recognize and promote respect between caregiver and care recipient. We also acknowledge the negativity that can often accompany labeling. It is true that caregiving is hard enough without such. We do encounter many caregivers whose personal experience involves such a level of confusion and frustration with the suddenly changing roles of their long-standing parent-child relationship. In this case we chose to err on the side of a popular expression we often hear from caregivers. – Andrea Orvik, E-Communications Specialist, FCA

  • Christine M. Valentin

    Thank you for providing these tips for caregivers. I especially like the “Maintain respect in your communication” tip as I’ve personally come across caregivers who forget how their tone, temper and attitude can come across when they are frustrated. Respect can definitely go a long way when trying to care for another individual.

  • Lisa Jo

    My parents call me “the boss”. It makes me laugh. But I am fierce when it comes to protecting and caring for them.
    I wish my father could return support to me. It’s my Mom who has dementia. He’s so upset over everything. I’ve watched his health go down and now I’m care taking him as well.

  • aorvik

    Lisa Jo – thank you for your response. The transition can definitely be difficult for parents to adjust to when their children have to step in and provide care for them. You seem to have great stamina and patience as a caregiver for your mom as well as your father despite what seems to be a lack of support from him. Sometimes this makes all the difference! Remember that support is out there for you (FCA, 1-800-445-8106) . . .

  • Brian

    Thanks for sharing. Your first point really struck me, I’ve never thought about mourning the loss of your parent before they’re gone, but it makes perfect sense. I’ve heard my mom say plenty of times before that the Dad she knew really isn’t here anymore. But actually mourning their loss? Interesting. When do you know for sure when it’s time to mourn? How do you know if they’re really gone? I do think that it could be a good idea, but extremely difficult at the same time.

    I’ll have to put more thought into it, but thank you for sharing. You’ve opened up a whole bunch of possibilities for me tto ponder and explore. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply



You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>