When Your Parents Won’t Listen
We asked daughterhood readers recently about the most stressful part of caregiving. Many responded that their biggest struggle is conflict with their parents. When their mother or father disagrees with or ignores safety or health-related directions. Things like not staying off the ladder to refusing to see a doctor.
It’s so hard to sit by and watch when our parents seem to need help but refuse to get it. We feel the full weight of responsibility for what happens to them but, at the same time, we have no control over their choices.
But we try. Women especially are taught that if they just try harder, get smarter, skinnier, dress better and be nicer, they’ll be okay. So it makes sense that this do-more mentality pervades our caregiving too. But this is a mean trap. We are — maybe not entirely consciously — judging our self-worth by whether we can stay in the ring without getting taken out by the realities of aging: mortality, frailty, disease and an upside down, seriously messed up healthcare system. Realities we shouldn’t even pretend to be able to influence.
And while I really like to give you concrete solutions to every problem, there’s really only one solution to this dilemma. As strange as it sounds, our best move is to try less hard to control the outcome.
We need to let go of the outcome.
So much of our misery is caused by our attachment to outcomes. And, of course, the outcome we most especially want is for our parents to be safe, happy and spared the indignities of growing old or being sick.
But the problem is that our parents don’t always make decisions that produce that outcome. The consequences of our parents’ decisions can create problems and suffering for them and more work and challenges for us.
This happens to nearly every caregiver in some way or another – no matter who she is. Maria Shriver talks about how her mother rejected every home care aide she hired to help her….and, how frustrating it was.
It took a lot of contemplation and prayer for her to let go of taking responsibility for the outcome, for getting her mother to accept help. She was eventually able to let go of trying to persuade her mother to accept an aide and relate to her mother’s experience of being unable to care for herself. And, that relating (the result of letting go) made all the difference.
What these and other stories have taught me is that there are two key mindsets essential to successfully “letting go.” One is to understand that, no matter what, we’re always going to be able to handle whatever comes along, particularly if we remember that, at that moment, at any moment, we are actually okay. For me, this isn’t a one day at a time approach – it’s one micro-minute at a time approach.
I remember one of the first yoga classes I took. As I was staring at the mat in a downward-facing dog, my mind traveling all around searching for a solution to some new problem, the instructor said, “Notice that right now, in just this moment, everything is fine.” I think that was the first time I even realized that you can take a break from worrying about the future.
You too need to take these breaks. Realize you are fine in just this one moment and then move to the next.
The other strategy to cultivate is the ability to forget yourself. What I mean here is to recognize that we’re always evaluating outcomes based on how they’ll make us feel. It’s only human to make everything very personal without realizing it.
When I’m at my neurotic worst, my friend Carol always reminds me that I’m not that important. That the universe doesn’t revolve around me. It sounds harsh but I’m always SO grateful to her. My response is to feel so relieved. It’s always much more peaceful to understand that it’s not about me. Phew.
At the end of the day, we’re all just doing the best we can. Just because the outcome isn’t what you want doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. It’s only proof that you’re navigating an incredibly challenging situation that’s out of your control. You can’t fix this. The consequences are theirs not yours. Just try and focus on letting go. Make that your daily practice and know that, no matter what, you and your parents are going to be okay.
As always, right on!
This was a timely article for me. I summed it up like this, I cannot care more for my parents health and well being than they do. I was over caring and this article helped me see what I was doing. Thank you!
I am exhausted with trying to keep my mom happy. This has been going on forever- she has always blamed others for her sadness or distress. Typically, her words would be- “you make me feel………..” she never recognized her responsibility for her thoughts and feelings. Seven yetage, she had a stroke at age 71. Rehab was slow but after several months she returned home and managed okay with my visits at least 2-3 times a week to get groceries, cook, clean, set up her meds, etc. she finally gave into having some one move in with her about 2 years ago. That did take some of the burden off my shoulders. Last Fall, she fell and fractured her hip- this led to surgery, rehab and then the decision to go into assisted living. My brother and I are planning to see her house. He had peripheral involvement and lives out of town. The burden and blame Fall primarily on my shoulders. Burden means regular visits to hear her blame me for”putting her there.” She hates the facility and wants to go home. She believes that everyone else has family who will care for them except her. She says that we dumped her there like a dog. She says that She took care of us but we won’t take care of her. My mom struggles to get in and out of bed. She needs help bathing and toileting and is often inconvenient. She beds assistance to transfer. If she lived with me I would be providing full time care. I have a 9 month job as a teacher but am not willing or able to give up my self, timevwith my husband and family to be a caregiver. Her finances would not cover 24 hour in home care. She cries all the time and says the meanest and saddest things. I feel really bad for her but know that it is not feasible for me to be a full time caregiver. I feel guilty CONSTANTLY. It never goes away.
Hey – sp. So hard to read your story. Throughout the telling your love and hope for your mom shines though. But it strikes me that you need to realize that even if you moved your mom in with you it would never be enough. Your mom would still complain and you would still feel guilty. This isn’t about your mom’s circumstances but rather your mom’s attitude, which isn’t your problem to solve. You yourself know the truth when you say, “I know it’s not feasible for me to be a full time caregiver.” You need to work on letting the guilt go – this is NOT your fault and it will just get in the way of your being able to sustain compassion for your mom.
In bold face type, you state:
“be able to handle whatever comes along, particularly if we remember that, at that moment, at any moment, we are actually okay.”
Not to me. In fact, probably a good 90% of the time it effects me negatively both physically and mentally. One can only take so much repeatedly. And sometimes advice given, is it vice you would give to somebody dealing with a friend. Remember, this is a parent. It’s different. It’s very difficult just to let go. It’s very difficult to put it boundaries. Remember, it’s your parents.
These parents need to work on their issues. If they are at least trying, it’s something. If they are not trying, then the son or daughter is going to suffer either mentally, physically or both.
The only way that I found to get things a little better it’s to give my parents advice on how to do or not do certain things. Unfortunately, I feel I have to tell them multiple common multiple times. I wish this wasn’t the case. I love them and I respect them but it takes too much toll on me. Especially when they treat things as if it’s no big deal even though it literally affects me physically in terms of headaches, stress, asthma, etc. My message isn’t to criticize your post as it definitely has helped people, but my message is more for the people where this article isn’t enough…
Things just don’t get better. Work needs to be put into improve things from all angles and everyone involved.
Why are your blog posts always exactly what I need. And oh so helpful to know in the moment all is well, including me and especially me. The part that really got me…was what Carol said. “You’re not that important.” Oh boy. Hit home, with an ouch and in a good way. Definitely alleviated the control issue a lot. The only thing that I’m still mulling over is “…the consequences are theirs not yours.” Aren’t you the one who goes to the ER with them for hours on end because they decided to do something that was questionable for their own safety? Isn’t it you now that needs to find them a rehab to help them with broken bones, etc.? Or can you please wear the Briefs because the chances of your loved one needing to pee or poop is highly likely and so they don’t and have an accident in public. You are the one that gets the call and cleans it up. So it’s this part that I still will need conversation about – consequences. As a matter of fact in our next Daughterhood Circle I’m going to bring this up since it seems I have energy around this!! You are a treasure Anne Tumlinson…
Exactly my thoughts! I resent that my parent makes choices that will have negative consequences to me.. In nan already overwhelming situation combined with other life issues (work, other family, etc) I feel frustrated that my parent (who has physical limitations, not cognitive impairment) makes so many things harder than they have to be. This affects my ability to just enjoy the time I have left with her and that makes me sad. I’d love to hear how others have dealt with this.
Karen Van Dyke – this is exactly what I struggle w too. They are adults, they do have autonomy. I can’t make them do one GD thing. But because I have chosen to move here to be helpful, I am the one who deals w the fallout. Especially the crappy primary doctor they insist on continuing to see, even tho my mom freely admits she’s crap and often doesn’t go in bc she knows this doc doesn’t care. So health issues that could be improved don’t change. Mostly I keep trying not to think about this issue – at least today. Some days, however, I am not so successful….
What happens when the consequences have a deleterious effect on the caregiver?
Yes!!!! I have such a scenario, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if their decisions only affected themselves, not my own quality of life and future security in my own old age? I think a more proactive approach is needed in these situations, while also not obsessing over the worst that can happen in the future. What a balancing act!
yes! I agree with Ellen’s question. My mother lives with me and my family (husband, son 14, son 12 and daughter 9). Mom rarely agrees to the things I suggest to keep her safe or just functioning in basic ways and usually her obstinance to me has bigger effects on me than her.
Thank you so much! I needed to hear this!
In answer to Ellen Carlton, above.
I get angry. I become exhausted. I may cry. I may yell at people – both my partner and caregivers who don’t live up to my standards. I don’t realize it in the moment, but I am very likely terrified and thinking “what next” and how can I protect my parent now that this has happened. I am afraid of my grief and I am afraid I won’t do ‘being at the bedside providing reassurance’ ‘right’/my loved one won’t have a ‘good death’ when they are actively, actually dying. Still always trying to do, because of course there is nothing I can do to stop the progress of diseases (dementia, among others) and to prevent my loved one’s suffiering. I still try to protect my elder from indignities and anxiety and certainly from feeling pain.
There is always something to do in the background, even if I am ‘doing nothing’ at the facility/in person with my elder in the moment to protect them – applying for something, submitting documentation for re-authorization for something else, paying bills, ordering briefs and toilet paper and under shirts, pants with elastic waist, more un-healthy snacks so dad will just keep eating and keep his weight at an acceptable level.
I suppose the healthiest thing I do is attending support group where we can nod our heads in recognition of one another’s journeys and receive wisdom from a seasoned and caring support group leader (who introduced us to this blog). Other healthy ways to deal with the consequences of bad choices/unlucky mis-steps: Walk or pet the dog. Attend yoga class. Reach out to a girlfriend to have a cup or tea or do some journaling. Plan a vacation. Clean the house….because that is something I can control when I can’t control my parents, the course of their diseases or the behavior of the professional folks involved in their care.
Sometimes I sigh a lot and that seems to help.
This blog is right on point. My friend Carol always tells me “You are not in charge of the world. Everything that happens cannot be your fault.” It made me laugh at the coincidence that it would be a Carol saying that.
Thank you again for this website. I am sure it is a lot to keep up with, but I am sure glad that you do!
thank you for your site and insight. I have been holding on so tight. My siblings are so mean, nasty and ruthless I had to call Adult protective Services to protect me from them. I know now it is not me, and I can relax. Maybe enjoy my Mom, and we can do things, together.
I have to agree with the other commenters that raise the point that the consequences don’t just belong to our parents, or on my case, my grandparent. To be honest, in many cases, our loved ones are virtually consequence free because our job is to clean up their messes, literally and figuratively. And God forbid we do lwt them experience the consequences of their own decisions, it invariably fslls back on us. Perfect example: my Grams (who lives with me) get aide service. It is based on the principle of “client driven care,” meaning the client can’t be “made” to do anything, even things obviously in their best interest. So in the middle of a Northeast winter, when she didn’t want to wear a hat or gloves to go outside to go on the van to gwt to her day program, the aide didn’t make her. This resulted in rhe day profram social worker calling adult protectice services on ME, and for six months I had to deal with APS workers invading my home, showing up unannounced, harassing me and in general making me feel like a neglectful person. So tell me again how our loved one bear the consequences of their decisions?
I agree with you 100%. Even if they are in assisted
living, WE are responsible for all their finances,
medications, legal issues, dr. appointments, etc.
Our life/time is not our own😱 Planning for OUR
needs is always on the “back burner.” I will
NOT do this to MY children.☹️
You are spot on. People want to make it sound so rose-y.
This article is great! I will have to remember this when I get so frustrated that I can’t see straight and I can’t convince my mother that we only have 2 dogs instead of 4 and that I don’t just get rid of them for no reason. I try to look at it as a hurdle that we will get over and to move on to the next conversation to help her forget about it. Thank you for your articles😊
Wow! This was exactly what I needed to hear. Both the blog and the readers comments. Its hard to give up control when the out come of their mistakes fall on you. Appreciate the support of hearing others going through the exact same issues!
I too would love to allow the consequences of her decisions to fall on her, but they will, inevitably, be ours. Fights every step we take to help her make her life safer. I will try to ‘let go’ but when she tells me that she fell again in the driveway and was down crawling around for an hour trying to get to the fence to pull herself up… I get furious! Lives rural 2 to 4 hours from all of her children. and refuses to relocate. Won’t carry her phone with the Life Alert. Frustrating… No, it’s not about me…
Thank you all for sharing
The post came into my email at the exact moment I needed it. Affirmation that the universe will take care of the future. I relate to every word, especially as my 73 year old husband and myself, a 71 year old, prepare his house to be sold. His lack of concern for us all these years has become our problem. Now that he’s in a nursing home, I worry about his running out of money. It really never ends. The idea that they took care of US when we were kids has gotten very stale. I was independent at an early age! Hang in there everyone. What can I say?
My dad is going thru same thing incompacitated unable to care for self is in a nursing home visits are restricted to only his spouse and visit restricted to 20 min once a week W the mask and just found this out a week ago he’s been hospitalized for a month
Thanks so much for your website and for all the comments. My mother has chronic lung disease and is in her 80s…fiercely ‘independent’…although in dire need of regular help and maybe even intervention as far as I can see. I dont live with her…I have my own chronic health problems, made worse/ perpetuated by the seemingly endless stress of trying to “get her ” help, including attending lung nurse appointments she arranges (uphill struggle) then panics about and cancels…three weeks in a row this has happened and I struggle over on the bus (I have bad back, chronic fatigue) only to find her feeling much better! I get home exhausted and really stressed, knowing weve got to go through the whole thing again…and again…
Shes too frail to get upstairs to the loo so is peeing in a tupperware pot that she tips down the kitchen sink. Yuck!!! I’ve suggested a commode but her reasoning against it is that she grew up in the country with only a privvy (outdoor toilet…we’re in the UK) and if she needs to do no.2s in a hurry she’ll go and squat on a flower pot outside. Help! It’ s awful. Ive been screamed at for trying to throw away a rotten cucumber she ‘rescued’ out of the bin. Meat and fish gets taken out of the fridge at breakfast time to cook at lunch and so far, thank God she hasnt had food poisoning.
She can be really nasty when she feels like it. Sweet one minute and sour and depressed and gasping for breath. Im trying to get her a weekly cleaner. She arranged for a lady to come next week but I expect the interview will be cancelled last minute. I’m so tired of it all. As an only daughter I FEEL TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE for her. We talk on the phone twice daily, morn amd eve. She tells me all her problems then gets defensive when I give advice and perceives me as controlling or interfering when I try and fix them…yet I still love her…mostly! She can switch into the sweetest little old Mum that I would walk over hot coals to rescue and help. But she insists she knows best.
Agh! I wish I could run away and leave her but every time I try and organise a respite break she gets really ill. She nearly died twice last year with Shingles anď then Bronchitis on top of her COPD. I wonder if the fighting with me is what keeps her going! But I do not enjoy this enforced carer role. I often feelbabout ready to keel over myself.
I wonder what karma is this??!!?
This is a great blog you have some great information here. Do you have any other blogs that relate to this
I have the same point of view as Gail and Ellen do. Dad is 97 and still gets on the ladder to clean out the eave troughs, DURING THE LIGHTING AND RAIN STORM. I wonder how things turned out for Maria Shriver? I think there’s a bit of a cop-out in her actions. Maybe I’m missing the point…
It’s one thing when parents won’t listen to instructions to keep them from injuring themselves.
But how about this: when your elderly frail father won’t listen to the doctors/nurses when they answer his questions about your mother who is in memory care after a diagnosis of dementia.
Dad wants DATES and TIMES! He wants a CLOCK and a CALENDAR. (I get it: he’s afraid he’ll die first and ‘no one’ will visit my mother.)
Six months of Dad’s incessant questioning, “HOW LONG IS MY WIFE GOING TO BE LIKE THIS?” The answer–“There’s no way to know; it’s different with everyone”–is unsatisfactory. Dad then rails, “WHY DON’T THEY KNOW? What the HELL is the MATTER with them?”
Then Mom falls–again. Hospice care is ordered, and the doctor spends 30 minutes explaining hospice care. The hospice nurse gently says, “We’re letting nature take its course, with no pain. She’ll be kept comfortable and calm.” Then Dad asks, “WHY ISN’T SHE GETTING PHYSICAL THERAPY ANYMORE? WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THOSE NURSES?”
Then there’s another round of “HOW LONG IS MY WIFE GOING TO BE LIKE THIS?” Now the hospice nurse answers, “Maybe 10 days to two weeks.”
Dad then launches into, “I don’t want hear that she only has two weeks!”
I was fortunate: the hospice nurse is a spectacular person; the memory care staff was outstanding. One of them would rescue me, whispering, “He’s driving you crazy, isn’t he?”
“So much of our misery is caused by our attachment to outcomes.” It should be pasted to every flat surface in my house.
I am so tired of feeling guilty for not doing enough; for not being good enough; for not being able to fix everything. First our Dad, now our Mom.
Then my sister moved close by and shouldered the everyday burden of care, enabling my husband and me to move out of state near our daughters and their families. Soon Mom will move to an assisted living close to my sister. I had just started to imagine a life without the guilt.
And now, my husband…
Hi and thank you for this insight. I am new to the group and although I’m not yet at the stage of caring for my 80 yr. old mother, I am struggling with maintaining a good relationship with her. My mother was a concentration camp survivor and I believe she has developed a mental illness due to this trauma. I was reluctant to see it in the past and always thought that her actions were intentional, but this last bout at Christmas has left me absolutely certain that she is suffering from some sort of paranoid personality disorder. She refuses to answer the phone or the door. I live out of town and my biggest fear is that we will receive a phone call indicating that she has passed. I don’t know what to do and was hoping that this group might have some insight.