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When Parents Weren’t There For You: What Are Your Responsibilities?

By Lauri Scharf | 02/15/2021

Children with strained relationships with their parents may hesitate to step into the caregiver role

Not everyone grew up in the ideal family situation where their parents worked together as a team to encourage, nurture and support their children. In some instances, children have had to take on some of the adult roles and responsibilities that are normally assumed by the parents.  

There may be many reasons for the role reversal. Parents are not immune to physical or mental health issues that occupy their every day, in addition to financial and job stress. Addictions and substance abuse also do not wait for children to grow up and leave the home to cause disruption. Coping with these challenges may have led to emotional, psychological or physical abuse by parents. For children growing up in these kinds of difficult households, the day that they move out and gain their personal freedom may come as a great source of a relief.

But there is a tie that binds the adult child to their parent, be it a sense of loyalty, duty or compassion. So how does the adult child provide care for their aging parent after this type of childhood? If you are in this situation, you may wonder if you should find it within yourself to take on the role of caregiver. But if you do, what will that role look like?

“Should I be a caregiver for someone who wasn’t there for me?”

While your parent may be declining and in need of support, this personal decision is not one to be made lightly. If you have not had the opportunity to address your personal feelings, this may be the time to seek out therapy for the sake of your health. With the help of a therapist, you may learn how to channel your feelings and thoughts into a positive way of life for yourself. Together, you may be able to decide what caregiving will look like for your situation. Becoming a caregiver may also offer you the opportunity to reconcile with your parent. Resolving past issues is rarely a simple undertaking, but offering a supportive role can sometimes begin the healing process.

However, if your parent did not respect your relationship prior to their current increased needs, they may not be so willing to do it now. The good news is that caregiving has many faces and does not have to be a hands-on approach. There are many ways to provide safety and care for your parent that do not require your face-to-face involvement. One option is to identify another family member or trusted friend who is able and willing to step into this role. What is important is that good care and wise decision-making is being provided, not who is taking the leading role.

Geriatric case managers or other qualified professionals may be another alternative. Geriatric case managers work to coordinate the services and care that can allow you and other family members to take a backseat in roles you may not be comfortable with. They can work with you to develop long-range plans, address immediate concerns, and lead difficult conversations that you or your parent may have been putting off.   

“What if my parent resists my help?”

Resistance to any help either from family members or formally hired professionals may be part of the underlying issues that have affected your parent. It is important to honor their ability and right to make personal decisions, even if you do not agree with them, as maintaining independence and the ability to make personal decisions are very important at any age.

However, there may come a time that in the interest of their personal safety, additional measures need to be put into place. You may need to consult Adult Protective Services to provide a stricter appraisal of the situation. Their role, while founded in federal and state law, is to promote the safety and well-being of vulnerable adults. Their presence allows for a more direct intervention and connection to social services that may have been previously declined. The most restrictive option is having a legal guardian appointed.  

“How can I provide good care for my parent?”

While we tend to look to our parents as protectors and guides, they also may have been raised in a similarly difficult environment. It is important to understand that a history of strained relationships does not warrant continuing the cycle. There is no ability to have a do-over, but you do have the opportunity to create a new future for your relationship.  As a caregiver for your parent, acting in their best interest should take priority. Here are some tips to keep in mind to empower you as the caregiver:  

  • Learn about their diagnosis, symptoms and treatment options
  • Explore resources and community services that support your parent and you as the caregiver
  • Include professionals, healthcare team members and pertinent individuals who offer their expertise
  • Build a care team to support you and your parent in the caregiving process
  • Consider what triggers your parent might present to you and how to navigate them
  • Allow yourself to take a step back if needed 

WeCare…because you do, a program offered by Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, can offer you trained Care Consultants who can walk with you on this journey. Through the mutually developed Action Plans, the needs of your parent as well as your needs as a caregiver are identified. The different options can help you be successful while meeting the needs of your parent.

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