Taking Care of Parents Who Didn’t Take Care of You

Many family caregivers feel obliged to care for their elderly parents because they cared for them. It’s the circle of life. They bring those children into this world and meet their needs when they’re young, and the kids return the favor years down the line.

Elderly caregiving is hard work and it’s a big responsibility, but most adult children are happy to shoulder the burden. 

That said, what happens when those parents weren’t caring and didn’t fulfill their duties? Adult children may still feel obligated, especially if there are no other family members on the scene, but it creates a predicament for those children and makes a difficult situation even harder.

Tips for Taking Care of Parents Who Didn’t Care for You

You care for someone because you love them. They need help, and because you have that connection, you’re happy to provide it. It’s different if that person abused you, neglected you, or were absent from your life.

The first thing to remember is that you are under no obligation to help them. You may feel morally obliged, but you are not legally obliged and can take a step back if you wish. This is the recommended course of action if they abused you and continue to abuse you.

If the situation has changed or abuse was never an issue, you may choose to help them, in which case you should keep the following tips in mind:

Speak with a Counselor

Your elderly parent might be the priority right now, but that doesn’t mean your feelings and needs should be overlooked. If you’re anxious, stressed, and struggling to come to terms with your role as a caregiver, you should speak with a counselor.

Your situation isn’t unique, and there’s a good chance the counselor has heard it all before. Parental problems are very Freudian and account for many of the issues that counselors and psychologists deal with on a daily basis. They’ll understand your situation, offer some words of advice, and ensure you are mentally prepared for the road that lies ahead.

Some people struggle to open up. Ironically, the ones who need help the most are the ones least likely to talk about their feelings and their struggles. But it always helps to get these out in the open and with a licensed counselor, you know that everything you say will be confidential. 

They won’t judge you. Their only goal is to help you, and in many cases, they can provide the perspective you need to truly understand your situation.

Set Boundaries

You are under no obligation to help a parent, so if they continue to abuse you or you don’t feel comfortable performing certain tasks, you can take a step back. Make it clear to them that you’re there to help and have no issue walking away if they continue treating you a certain way.

It’s hard to take that stand against a parent, especially if they have abused you and controlled you in the past, but after working with a counselor you should be better prepared.

As you relieve yourself of certain duties, another family member or a geriatric care manager can take over. Other options include homecare services, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. 

Join Support Groups

Join a caregiving support group, available online and offline, to connect with individuals in the same situation. 

On the most basic level, it’s an opportunity to vent. Caregivers tend to be isolated from their peers, and the friends they do have are often unable to relate. Other caregivers have experienced the same issues and faced the same challenges, though. They are more understanding—a strong shoulder to cry on.

At a much deeper level, fellow caregivers know about government benefits, healthcare options, insurance, mobility aids, and the many nuances of conditions like dementia and arthritis. Having a direct line to such a knowledgeable group of people is invaluable for inexperienced family caregivers.

It’s not just about caregiving tips and support, either. If you’re part of a group with 20+ family caregivers, there’s a high chance that several of them will have complicated and troubled relationships with their care recipients. Some will have developed relatively recently because of conditions like Alzheimer’s, others will be rooted in decades of neglect, abuse, or absenteeism. 

They know what you’re going through and sympathize with your inner struggles.

In some situations, you can apply to have your parent declared as “incompetent,” after which a legal guardian will be assigned. The guardian will then become responsible for the patient’s health, finances, and other basic services. It means you can take a step back knowing that they will get all the care they need without any input from yourself.