As our parents get older, we often find ourselves struggling to have patience during difficult times. Even the most loving and wonderful family members have moments where patience has run thin and exhaustion hits. This is a normal part of the process, so don’t be too hard on yourself! Disagreements are normal in any family. However, they are uniquely stressful when they happen between us and our aging parents.
For years, our parents held a leadership role in the family, making decisions for the whole family. So, now that we have stepped into that leadership role, this season can feel like quite the role reversal. And that can be stressful for everyone. And with stress comes moments of frustration, impatience, and disagreeableness.
I want to encourage you that this hard season can be worked through. I want to support you to transform moments of impatience into rejuvenating solutions!
Why Does a Loved One Suddenly Seem More Difficult?
Often people wonder why their loved one suddenly seems more stubborn, difficult, or stressed. These attitudes can seem out-of-character, but there are many reasons why they might be acting differently, and those reasons usually have little to do with them and their actual personality. Instead, some behavioral changes in a parent can be caused by medical or psychological conditions.
Sometimes an aging parent’s demeanor may change due to a new diagnosis around their cognition. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other medical changes can often cause mood-altering patterns. Anger from forgetfulness or moments of irritability from brain fog are understandable symptoms of some diseases. As a caregiver, it can be overwhelming to see a loved one change. Our response of sometimes being frustrated or impatient is understandable and natural. When somebody tells an older adult that they have dementia, the repercussions can be intense; lashing out and other mood swings are often a result of the bad news they have received, not something you specifically did.
Other times, they could be acting different, or more difficult, because the aging process can be scary. Many aging adults feel extreme frustration when their body struggles to keep up with their mind. When everyday things like taking the trash out or cooking dinner become difficult, irritability is understandable.
It is helpful to keep in mind the stress that aging can bring to a loved one. They are going through lots of changes so stress is understandable. Sometimes even acknowledging all the changes everyone is going through and talking through it can help release some tension!
How to Be Patient with Elderly Parents Who Refuse Help
Our patience can easily run thin when we are trying to care for our aging parents, but they are refusing our help. This common source of frustration can continue to wear on our nerves and energy over time. However, there are ways to mitigate the stress these disagreements cause.
Offering Help with Patience
Asking Some Questions
Sometimes when we step into the role of caretaker, we want to immediately do everything for our loved ones. We care so deeply, and we just want to make sure our parents are taken care of.
While our intentions are good, sometimes we can steamroll over our parent’s sense of independence and purpose. Start by first evaluating if the help being offered is necessary. Is it necessary for their safety and overall well-being? Or is it simply something that seems more convenient for everyone but maybe isn’t necessary?
For instance, a loved one may be refusing help in installing necessary shower safety features. In this case, we would want to continue the conversation so that the shower can indeed become safer. This would be a case of necessary help!
Or, perhaps, they are refusing to let you go grocery shopping for them because they prefer going themselves or going with you, even if it is the significantly slower option. This might be an example where their refusal of help is understandable. The joy and independence they feel going shopping might be worth the extra work. When we hear their perspective, we often understand their side more and our patience can be restored.
Offering Help with Patience
Letting Them Be the Hero
Even if we have become the caretakers, most aging parents want to still take care of their kids. It may even help them create a sense of normalcy in their lives and remind them of fond times. In moments of conflict over letting you help, make it about you. If you can, reframe the conversation on how they are actually helping you out! We might see a different reaction from our parents when we do this.
For example, explain to your parent how stressed out you are with the kids’ sports schedules this week. Express that they would be doing you a HUGE favor if they would let you take their list to the store and shop for them in-between games this week. Let them be the hero in the family, they might enjoy getting to take care of you for a change!
Offering Help with Patience
Letting Them Be Part of the Solution
When we are tired and frustrated, it can be easy to go into problem-solving mode and find a quick solution to the problem. We all do this when we love someone. However, if we do this too much it can make our loved ones feel dismissed, ignored, or even replaced.
Sometimes we need to make quick decisions so that our parents are well cared for. In moments where it is appropriate, letting our loved one be part of that process could lessen the stress for everyone. Give a parent option. Let them speak out their preferences and come together on a solution that suits everyone. It can be hard, but it is more possible than it might seem.
Using the shopping example: if your parent truly feels more independent when they go shopping with you, offer them a few options.
Are they comfortable going every two weeks instead of every week? Can you both alternate each week when you shop for them and when you shop together? Would they feel equally independent if they managed their own grocery shopper service, with a company doing the delivering but they get to do the ordering?
Options allow for compromise and compromise will lessen feelings of impatience or anger.
How Can We Deal with the Stress of Caring for Elderly Parents?
When we feel like we are at our limit with patience or energy, it might be time to assess our self-care rhythms. While caretaking is an important part of our lives, it is not the only part of that needs attention. We can only care for our loved ones as well as you are caring for ourselves.
Don’t feel guilty when you need to focus on yourself; one person can only do so much. Self-care is an important part of your caretaking journey, be sure to explore how you can care for yourself well. Part of that self-care could be needing to set boundaries with difficult parents.
How to Set Boundaries with Elderly Parents
One way to set boundaries is to protect our time, space, and resources. If you are feeling impatient, overworked, or burnt-out, consider taking some space to assess how you can creatively pull back some. Perhaps it is taking some time off and letting a sibling jump in as a caregiver for a week. Or maybe you need to spend more time at your own home so you call mom more often instead of going over to her house daily.
Every situation is different, and you are the expert of your own family. Trust your gut when it comes to boundaries. However, dismiss any guilt you have around setting boundaries. It may be uncomfortable or even painful for a loved one.
As long as we are creating alternate plans and communicate with care, we are ultimately doing what is needed. Don’t let guilt get in the way of what is best for everyone.
It can be tricky to create emotional boundaries with those who we love, but oftentimes is it a necessary part of the caretaking process. Especially if a loved one has become increasingly difficult for whatever reason.
Creating an emotional boundary with our aging parent is often referred to as “detaching with love.” This is a personal process of creating distance between how a loved one acts and how you let it affect you. It requires letting go of moments of hurt or anger and programming our minds to not take them personally or even take them in at all.
Detaching from a difficult parent does not mean a lessening of love or care. Rather it is freeing our brain from any unintentional hurt they may be throwing our way in this season. This is understandably a challenging process with its ups and downs.
Creating emotional boundaries will still let us love and care for them well without exhausting our heart as much. It takes practice, but the rewards are worth the effort.
When Patience is Running Thin, I'm Here
I understand that caretaking has its ups and downs. Some days are warm and rewarding while others are frustrating and hurtful.
Remember that everyone gets frustrated by their loved one sometimes. If those feelings of impatience or exhaustion get overwhelming, seeking out support and help is a great next step. Sometimes the greatest strength comes in seeking help. Connect with others on our Facebook community page.