How to Keep Patience and Peace of Mind

Parent-child relationships change as you reach adulthood, and your roles may change. But what if your parents get more and more picky, or seem irrational, with age? How to remain patient and respectful while keeping your peace of mind?

Draw clear boundaries

Corrine Ptacek, from Roselle, IL, lives about 40 minutes from her parents. Her father has Alzheimer’s disease and receives AV treatment. But dealing with her difficult mother makes things worse for Ptacek, the oldest of three adult daughters.

“I ceded my role as health care manager for my father to my sister,” she says, adding that her mother will not support care decisions or share the paperwork. “[My mother] would like us to attend doctor’s appointments but not working with our schedules and working with us to help with daily chores. “The three sisters work full time in demanding jobs and have families of their own.

When her mother fell, she refused home physical therapy and insisted that Ptacek’s father, already suffering from dementia, drive her to his appointments. This caused a lot of fear and worry, says Ptacek.

“Parents can make demands on you that you don’t want or can’t meet,” says Steven Zarit, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. “It could be how often you visit them, helping them with their daily activities, or moving in with you. And as you probably already know, a demanding parent won’t become less demanding just because you gave in on a particular issue.

Zarit suggests taking a quiet moment to think about what you can and cannot handle. “Make a list and be very specific,” he says. “You could discuss the list with a spouse or siblings. Make the list your guideline. Do the things you are willing to do, and draw a line on the things you won’t do. “

Also, resist the urge to argue. “You don’t have to provide a reason or try to win an argument,” Zarit says. “Stick to your decision not to provide this help and end the conversation.”


If you’ve tried this approach but still feel distressed, or your parent balks at boundaries, it’s time to call a pro. Zarit suggests finding a psychologist or social worker, or other geriatric mental health specialist with expertise in this area.

“They can be hard to find, but it’s worth doing some research. They will be able to assess the situation and help you plan a course of action, including setting limits. ”

Know what you can’t control

“I think one of the biggest challenges for caregivers and situations is identifying what you can and can’t control,” says Christina Irving, a registered clinical social worker. “Even with dementia, we can’t force people to do certain things that we want them to do.”

For example, you might want your parents to eat better, use a cane, or receive home care. But they say no. “At the end of the day, they still have the right to make their choices, even if we don’t like their choices,” says Irving, director of client services for the Family Caregiver Alliance at the National Center on Caregiving in San. Francisco.

“This is what is difficult: being the adult when your parents need [help], and not go back to the role of the child, ”says Ptacek. Another major issue is her mother’s expectations of her care. “My mother took care of her mother, and [my grandmother] lived with us, ”she says. “Mom thinks we owe her the same care she gave her mom. It doesn’t happen to any of us. “

Anxiety and fear of what’s going to happen, along with guilt, can also come into play, Irving says. One-on-one counseling can be essential for caregivers. “You are dealing with your whole story. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not so good. Whatever your efforts, it’s important to understand that you can’t control everything.

Find the “ why ” of a dispute

It can be helpful to think about why your parent might argue with you, says Zarit. “One thing is their own anger and their fear of needing help. No one likes to feel dependent. … Also, don’t forget that you are their child. They may not want to take advice from you, however rational that may sound. “

Instead of getting carried away, take a break to calm the conflict. Zarit recommends mindfulness training to help reduce stress and stay calm. Rooted in Buddhism, but no longer based solely on religion, the practice teaches you to stay in the present by focusing on your breathing. A geriatric mental health specialist can also help you find other ways to keep the peace.


Ask for help

Every state in the United States has funding through the National Family Care Support System that you can tap into, Irving says. They can help you find local resources that can put you in touch with help.

Plus, even if you are not a “support group,” they can help you learn more about specific illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“A mental health professional can also help you understand some of the reasons for your parents’ behavior,” says Zarit. “The first thought that many people have is that difficult behaviors are due to dementia, but it can also be the result of a mental health problem or their anxiety and depression about the difficulties they are having. to manage daily life. Knowing the probable cause can lead to treatment that helps. “

WebMD function



Corrine Ptacek, Roselle, IL.

Steven Zarit, PhD, Emeritus Emeritus Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State University, University Park, PA.

Christina Irving, Certified Clinical Social Worker; Director of Client Services, Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center on Caregiving, San Francisco.

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