me-and-momWhether we’re 3 or 53, our parents will always be our parents. Even under the best circumstances, it will never feel natural to tell your mother she can’t drive anymore or your dad that it might be time to give up the house he has lived in for 50 years.

Here are a few things I’ve learned, often the hard way. I hope some of them will help to ease your journey.

No Time Like the Present

Begin investigating and assessing services sooner than later.  We did not do this, and that was a big mistake.

  • When everyone is thinking rationally, options can be carefully weighed with less opportunity for emotions to get in the way.
  • If you think home health care or assisted living is in your parent’s future, start doing some due diligence now. Don’t wait for the dreaded phone call or emergency to heave you into action.
  • Have important discussions before problems arise. It won’t be easy now, but it will be even more difficult if you wait.

Don’t Make Comparisons

Remember that no two situations are the same.

  • While talking with others who might be ahead of you on this journey is a great idea – and recommended – do keep in mind that there’s no cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all solution.
  • What works beautifully for another family may be disastrous for yours.
  • Make decisions and move on. Don’t chastise yourself if your friend is her mother’s 24×7 caregiver and you, for whatever reason, cannot do the same.

Get Help

Consider engaging professional assistance sooner than later.

  • A geriatric case manager can help assess the situation and make recommendations.
  • An elder care attorney will provide guidance on estate issues, advance directives, and financial matters. They can also help demystify your state’s Medicaid rules if needed.
  • Often a parent will accept suggestions from an “outsider” with a little less push back.

Know Your Role

As a caregiver, just knowing what you are and what you aren’t can help to ease friction and struggles considerably.

  • You ARE their advocate. Where their care is concerned, even if they are in assisted living or skilled nursing, you are in charge. You have the right to ask tough questions and act accordingly when you don’t get answers you’re comfortable with.
  • You are NOT their dictator. When feasible, let them provide input; try to present suggestions in such a way that they feel like it was their idea. Try to honor their wishes if it’s doable.
  • You ARE their partner and advisor. Try to assess the situation together, explaining what you have observed and why it concerns you, then offer options and ask for their thoughts.

Look For Ways to Ease Into Discussions

One big key to success is approaching these topics gently. This is a situation where the “bull in china shop” technique will not go over well.  Find natural ways start conversations.

  • Tell them you’re setting up automatic bill pay for yourself and suggest it may be helpful for them as well.  Or let them know you’re starting your taxes and would be happy to assist with theirs since you have a handy computer program to make the process easier.
  • Relate your own preparations to help get a point across.  For instance, “Bob and I are going to see an attorney next week to have our wills drawn up. Have you and dad done that?”
  • Share someone else’s story: “My friend Mary is going through a really rough time. Her mother is very ill and doesn’t have a living will, so Mary is agonizing over some really tough decisions.”

Last But Not Least

This whole circle of life thing isn’t for the faint of heart. This is hard stuff. It’s natural for a parent to balk at taking direction from their child, so it’s important to be firm and honest, yet sensitive and never patronizing. No one likes to feel they’re losing control of their life, and that’s common under these circumstances.

Providing reassurance can ease their fears. Let them know your goal is to help them maintain their independence for as long as possible and that it’s okay if they require some assistance to do so.

Last but not least, don’t neglect your own needs. Ask for help; it’s actually more a sign of strength than weakness to recognize and accept the fact that one person can’t do it all. Find a support group, even if it’s online. Just talking with others who understand your situation can be a true sanity saver.

What suggestions can you offer for successfully navigating through this difficult shift in roles?



  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Thanks for this, Ann. I’m caregiving, sort of, with my 97 year old mother-in-law who deals with the loss of her son (my husband) with anger toward me and most everyone. She’s not demented in the traditional sense and her memory is sharp and clear, but she is emotionally explosive. She’s always been aggressive. It’s just worse now. So, I’m not her child and she isn’t my parent, but I’m all she’s got and can’t live with myself if I don’t watch over her. Amazing how undigested grief can turn to rage and burn the griever and anyone who gets near. I have everything in place–power of attorney, medical proxy, etc. and take care of her finances–but for now I have to allow her to live her own life, miserable as it seems. One thing she likes is my dog, so I take my dog for visits a few times a week while I do her shopping. If I hire aides, she fires them, so we wait. Off I go to share this. Thanks for listening.

    • Ann Napoletan

      She’s very fortunate to have you, Elaine, even if she doesn’t realize it. And, you’re an angel to look after her. I’m glad to hear you have the legal documents in place; so often that’s not the case, and things become even more complicated. Thanks for your comments…
      (((( Hugs )))) ~Ann

  2. Martin Jackson

    Most seniors prefer to receive care at home and just rely on their family members. For me, it’s just right, I mean to take responsibility of taking care of them. It’s also a way of giving back just like what they’ve done for us when we were just kids. Informal caregiving is a great alternative to hiring professionals but there are limitations. We might not be able to provide them the proper care they need that instead of helping improve their condition it just get worse. So it’s right to ask for help, reach out to people who have experience in caregiving. I like the way you highlighted the importance of asking for help and I hope more people would do this. It’s expensive to hire someone who can perform skilled care and that’s the reason why people should start planning early by comparing ltc insurance quotes and researching about long term care. There’s nothing wrong in requesting for quotes because they are free and allow you to choose the policy that you’ll greatly benefit from in the future. If you’re interested in getting non-obligation quotes, get them here:

  3. Dee A Marfe'

    Hi Ann, I am looking for some guidance on how to deal with my siblings who insist on parenting our parents. For my Dad I understand as he has dementia. For my Mom it’s a different story. She is 81. She is under temendous stress. Mental still sharp but has always had some difficulty making some decisions, especially concerning her own care. She has severe pain from arthritis & fibromyalgia. She needs a shoulder replacement. She has chosen not to pursue the shoulder replacement at this time but will from time to time mention it when it is really hurting. My parents live with my brother & sister-in-law in their down stairs apt. My brother & sister-in-law continue to insist she does this surgery so she can continue to take care of my Dad. It’s bagering really. “You need to do this, you should do this.” They do not respect my mother’s decision because they don’t agree with it. They express their frustration in their communications with my Mom, they confront & yell at my Dad. They say things like, “I can’t take this anymore, maybe you should move out, if you’re not going to take care of yourself then I give up”…etc. Mom can be very passive, she will tell me it bothers her but is not able to tell them her feelings for fear of rocking the boat so to speak. I do agree that we parent our parent when they lose the mental capacity to do it for themselves otherwise we can encourage & talk about our concerns but it is still their decision. I don’t agree that we parent our parent who has the mental capacity to make their own decisions. We can help our parents in their later years, communicating with respect, dignity, kindness & compassion. We need to keep our anger & frustrations in check & not take it out on our parents. No matter how many times I talk with my brothers about this but they won’t listen. They believe they know everything & our resistant to anyone such as a Social Worker or Case Worker becoming involved. My sister-in-law took care of her ailing mother who was very compliant. My mother is fiercely independent in her mind but having difficulty physically. They believe my mother should just be compliant. I am at a loss on how to help defuse this situation despite being a Case Worker/therapist for the intellectually & physically challenged for adults & the aging for 26 years. They can not afford Assistive Living & do not qualify for a NH. They make just above the means for Senior Housing so there is no place else for them to go. I live 2 hrs away & another brother is across the country. Any assistance would be appreciated.

  4. Imogene Cortez-Wyrsch

    Hi Dee,

    I understand your frustrations, I did parent my parents and I can relate to your situation. I feel your helpless feeling of not being able to provide an excellent care for your parents and feeling sorry for your Mom and Dad. My parents used to live with my sister and it was bad, but I turned it into good for involving everybody in our family.

    Anyway I suggest you take a step back and rationalized each side of the coin. How is your Mom’s mobility ? Can she move from point A to point B without assistance ? Does she use a walker or a cane or a wheelchair? Can she groom herself? The first thing you have to emphasized is your parents SAFETY, then followed by your brother’s feeling. Is your parents Safe staying with them? Does your parents feel they are emotionally abused? If they feel that way , you can always contact the Adult Protective Services in their area, so they can have a better assessment of the situation. Once you do this move you might hurt your brothers feeling but you have to prepare a better care plan for your parents. Contact Department of Social Services Aging Division to see what program they have that can benefits your parents. If your brother is the conservator, then you will need a Durable Special Power of Attorney plus the Advance Care Directives of your parents in case you will take over their care.You will also need to know all medical history of your parents and the list of all their medications. I know how you feel I been there, but do try to maintain your composure and try to take your brother for lunch or dinner so both of you can talk and share the responsibility for your parents. You will also need to know if your brother is getting burned out taking care of your parents ? Is he feeling unproductive for being with them? Is he guilty for not being responsible enough in handling your parents affairs? Does he need a time out? Does he feel overwhelmed with all his task? He might be suffering on of all these scenarios but you will never know it unless you will discuss his feeling. Having proper communication with your brother might help you and your parents understand his behavior.

    Do try to have some days off that you can take over for a day or two and give your brother and sister in a law a time off. You will need to be with your parents 24 hours a day for at least 3 days so you can assess their situations, that way you can understand your brother’s frustration and your parents condition. Let them understand that your are there to help too. Please try to avoid confrontations because sometimes that happens in a family with an elderly. I hope and Pray that your brother will listen to you.

    Back to your Mom, if Senior Community Center is available in your area, check their senior activities and try to arranged a senior transport to take your Mom back and forth to senior center so, she can socialized and feel productive. If mobility is a severe issue for her, then you can get Mom some small craft works or crochet kits that can occupy her time, or get her a puzzle books from the dollar store. Making her mind occupied will keep her mind-set away from feeling sad and painful all the time, unless she have severe injury then she can not go to the community center.

    Here in California we also have an agency called IHHS ( In Home Support Services), if you have the same program out there, inquire in this agency because they will help your brother by sending a caregiver paid by Dept. of Social Services . You can also check some program of the Jewish Community Center for Elderly in your area. If your brother is religious perhaps a pastor or a priest can organized a meeting between the two of you, that way he can understand you better. Do involved your other brother when it comes to plan of care for your parents. If he lives far away from all of you, make sure he will call your parents and brother every other day. Hearing his concern even on phone calls makes a difference for everybody. Have your other brother help with financial affairs, if he have extra cash. The cash flow can help your parents paying their electric bills, cable etc. It will also give your caregiver brother an emotional and financial support knowing that he is not alone caring for your parents.

    Extend your patience to your brother and help him understand his role a caregiver to your parent can be shared by all of you, that way he will not feel in CONTROL and responsible for your parents alone.

    All the Best.

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