Tips for Carers to deal with Negative Parents

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Article by 

Rita Merienne

During the Brisbane Care Expo so many carers shared with me that one of the biggest challenges they face is dealing with negative parents. Caring is tough however it is made tougher when the person they are giving everything up for is being negative.

The following information is a great insight into what might be some of the issues and includes tips on how to deal with the negativity.

Dealing with negative parents is a challenge whether you are a caregiver or not. No matter what you do, you may feel that your efforts to help are not appreciated, you’re constantly met with complaining or a pessimistic attitude.

The reasons for negative behaviour can’t always be determined, but with a focus on regulating your own emotional responses and trying to understand where this behaviour comes from, you may have some success at turning things around.

Examples of Negative Behaviour

You may have your own examples of what you consider to be negative behaviour. A complaining and a pessimistic attitude might mean you can never do anything right — nothing is good enough.

Here are a few expressions you may have heard more than once:

  • “You don’t do enough for me.”
  • “You just want to put me in a nursing home.”
  • “I can’t do anything anymore.”
  • “I’m no good to anyone now.”
  • “Stop telling me what to do. I’m not a child.”
  • “I have no purpose in life.”
  • “Life isn’t worth living.”

Reasons parents are negative

Trying to understand why a parent is negative will help you cope better. Having a strategy that addresses possible reasons for a parent’s behaviour might also reduce their negativity:
Physical and/or mental decline: Coping with the loss of physical function or memory is depressing and demoralizing.
Pain: Consider the possibility that your parent has unrecognized and untreated pain. This could be due to any number of ailments — arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or neurological problems, to name a few.
Loss of independence: Older adults endure a cascade of losses such as friends, driving, the ability to take care of themselves, and a lack of purpose.
Depression and anxiety: Older adults are at greater risk of depression if they have chronic medical conditions. Understanding that depression is not a normal part of aging will help you identify the symptoms and get your parent help. Irritability is one of the symptoms of depression. Anxiety is another mental health problem that can affect up to 20 percent of older adults. If you suspect either of these mental health conditions, talk to your parent and consult his or her physician.
Boredom: Social connection is a basic human need. If you compare your social life to that of your parent, it might give you some perspective on what he or she is going through. Many older adults have rich, active lives and the community that comes with that. But others don’t have access to social events or don’t know how to make new friends.
Cognitive problems: Unfortunately, age is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Irritability, anger, confusion, and memory problems are common symptoms. If you suspect your parent has memory problems, try to get the symptoms evaluated.

How to Deal With a Negative Parent

Dealing day in and day out with a negative parent can be exhausting and draining. It’s like trying to fill up a leaky cup. You may have feelings of inadequacy, shame, and guilt. It seems as though your loving care is not recognized or appreciated. Your parent may even refuse help even though it’s desperately needed.

There may be no cure for a negative parent, but we have some tips that can help.

1. Consider whether this is a new problem

If it is, there could be a medical reason for this change in personality. Making an appointment with your parent’s doctor is advisable. Ask for a complete physical to uncover any potential medical problems.
Possibilities include a urinary tract infection, medication side effects, neurological conditions, new onset of dementia, or a mental health problem.

2. Accept that negative behaviours is not your fault

It’s tough not to feel responsible when you can’t seem to do anything right. But it isn’t your fault — remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. Some people will not ever be pleased, no matter what you do. Accept that your efforts have value and that everything you do is with love and compassion. As hard as it may be to trust yourself, doing so will help you cope with negativity.

3. Acknowledge your parent’s concerns

You may have had the experience of trying to talk someone out of their negative thinking only to have them dig in deeper. Try to honour the underlying concern by opening up a dialogue. Suggested phrases:

  • “It must be so hard not being able to drive anymore. Let’s look at some ideas on how we can get you out more.”
  • “It must be hard not being able to do what you used to.”
  • “I can understand how much you must miss your friends.”

These phrases may not work, but you may feel better if you try.

4. Acknowledge your parent’s concerns

If you are a busy caregiver, it is easy to overlook the fact that your parent may be bored. Boredom may be the result of social isolation and loneliness. Try and think of activities that bring people together. Consider inviting your parent to your own social gatherings. Or teach your parent about technology! Maybe you have a child or grandchild who can help. When someone is confined to home, having access to social networking sites can be a lifesaver. It can take some time to teach an older person to become familiar with technology, but more and more older people are using FaceTime, Facebook, and Instagram to stay connected. Plan short trips outside the home to a park or even a drive with no destination. Elderly parents who are cooped up don’t need much to feel a little bit of freedom from their routine.

5. Set limits (if you can)

If the negativity gets to be too much, try setting limits. Be honest about the fact that your parent’s negativity is adversely affecting your emotional and physical health. It is possible that your dad or mom doesn’t realize much negativity is in the air. In a kind and caring way, give your mom or dad some examples of their negative expressions. You may understand the power of positive thinking and affirmations, but your mom or dad may not. It can’t hurt to give it a try.

6. Get help

At some point, you may need to think about getting your mom or dad some help. Professional help can take off some of the pressure. This help could be in the form of inhome care with caregivers. Consider hiring out some household tasks such as house cleaning, yard maintenance, or grocery delivery. The fewer tasks you are responsible for, the less opportunity for criticism. Another sibling may be willing to take over for a while. Sometimes one child can have better success at handling a negative parent. Whatever you decide, having someone else take over for a while may do you some good.

7. Take care of yourself

Even a little negativity can have stressful consequences. Taking care of yourself should be a priority. Deep breathing, exercise, mindfulness training, and yoga can all help to relieve stress. Practicing your own positive affirmations can help as well. If you find yourself unable to cope with your own negative or angry feelings, think about talking with a therapist. Another idea is to join an online caregiver support group where you are likely to find several people dealing with this same issue. They may have some helpful suggestions on how to manage negativity.

8. Take a break

You might just need to take a break from dealing with a negative parent. This is not abandonment or giving up, it is giving you space to recuperate and re-energize. Respect your need for time off while realizing that this decision may be met with resistance. Hold firm in your resolve and be honest about your need to take time for yourself.

9. Know when to give up

Giving up doesn’t mean you stop trying. It does mean that at some point, your efforts may not be making a difference. Rather than beating yourself up, accept the fact that you’ve tried your best.

Managing Older Negative Parents

As hard as it may be, managing a negative parent is possible. Focusing on the root causes of this behaviour is a good start. Beyond that, accepting that change may be incremental and slow will help you manage your own emotions and expectations. Self-care is the foundation of any loving relationship. Focus on what sustains you to build the strength and confidence to deal with an aging parent.”
Definitely lots of things to think about and if all else fails why not use a professional – a mediator or psychologist can help. When our father was in aged care he became very depressed after our sister passed away, he was grumpy! No matter what we did we couldn’t help him. We sought professional help and it was the best thing we did for him and it helped our relationships to blossom rather than spiral out of control.

Where to get help

The Doctor – they know their patient and will be a great resource to work out what is going on – if it is a new symptom or ongoing part of their medical condition.

Carers Gateway has amazing resources to get help for you – it might be a personal coach for you to learn how to deal with a negative parent or even access to respite. Social interaction is just as important for you as it is for the person you are caring for.

Tips for caring for a negative parent:

  1. Know the reason behind the negativity
  2. Reframe how you talk with them
  3. Ask for help – professional or other family members
  4. Set boundaries
  5. Respite is important – take a break before you break
  6. Know when to give up – some things will never change

For further information

Beyond Blue
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression
Sane
https://www.sane.org/images/PDFs/GrowingOlderStayingWell.pdf
Carers Gateway
https://www.carergateway.gov.au/about/person-phone-counselling?

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