I receive a steady stream of emails from adult children who are trying to work with angry older parents. In most cases, these caregivers are trying to find the best solution to a difficult situation(little or no planning, last minute complications, minimal resources, limited choices, no support system, etc.). Below is a response I recently sent to caregiver who stated “my mom hates me.”
Unfortunately, our aging parents may reject our attempts to be of help. In most cases it represents profound anger at their situation as well as their caregivers. Their outward displeasure and verbal affronts are the few tools they have left to exert control on their environment. When all else fails, control the caregiver with anger. It creates a miserable environment for everyone. You are hoping she will find some “happiness” and she is letting you know this is not going to happen and, more importantly, how angry she is at her situation and especially you. Now what?
You need to consider the boundaries of what you are trying to accomplish. Aging is a messy process and sometimes, despite our best efforts, things turn our poorly. It might help to tell your mother that you are doing “the best you can do” given the situation. She can choose to be angry, mean, and hateful. But it won’t change the situation or the opportunity you two have to work together. You don’t have the power to turn back the clock, make money appear, or correct all of the wrongs in her life. Your just trying to do the best you can to give her dignity and choices. No matter how angry she gets at her situation, the problems of being older won’t disappear. In fact, they get more complicated. The only thing that helps is working together to find the best choices.
Don’t expect your mother to jump up and hug you, apologize for her spiteful comments, and be a different person. But stay on script in a gentle and firm voice. Think of it as a campaign that you need to orchestrate over the next three months. Be compassionate, but stay on message and keep your words consistent.
Maybe you mother will not change her mind. If not, you at least are giving her a clear signal about what you can and cannot do. It returns a modicum of sanity to your world. Maybe she will tone down the anger part of the time, a small but significant reprieve. And maybe, just maybe, she may see the occasion to talk about her feelings and “test” how it feels to work together.