The Challenges of Looking After an Aged Parent

Taking care of an aged parent is a challenge, with new tests — and testiness — arising every day. The biggest problem, of course, is that the parents want to be babied while giving up none of their parental authority. (They seem to forget that such authority had expired decades previously when we grew up, left home, and developed our own life with our own unique responsibilities.)

rainA friend cautioned me against coming to take care of my father — she knew first hand the challenges I would face. But for the most part, he and I have managed to deal together okay, mostly because I adopted a policy of doing whatever he needed but nothing that he could do for himself. (He wanted me to wait on him like some unpaid servant, or like my mother did for the sixty years they were married.) After his recent hospitalization and an ensuing bout with pneumonia (he refused to sit in a chair or take walks while hospitalized, saying he had patients’ rights, and he had the right to refuse any treatment, so the pneumonia came as no surprise), I’m having a hard time resetting those parameters. He simply won’t do anything for himself, even though he is still strong and reasonably healthy for his age. (He says it tires him. I want to say “get over it,” though I don’t.)

And then there is the problem of the household finances. When he lost his ability to think clearly and keep enough numbers in his head to reconcile his accounts, he turned the household finances over to me.

Sort of.

When he is unwell, everything goes smoothly. He says he trusts me, and that I have permission to arrange matters (and papers) most convenient for me. When he is well, he forgets that trust, rummages around in his desk, puts everything back the way he had it, disarranges my work and makes my to-do list disappear.

Yikes. What a balancing act — letting him think he is still in control while making sure the bills get paid and balky appliances get fixed.

I figure if he’s well enough to mess around with such matters, he’s well enough to get his own meager meals, but he doesn’t see it that way. I try to be patient, realizing it must be hard to be ninety-seven years old and dependent on a daughter, but I also can’t forget that I am that daughter, with a life of my own. I never took a vow of obedience to him. Never signed on to be a servant. I’m just the designated daughter, the unattached one who got stuck with the awkward situation.

I’m hoping in the next week or so things smooth out and I can stop being at his beck and call. Well, I will stop — that’s a given. I just don’t know how that will sit with him.

And so it continues, my paying the wages of daughterhood.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

8 Responses to “The Challenges of Looking After an Aged Parent”

  1. Paula Kaye Says:

    I can only hope that by the time I am your father’s age I can just close my eyes and die!! I would hate to think I was such a burden to my kids or grandkids. Maybe it all has something to do with how well we treat them when we are raising them.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I sure don’t want to live to be his age! And if I did, I’d have no one to look after me and probably not enough money to hire anyone.

      I have a hunch the problem I am having is one you wouldn’t cause your children. Men of his age still have that sense of entitlement when it comes to women, as if we were born to look after them. Women are much more independent-minded.

  2. Kat Sheridan Says:

    I hope you have all the proper powers of attorney (financial and health at the top of the list) so you can manage for him with or without his “help” (speaking as someone who spent last year dealing with this). Consider getting yourself a lock box for all those bills and papers he wants to mess with and keep the key on you. I understand it’s hard for him to accept he’s become the child and you’ve become the parent, but it’s OK to say ‘no’ to him. If he demands papers, give him some from old files or last year’s to “play” with. He’s lucky to have you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Making the whole situation more complicated, I don’t have any legal authority. One sister has medical power of attorney. One brother has financial power of attorney. Neither live in this state. I do have access to the house account so I can pay bills. It was a fight getting even that.

      • katsheridan Says:

        Then technically, you should be making the brother with the financial POA manage all the bills and make payments. How ridiculous that it wasn’t assigned to you. Same with medical. YOU’RE the one on-site who needs to be able to make immediate decisions, not them. That’s just crazy, and unnecessarily adds burdens to you. ALL of them are lucky to have you willing to do all this.

  3. Carol Says:

    Kat has a point. You’re in the position of being the primary caregiver without any official authority. Not a desirable situation! If your father isn’t doing things for himself only because he wants you to do them for him, not because he can’t do them himself, can you push him a bit more? Kind of compromise. When it comes to meals, for instance, can you prepare the ingredients and leave them for your father to assemble, or at least make it so he has to come out to the kitchen and serve himself, and remind him that you won’t be serving. Go out at dinner time if necessary, if only into the yard. (Maybe eat your own meal as a quiet picnic.) It sounds uncaring, and at 97 he’s probably entitled to find doing things for himself rather tiring. But I don’t know how you can play the two roles of daughter versus caregiver indefinitely.

  4. ocena10 Says:

    Si de algo te sirve mi experiencia he optado por hacer todo lo que mi madre quiere, sin contradecirle, a pesar que muchas veces pienso diferente, pero estoy convencida que yo no puedo convencerla de algo que ella tiene en su mente por décadas, en el fondo nos queda el consuelo que estamos haciendo lo correcto prodigandoles todo lo mejor de nosotros para estos seres maravillosos que fueron nuestros padres.

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