Is Anyone Else Here Coping With Aging difficult child Parents?

This forum has actually given me a greater understanding of my aging mother as well as my difficult child son - thanks to you all! For most of my life I have known that there is something radically different about my mother - she was never like the other kids' mothers :smile: , but I didn't know exactly what to "call" it. She had had marginal adjustment in her life for many years and my father was really devoted to her - even in their most difficult years and he really hung in there. There was, however, constant drama and strife, and their fights were violent, messy, and loud - a continuous background noise to my life as an only child. Needless to say, I exited that environment as soon as I could - I was seventeen, and I never went (or looked) back except to visit periodically for a day or two. I moved very far away and this made everyone happy and kept the balance well, because truly my Mom preferred me being out of the house. My father died in 2000, and I knew that responsibility for my Mom would fall to me. I wasn't exactly happy, because she is so very prickly and demanding - but I tried my best to step up to the plate. She has constantly tried to engage me in fights - because that is the way she experiences closeness, but I have continously refused - because I just don't do that and I don't want to do that with her. It's very difficult because she tries to start a fight with every contact - but I have my strategies!
It took seven years, but I was able to convince her to sell her house (in a remote location on top of a mountain- beautiful but not good for an eighty year old lady!) and move into a "cluster home" in a retirement community. Selfishly, I wanted her to move nearer to me, my family, and my job - but she refused and I knew I couldn't win that one. She is four hours away from us. She is very demanding and I spend much more time driving that four hours than I like given my busy situation here. My biggest concern is the next step - when she is no longer able to live independently. I'm trying to visualize how I can continue to manage her long distance, deal with our own unresolved issues, and keep my sanity. Do any of you deal with this issues - and how do you do it? Thanks for letting me vent :smile:


Active Member
Oh boy, do we know this one!

mother in law is husband's mother. She's physically frail with ongoing health problems. The house she lived in was on land that developers would love, but was a disaster for her - it had wonderful views but sloped, all the way up a hill. She could barely walk to her front gate because it was so steep. We were looking at major renovations to the house, putting in handrails everywhere, constant upkeep and repairs, and we knew that with land values in her area as they were, ANY money spent on the house would be pouring it into a black hole. It took us over an hour each way to go see her and we had to do it every weekend. Despite this we were STILL falling behind in managing the property and she could see we were driving ourselves into the ground.

She has always been adamant about "no nursing home, no retirement village." Her health took a really bad turn, and her sister died. We grabbed the opportunity to bring her to stay with us and kept her occupied and pampered. The one thing that really had her loving our place - the beach. She's always loved the sea but husband's father preferred mountains.
And she couldn't afford to move. Her home just wouldn't raise enough to buy a house near us, even though we don't live in an expensive area. It's just that Sydney is a very expensive place to buy a home. And she wouldn't live in a flat or a semi-detached home either - she gets irritable with neighbours.

Finally we hit on a solution - we and husband's sister each mortgaged our homes, putting in an equal amount. mother in law then sold her home to developers (just before the house fell apart) and between us all, we could buy her a lovely brick house on a smaller piece of LEVEL land, two hundred yards from our house. This way any money spent on the house now becomes equity in the property, instead of wasting money trying to shore up a tumbledown asbestos cement cottage (a common building material in 1950's Sydney). She's put in a new kitchen, new carpets, built-in wardrobe and is about to do up the bathroom. This all improves the value but REALLY improves her quality of life. She's gone from being very depressed and saying that it was time she left the world to its own devices, to enjoying life with new friends and new hobbies. She goes for a walk on the beach when she can, loves to just drive past it. Twice a week she's catching the ferry to the mainland, loving her boat trip.

And the difficult child component - she's not the easiest, especially when she's stressed. She gets irritable, then anxious, then we get the emotional blackmail, the uncertainty of where you stand - it all then feeds on itself and gets worse. But we keep reassuring her that she isn't a burden, and because she can't be too unhappy with the sea nearby, it all calms down again.
She has lost some freedom - she can't drive her car further than the local shops. So when I'm going to the larger malls, further away, I bring her along. I have to constantly make it clear to her that she isn't a burden, I was going there anyway, and whenever I drive her somewhere I double up on other errands to make this clear. But we get to talk a lot and I think she's enjoying the company when we do this.

It is hard work sometimes and I agree - I have to constantly stay in touch with "The Explosive Child" concepts, but they do work. On adults too. very much so.

Whatever happens from here, husband & I both know we've given her a new life. If she'd stayed in the old cottage we don't think she would be here now.

Way back on our honeymoon nearly 30 years ago, husband & I went to Singapore. While there we visited the Tiger Balm Gardens, a place where tales from Chinese mythology are depicted in brightly painted concrete dioramas. One story stood out - the one dealing with filial duty. It showed a young woman breastfeeding an old woman, while the baby was left to cry in the corner. The old woman no longer had teeth and this was the only nourishment she could take in. The legend of this young Chinese woman held her up to be a model of filial and wifely duty in that she fed her ageing mother-in-law even before her own baby. The old woman was not even a blood relative, but because the young wife was now of her husband's family, her mother-in-law was now even more important to hr than her own children. It was part of what she took on, when she married. Not only her husband, but the responsibility of his parents, and to be obedient to them also.
While I do feel that is a bit extreme, I keep that image in mind whenever mother in law is being particularly difficult. If that young Chinese woman could do it...



Well-Known Member
I also know this one well.

My mother was a difficult child to the max. I wont bore you with the details but not only was she my abuser but Im an only child too. When she developed alzheimers it was left up to me to become her sole caretaker.

I moved her into my home in April of 2001 and quit my job. Because of my health conditions, the stress of taking her on simply did me in. My husband and kids were a life saver however. They really stepped up to the plate. Between the 5 of us we were able to keep her in the home until she became too frail to even recognize what a dog was and became a fall risk. At that time we placed her in a nursing home.

It isnt easy being in the sandwich generation. You do the best you can.
Thanks Marg,

I just love your win-win outcome with your mother in law. You all have really stepped up to the plate - and she gets her own place and independence but you all are able to keep an eye on her. Perfect outcome. Ultimately I've been thinking that my mother may end up coming to live with us - and we plan on buying a house that will have an in-law suite - but I know that the independence piece is just huge. For now my mother has enjoyed decorating her new place, like your mother in law and this makes her tremendously happy. She has her new buddies and her volunteer jobs - and this is so, so important.
I had never heard about " The Explosive Child" until I started reading posts on this site, but I have since read it and it is truly very helpful. husband and I had kind of stumbled, bumbled into some of the techniques when parenting both of our boys - and we since tried some of the ones we would have never thought of on our own. It's true, they work with adults as well!
I love the Chinese mother-in-law story. It's a great visual to keep in mind while I drive and drive and for the times that I keep my thoughts (and my tongue) to myself. It makes perfect sense that an ancient culture with very strong "relationship" rules would have this figured out. It kind makes you wonder, though, about the way the Chinese have decided that they don't want girls in their quest for the one child family. Where will they be getting the daugher-in-laws that they so desperately need?


That all sounds so wonderful. Unfortunately it is not always possible. I was a later in life baby, my parents had the first group of kids when they were young..then two more came later.
My father had parkinsens's disease for many, many years. All the rails and gadgets were supplied in their home. My mothers entire life revolved around him. He fell. Became imobile (sp?)
Then the nursing home. My mother was there every waking moment of every single day. Promising him he was coming home. The disease has some drastic outcomes, and things didn't work out that way. My mother became very bitter. Mean. Then just stopped caring. Didn't get dressed, didn't check her blood sugar, didn't take her insulin. She has had a series of strokes leaving her unable to walk and unable to speak. She has been in a nursing home for 5 years atleast. No - - they didn't want a nursing home. They told us that. They went from their home, to a duplex, to an apartment, to an assisted living apartment..but there comes a point where you are just not able to care for them anylonger. There physical and medical needs are so great you just cannot do it. Only one brother and one sister live in our hometown. They have always taken care of out parents. They both have learned to detach. They have their own families, and work to attend to. My sister was a nervous wreck at one point, I don't know how she did it.
Caring for aging parents is as demanding, more so than difficult child's. You feel obligated because these are your parents, but the demand sometimes is more than you can give. Detach. See that they are well cared for. Detach.

I agree with you that caring for aging parents is much more demanding than caring for a difficult child. It sounds like you guys went to the limit, and more. It is absolutely true that caregivers have to take care of themselves or they can't even begin to think about caregiving, and that has been, and is my main concern. The balance is so difficult. I think that there is a lesson here for those of us "in the middle". husband and I are making plans so that our kids are not overwhelmed by our future care. Sometimes though, the best laid plans....

hearts and roses

Mind Reader
Oh yeah, my mom was and definitely still is a difficult child. Her tantrums, negative self esteem, controlling behavior, outrageous spoiled behavior, ugh.

I love her with all my heart - I made peace with her at about 30 years of age after being somewhat estranged from her and my dad. But at 84, she is still very much a difficult child, though she has mellowed out of sheer inability to control everyone. She's grossly overweight and can't get around anymore. She refuses to live with anyone but me, but I can't do it - first of all, I work full time and can't quit my job, our house is small, and I still have difficult child. And lastly, I am looking forward to being FREE in a couple of years. on the other hand, I would love to be able to have her stay with us for months at a time but I would have to hire someone to come in and help bathe her, etc. I simply could not do it alone. She's diabetic and refuses to eat right. She's always prowling for food. We have to hide the bread and ice pops and ice cream downstairs. I have to literally bleach the bathroom from top to bottom daily because she leaves behind a huge disgusting mess. And she occasionally wets her bed, so I'm constantly doing laundry too. And each day when I get home from work, instead of hello, she says, "So, what are you making us for dinner?" and then she literally moans like she's having an orgasm while she eats - it's so disgusting to hear. And each morning, she goes into the kitchen and eats like 8 peices of toast and drags her full coffee cup along the counter to the table so I have a huge mess of crumbs and coffee spills to clean up because she can hardly walk and support her weight and her joints are destroyed. Ugh - Its just a lot of work.

She's capable and incapable in so many ways. She's demanding and spoiled. She praises me and my efforts, but it has almost no effect and doesn't make me feel good because I have to put in so much effort. And then when she's feeling badly about something she said or feeling like a burden (which we go way out of our way never to make her feel like a burden) she will have crying jags - almost like my very own difficult child when she's feeling remorseful.

When we were growing up, mom would have these horrible temper tantrums that would last all day into the night which would end with her screaming that she felt like she was going crazy and looking like she was pulling out her hair, running around the house. It WAS like she was going crazy. I was a late life baby - she was 40 when she had me and my 4 siblings range from 17-4 years older than me. I believe she went right into menopause just after I came along and I heard horror stories of those years - Eiyee! Apparently, our family DR recommended a stint with a psychiatrist and medications and my mother flipped out and changed doctors and no one ever said anything to her about it again. She was/is so afraid of counselors, psychiatrists - very mistrustful. When she found out that all her kids were in some type of counseling, she immediately gave us all the cold shoulder because she felt blamed for all our troubles, which she flatly denied anyway. She claimed we were on witch hunts - why not just be happy and accept life as it was?? Haha-It was kind of funny, but my family has a warped sense of humor.

Anyway, yeah, we too are coping with an aging parent difficult child also.


Active Member
Jo, Kjs - I was also a change of life baby. My mother was in her mid-40s, thought she was in menopause and finally went to the doctor for a checkup, to be told she was 6 months pregnant! After already being the focus of local jokes because she already had 7 kids!

I'm fortunate, my mother was sensible and cooperative with doctors. Her health was always bad but not through her own neglect in any way, although I did grow up constantly being told that my mother was unlikely to see me into adulthood. Fortunately, she survived but there were some close calls. However, while my mother was able to "be there" for my sisters when they had their first babies, my mother was too old and infirm when it was my turn. But because I'd been at her side when all my sisters went "home to mother" in the first weeks after their babies were born, I already had some idea and managed quite well.

She died when difficult child 3 was not quite 2 years old. I remember telling her we were a bit concerned about him in some ways, although delighted at some of his talents. I mentioned to her how with his musical ability he resembled one of my cousins, a Mozart-like prodigy. "Oh glory be, I hope not!" was her reply. When I found out more detail from my sisters later, I realised that my cousin was probably Asperger's (undiagnosed way back then) with very erratic behaviour over the years. But my mother never knew the real extent of the problems...

And now a long tale - move on now if you're short of time. This is a harrowing but true story regarding difficult parents. Maybe it's another reason I can put up with just about anything from my mother in law.

My best friend went through purgatory with her parents. She had grown up with her overbearing bully of a father riding roughshod over her feelings while her mother simply nodded and smiled, enabling him. He would walk through his daughters' bedroom as a shortcut to his own - whether they were getting dressed or not. My friend was always a chubby girl and he would invite guests into the bathroom to "look at my funny little fat girl" having her bath. She was 10 at the time. Locks on doors were not permitted - he would fly into a rage. The older girl was slim and pretty, he would encourage her to spy on the younger and report what she was eating. But this was also abuse to the older girl - her father only ever valued her for her looks, and now she's getting older, she's an emotional basket case.

He developed Alzheimer's. Her mother was in severe pain with degenerative arthritis but was not permitted to use a walking stick or even take pain medication. As he deteriorated he would sit at the table and insist his wife sit there with him, even when she was seriously ill, in agony with her collapsing spine and should have been in bed. He was the cook in the family, but he was leaving things on the stove to burn. He was losing his sense of smell. She, meanwhile, was losing her vision and not seeing this. My friend would visit every week and often get yelled at by her father ("You fat pig! No wonder your husband left you! You're a failure, you can't keep a man because you're so ugly!").
My friend would sit down to lunch with her parents as they served up reheated leftovers, and find the food had gone bad. Her parents were eating it anyway, totally oblivious. Her mother was often sick but would refuse to see the doctor ("whaddayamean she's sick! Nothing wrong with her - strong as an ox!") probably because her husband wouldn't allow it, and also because if either of them were put in hospital overnight, that would mean their permanent separation.

My friend had tried to get them into a retirement village into a unit together, where they could be cared for, fed decent meals and get proper medical care. They refused. or rather, HE refused and his word was, of course, law to his wife. It had always been easier to give in and pretend he was the love of her life.
Finally it was too late - he had deteriorated to the point where a retirement village would never take him in.

My friend cooked meals for them and loaded them into their freezer. She bought some disposable freezerware so they wouldn't even have to wash up.
"We can't eat this - it's not home-cooked!" her mother said.
"Mum, I cooked it myself, using the recipes Dad taught me," the daughter explained. But when she visited the next week, none of it had been touched. Each time she visited, the daughter would thaw out some of this food and put it before her parents. One day she visited and it had all gone. her father had thrown out all the "shop-bought" food. In the fridge was decaying compost.

My friend tried to organise community services. Her father refused to "have strangers in the house". Of course, we know now that he KNEW, at some level, that he wasn't coping and that anyone in a position to see how they lived, would have them in a nursing home so fat their heads would spin.

My friend's mother was drinking constantly and chain-smoking. Her father had serious breathing problems but really relied on his wife to be there for him, which she generally wasn't after late morning (due to being drunk). My friend would get desperate phone calls at work from her father, "Your mother's drunk again - she's fallen on the floor and won't answer me." But by the time an ambulance showed up, there would be no problem and my friend would be in trouble for not turning up in person to fix things (she worked in the city, over an hour away). "You sent those spies!"

All this time, my friend wanted to find a way to fix this. But she couldn't. She was also getting angry phone calls from other family members who had been rung by the father, who was saying things like, "My daughter never visits me, she shouts at me when I telephone her, she never answers her phone, she's stolen my car, she's stealing my money," and so on. My friend had taken the car away to stop her father driving it - he was a danger. But she was always available on the phone to her father - she had her home phone constantly diverted to her mobile, whenever she was out of her house. But he would forget when she had visited.
And as it happens, it got to the point where he couldn't remember she was his daughter. That was even worse because he was just as nasty to her at times.
Sometimes he was kind, but it was even harder then because of all the times he had hurt her.

She had to detach. It was a constant reminder - detach, detach. Not easy, when he always knew how to push her buttons, even when he didn't seem to remember who she was. She also had to accept that the house was a mess, her parents weren't eating properly, her mother was an alcoholic, they were going to die if something wasn't done - but nothing COULD be done without their consent, until it reached crisis point. And this still wasn't a crisis. She had a fall and broke her pelvis and some ribs - they refused hospital treatment.

The crisis finally came and it was sad. They were going over the road to the club - she needed a drink and her daughter had cleaned out the wine and sherry from the house. Going up the steps they would have been holding on to one another. Whoever fell - it doesn't matter. His hip was broken. In hospital emergency, she became hysterical when they said he would have to go into surgery, and then into hospital until it healed. This mean the dreaded separation - they mustn't ever be apart!
Because she was hysterical, they admitted her to a psychiatric ward. Lockdown. Then they examined her - alcoholism. Malnutrition. Skin & hair unkempt and a mess. Clothes filthy. How could her daughter let her get this way? Daughter had no choice.

The old man was asking for his wife. begging for her. They had to sedate him. The surgery didn't go as well as it should have because he was so run-down from lack of decent food & care for so long. Whenever he was conscious he asked for his wife.

Meanwhile, his wife was going through withdrawal. But at last she was getting decent food, adequate pain management and she began to feel her old self. She wanted alcohol, she wanted cigarettes but when told her husband was asking for her, she changed the subject.

They wanted to go home. But daughter got power of attorney (legally - she was careful). Daughter sold the house, sold the contents. It took a lot of cleaning and renovation to clean it. I remember her asking me what she could use, to deodorise the house - it smelt like someone had been keeping 100 cats in there (they never owned an animal of any sort).

A lot of organisation that had been waiting for so long, finally kicked into place. A retirement home was found for the mother, with nursing home attached for the old man. She could visit him. It was clear he would never walk again - by the time his hip had healed he would have forgotten how.
This all involved moving three hours' drive away, there was nothing closer.

They never did return home, not even to say goodbye. The mother was finally persuaded to see her husband before she was taken to the retirement hostel. He didn't recognise her.
She settled into her new life as if her husband didn't exist. Finally he was well enough to transport although his surgical wound was not healing. She was told he was dying - she didn't want to see him, but they persuaded her.

I was at his funeral. She was playing the grieving widow to the hilt - "Did you know my beloved was in my arms when he died? How will I live without him... - can someone pass me another cigarette?"
It had always been her coping strategy - denial. It never happened, or it happened the way she wanted to remember it.

Today she is very happy. Her cigarettes have gone (it took a lot of effort and constant supervision by staff) and she has only an occasional glass of wine. Her health is closely monitored and someone else cooks her meals.

And my friend is still trying to come to terms with all the harm that was done to her, from childhood and onwards.

I truly agree, so often the difficult child is the adult in the family. Being caught in a pincer move between difficult child kids and difficult child parents - is it any wonder we're so often walking wounded?



Active Member
Its funny while my mom can't qualify for difficult child status. It seems as she gets older, she is 67 I think. She just says whatever she wants wherever she wants...You know when you are thinking something in your mind, but you know socially you can't say it out loud. Well know she just does. She said she is old and can speak whatever she feels like it. Its downright embarrassing when we are out in public. :smile:

hearts and roses

Mind Reader
Marg, how horrific!

In my house growing up we were not allowed to lock the bathroom door, ever. And we weren't allowed to close our bedroom doors. At any given moment, my mom would barge in. There was this small drawer that when opened, would block the bathroom door closed. My sisters and I learned early on to do that because then technically we were not locking the door. Mom fumed when she tried to get in and the drawer was opened to block her entry. She'd yell, "Unblock this door! Close that drawer this instant! How DARE you block me out of my own bathroom?!"...even if we were in the middle of doing out business, we'd have to unblock that door ASAP. OMG, we'd hear about it for hours!! I have never fully understood what it was about locks that freaked her out so much. Another time, way back in the mid-70's, she found a spoon in the bathroom and accused us all of free-basing. I remember just wondering what the heck she was talking about?? What is freebasing?? hahaha = I even asked her and she said "YOU know. Don't you think you can lie to me!" and stormed off to accuse my sister. It was insane. I got out of her house as soon as I could support myself, which was at 18. Up until then, my presence was scarce anyways. What a nightmare Marg - I just want to hug your friend.

hearts and roses

Mind Reader
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: bby31288</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Its funny while my mom can't qualify for difficult child status. It seems as she gets older, she is 67 I think. She just says whatever she wants wherever she wants...You know when you are thinking something in your mind, but you know socially you can't say it out loud. Well know she just does. She said she is old and can speak whatever she feels like it. Its downright embarrassing when we are out in public. :smile: </div></div>

My mom too! She claims she's "put in her time and now she can speak her mind when and where she darned well pleases" Ugh - it is soooo embarrassing at times. And her manners have gone out the window. When she asks for something, whether it's family or strangers, she uses hand signals and just says "give me that will you?" No Please or Thank you or anything. It's horrifying when we're in a restaurant and she needs something. She's rude to the waitresses and staff. One time we were waiting for a table at this nice decent restaurant and she decided to cry and act like she was going into a diabetic coma for lack of food (mom is not malnourished and never goes long without food). The hostess came running over and my mom was surprisingly lucid enough to demand 'that nice rosemary bread you have' and a 'cold drink, maybe orange juice or some red wine'. My H and I just gaped at her. Haha - She was fine, it was all an act so we could beat everyone else waiting out and get a table!!! Ugh. I was mortified.