Ask the Expert: Caring for a parent when you have an estranged relationship. Ashley Seace, AOS Care Manager – email@example.com
My dad and I haven’t had the closest relationship over the years. He wasn’t there for most of my childhood. We’re okay now, but he’s getting sick and needs surgery. He wants me to help out and take time off work, but I feel some resentment. He wasn’t there for me very much as a kid but wants me to be there for him now. Am I being childish?
This is a fantastic question. And you definitely are not being childish. Navigating a relationship with your parents as an adult can be a challenge, especially if they were not very present in your childhood but now expect you to be there for them as they age and need support. It’s completely normal for you to experience many feelings, including resentment, and to struggle with accepting the idea of helping them.
If you do choose to help with caregiving for a parent, it’s important to set boundaries with your parent early in the process of you taking on a caregiving role. Once you set those boundaries, it is equally as important to not cross them and do more than what you have agreed to do. You need to set limits as to what you are willing and able to do for your dad. You will want to give clear expectations, so that you do not become burnt out or take on more stress than you can manage as the caregiver. Caring for anyone, especially someone whom you might be estranged from, is a physical and emotional commitment.
If you can’t provide all the care your father might need, then you’ll want to let him know so he can make other arrangements and seek alternative support. You may not be able to provide all the care, so finding other support doesn’t mean you’re not helping. It just means you understand your limits and capacity. Setting boundaries for yourself might also include some distance from personal, day-to-day care. If it’s easier for you, you could take on the role of managing money, arranging for in-home care, or arranging doctor’s appointments. It is okay for you to delegate the in-person caregiving to someone else in order to protect yourself from a confrontation with your dad or discomfort for either of you.
Prior to beginning to care for your estranged parent, you may want to consider speaking to a licensed mental health professional to make sure some of your unresolved feelings can be addressed. These counselors are trained to help you navigate these feelings, including resentment towards your parent, and can offer suggestions for processing and moving past them. After setting boundaries and sticking to them, it is still important to check in with yourself mentally to make sure you are in a good head space while acting as a caregiver. Again, this might include seeing a licensed mental health professional regularly or joining a support group in your area. It could also mean taking time away from caregiving to focus on the things you enjoy and restore your energy. Whatever it is you choose to do, it’s important to recognize and honor your feelings and pay attention to how caring for an estranged parent affects multiple areas of your life: social, professional, emotional, physical, financial, etc. If you do not take the time to understand and navigate these feelings, you may begin to harbor more feelings of resentment.
If you find yourself at a loss and you aren’t sure how to do this, you do not have to go at it alone. You might consider working with an Aging Life Care professional, who is an expert in aging and can help you make the best decisions for your parent and yourself.