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Turn Back Time on Toxic Aging Parents

Our world is full of regret.
There’s a whole catalog of music focusing on forgiveness, including one of my personal favorite Cher songs-the 1989 hit, “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

What if We Could Turn Back Time?

Think about it for a minute.
What would you do differently?
What actions or choices would you seek to be forgiven for?

Start Today

In a Utopian or dream world, our parents would read this and, oh my goodness, we’d receive a call or a visit and everything would be right with our world. That is not likely to happen. Read this knowing change can happen and often does happen when all parties commit to healing and working on interactions and relationships. The key word is “work”. What are you willing to do?
If you’re a parent, especially an aging parent, with unspoken words in a fractured family with brokenhearted children, time is slipping away.
Or, if you’re the child of a toxic parent who will never find a reason to apologize, what can you start today to break the chain of toxicity?
Every day you wake up you have a choice.
You can choose to clean up your toxicity, seek understanding, ask for forgiveness and begin the healing.
Or, you can remain stubborn and self-righteous, maybe like generations before you, and pass the blame onto others, including your children.
As a parent, consider that today may be the moment for you to find the courage to mend the fractured family. Or, as a child of this type of parent to find the courage to say, “I’m done.”
What if everyone could admit their shortcomings and wrongdoings?
How about we attempt to begin the much-needed, admittedly difficult, conversations.
Why leave this world with so much heartbreak?
Accepting one’s own family dynamics and breaking the chain of heartbreak is the BEST possible example for one’s own children.
Know that you can never change anyone’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors or actions.
Instead, focus on doing your best and accepting and owning up to your own actions and behaviors.

Toxic Parents Defined

No parent is perfect, including me.
Before labeling your parents as “toxic” try to fully understand where they come from. Ask yourself, or better yet, ask them:
⦁ What was their childhood like?
⦁ How did their parents show or express love?
⦁ Did they live through the Great Depression?
⦁ If so, how did this affect their upbringing?
⦁ Were they allowed to finish high school or did they have to leave to help on the farm or the family business?
⦁ Did they ever say they didn’t want to raise their children the way they were raised?
⦁ Do they believe they did their best as parents?
Those who study human behavior describe toxic parenting behaviors as:
⦁ Physical, verbal and sex abuse
⦁ Alcohol and drug addiction(s)
⦁ Controllers who guilt and manipulate their children’s lives
⦁ Inadequate and often emotionally immature parents who require their children to be “mini-adults” asked to take on parenting responsibilities
⦁ Neglectful and unsupportive
No one expects that a parent engaging in decades long toxic parenting is going to somehow remarkably change as (s)he ages.
Their abusive name calling and belittling and/or abandonment may indeed actually worsen, as they age, especially if dementia is involved.

Protect Yourself

There are ways to protect yourself when being asked to step up and care for a parent you don’t like due to their historical toxicity.

You can:

1. Hire care-temporarily or permanently. This is especially important if a caregiving schedule created by siblings is not being adhered to. Yes, it happens. A sibling commits to a certain shift and then never shows up, especially at the last moment. Figure out what will be best for the parents, your siblings and you.

2. Place an invisible shield around yourself. Be proud of the fact that you are “doing the right thing” by providing care. Ignore what at any other time would be an unforgiveable or hurtful remark and focus on the caregiving.
Before entering their home, sit in the driveway and tell yourself over and over that you’ve had to deal with difficult personalities before in your life and career and that your parents are just two more of this type of person. Repeat, “I can be kind because they are becoming frail and weak and this is the right way to treat any human being.”

3. Use humor to stay sane. Many times, it’s the best tool. If your parent is verbally abusive and demeaning, agree with their remark and repeat it back.
At Craft LifeStyle Management, we call it the Mirror Game.
For instance, after being insulted, say, “You’re right! I don’t know what I am doing. Dang it! I wish I had the smarts to get out of a paper bag.”
Your parents may look at you like you are nuts. They are not used to your agreeing with them, especially as they age and their mind is less alert. Surprising them with humor stops the cycle of arguing and causing upset.

4. Seek emotional support from a loved one. But understand that at some point they may tire of hearing the same thing over and over with no change.
Remember, the change must come from you. Your parents are not realistically going to change much, if at all.
If needed, seek support from a mental health professional. Caregiving is difficult even when not caring for a toxic parent.
One way to avoid feeling resentful while caretaking is to continue to place priority on your own immediate family like adult children and grandchildren. Do not miss anything that is important to you and them, like birthdays or other special occasions.

5. Assume a support role for a brother or sister who may have a healthier relationship with your parent and is the primary caregiver.
Sibling interactions around parental care can cause tremendous disagreement and even severing of relationships.
If you are not the primary caregiver and you’ve turned over the care to a brother and/or sister, you have NO say in the care they are giving to your parents.
Do not be a seagull or a dictator or say, “What you should do is…”
Avoid ‘flying in to make a big mess and flying back out’ leaving it for your caretaking siblings to clean up.
Give the siblings who are doing the day-to-day care the grace and respect for what they are doing, and have done.

6. Get another legal guardian appointed for them. This may be an ideal option if you have the resources and know someone who will serve. Craft LifeStyle Management often coaches clients with this matter.

7. Detach. Choose not to care for them without guilt. This is very freeing. Let your siblings know you will support them in any way you can. You will not tell them what to do. You thank them for everything they are doing and you appreciate them. But you cannot help until, perhaps, the parent is further into their memory loss or health issue: when they are done fighting. Then, you will step back in and help.

8. Establish boundaries. Know what is and is not emotionally healthy for you. Protect your own physical and mental health.


Always avoid being toxic yourself. It’s hard not to want to retaliate but it’s never right to be abusive, even to an aging toxic parent.

My Observations

I’m amazed when someone is surprised to know not all parents like their children and not all children like their parents.

I’ve been in the family transition business for over three decades.
I see long-standing family dysfunction and toxicity daily. It breaks my heart to see unhealed family trauma and drama. As painful as it is to witness on an ongoing basis it escalates when parents age and require care from those whom the world believes should love them most-their children.
What happens in reality is that ignored family pain creates a world of hurt and chaos when Mom and Dad now require care.
Trying to heal as a family when this moment ‘suddenly’ happens is quite unrealistic.
Sadly, many families never experience the blessings of healing.
It’s not unusual for the family unit to completely disintegrate after both parents have passed.
Conversely, and our favorite outcome at Craft LifeStyle Management, is when the siblings become closer after the parents have passed and are no longer a wedge between the children.
We see first-hand the friendships being formed between siblings who do their best caring for their toxic parents. We also celebrate when we see these children parenting differently than the way they were parented.
Remember, no one is perfect-parent or child. And no child needs to live up to trying to be perfect in the parents’ eyes.
You do not need to keep going back into the lion’s den for approval. Please know that if you’ve never had their approval or acceptance, you will not likely get it now when they need care.
If you are the child of parents who played one child against another, now is the time to work on creating your own healthier relationship with your brother(s) and/or sister(s).
Start real conversations. Avoid recalling painful historical actions that start with, “You did this or that…” Instead, ask questions on specific situations that have never felt right after your parents said something about a specific sibling. Often, you are clearing up misconceptions and misunderstandings from decades ago.
Healing with your siblings helps heal and/or not feeling guilty about your relationship with your parents.
Our parents make their own life choices.
You do not have to agree with them, or even accept them.
You can truly say and understand that is their choice.
And, if it means stepping back, that is your choice.
Be okay with it.

What would you do “If You Could Turn Back Time?”

© November 2020. Craft LifeStyle Management. All Rights Reserved.
Denise Craft founded Craft Lifestyle Management in 1988 to ease the burden for families of aging, veterans, special needs adults and those in rehab during times of transition. She understands what’s involved in transitioning any individual from their personal home to their next home and to end of life. Her seasoned knowledge of available placement services, housing options, eligible benefits and payor sources, and community resources is endless.

Please contact Craft LifeStyle Management for all of your transitional needs.