Caregiver Health: Caring for an Estranged Parent

May 15, 2017

I love my father, but after years of addiction, broken promises and a few yelling matches, I don’t always like my father. Unless he passes away in his sleep, I know that I will be responsible for his care as he ages.

Over the course of my career, I’ve heard caregivers mention how awful their mother was to them growing up or that their father wasn’t around, and how hard of a time they are having with forgiving that parent while also caring for them with a healthy spirit.  This got me to thinking of my own experiences with Daddy and what I needed to prepare myself for what I’m sure will come someday. I share this advice as a reminder to myself and hoping that it helps you too.

Figure out how to get to a place of forgiveness
This is by far the hardest part. Forgiving anyone, let alone a parent, isn’t easy.  Yet, there is absolutely no peace without forgiveness.  Can you sit down and talk with them about the past hurts and disappointments? Would they be receptive to that?  Talk with a therapist, someone who isn’t fully invested in you and who can have a removed point-of-view.  I personally wrote a note to my father, let it sit on the kitchen counter for a few days and then mailed it to him.  We never spoke about it (my aunt told me that he did read it), I wasn’t looking to talk about it. I did what I needed to do to release my father from the years of hurt that he had caused me, and also from the hurt and guilt that he was feeling.

Honor thy father and thy mother
That’s what the good book says, but what does that look like?  How can you possibly honor the one or two people who were possibly abusive to you, or in my case, distant and wrapped up in their own mess?

Whether you believe in God, good vibes or another form of a higher power, nothing calls for you to be abused or a martyr.  It is not in your best interest or safety to remain in an unhealthy situation, so sometimes the best way to honor our parents is to remove ourselves from them. Hire outside care, ask siblings to take over, do what you have to do to stay true to yourself, but also ensure that they have what they need.  The last thing you want is to feel guilty for not doing right by your mom or dad.

Fake it ‘til you make it
We’ve all heard this saying before. It means to put on a good face (or fake smile) and try your best at something. There will be days of struggle when emotions run high and memories flood back- it’s ok. After all, there are likely years of memories that can’t be erased or replaced overnight.  Allow yourself to feel those emotions and work them out.  Then show some love, a smile, a kiss.  It may not be easy at first, but I promise that it will all be worth it in the end.