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Caregiver Stress

Judie Rappaport
September 1, 2011

“I can’t believe I’m actually deserting Mom, but I can’t take the stress anymore.   No matter how many times I say, ‘Mom, I’ll do that’ or ‘Mom, I’ll take that over’ she says, ’I don’t need help.’’ Yesterday I said, “I know you’re sick and in pain.” She yelled back, ‘so what? I’m not an infant!  I can do things for myself. It’s your constant interference that’s making me sick.’ She threw me out and told me to not come back until I changed my attitude. Attitude change? I’m 53, not 12!  It’s too toxic; whatever happens, she’s on her own.”


My vote: I’m with Mom on this one. I’ve always thought “Why do parents refuse help?” is the wrong question.

New attitude: We might be more successful at keeping parents safe if we questioned ourselves first:


  • Why SHOULD my mother accept my help? What have I done to reassure her it’s safe to do so?
  • Have I discussed the issues with her gently? Tried to involve her in the decision making (if she’s able)? Or do I get angry if she doesn’t accept my solution? 
  • How have I assured her I will respect her independence and dignity and do everything I can to help her maintain both?


If you think about it from Mom’s perspective, her reluctance is natural: Behind every “I can handle it” is a fervent desire to remain in control and a realistic fear that if you know something is wrong, you’ll feel obligated to solve the problem and your solution will change her life forever – not necessarily to her liking. She’s absolutely right.  Note: If Mom’s safety is at risk, find a way to do it anyway.


Start with the premise that our parents rarely deceive us out of malice or to cause us anxiety or pain. Most elders learned self-reliance as children. Many helped support their families at early age; some faced anger or shame if they complained or showed weakness. Not only was it unheard of to leave work for a doctor appointment, but treatment was so limited that most people never went to doctors except for life-threatening events.


Aging often signifies a loss of independence and lifelong status as head of the family. Proud, self reliant, elders feel disgraced as they become burdens on their families.


Resist the urge to “take over.”  Try partial intervention. Talk with Mom about whether/how much she can contribute. Strive to minimize the humiliation your parent may feel having to rely on you for assistance — Temper love with patience remember, this is a life altering step for both of you.



 Trust Yourself. You Have the Knowledge, Insight, & Power to make the right decisions for you and your parent. ©


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