3/30/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

“How can I continue caregiving for abusive parents when I’m still filled with anger and resentment?” the writer asks. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson has to say in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. Mom probably has a personality disorder and Dad is a willing enabler and child beater.

I left home 45 years ago, at age 17.

I have a happy marriage and am close to my adult kids. Ditto for my long-distance younger brother. He has no love for either parent, but out of duty calls Dad weekly. He does not have any relationship with Mom.

My brother and I have good lives, but there is a broken place inside both of us.

My elderly parents moved close by me so I could take care of them in their declining years. I thought I could do it with compassion in my heart, but I find that I’m filled with anger and resentment. Still! Even though they’re very old. My dad is receiving hospice care, but Mom is robust, and could easily live another 10 or 15 years.

I visit two to three times a week, plaster on a fake smile, and pretend to care.

I know how grotesque that sounds. I hate feeling this way.

I’m seeing a therapist, but it is not doing much good unraveling 60 years of malice.

How do other people handle caring for aging abusive parents?

– Sad Mad Daughter

Dear Daughter:

Many people don’t care for aging and abusive parents. (You might be amazed at how often elderly people in long-term care facilities have no visitors.)

I assume that sometimes these family members are wracked with guilt about staying away. Others are doing their best to take care of themselves – as your brother seems to be doing.

If your parents have been living independently and relying on you for basic necessities, when your father passes away, your mother’s living situation will have to change. Look now for an assisted living situation for her. If she refuses, a social worker can define her choices, while you step back.

Because you accepted (or assigned yourself) the role of caregiver, you should now redefine what that means. If you make sure your mother has clean and safe housing, food, and medical care – then this is a compassionate response to her basic needs.

Must you see her three times a week with a smile plastered on your face while you boil over in anger? No.

When you are behaving in a way that causes you pain (multiple visits a week), the most logical reaction is to behave in a way that lessens the pain (reduce to one visit a week).

Understand that the people who traumatized, abused, and beat you as a child will not deliver a satisfying ending for you now.

Work with your therapist on a program of “loving detachment,” where you can create and enforce boundaries, while releasing any expectations regarding a reckoning.

Related: Exhausted caregiver deserves a break

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from the difficulty of caregiving for abusive parents to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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