How to Deal with Negative Parents

Dealing with negative elderly parents can be frustrating and draining. We’re not talking about some of the natural negative feelings and sadness that accompanies loss with getting older. Not everyone needs to be sunny and positive all the time. It’s likely you sympathize with a lot of what your elderly parents are facing. However, negative parents typically refuse your solutions and can’t see any positives. You may get constant phone calls from your negative parents complaining about everything. 

Dealing with negative elderly parents starts to harm your relationship with them and others. You may find yourself losing empathy and patience. And, you may also find yourself being short with work colleagues, your spouse and kids.

How to Deal with Negative Parents

1. Start with looking at possible underlying causes. 

Are they depressed, isolated, or in pain? Any of these can cause irritability and spiraling negative emotions. These symptoms of depression might sound familiar in your negative parents: apathy, general discontent, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, sadness and agitation. And, there is a strong link between chronic pain and depression and anxiety. Isolation and loneliness also correlate frequently with depression in elders.

Another root cause could be dementia or cognitive issues. Behavior and personality often change along with memory loss. A parent with dementia may have behavioral symptoms like moodiness, apathy, anxiety, changes in personality, and withdrawal. Loss of communication abilities, access to memories and general functionality result in anger, frustration and anxiety. Dementia can cause suspicion and paranoia due to the underlying confusion and unfamiliarity. The sleep disturbances that come with dementia and many illnesses also lead to irritability.

It can be hard to separate out the real issues in the constant negativity. But, your elderly parents are probably experiencing many losses and challenges. They may be struggling to manage day-to-day. Medical conditions or medications could be affecting them in ways you don’t know.

How to uncover the root causes

We know how hard it can be to know what’s really happening. You may be finding it impossible to separate out real issues from attitude. And, many elderly parents won’t share what’s going on. Sometimes they can’t share, as they either don’t understand it themselves or communication is one of their problems. Otherwise, fear may keep them from being honest. Therefore, you should get a professional assessment.

A care manager’s expertise lies in aging issues so they know what to look for and how to investigate. Often, a loved one is good at hiding these issues during doctor’s appointments and quick visits. So, a care manager observes and gathers information from various points of view. Their expertise in aging helps them detect issues that others may not. They also work to build rapport with your parent to create a more open dialogue, both for discovery and moving forward.

2. Discuss concerns and offer solutions with alternatives.

If you get a professional assessment, this will be part of the process. Along with uncovering the underlying issues, the care manager can coordinate treatment and solutions. This is known as the care plan. Your parent likely needs a medical review and may need modifications to medications, new treatments, physical therapy, counseling, etc. Various services and resources may make it easier for them to manage at home, stay healthier and come out from isolation.

In addition to coordinating, the care manager can be a sounding board for you and your parent. Having someone else to talk to can really help your parent, but also relieve you. As you probably already know, convincing your negative parents to seek solutions can feel like a losing battle. You need an ally in this, and someone who has done it successfully in many challenging situations.

When the negativity stems from dementia, a lot can be done to ease the underlying issues causing anxiety and other moodiness. It helps to build routine and familiarity. Simple solutions can take away a lot of the fear and uncertainty. Support services could make all the difference in how your loved one is feeling. The person will do much better when healthy, comfortable and well-rested. Therefore, any sleep issues, pain and medical conditions should be addressed. With even some minor changes, life can be different for your elderly parent and, therefore, your whole family.

Building an Agreement

In making this plan with negative parents, it is vital to set parameters. For example, your parent may not (okay, probably will not) agree to every suggestion. As part of the discussion, you might say “Okay, we will try X and reevaluate in two months. If it is not working, then X.” or “If X happens, then we need to move to a different solution.” Find this and other tips when dealing with an elderly parent who is resistant to the solutions you’re offering here.

3. Set boundaries.

Boundaries are especially important when it comes to communication. You cannot take your negative parent’s calls at all hours of the day and night. It will drain you to spend hours listening to their woes. However, you should genuinely listen to them when they are sharing how they feel. This is another reason you need those boundaries. You can’t genuinely listen without a break or if you are burnt out. Set aside times to talk and make it clear when and how long you can talk. Then, dedicate that time to listening to them. This is not about offering solutions, but simply empathizing and making them feel heard.

This is also where collaboration might help. Divvy up calls and visits with siblings. Bring in a care manager who can be a partner for you and another confidant for your loved one. When you can hire a caregiver, it also gives your parent another listening ear. They gain companionship and become less lonely. For some elders, they may need to see a counselor to deal with depression, loss and other issues. If you’re working with a care manager, they can recommend resources.

4. Seek support.

When thinking about how to deal with negative parents, you shouldn't be left to do it alone. Who can you talk to when you’re frustrated? You may have friends and family members to lean on. But, sometimes you may feel like you can’t talk about your negative parents with them anymore. Your care manager will be an empathetic ear always available to listen. Some caregivers also seek counseling, working with a therapist with experience in such family dynamics. This may be particularly useful if you have a complicated history with your parent or unresolved issues from the past.

You might also want to seek support from other caregivers. You can find in-person support groups and online options such as the Caregivers Community on Facebook.

When your loved one has more support, it can make a huge difference to the situation as well. Caregivers become companions for them. Now they have someone else to share with other than you. If they’re able to get out and about or do more activities, they'll be less focused on the negatives. For some parents, an ALF may be best for their care needs, budget, etc. Even in that situation, elders may benefit from the one-on-one support of a caregiver.

Talk to a care manager about your situation:

Get help, ideas and support.