How to Know When to Walk Away from an Elderly Parent

Thứ bảy - 27/04/2024 01:10
Understanding the difficult reasons you might need to walk away from an elderly parent and how to process your guilt If you're considering distancing yourself from your elderly parent, you might be feeling confused—maybe even completely...
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If you’re considering distancing yourself from your elderly parent, you might be feeling confused—maybe even completely overwhelmed. It’s a complicated decision, and the answer is rarely simple, but one thing’s for sure: you should feel empowered to look out for your own well being. We’re here to help you do that. Plus, we’ll also unpack common reasons that children distance themselves from elderly parents, offer you tips for dealing with guilt, and give you tons of advice on how to take care of a parent from afar (if that’s your goal). You'll find everything you need to know below.

Things You Should Know

  • Walking away from your parent is justified when you do it for your own health and well-being, especially if they’re abusive or behaving dangerously.
  • There are many valid reasons to walk away from your parent. For example, they might have a health condition or mental illness you don’t know how to deal with.
  • Manage the guilt you may feel over walking away from an elderly parent by finding ways to love them from afar rather than focusing on the sense of obligation you feel.
  • Keep in mind that there may be laws requiring you to care for an impoverished parent based on where you live, but you’re allowed to arrange care from afar.
Section 1 of 5:

Is it wrong to move away from an elderly parent?

  1. It’s ultimately up to you to decide whether walking away is wrong.
    This decision is complex and will likely depend on your personal circumstances, which is why the final call is yours alone. It’s generally a good idea to consider your elderly parents’ well-being before you walk away—but if your parent’s behavior is hurting you, or you aren’t equipped to handle their issues, walking away can be totally justified.
    • This can be a difficult choice to make, but at the end of the day, it’s important to trust yourself and do the best that you can for yourself and your parent. That’s all anyone can do!
    • Remember that taking care of yourself should be a top priority. Even if you want to help your parent, that can be difficult when you’re struggling too. If you need to walk away for your own health or safety, you can.
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Section 2 of 5:

Reasons to Walk Away From an Elderly Parent

  1. Step 1 They’re physically or verbally abusive towards you.
    If your elderly parent threatens your safety and well-being, you’re extremely justified in walking away. Keep in mind that abuse can be many different things; your parent may resort to physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. Any kind of abuse can harm you greatly, so walking away is likely the best way to ensure your safety.[1]
    • If you have a family, it’s also important to consider their well-being. If they have to be around your abusive parent, they might also become targets; it’s okay to walk away to ensure your family’s safety.
  2. Step 2 They have an addiction that makes them self-destructive.
    If your parent is addicted to something like drugs or alcohol, it can lead them to extremely unhealthy behavior that impacts not only themselves but everyone around them—including you. That can make it difficult for you deal with your parent, especially when they’re under the influence or have no desire to get treatment for their addiction.[2]
    • Seeing a parent self-sabotage and make unhealthy or outright dangerous choices can be very damaging to your mental health. It’s okay to take a step back when your parent’s behavior is hurting you, too.
    • This is especially true if your parent refuses to get help. Remember: at the end of the day, you can’t make them change. They have to make that choice for themselves; if they won’t, the healthiest choice for you may be walking away.
    • If your parent agrees to get help, a rehabilitation center may be the best place for them. They can get clean, receive counseling, and learn to manage their addiction.
  3. Step 3 They have a mental illness that would be best handled by a professional.
    Mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are extremely difficult to deal with, especially when you’re not a trained medical professional or caregiver. It’s not out of the question to walk away, so long as your parent’s needs are still cared for. You might find it easier to cope with their illness when you’re not their sole caregiver.[3]
    • There’s no shame in deciding that your parent needs professional care when they have a mental illness. In fact, that’s often the healthier decision for both of you.
    • In circumstances where your parent clearly needs care, but you feel that you shouldn’t be the one to give it, long-term care facilities or professional caregivers are both options worth looking into.
  4. Step 4 Your parent has decided to move somewhere else.
    Many older folks decide to relocate after retirement, often to warmer climates or places with more affordable living. While coming to terms with the newfound distance between you can be tough, you aren’t obligated to pick up your entire life and move with them, especially if you’ve already put down roots where you are.
    • Remember that your parent’s decision to move probably has nothing to do with you, and it’s not your responsibility to follow them around wherever they go.
    • If you already have a steady career, friends, or a family, your parents should not make you feel like you have to relocate. Even if you don’t have those things, it’s still your decision whether you want to move or not.
  5. Step 5 They’re exploiting you financially to get ahold of your money.
    Has your parent ever tried to steal or coerce money from you in the past? Or have they ever committed fraud, claiming to be you in order to buy something for themselves? If they’re trying to exploit you financially, walking away and putting distance between you is the best way to protect yourself.[4]
    • In some cases, cutting your parent off is the only way to show them that you refuse to be taken advantage of.
    • If you feel guilty, remind yourself that giving your parent access to your money when they’re trying to take advantage of you can hurt you emotionally and severely damage your finances.
  6. Step 6 You can’t currently afford to care for your elderly parent.
    If you don’t have the resources to care for your parent, or you’re going through a financial crisis, it may be best to take care of your own needs before supporting your parent. After all, it won’t do either of you good if you lose all your money and can’t afford your own expenses anymore, let alone theirs.[5]
    • For example, if you’re willing to support your parent financially but don’t have the money, you might walk away in order to find a better job and stabilize your financial situation before going back to help them.
  7. Step 7 You have a difficult relationship with your parent and need distance.
    Do you and your parent argue more often than not? Do you often walk away from them feeling confused, upset, or emotionally drained? When navigating a difficult relationship with an elderly parent, understand that it might be best for your mental and emotional well-being to distance yourself from them.[6]
    • Sometimes, walking away for a time can help you both recharge, find a solution to your differences, and improve your relationship in the long run.
    • You might never be “close,” but if walking away helps you reach a healthier place in your relationship with them, it’s worth trying. Then, you might even be able to care for them from afar and feel less guilty about it.
  8. Step 8 They have refused any help from you.
    Parents might refuse help for any number of reasons: they may be too proud or stubborn, they might have different values, or they may have a health condition (like dementia or anxiety) that makes them reluctant to address their medical needs. If your parent won’t let you help them and gets angry when you try, it might be best to let professionals take care of them.[7]
    • For example, some elderly parents refuse to hire a caregiver or get upset at the thought of moving to a senior living facility.
    • If your parent has a mental condition, they might refuse to take any medications or get professional treatment.
    • Understand that, at the end of the day, you can’t force your parent to do something they don’t want to unless a professional deems them unfit to make those decisions.
    • In other words, you don’t need to feel guilty over a parent who won’t accept help—because it’s their decision, not yours.
  9. Step 9 You need distance to move forward with your own life.
    There are plenty of personal reasons you might need some distance from an elderly parent, whether you’re relocating for a new job or taking a big step in a relationship (like moving in together or starting a family). Many children naturally distance themselves a bit from their parents while building their own lives; it’s important to be your own person, after all.[8]
    • This one is more complicated, especially if your parent's health is declining. And the truth is, things differ from family to family. But a lot of the time, your parents would rather you live your fullest life than feel trapped by guilt and stuck close to home (even if it means that you're living farther away).
    • Especially because giving great care and staying in close contact isn't impossible (or even particularly difficult) if you move away. There are tons of ways to continue prioritizing your parents' health and your relationship from a place that's better suited to you if that's your goal. Below, we'll teach you how.
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Section 3 of 5:

Dealing with the Guilt of Leaving Your Parent

  1. Step 1 Acknowledge your feelings and accept the situation.
    After walking away from an elderly parent, the best thing you can do is accept that you feel guilty but also acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can—and that’s okay. Identify the root of your emotions, and give yourself space to feel them without passing judgment. It might also help to write your thoughts in a journal, as there are many reasons you may feel guilty about walking away. For example:[9]
    • You might have a sense of obligation to your elderly parents, especially if they cared for you when you were younger.
    • You may have strict expectations about what it means to be a good, helpful family member.
    • You might be afraid that walking away will trigger a fear of abandonment in your parent and cause them a lot of emotional distress.
    • You might be part of a culture that expects children to care for their elderly parents, so walking away feels like a breach of protocol.
    • You may worry about missing important moments and quality time with your parent if you walk away.
    • Your parent may be actively trying to guilt-trip you into staying and caring for them personally.
  2. Step 2 Seek support from friends, siblings, or a therapist.
    Walking away from an elderly parent can be difficult, no matter how you feel about them, and it’s not something you should have to go through alone. When you’re feeling upset, guilty, angry, or just need to get something off your chest, talk to someone you trust. Your confidante might be a best friend, for example, or a sibling who knows exactly what you’re going through.[10]
    • Remember that therapy can be an incredibly important mental health tool. Walking away from an elderly parent can evoke all kinds of complex emotions, and a therapist can help you process those emotions in a healthy way.
    • If you and a sibling are facing the same parental issues, group therapy might also help. You can discuss your feelings in a safe space and ensure you’re on the same page as you decide how to deal with your parents.
  3. Step 3 Make a communication schedule to help you keep in touch.
    When you move away from an elderly parent, staying in touch can feel extra important since you won’t see them in person as much. And, if you forget to call after a busy week, it can leave you feeling especially guilty. To make sure that doesn’t happen, set a regular time for you to call or video chat with your parents that works with your schedule.[11]
    • For example, you might decide to call your parents every Wednesday on your lunch break or do an hour-long video call every Sunday afternoon.
    • Don’t feel bad if you can’t be on the phone with your parents every single day. Having a life doesn’t make you a bad relative!
    • Making a schedule that works for you will help you keep your promises and feel like you’re actually staying in touch with your parents.
  4. Step 4 Let go of old conflicts if you want to care for your parent from afar.
    The more grudges and unsolved disputes between you, the more intense your guilt over walking away might feel. Do your best to put those old hurts behind you and let go of whatever grudges you feel. Focus on the present and do what you can to care for your parent and yourself.[12]
    • For example, you might have some lingering resentment because you felt like your parent didn’t spend enough quality time with you or spent more time with one of your siblings.
    • If you still feel anger or hurt towards a parent, that can also affect your ability to care for them, whether you’re doing it in-person or from afar—which is why letting go is for the best.
    • If you don’t want to put old conflicts behind you or stay on speaking terms, you’re certainly not obligated to. The decision to let go of old hurts is a personal one, and nobody should force you to do it before you’re ready.
  5. Step 5 Focus on loving your parents rather than feeling responsible for them.
    When you move away from your parents, it’s easy to feel like you have an obligation to help them to make up for the distance. However, that mindset will only make you feel guiltier. If you want to care for your parents from afar, look for ways to show your parents that you love them instead of focusing on things you feel obligated to do.[13]
    • For example, you could send them a care package with a handwritten note and some of their favorite snacks or candies.
    • You could give them a spontaneous phone call to say hello and that you’ve been thinking of them.
    • You could even dig up a few old family photos and send your parents copies or reminisce about a happy memory with them.
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Section 4 of 5:

Helping Elderly Parents From a Distance

  1. Step 1 Ensure their home has all the accessibility modifications they’ll need.
    As your parent gets older, it may become harder for them to move around the house. To keep them safe and improve their mobility, it can help to install accessibility modifications based on their needs, like grab bars or a stairlift. Check their home for tripping hazards as well, such as rugs and extension cords.[14]
    • Depending on their condition and medical needs, your parent may also need equipment like a wheelchair or walker to make movement easier.
  2. Step 2 Manage your parent’s finances to ensure money is spent wisely.
    Keeping track of the family's finances is a complex task, and it can get harder as you grow older. Your elderly parents may not have the best grasp of their finances between all the bills, insurance, taxes, and retirement funds they need to remember, which is why it can be a huge help if you tackle some of that work for them.[15] You could:
    • Make sure all important financial documents are stored in a safe place.
    • Help your parents choose insurance policies that meet their needs.
    • Show them how to get good deals on purchases and investments.
    • Set calendar alerts and ensure all their bills are paid on time.
    • The best part is that you can do a lot of the financial legwork even when you’re far apart from your parent.
  3. Step 3 Hire a caregiver to keep your parent safe when you’re not there.
    Caregivers can take a lot of the weight off your chest when it comes to making sure your parents are cared for. It’s important to understand and accept that you might not be an ideal caregiver for your parent. After all, keeping them company and doing a few chores is one thing, but being a full-time aid can be a huge strain, especially when you’re not trained.[16]
    • Caregivers are often in charge of preparing meals, keeping their patients’ houses clean, taking them shopping, giving them medicine, and even helping them get from place to place.
    • Plus, if there’s an emergency, a caregiver will be able to get your parent help, which can give you a little peace of mind in a difficult situation.
    • Remember: the fact that you might not be an ideal caregiver isn’t a failure on your part. Unless that’s your day job, you simply aren’t an expert—nor should anyone expect you to be.
  4. Step 4 Put your parent’s needs before your own desires.
    When it comes to your basic needs and health, there’s no shame in putting yourself first. After all, you can’t help your parents if you’re burnt out from the strain of caring for them. However, it’s important to understand the distinction between things you need and things you want. If the goal is helping your parents, their needs should come before your wants.[17]
    • For example, say you took a road trip to visit your parents for a long weekend and spent two days caring for them nonstop. It’s okay to ask another relative to step in for a day or two because your body needs to recuperate.
    • On the other hand, say your parents want to call you to discuss their at-home care options the same day you planned to spend out with friends. In that case, your parent’s needs should come first; your friends will be there when you’re done!
  5. Step 5 Help your parent’s primary caregiver as much as you can.
    However far away you are, there are still plenty of ways to support your parent’s main caregiver, whether it’s one of your siblings or a professional. Find a few tasks you can tackle, like managing family-specific paperwork or making medical appointments for your parents. Taking tasks off the caregiver’s plate will make caring for your parents much easier.[18]
    • You could coordinate with your parent’s healthcare providers over the phone to ensure they get their medications.
    • You could order groceries for your parents using a delivery app like Instacart.
    • You could make sure documents like your parents’ mortgage papers, will, and power of attorney are all properly in place.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask your parent’s caregiver what’ll help most. Make it clear that you’ll need to help from a distance most of the time, but you’re happy to do what you can.
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Section 5 of 5:

Is it legal to walk away from an elderly parent?

  1. You may be legally required to care for an elderly parent.
    Depending on where you live, there may be laws about caring for a parent who cannot care for themselves. Many filial responsibility laws require children to provide impoverished parents with housing, medical care, food, and clothes. Keep in mind that those laws won’t stop you from walking away; you’ll just need to ensure your parent is cared for first.[19]
    • If you live in the United States, filial responsibility laws vary by state. Before walking away, find out what your state’s laws are and, if necessary, consult a lawyer to determine what you legally can and cannot do.
    • In many cases, filial responsibility laws apply mainly to parents who can’t afford their own care. If your parent is financially stable, such laws may not apply to you.
    • Some laws also have exceptions. For example, if you don't have the money to pay for your parent's care, you may be exempt from the law.

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