How to Manage Care for a Toxic Parent

Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest – 1981

Not every parent child relationship is filled with love and mutual respect. Sadly, there are many adults who were raised by people who, for whatever reason, did not provide a warm home environment. Many of these adults either cut off communication with their parents once they are old enough, or severely limit communication. But what happens when the parent is elderly and needs someone to care for him/her.

It is always expected that the adult children or some family member will step into the role of caregiver. Outsiders looking in think, how can that person not take care of her parent? He is so frail and needs help. How heartless. Since they didn’t come from a similar upbringing, it is difficult to imagine how difficult the relationship can be and the damage it can do.

I had a difficult senior client who had three children. Of her children, only one son would check in on her once every three weeks for 30 minutes – no exaggeration. The other two, she hadn’t heard from in years. Some might say, wow, what terrible children, but they only saw the frail 89 year old, not the verbally abusive parent who sent her children to her ex-husband when they were in elementary school because she wanted to have a better social life. She told me that she once told her daughter-in-law that she should move to Siberia so the whole family could be happy again.

It isn’t hard to imagine why two of her children decided to keep their distance. It can be difficult to reconcile your feelings from the past – or possibly present – with the guilt of what you “should” do. So how does an adult child balance their mental well-being with the needs of their elderly parent, particularly if they are experiencing cognitive decline or do not have financial resources?


This solution makes the most sense as it allows you to keep your distance. However, it is only viable if you or your parents have the means to cover the costs.

If you really want remain removed and your parent requires a lot care, you can hire a geriatric care manager. These professionals, also known as elder care managers, typically act as a liaison between the senior requiring care and their family and medical providers. They can do anything from securing in-home care to managing schedules and care procedures for the carer. The Aging Life Care Association ) is a nonprofit organization that provides information on working with a geriatric care manager and has a listing of members you can reach out to.

If your elderly parent still has his or her mental faculties but has suffered physical decline, hiring a caregiver is an excellent option. You can have someone come in for a few hours a few times a week or hire 24 hour care. There are so many caregiving services that you should be able to find a good fit. Of course, if your parent is very difficult and verbally abusive, he or she may burn through many caregivers, but agencies are used to dealing with situations like this and can work with your family to find a good match.

Senior services are a booming industry. You should be able to find a resource to take the burden of care off of you. There are professionals who handle anything from bill paying and financial tasks to cleaning services, home organizing, transportation and even social companions.

Government Programs

Not everyone is in a position to hire out services, so what does a family do when an elderly parent needs care and for whatever reason, the family is unable to provide that care?

Your first stop should be ). Before you visit the site, gather up all of your parents’ financial, health, education and wealth information to input into the system. Once you have entered everything, the site will provide you with a list of benefits, government programs and supplements available to your parents.

Your next step is to visit the National Council on Aging Benefits Check Up ( website. It will ask similar questions, but it may provide additional resources that your parents can tap into.

And finally, each county or city has an Area Agency on Aging office, which is staffed with professionals who know every elder program and service and funding source in your area. Not only will they provide resources, they can help with the application process.

These programs can help you set up low or no-cost in home care and assist with finding low cost housing, alleviating family members. If you have cut yourself off completely from a toxic family member but want to ensure they get proper care in their old age, you can always share these links with them or someone who is in communication with them.

However you decide to manage your relationship with a toxic parent is purely a personal decision, and you shouldn’t let guilt or judgment from others impact you – easier said than done, of course. You need to care for your own well-being and take care of your needs. Therapy, support groups and online discussion boards can help you find other people who had your “normal” and make you feel less alone.

Published by

Kathy Macareaeg

Kathy Macaraeg has worked closely with seniors and their families for the past seven years and counts many 80+ year old women as he closest friends. She created as a way to share the knowledge she gained from her clients and their families with those struggling with caregiving challenges. Kathy lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons. View all posts by Kathy Macareaeg

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