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Bursack: Childhood abuse can alter adult's ability to care for parents

Carol Bradley Bursack
Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist. Special to The Forum

Dear Carol: My mom abused me during my childhood and I left home right after high school. I'm now nearly 40 and Mom, who is in her 60s, has developed Parkinson’s disease. She's beginning to need daily help and has asked me to move back home to take care of her.

I don’t know if I can do this. I’m not married, don’t have children and I can work from anywhere, so there’s no real reason not to move in and help her. I’m still resentful, though, and I know that I’m vulnerable to her emotional manipulations. Is this something that I am morally beholden to do? Would it help me get over our history if I helped her now? I feel guilty saying no, and people seem to expect me to take care of her, but I’m afraid and I don’t even know why. — JTR.

Dear JTR: Your story is heartbreaking. No child should have to grow up as you did, but we know that it happens all too often. You didn’t say if you’d sought counseling so that you could work toward your own emotional healing, but if you haven’t I will suggest that upfront.

Counseling or not, JTR, there is a reason why you should not move in with your mom at this point. Your last sentence says it all. The effects of the emotional abuse that you suffered as a child and teen remain. Listen to those feelings because they are telling you to be careful.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Carol Bradley Bursack's Minding Our Elders columns


People without a history of abuse between them and their parents often have a hard enough time living with their parents after adulthood. Expecting yourself to be able to successfully live with and provide daily care for your mom when you are carrying this emotional burden is asking more than most people could handle.

If you have a moral obligation, it would be to work within prescribed boundaries to try to obtain help for her through other channels. To start, try the website for help in locating your mom’s Area Agency on Aging. Connecting with this agency will provide you with a solid first step toward providing help without getting completely drawn into her daily routine.

You understandably would like to overcome your negative history with your mom, but you need to move slowly in that direction. Begin with a role of advocacy rather than as a hands-on caregiver. You can then work your way forward as you feel safe.

Don't lose sight of the fact that while you could always move in with your mom later on if that seems advisable, moving in too soon and regretting it will be much harder on your both. If managing her care in this way is still too much, don’t feel guilty.

Look into finding a Geriatric Care Manager (GCM), now often called an Aging Life Specialist. This person could take over the care managing for you while you are simply an administrator.

Best wishes.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at She can be reached at

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