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Conflict with mother complicates daughter’s efforts to help dad

"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack suggest enlisting the help of a friend or relative, adding that a third party can help remove the dynamic that causes the family conflict.

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Carol Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
Contributed / Carol Bradley Bursack
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Dear Carol: My mother’s always been mean to me, her only daughter, so it’s not surprising that we have a strained relationship. I’ve had years of counseling and continue with maintenance. My concern is that my dad has dementia and is under my mother’s care. She’s impatient with him and is, in general, a terrible caregiver. She won’t listen to me when I mention resources for her, and she has no interest in learning how to work with his disease. Though he’s always been intimidated by her, he's a sweet, kind person on his own. How do I help him get better care? — SL.

Dear SL: You’re smart to have recognized that counseling could help you cope with the effects of your childhood. It’s obvious, too, that you’re kind since you want to see your dad well cared for even under these difficult circumstances. He’s fortunate to have you as an advocate.

To be clear, if you have serious concerns about abuse or neglect, call social services and ask them to do a welfare check on your dad. However, since you wrote to me, we’ll assume that your dad’s situation isn’t dire. Your concern is that he’s not receiving the compassionate care that someone with dementia deserves.

Since your mother will obviously not listen to you, I’d suggest that you consider enlisting the aid of a friend or relative who is closer to her. Discuss the situation with them and suggest that they work with your mother to hire a geriatric care manager (GCM) to oversee your dad’s condition. This person’s approach could be that your dad’s care is difficult and will become more so over time. These professionals can provide her with resources that can give her more freedom to be herself. Of course, it’s also true that your dad will get much better care with third-party help, but the focus should be on your mom’s benefit since this could be the key to success.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblogs.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.

Third parties are effective in dealing with family conflict because this removes the dynamic that is the root of the problem. This holds true even in families where people are close since parent care can create rifts due to differing attitudes about appropriate care. When dysfunction is a given, third-party help can be even more valuable.


While I'm hopeful that your mother may think about hiring a GCM if she feels that she'll personally benefit, don't count on that. It’s entirely possible that no matter who offers any suggestions, she’ll refuse. However, given the time and space to think about the benefits of outside help, she may relent. Meanwhile, I’d ask the friend to please keep an eye on the situation. If it becomes necessary for your dad’s welfare, call social services.

You and this friend will more likely make progress as your mother sees how caregiving is limiting her own life, SL. Remind yourself frequently that you’re still helping your dad, even if you need to do it through another person or agency.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblogs.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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