How to Navigate Being a Caregiver to Abusive Parents

How to Approach Being a Caregiver to Abusive Parents | Hopeful Panda

My previous post explored whether or not to support abusive parents. This post explores various strategies for how to navigate being their caregiver if and when you decide to support them.

Being a caregiver for a parent is already difficult. Financially and likely also emotionally and physically supporting another person can be draining and exhausting.

But being a caregiver for an abusive parent is even worse. It’s incredibly difficult to support someone who’s repeatedly hurt you, especially if they haven’t changed their harmful behavior.

I’m not trying to deter you, but please remind yourself that it will likely not be worth the effort you put into it.

As mentioned in my last post, make sure you’re not going into this with high (or really any) expectations. For instance, taking care of your abusive parents wouldn’t change who they are or how they treat you.

But at this point, I’m sure you know your reasons for deciding to be your parent’s caregiver. And if those reasons are enough for you, then that’s all that matters. But remember that YOU matter, too.

You’ve just taken on a challenging, and potentially dangerous, job. And you need to do everything you can to protect yourself as much as you can. I hope you realize how crucial that is for your health and well-being.

Remind yourself that you don’t owe them anything

I know I’ve mentioned this plenty in my prior post, but I cannot stress this enough. Going into the caregiver role thinking you owe it to your parents will set you up for a lot of suffering.

Unless you have a literal contract or legal agreement with them on something they did or gave to you and this is what you have to do in return, then you don’t technically owe them anything.

Maybe this will sound cold or harsh to some people, but you do not owe them for giving you life or for raising you. You do not owe them for the sacrifices they made for you when you were a child. It was their choice.

Of course, I believe reciprocity is essential in any healthy relationship. When I’m a loving parent, I wouldn’t expect or demand that my kids take care of me later in life. However, I do hope they will maintain a relationship with me and help me if I need it, just like how I’d help them when they need it, even when they’re adults. That’s what a relationship is.

And I think this is where most people are confused when it comes to parents. They confuse reciprocity in a healthy relationship with unconditional loyalty.

Many people would want to support their parents because their parents actually provided them with support and care, which allowed them to grow and thrive into healthy, functioning adults. So of course, they want to reciprocate.

You don’t owe anyone your unconditional loyalty (unconditional being a keyword here). Not even your parent. And especially not if they hurt you time and time again.

Support your parent if you want to, not because you feel like you have to. And please keep this in mind as you navigate the role of being their caregiver.

Set reasonable conditions

Simply put, if your parent didn’t provide you with unconditional love and support growing up, you do not owe them unconditional love and loyalty. So if you will be their caregiver, it’s totally okay and valid to have conditions in place.

Again, you do not owe them your unconditional loyalty and unwavering obedience! You are not their slave. You are doing them a favor. Let me repeat this – you are doing them a FAVOR.

Even jobs where you’re getting paid have conditions in place, let alone a favor or gesture of kindness you’re doing for someone. It is NOT an obligation.

You are allowed to have certain conditions and boundaries in place. Of course, I’m not telling you to turn into the abuser here and lord your money over them like what they probably did to you growing up. Instead, I am telling you to set firm but reasonable boundaries, kind of like how parents should with their children.

For instance, if I were to take care of my mother, what I would want in return from her is respect. Stop the abuse and mistreatment. Stop acting like she’s entitled to everything I do for her or act like I owe her.

Do not let your parent convince you or guilt trip you into believing that you owe them for your life or for whatever they had to do for you as your parents. Again, that was their JOB.

Whenever they are being ungrateful or throwing abuse at you, remind them that this is a favor. You don’t have to help them if they don’t appreciate it. Try your best to be assertive and stern when declaring this.

Do not let them see you hesitate or stumble. Remain confident and do your best to convince yourself that you deserve to be treated with respect. And you deserve to put yourself first.

Avoid unconditional support

Needing full support physically, financially, and emotionally is too much.

I’ve heard of abusive parents bleeding their children dry and burning them out. They expect their children to cover every single expense, including housing costs, groceries, and medical expenses.

They may also call their children for help over every little whim. “TV’s not working”, “I need help with my phone bill”, or “Make me soup”. On top of that, they treat their children like free 24/7 therapists and nurse aides.

If you can’t tell, all of that is unreasonable and utterly ridiculous. Unless they are a literal helpless baby, no one needs unconditional and full support like that. At that point, you are not helping them. You are enabling them.

You may have trouble saying no because you don’t want to disappoint your parent or you’re worried it’ll make you a bad person. But there’s a difference between being kind and being a pushover.

Do not let your parent walk all over you.

Their authority over you will be hard to overcome due to years of programming. But again, you don’t technically owe them anything. It is okay to say no, for whatever reason, but especially if it is hurting you or people you care about.

Only do what you’re comfortable with

Depending on the type of abuse you experienced from your parent, you may feel more comfortable with certain caregiving tasks than others. Identify activities or responsibilities that may trigger you and set boundaries (or as mentioned before, conditions) accordingly.

For instance, if you’ve experienced sexual abuse, you may want to avoid tasks involving any intimate physical contact like bathing. Or if your parent is verbally abusive, it might be easier to simply send them money and maintain low contact.

Overall, with abusive people in general, it’s often ideal to limit contact as much as you can. Limit how often they can contact you. And if they ask for help, don’t just drop everything and run to them.

You are the one doing something for them. They are the ones relying on you, so they need to do it according to your schedule, preferences, and convenience. It may sound harsh, but you’re the one in control now.

And if they continue to abuse or disrespect you, you have every right to withhold support. Again, you are doing them a favor. You don’t have to help them.

Unfortunately, none of these boundaries or conditions would change their mind that you should be doing all these things for them. But hopefully, it can show them that their actions have consequences.

If you blindly obey their every command, they’ll keep walking all over you. Besides, there are likely many things they can do themselves. A lot of times, someone like that may intentionally stay helpless because they know you’ll support and help them out regardless.

They need to have responsibilities, too. They need to learn to meet their own needs.

Rather than call you whenever their internet isn’t working, they can do some research and learn to fix it on their own or call someone. Rather than have you grocery shop and come cook for them, they can order groceries online or food delivery if they have to. And if they can’t afford these services, then they can do something to make some income and/or reduce expenses.

They do not have to come to you for literally every little thing. You can support them if you want. But remember that there’s a difference between support and just doing every single thing for them. They can manage certain things on their own. Do not enable their laziness and entitlement.

But of course, again, it’s ultimately your choice. Trust yourself and your judgment.

Set boundaries with yourself

Just because your parents raised you doesn’t mean you have to give up your life to take care of them. While setting boundaries with your parent is important, you also need to set boundaries with yourself. Limit how much you help.

For example, financially, you can set aside an allowance for them to spend as they need. But that’s all they get in that period. If they run out – too bad. And physically/emotionally, maybe you only respond to their calls or texts at a certain time (think office hours). Or only visit them on certain days.

You have a life of your own. I know it’s hard because we’re wired to obey our parents, so you might want to help them even if it hurts you. But please try to put yourself first. If you can’t afford to help them, you simply can’t. Don’t set yourself on fire just to keep someone warm, especially someone who doesn’t even appreciate it.

It’s okay to offload responsibilities

If you can afford it, you can offload all responsibilities to a nursing home or hire people to deal with your parent. That’s also one way to significantly limit contact.

All you need to do is pay for everything. While it can be financially straining, if you can afford it, you at least don’t have to physically deal with their abuse or lack of gratitude.

Your parent might push to see you or will try contacting you, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You might feel like you have to do everything they want or need, but again, you do not have to.

Even being willing to stay in contact with a toxic person is generous enough. Anything else is a plus that they should be grateful for. And you need to see it that way too so you won’t constantly be taken advantage of.

Don’t forget to put yourself first

Overall, being a caregiver for abusive parents is a challenging position to be in. Your parent will likely keep asking for you to give more or do more. Whatever you do for them might never be “enough”. So it’s best to be as mentally and physically prepared for the task as you can.

And please remember, if at any point it is too much for you, it’s okay to stop. If stopping isn’t an option, I hope you take a step back and give yourself a break. Try to prioritize yourself or your children and family if you have any.

Caregiver burnout is very real. And that doesn’t even account for the abuse or lack of gratitude you’ll likely have to endure from your parent.

You might feel like you have to do everything for them. But you don’t have to. Again, put yourself first! I always stress how important self-care and social support is. And they’re even more important during times like this. So please don’t forget to also take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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