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Setting Boundaries with Difficult Elderly Parents: Six Helpful Tips

Setting Boundaries with Difficult Elderly Parents: Six Helpful Tips

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Setting Boundaries with Difficult Elderly Parents: Six Helpful Tips

As adult children, we may often find ourselves in the difficult position of setting boundaries with our elderly parents. Of course, we want to do what’s best for them, but we also need to care for ourselves. Sometimes, the problematic behaviors from our parents come from underlying health issues such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease, and sometimes it just happens over time due to differences in ideologies, life choices, and other personal reasons.

By establishing healthy boundaries, we can protect ourselves emotionally while maintaining a positive relationship with our parents. This blog will provide six tips for setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents and discuss why it is necessary.

What Are the Signs of Difficult Elderly Parents?

While every situation is different, some common signs may indicate that your elderly parent is resistant to help, seem uncooperative, or is downright toxic. So, what are those signs? Let’s have a look!

  • They are excessively critical of you and your spouse or partner.
  • They are always negative and seem to find something to complain about.
  • They are manipulative and use guilt to control you.
  • They make unreasonable demands and expect you to drop everything to accommodate them.
  • They are verbally abusive, using insults and shaming language.
  • They withdraw love or support when you don’t do what they want.
  • They are secretive and keep important information from you.
  • They disregard your feelings or needs and steamroll over any objections you raise.

Importance of Setting Boundaries with Difficult Elderly Parents

It’s important to set boundaries with difficult elderly parents. Just because they’re our parents doesn’t mean they get free reign to cross our physical and emotional boundaries. It can be a delicate balance, especially if we still want to maintain a good relationship with them. Here’s why setting boundaries is necessary:

1. Protect physical and emotional well-being

Setting boundaries can help prevent any physical or emotional abuse. When we are constantly in the line of fire, it can take a toll on our health. In addition, difficult parents can often be demanding and intrusive, leading to a lot of tension in the house. By setting boundaries, you are sending a clear message that you will no longer tolerate their abusive behavior. This can help reduce the stress in our lives and improve our physical and mental health. Boundaries can also be helpful for emotional well-being. For example, it can help protect you from emotional manipulations that make you feel guilty, angry, or frustrated.

2. May prevent long-lasting resentment

It is important to remember that setting boundaries are a two-way street. Setting balanced and mutual boundaries can help ensure everyone is treated with respect and that their needs are met. When you set boundaries, you communicate that you are a separate person with your own needs and feelings. It can help reduce the amount of conflict between you and your parents. Also, when clear boundaries are in place, the children and the elderly parents know what is expected of them. This way, we can prevent any long-term strain in our relationship with our parents.

3. Ensure a healthier relationship

Establishing limits can help to maintain a healthy relationship and ensure that both parties are treated fairly. Boundaries can also help protect the adult child from being taken advantage of, as well as ensure that elderly parents are protected from elder abuse or mistreatment. This way, adult children are less likely to feel resentment or anger towards the parent, and the parent is less likely to feel like they are being suffocated or controlled. It can lead to both parties having more energy and being more relaxed, ultimately developing a healthier relationship.

What Is the Difference Between Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries for Seniors?

There is a big difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries for seniors. It can be challenging to find the balance. We may worry about hurting our parents’ feelings or making them angry. Remember that boundary-setting is not about right or wrong but what works best for you.

Healthy boundaries are based on mutual respect and consent on how much time and energy we spend on other people and what we share with them. That includes our thoughts, feelings, and physical space. Healthy boundaries help us to maintain our personal space and independence while still allowing us to connect with others. Finally, healthy boundaries promote self-respect for both parties, while unhealthy boundaries can lead to feelings of isolation and resentment.

On the other hand, unhealthy boundaries involve giving too much of ourselves to others. We may feel like we have to please others or do what they want in order to maintain the relationship. We may also let others invade our physical space or share too much information about ourselves. It can leave us feeling drained and vulnerable. Unhealthy boundaries also lead to isolation, codependency, and abuse.

Healthy Boundaries 

Unhealthy Boundaries 

Based on mutual respect and consent. 

Based on assumptions and control. 

Are flexible and adaptable to change. 

Are rigid and not balanced. 

Promote self-respect, independence, and better communication. 

Promote codependency, isolation, and neglect. 

Lead to improved relationships. 

Lead to further resentment. 

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries for Seniors

8 Tips for Setting Boundaries with Difficult Elderly Parents

Setting boundaries with difficult aging parents can be tough, but sometimes it becomes unavoidable for both your sake and theirs. Here are eight tips for setting clear boundaries with difficult elderly parents.

1. Communicate your limits to your parents

Communication is the most important factor when setting boundaries with your elderly parents. But before you can set those boundaries, you need to know what your limits are. What behaviors are you comfortable with, and which ones are not? Once you’ve established your limits, you should talk to your parents about them. Let them know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. It will help them understand where you’re coming from and why you’re setting these boundaries and prevent misunderstandings.

2. Set boundaries gradually

You may need to gradually set boundaries with your parents, starting with small things and working your way up to more difficult issues. Be clear in your communication, ensuring that they understand what you are saying. Setting gradual boundaries will allow you and your parents time to adjust to the new way of communicating and interacting. Besides, it will enable you to work out any misunderstandings that may arise – leading to a less stressful transition for everyone involved.

3. Remain calm and hold your ground

While having this difficult conversation with your elderly parents, it is essential to remain calm as well as stick to your guns. This might be the hardest part, but it is important to remain firm even if they become upset or try to convince you to change your mind. Try to maintain a polite and civil tone in all your interactions. However, if your parents cross the line or make irrational demands, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and let them know their behavior is unacceptable. Remember, you are doing this for both your and your parents’ own good.

4. Avoid being dismissive

When it comes to setting boundaries with difficult aging parents, it is crucial to avoid being dismissive. Dismissing someone’s concerns or feelings can make them feel invalidated and unimportant, which can lead to resentment and further conflict. Instead, try to listen attentively and express empathy for their situation. It will help them feel heard and understood, which can help build a better relationship and make it easier to set boundaries in the future.

5. Involve other family members

It can be helpful to have someone by your side when dealing with difficult elderly parents. Talk to your friends and family members about what you’re going through. They can act as a support system for each other, helping to enforce the boundaries and providing accountability. By working together to set boundaries, friends and family can better communicate and cooperate with each other. Additionally, involving other family members can help reduce the stress associated with dealing with difficult elderly parents.

6. Create physical boundaries

Creating physical boundaries involves taking steps to establish clear spaces where you can have privacy and personal space from your elderly parents. This can be particularly important if you live together or if they frequently visit your home. This may include allocating separate living areas and personal spaces, agreeing on specific hours when you each have alone time in shared living areas, etc.

7. Reassess and adjust

Setting boundaries is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. Over time, your needs and circumstances may change, requiring you to reassess and adjust your boundaries. For example, as your parents’ health deteriorates, you may need to adjust your boundaries to accommodate their increased need for assistance or care.

8. Seek professional help

There are a few reasons why it is good to seek professional help while setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents. First, it can be very difficult to set boundaries with someone who has been a part of your life for a long time. They may be used to having a certain level of control over you and may not take kindly to your attempts to establish new boundaries. A therapist or counselor can provide you and your parents with assertive training, guidance, and support as you work through this challenging situation.

3-Point Summary

  1. Communication is key when it comes to setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents.
  2. Make sure to hold your ground and not give in to manipulation or guilt-tripping.
  3. Remember you are not alone and seek outside help if the situation gets out of control.

Final Thoughts

No matter how difficult our aging parents may be, it’s important to remember that they are still our parents, and we love them. We should do our best to set boundaries for our own sake and theirs. Communicate your limits firmly, remain calm and make the process gradual. Also, remember that you are not alone in this, so reach out to family members or professional help for support if needed.

We hope these six tips have been helpful for you as you navigate setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents. Do you have any other tips for setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents? Please share them with us in the comments below!

You may have a look at some of our other related articles: 


  • What are unhealthy boundaries with parents? 

Unhealthy boundaries with parents are the ones that hinder either party’s personal space, independence, and expression of feelings. There can be many unhealthy boundaries, but some of the most common ones are over-protectiveness, excessive control, emotional manipulation, and excessive criticism. 

  • Are you obligated to take care of your parents? 

Speaking if legal obligations, no one is obligated to take care of their parents unless there is a legal contract or agreement in place that mandates such. However, there are certain moral and ethical obligations one might feel towards their aging parents who need support. However, it is important to create a balance so that everyone’s needs are met. 

  • What to do when your elderly parents drive you crazy? 

The best way to deal with elderly parents who drive you crazy will vary depending on the specific situation and relationship between the elderly parents and their adult children. However, some tips that may be helpful include setting boundaries, communicating effectively, and seeking support from friends or family members. 

  • How do I tell my parents to back off? 

It can be difficult to tell your parents to back off, but it’s important to do what’s best for you. You may want to start by telling them that you appreciate their concern, but you need some time and space to figure things out on your own. You can also ask them to respect your privacy, and let you talk to them about your problems when you’re ready. If they continue to push you, it may be necessary to be more assertive and set clear boundaries. 

  • How to handle pushback when you set boundaries? 

When you set boundaries, it’s important to be prepared for pushback. People may not like the fact that you are setting limits, and they may try to convince you to change your mind. Make sure to stay firm in your decision and stand up for yourself. Be clear and concise in your explanation of why you’re setting these boundaries and why they’re important to you. If someone continues to push back, don’t be afraid to walk away or end the conversation. 

  • What’s toxic or difficult behavior in aging parents? 

The behavior of aging parents can vary greatly from individual to individual. However, some of the most common toxic or difficult behaviors in aging parents include refusing to accept help, manipulating you emotionally, becoming hostile when confronted about their behavior, and becoming increasingly stubborn and inflexible.  

It is important to remember that these behaviors are often a result of the stress and confusion associated with aging, and should not be taken personally. However, if these behaviors are causing significant distress or difficulty in your life, it is important to seek out support from friends, family, or a professional. 

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