10 Things to Do When Aging Parents Expect Too Much

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

As your parents age, they may experience some of the common medical and functional problems associated with getting older. Weakness, chronic medical conditions, and falls can change the trajectory of their lives in significant ways. As a result, your aging parents may want more from you, and these needs may be legitimate or exaggerated compared to their problems.

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The other possibility is that your parents are doing just fine, continue to be independent and functioning well, but they still expect too much from you. Everyone is different with respect to how much they can tolerate from others.

One person can take on a high level of demand from aging parents, and another can’t. This difference of perception could be personality style or how much you have going on in your life. Regardless of the kind of person you are or the circumstances that contribute to this problem, we have some solutions for you. 

Signs Your Aging Parent May Expect Too Much From You

You are probably second-guessing whether your feelings about your parent expecting too much is legitimate and appropriate. At the beginning of your caregiving journey, your parent’s expectations could come as a shock. If your aging parent becomes more demanding, try to segregate and prioritize requests. As time goes on, you may assume more and more caregiving responsibilities. 

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Increasing phone calls

You might notice that your parent is frequently calling--even several times a day. These calls could be related to tasks they need help with, complaints, or simply to talk about themselves or their neighbors. Phone calls are a normal and comfortable way for many older adults to converse, but when the calls disrupt your life and aren’t productive, it could be a cause for concern and some kind of intervention.

Your stress level goes up

Stress can be damaging and unhealthy. Everyone has a different stress response, but if you notice that your aging parents' expectations are increasing your stress level, take note. Some of the signs and symptoms of increased stress are:

  • Poor sleep
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Headaches and body aches
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Constant worry
  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Poor health habits such as an unhealthy diet

If you find yourself slipping into a stress state every time your aging parent expects something from you, you may need to set some boundaries with your parent and focus on your self-care.

Your parent doesn’t honor your boundaries

Setting boundaries for an aging parent who expects too much is healthy for both of you. It can take some time for everyone to adjust to this new reality, but if your parent continues to ignore boundaries you have agreed to, you may have to take additional steps.  An example would be if you both agree to limit phone calls to once a day and your parent continues to call several times a day.

Your work or family life suffers

When you accommodate the expectations of your aging parents to the expense of other parts of your life, they may be expecting too much. As caregiving tasks increase, it is normal for care to take time away from and affect your work and family life. But, if your parents expect too much, you could find yourself attending to their needs over those of your career or family. It is a delicate balancing act that takes practice. Meeting your needs is not selfish; it is healthy. 

How to Talk to Your Aging Parent About Expecting Too Much

Talking with your aging parent about expecting too much should be done with great care. You don’t want to damage your relationship or cause more friction than already exists. Anticipate that the process of change could take time. And even if your parent continues to expect too much, you will have done what you can. You should expect to spend quality time with your parents, such as on holidays and birthdays, but your parents shouldn’t expect you to spend all of your free time with them. 

1. Have empathy

When an aging parent expects too much, they may inadvertently or unconsciously be expressing other emotions. As your parent gets older, they may have fears about losing control of their independence or worry that you and the rest of the family won’t tend to their needs. Have empathy for their experience and see if you can get to the root of the problem.

2. Listen

If you listen carefully, you can hear what the real problem might be. Perhaps your parent has lost a friend or doesn’t know how to let you know they need help. Listening helps to build trust and can make it easier to express your feelings about setting some boundaries later. If your parent feels truly heard by you, they might be less likely to expect so much.

3. Negotiate and compromise

You probably can’t expect your parent not to have some expectations, so propose that you compromise on what those are and how they occur. If you feel that your parent is placing unreasonable expectations on you, suggest that the two of you agree on how often they can reach out and what topics are to be discussed. Promise to do your best to solve any pressing problems. By working to resolve areas of concern, you can alleviate your parent’s anxieties. 

4. Set boundaries

If you are experiencing stress and anxiety around your parent’s expectations, think about setting boundaries. You can accomplish this in several ways. The two of you can talk about what you are capable of doing and what tasks and communication will be handled by others.

If that doesn’t work, you might need to simply not take calls or respond to every request. You can prioritize and set the boundaries you need to keep your stress level under control. Let your parent know that you will be hiring professionals to take care of some of their needs. 

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5. Express your needs

Let your parent know what your needs are. Talk with them about the responsibilities you have to your family, work-life and social connections. The purpose of this conversation is not to make your parent feel guilty but to increase their awareness of the reality of your responsibilities. It is not uncommon for people to become self-absorbed and needy without realizing its impact on others. 

How to Make Sure Your Aging Parent’s Needs Are Met

There are several resources and support services to meet your parent’s needs. They may not like your suggestions and would prefer your help over someone else, but stand firm and ask that they give your ideas a try. 

6. Put advance directives in place

Having health care and financial power of attorney are the first steps to putting advance directives in place. If you need to step in and manage finances or advocate for your parent, you will have the legal authority to do so. The sooner you can have this discussion and get the paperwork signed, the better. 

7. Enlist the help of other family members

If you are the primary recipient of your parent’s expectations, reach out to other family members and ask for their help. If they can take on hands-on or other tasks, then ask them to do so. Even if you have siblings who live far away, they can make phone calls and check in with parents to take the pressure off you. Talk with siblings about a “divide and conquer” approach that evenly spreads the time your parents expect. 

8. Assess the situation frequently

If your parent expects too much, make sure that it is true. By visiting and checking in, you can assess how much of their expectations have to do with needing attention or really needing help. Visits and conversations will allow you to gain a proper perspective on your parent’s home environment and physical functioning.

Consider hiring a geriatric care manager who can make regular visits to the home and report on your parent’s well-being. Your parents might enjoy the company and be more willing to share their concerns with a professional.

9. Hire in-home help

In-home care has the ability and flexibility to provide a wide range of non-medical tasks for your parent. In-home caregivers can assist several hours a day, seven days a week, or any combination of hours and days. Some of the functions they can provide  are:

  • Transportation
  • Shopping
  • Meal prep
  • Laundry
  • Help with bathing, dressing, and hygiene
  • Companionship
  • Medication reminders

If your parent has expectations that you will do these tasks, let them know that professional caregivers can help as well. There will be a cost to this service but discuss how your parent can pay for what they need, and you and your siblings can do the rest.

10. Hire professionals

Professional companies are available for almost anything. There are lawn care, home maintenance, house cleaning, and pet walking services, to name a few. Also, consider home grocery and meal delivery. Talk with your parents about what services they are willing to hire out, and assist them with the process. 

Your Aging Parents Expect Too Much

As challenging as caring for aging parents can be, your life is important too. Finding and accepting a compromise on what you are willing to do won’t be easy. Approach your parents expectations with compassion but a firm resolve to do what is best for both of you.

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