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Caring for a toxic, critical, or abusive parent can stir up difficult emotions, making it difficult to care for them while worsening many stressors that already come from caregiving. Setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents won’t fix everything. Still, it can help you stay resilient against toxic behaviors and situations. Here are a few tips to help.

Updated December 9, 2022

Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents

Adult children raised by toxic parents often minimize contact to protect their boundaries. But unfortunately, some family caregivers must care for an aging loved one (usually a parent) with an established history of problematic behavior.

Naturally, this situation makes it difficult, if not impossible, to distance yourself from negative or hurtful situations. Setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents can help, but doing so is easier said than done.

As your parents age, their needs will increase, and you may not be able to provide the same level of care. In addition to being unable to meet their care needs, stretching yourself too thin can impact other relationships and areas in your life.

Setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents early on can go a long way to stopping those negative feelings from building up and leading to caregiver burnout. Yet, doing so can be extremely tough to practice for such a necessary part of caregiving. There are many reasons why setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents is so challenging.

But, just like there are so many reasons boundaries are hard to lay, there are just as many ways to set them. Moreover, doing so opens the door for a better relationship between you and your parents, especially as you spend more time with them.

Tips For Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents

As frustrating as it can be to hear, it takes two people two break boundaries, not just one. A toxic person will always overstep because they know you will redraw the line.

Here are some ideas for approaching this tricky topic.

Ask Yourself Why You Struggle With Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents

Consider why you struggle with setting boundaries with your parents. Addressing the root of your feelings will make you feel more comfortable about setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents. For example, you might be a natural people-pleaser or fear upsetting them. After all, it’s not uncommon for children to want to please their parents, even as adults. But whatever your reason for always saying yes is, it won’t change how you feel when they eventually step out of line.

Recognize That "No" Doesn't Equal Rejection

Many caregivers feel intense guilt when they decline to help when asked. However, this issue is often the root of setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents. Therefore, it’s essential to learn the right way to respectfully say “no” while letting go of any guilt that comes with saying that.

So ask yourself what “no” means to you. Do you see it as a form of rejection? For example, suppose your mom asks something of you, and you say no because you genuinely can’t help her. In that case, try to distinguish what you are “rejecting.” You aren’t rejecting your mother – just her request.

Setting boundaries with aging parents - Woman talking to her senior parents at the table - MeetCaregivers
You may be surprised how understanding your parents are of your feelings.

Don't Let Guilt Get To You

53% of family caregivers feel they had no choice in taking on their role. This rate is not insignificant, and for those who choose not to care for their aging parent, it can perpetuate feelings of guilt.

You don’t have to become a family caregiver to meet your parents’ needs. There are many options: You can hire a professional caregiver, talk to them about a nursing home, or enlist the help of other loved ones.

You feel overwhelming guilt for choosing not to act as your loved one’s caregiver. But another relative in a better position to handle the responsibilities or is closer to your parents may be better suited for that role.

Establish What You Can And Can't Do As A Family Caregiver

Discussing your limitations is a core part of setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents. They may need help understanding your perspective or fail to understand it altogether. Regardless, the fact remains that you have other responsibilities that prevent you from being at their beck and call.

When you have this conversation, it will help to bring a list of alternatives for their care. Doing so may help with any fears about their future care. These choices may include another caregiver, scheduled respite breaks for yourself, or another eldercare service.

Don't Let Your Emotions Run The Conversation

One of the most complex parts of setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents is ignoring past offenses and resentments. But, of course, this can make it exceptionally hard not to fall back into unhealthy patterns with your parents and other family members. So, with this in mind, carefully consider your feelings toward your caregiving role.

Try not to let conflict between other family members interfere with your need for boundaries. It’s not uncommon for family arguments, disagreements, and tensions to arise when setting boundaries with parents. But it’s crucial to resolve these problems sooner rather than later. Your parents’ care is vital, so you and your family must work together to provide the best possible care for them.

Build A Support Network For Yourself

Setting boundaries with aging parents Woman talking to her concerned senior father MeetCaregivers
Including other people in your loved one's care team may help buffer you against negative comments or behaviors.

Family caregivers need to create a support system for themselves. It can include other family members, professional caregivers, caregiver support groups, and more. A robust and healthy network can help buffer against everyday stresses and offer assistance when needed.

Depending on your family’s dynamic, you could ask other relatives to help. Discuss your situation with immediate family members and explain what your parents’ care entails. After all, they may only know how involved your role is if you tell them.

When you initiate this conversation, it may help if you bring a list of tasks they reasonably assist you with. It would also help if, as a family, you find any extra resources to support you. For example, if you live far away from your relatives or parents, consider hiring a professional caregiver for respite breaks.

Then, decide which of your loved one’s needs everyone can and cannot meet. Like setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents, you should also be clear about your boundaries with your other loved ones. Be firm about what you are willing to do, what you aren’t, and why.

Recognize That Your Best Is Enough

What you do for your parents is enough. Whether you live locally or long distance, there are many things you can do to support them, be it financially, finding and arranging various services, or calling them regularly for companionship.

Lastly, if you live away from your parents and visit them, offer to relieve the primary caregiver when possible. Or if you live close by, offering to manage grocery shopping or transportation can also be beneficial.

MeetCaregivers Can Help

Setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents can feel like more than you can handle. When things get overwhelming, a professional caregiver can help. If you need a break or somebody to step in and manage your loved one’s care, call 1 (888) 541-1136 or Find A Caregiver to get support today.

We use technology to match seniors and caregivers with similar personalities, interests, cultural backgrounds, and more. This method reduces caregiver turnover, improves relationships between clients and caregivers, and promotes higher-quality care.

For more information and resources about aging in place and caregiving, visit our Blog.

  • AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving. Caregiving in the United States 2020. Washington, DC: AARP. May 2020.
  • AARP. (2012, May 2). 6 Tips for Setting Caregiving Limits. Tips for Setting Caregiving Limits and Avoiding Guilt. Retrieved December 1, 2019, from
  • Bradley Bursack, C. (2010, October 8). Detaching With Love: Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents. How to Set Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents – Retrieved December 9, 2022, from
  • Stewart, J. (2020, December 10). Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from

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