“When you comin’ home dad?”
“I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then…”
— Cat’s in the Cradle, by Harry Chapin

As care management professionals, my team and I have worked with hundreds of adult children grappling with the challenges of caring for an aging parent. Every family comes with its own personality, its own history, and its own family dynamic. But one situation is particularly complex, and more common than one may think: an adult child who grew up with an absent parent who now requires care in his or her old age.

The definition of an “absent parent” is, of course, subjective. For some, it is a parent who was not physically present during their childhood. For others, it is an uninvolved or even narcissistic parent. For others still, it is a parent who was neglectful, abusive, alcoholic, or mentally ill. No matter the definition, in each situation the now-adult child is faced with the impossible decision of how, or even if, to put aside old hurts and resentments and care for an aging parent who did not care for them.

A moral, legal, and ethical responsibility

In most countries, there is a cultural expectation – a moral duty – to care for one’s aging parent that does not distinguish between “good” and “bad” parents. In the US, 28 states have something called filial responsibility laws, legal rules that hold adult children financially responsible for their parents’ medical care if parents are unable to pay. In Israel, the responsibility to care for aging parents is based on Judaism’s ethical commandment to honor one’s father and mother, and intricately woven into the fabric of Israeli society where family members are expected to provide hands-on care and even financial support.

Duty aside, perhaps it is a biological love and compassion towards a less-than-stellar parent that enables an adult child to acknowledge that his or her parent is human and has likely incurred some trauma of their own, which in turn compels the adult child to take on the responsibility of caregiving.

At the end of the day, every person has a right to set their own boundaries. Some will find a way to sort through their injuries and feelings to care for their parents in old age. Others will limit their involvement. In a New York Times essay, Dr. Richard A. Friedman acknowledges that some parent-child relationships are so toxic that they must be severed, but adds, “Of course, relationships are rarely all good or bad; even the most abusive parents can sometimes be loving, which is why severing a bond should be a tough, and rare decision.”

For those struggling with caregiving decisions for a family member with whom you have a complicated relationship, you are not alone. Here are six steps to help guide you through the process:

Taking Care of Parents Who Didn’t Take Care of You: Making Peace with Aging Parents, by Eleanor Cade Advertisement

My Parent’s Keeper: The Guilt, Grief, Guesswork, and Unexpected Gifts of Caregiving, by Jody Gastfriend

Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents, Even If They Didn’t Take Care of You, by Roberta Satow, PhD

QOSHE - Caring for a parent who didn’t care for you - Sharon Beth-Halachmy
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Caring for a parent who didn’t care for you

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03.12.2022

“When you comin’ home dad?”
“I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then…”
— Cat’s in the Cradle, by Harry Chapin

As care management professionals, my team and I have worked with hundreds of adult children grappling with the challenges of caring for an aging parent. Every family comes with its own personality, its own history, and its own family dynamic. But one situation is particularly complex, and more common than one may think: an adult child who grew up with an absent parent who now requires care in his or her old age.

The definition of an “absent parent” is, of course, subjective. For some, it is a parent who was not physically present during their childhood. For others, it is an uninvolved or even narcissistic parent. For others still, it is a parent who was neglectful, abusive, alcoholic, or mentally ill. No matter the definition, in each situation the now-adult child is faced with the impossible decision of how, or even if, to put aside old hurts and resentments and care for an aging parent who did not care for them.

A moral, legal, and ethical responsibility

In most countries, there is a cultural expectation – a moral duty – to care for one’s aging parent that does not distinguish between “good” and “bad” parents. In the US, 28 states have something called filial........

© The Times of Israel


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