40 Responses to “Tips for When Aging Parents Say Mean Things”

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  1. Linda, this is a fantastic post. I salute you.

    Right now I am having a situation with my father. He has lived a macho man’s life all his life and tries to manipulate everyone around to establish his power base. The two affected people are I and my son. In my case, I see through the game and do not allow the game to proceed by my becoming the victim. My son simply laughs and says, that he should talk to dad! It is actually fun to watch these exchanges. He does not stop trying though!

  2. This is a very useful article, and — with my grandmother suffering from dementia — very applicable to me and my family’s current situation. While it is encouraging to us that Gram fades in and out of a coherent state, with more “in” moments that out (thank God), when she isn’t fully lucid, she is very hurtful. From someone who was never mean a minute in her life, this is disheartening, to say the least. Though we know it’s the dementia, it’s tough, at times, to deal. Knowing that we’re not alone, and your reminder to “Be grateful, always” is very useful. Thanks.

  3. Hi rummuser,

    Thank you! You’re awareness of your father’s “manipulating” is also a coping skill — and so is finding amusement from observing the “drama” playing out in your own home. You certainly have a great attitude!

    Hi Gina LaGuardia,

    Welcome to TLeC! Glad this post was helpful to you and your family. I’m so sorry about your grandmother’s dementia. It is very hard to see people we love change due to reasons beyond anyone’s control. One thing I’ve learned through caring for my Mom and her Alzheimer’s disease, is that the issues and challenges change as the disease progresses. Your grandmother may pass out of this “mean” stage, too, so hang in there.

  4. Yes, the first few times it can be like a slap in the face and you want to react. It always better to respond instead with understanding. It is tough, but after awhile, you can “walk a mile in their moccasins” as the old saying goes, and realize they are not the parent you knew growing up, but a different person facing some very tough realities — realities that will never get better, only worse. It’s a frustrating and often hope-ripping place to be. Knowing this, I can respond out of love and concern instead of react.

  5. Hi SpaceAgeSage — Lori,

    Your understanding of where aging parents (or any relatives) are coming from is spot on and makes you a very special caregiver. It must be a scary reality for our Golden Oldies to be living in. And what’s also scary to me is that if we’re lucky, we’ll wind up there as well. That’s why we (individually and as a society) need to be aware and educated about eldercare starting at a young age.

  6. This post is very meaningful. I had a grandfather who became incredibly mean in his later years. I did not let that bother me but other members of my family were very hurt by it. He called my mom things that were terrible and not at all true, but he seemed to take pleasure in beng nasty. I believe people are often unaware of what they do. At this point in his life, my grandfather was not on any meds. However, his earlier life experience wars extremely difficult and even traumatic. I share your view that certain abilities to censure thoughts and feelings disintegrate or become less important with age. Some people would go further to say people are slowly dismantling theri defenses and actually faces the root causes of fear and discomfort. This has less to do with the scape goats who receive the brunt of the venting than the reasons why people build up negative feelings in the first place and repress them.

  7. Dear Liara,

    They are “dismantling their defenses” and facing the causes of their fear and discomfort. I find this idea very powerful. Thanks for giving me a new perspective on this, and for sharing your own personal story with us.

  8. always wanted to responsible for my self now 65 stroke not even no what i can do from here on remember children who depended on me never knew what they were doing or could figure out where they got those ideas from did the best to just love them they did not understand me then nor i them NOW you want every thing in your later years of life to be perfect why wasnt when you were young its ok we all learn your turn is next lets see you do it better unless you lived before monday quarterback good luck

  9. if you do not get it your parents are now you when you were young as i know i am now and you will be in the future still do not understand ask your kids

  10. Shelley Vebber

    oh yeah baby, I called my mother today to thank her for something I thougft would be good and she raged a complete um unhappy woman who is 94, blamed me for her age, hmmmm

  11. Mike

    My dad has called my wife and I every name in the book over the last 3 1/2 years that he has lived with us. Now our jobs are taking us to another place, he doesn’t want to go with us (although we told him he could if he wished to) and now we’re the most evil people on earth, we’re abandoning him, etc.

    We do a lot of walking away now when he’s in the mood to fight. It is sad. I remember the kind, caring, gentle man I grew up with. I honestly don’t recognize him anymore. He had a stroke 2 months after my wife and I got married, but he was just as mean to us before then. Still, we pray every day for him. I don’t respond in kind when he hurls his insults at us, and neither does my wife, and that only seems to make him more angrty. He’s only 71.

  12. Dear Mike,

    Welcome to TLeC! My heart goes out to you and your wife for the tough spot you are in. It is sad to remember what our Golden Oldies used to be like “in their prime,” under any circumstances, but especially when they’re being difficult or mean.

    And I commend you and your wife for managing to walk away and keeping your compassion for him strong. I hope your dad has a change of heart and decides to move with you, since he’s very lucky to have you both in his life. Thanks for caring so much about him!

  13. Brian

    I understand they dont have the ability to filter their comments but it is still coming from the thinking process. My dad accused me of taking a percentage of the wages of a caregiver I found for him at 10.00 an hr. Very upsetting. I am finding it difficult to listen to forgive. I understand the inability to censure what they say but its the thought that counts.

  14. Linda

    My situation is becoming more difficult as time goes on with my mother. She has been difficult for many years where I’m concerned and even has admitted she has resented me and doesn’t like me for years. She will start a fight about ANYTHING I say whether I have asked a simple question or have made a statement in general. She has started arguments with me because I may not have had the same view point on something. My mother, always has been gullable, niave and impulsive. Besides me, several friends notice that her perception on things in general are different than most people.

    Other negativities she will project my way when she has started and argument it could be up to a month before she may start talking again and whether she’s mad at me or not she does everything in her power to PROVOKE me.

    In the past I would react to her bad behavior I have been for the most part just walk away but it doesn’t matter because there is still that provokative behavior that lingers on. Everyone uses the excuse that she is old and I’m kind of sick of it. Since she doesnt seem to have dementia she’s responsible for her behavior.

    Thanks right now I’m exhausted just thinking about this.

  15. Terri

    My mother has never been very nice but as she is aging she is becoming extremely mean-spirited; constantly complaining; very hurtful to others. My siblings and I do not know how to deal with it- even though she has been tending this way all our lives. She currently still lives with our father but we are so concerned about what will happen if he passes first. NONE of us will be able to live with her. Most of their care falls upon my shoulders (due to where we all live) but it would destroy my life if she had to move in with us. I feel guilty but? I can’t hardly take it anymore as it is.
    Thank you for your article and I am glad I found this website- it will def become a favorite site for me-
    many blessings (and patience!) to all!

  16. These posts sound like my situation with my mother. She is 76 and has not been diagnosed with any type of illness yet she is very mean, negative and puts me and my siblings down. It is very difficult to not let her hurtful comments affect us.

    Others have advised walking away, distance and yet it is so tempting to confront her about her behavior. Should I just let it go and remember I was once a difficult toddler, child, teen and that now it is my turn to take whatever she dishes out…unconditional love?!

    I would appreciate any suggestions how to cope with a mean aging mother.
    Nancy recently posted..A Story About Finding Assisted Living — Part 3

  17. Sharon

    My mother-in-law has always been a very nice, considerate, giving person, but in the last few years has begun saying mean things to me. My husband just doesn’t believe it when I tell him these things “because mom is the nicest person and would never mean that.” She was diagnosed with dementia a year ago, so now the answer to her saying mean things is, “It’s her disease talking.” Why does she only say these mean things to me, then? I believe, as previous posts have mentioned, that they begin to lose their ability to “censure” their thoughts – they lose their tact. So, now, she’s just not holding back on what she thinks of me. Yes, “it’s the disease talking” – but her disease only prevents her from not saying what she really thinks. Now she’s telling me how I’m so different from the rest of the family and she really doesn’t like it – she used to just accept me and I thought she actually liked and loved me. Now it seems it was all just a ruse and she just used all of her non-disease strength to not say what she really thought of me all those 20 years! My husband can’t understand why I would be so upset and he takes his mother’s side. It’s very stressful for us and is eating away at our marriage.

  18. Sharon

    I made a mistake in my previous post…I should have said, Yes, “it’s the disease talking” – but her disease now allows her to say what she really thinks.

  19. Soph

    I’ve always had a pretty tempestuous relationship with my mum, and right now at one of the worst points in my life, its hit an all time low. Ive been living abroad, where I had a good job, a husband, house, good friends etc. The marriage has ended, I quit my job and have moved home to rebuild my life. So my self esteem is pretty much rock bottom. Im living with mum, who is used to being on her own, 73 and a typical golden oldie, lovely one minute, crying the next, then utterly vicious.
    Im trying so hard to be bright and breezy around her, but I dont particularly feel that way insidedue to everything else. I cant talk to her about my feelings or anything Im going through, and she comes out with things like ‘Youre so damn positive, everythings positive always with you,’ or ‘you just cant cope with problems (referring to my entire life) or ‘I wish you weren’t the person you are.’ Its hard to bite your tongue to stuff like that!
    I told her Im glad I dont have children because if I end up being anything like her Id be devastated to be so horrible to another prson when they feel so bad. I feel so guilty about all this because I know she is afraid of the future, me getting a job and moving out and everything, shes very lonely. I think I just need some tips on coping with this when Im also trying to rebuild ‘me’.

  20. Teresa

    This is so interesting! My mother lives with my daughter and for the most part, they seem to get along. However, whenever I visit them (in another state), conflict seems to arise out of nowhere. Sometimes I believe it’s a matter of my Mother wanting my attention and doesn’t want me to visit with the rest of the family.

    My Mother says very mean and hurtful things and a lot times it comes out of blue. No one seems to know what she’s angry about and she’s not good at explaining the reasons…she just says that everyone knows why she’s upset. I’m her daughter and I have to admit, even I don’t always know what’s making her angry.

    She is in her early 70′s….she won’t drive a car (she used to until one of her grandchildren (sister’s son) told her that she drove too slow and didn’t know what she was doing) and hasn’t since she’s been in her early 50′s. She won’t leave the house when people invite her to go shopping, out to eat, etc. Unless….I’m there. She always goes out when I visit.

    My daughter and grandchildren tend to either ignore her or just let her rant and believe me, she can get pretty hateful and mean, sometimes. She’s always been considered the “favorite” Aunt and Sister in her family when she was younger.

    She won’t stay in contact with her family and believes that no one cares about her. There are times, though when she’s so full of life and happiness…wanting to help everyone and be around others, but then, all of a sudden…she’s angry and doesn’t want anything to do with anyone. And, she feels that everyone ought to know why and do something about it – whatever that is at the moment.

    I love her so much and usually get along with her without any problem. However, there’s times when she does the same thing to me….out of nowhere and we have to figure out for ourselves what might’ve made her angry. Usually, it’s nothing to do with what we might think it is.

  21. brenda

    I can’t imagine moving 3000 miles away from my parents. Especially if I were their only child and having grandchildren involved at any point. I would also never expect my parents or anyone else to move from their home to be closer to me.

    And to blame the recipient of mean statements on their own karma as somehow a deserved payback is clearly ‘missing something.’

  22. Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for sharing your opinions with us, and welcome to TLeC!

    Maybe “karma” isn’t the proper word to describe what I meant. It’s more along the lines of we tend to lash out at the people we love the most — a fact of life I’ve experienced and observed in my own family as well as others. Hope that clears up what I meant.

  23. Raeann

    My mother is now 87 years old and all my life she has been verbal abusive to me. My father passed over 35 years ago and he was basically my childhood support. I have 2 brothers who have taken themselves out of the picture many years ago. My family is all she has. We have taken care of her for years. My kids grew up listening to her say, ” I’m going to kill my self or I just want to die.” They don’t know what it is like to have a grandparent who wants to be with them. She says very hurtful things to me, such as, you do nothing for me. My husband and I are the only ones to take her to doc, beauty shop, grocery shopping, etc. I have done this for years. I have taken care of her dog, house, bills and her, when she has gone to hospital. I work a full time job, take care of my own house and her too! I am emotionally wore out and can not stand her constant belittling and put downs anymore. The last time she told me, we do nothing for her. I just hung up phone and haven’t really talked to her since. I know that telling her she was mean and what she said was uncalled for, will make no difference. My questions is ” How do I protect myself and my family from this mean woman. It didn’t just happen in here older age. She has been this way to me since childhood. Tell me what to do?

  24. Judy

    My mother is 77, and just like alot of the previous comments made, she has not just gotten “mean” she just uses her age as an excuse. Let me give you the most resent example. Yesterday was my son-in-laws birthday. Mother, my husband and I took him a birthday cake. My oldest granddaughter was excited about getting private cheerleading tutoring to prepare for try outs. She was showing me how she could do a full split and back-bend. My mother comes in the room and immediately butts in making the statement, “you’ll have to loose that fat gut and thighs if you’re gonna do all that cause it’s daungerous”. My granddaughter is almost 13 and at the age where she’s already self conscience about her weight. She dropped to the floor with tears in her eyes and a stunned look on her face. I’ve had it!!!! I simply can’t take it anymore. I don’t agree it’s o.k. because she’s old. Nobody has the right to say whatever they please if it’s mean or hurtful to someone else. Why would you want to if noone has done anything to deserve it in the first place??????

    Somebody plese help me!!!!!!!!

  25. Mimi

    I was hoping to find answers here but haven’t found any real way of dealing with an abusive, aging mom. I am so stressed about the situation with her that I’m not sleeping nights. This is in conjunction with a diagnosis of lupus yesterday…I have been having symptoms for 5 years and they just now diagnosed me. I am terrified and she is seemingly incapable of seeing past herself. I am the youngest of 5 and the responsibility for her well-being has fallen to me. She is (supposedly) selling her house and buying a duplex that we will split, which will make it much easier for me to help he when she needs it. But I am seeing signs of dementia now and she won’t go to the doctor for any reason. I am so overwhelmed at the moment…I don’t know what to do.

  26. Judy Krassowski

    I am sitting in a hotel this evening because I needed to put some immediate distance between my father (85) and me. I traveled from out of state to my parents’ home because my mother had called and asked that I come and help them go through the piles and piles and piles of papers, mail and magazines that they have kept for years on end. The digging in of the heels on this task had always been my mother. But after a recent visit to two assisted living/personal care communities, she has new goals and would like to move from their home of 58 years. My father now is the one who is digging in, being tremendously nasty, rude and confrontational with family, friends and total strangers. After an argument tonight where he yelled that I screw up everything that I touch and that I should leave and mind my own blankety blank business, I went into major distancing mode (which has worked for years and years when working with my parents, 85 and 86, who continue to refuse to move anywhere nearer my brother, myself and our families in New England): I pretend that they are someone’s else’s parents, that they are the quirky couple, who’s biggest testament to their love and almost 60-year marriage is that they continue to look out for each other. I have to do this to help me ignore the major insults, denials and real want to argue right back, so that I can remain objective and not take anything personally. I’m having a very hard time with that tonight, but after doing a search, reading the other posts and writing this, I’m feeling that distance (it’s Friday night; I arrived Thursday night and was supposed to leave on Sunday – now I’m here just to get some sleep and I’m leaving tomorrow morning) and time will help. Maybe my brother and I should just leave them alone and continue to talk about the weather; but it’s very hard when it’s clear to us, family, neighbors and friends that it’s past time for them to have regular assistance with daily routines. They still have power of attorney for each other; have made no plans for emergencies; and refuse any assistance from Meals on Wheels, senior groups, church groups, etc. Yet my father, in an emergency, will call us 400 miles away and ream us out for not being close by when he should be calling 911. Big huge sigh.

  27. Judy

    Had an interesting thought recently my 85-yr-old father’s nastiness. Since my mother, 86, has in just the past few years, been diagnosed with diabetes, and is still trying to manage her blood sugar and how she eats, would it be possible that my father is not eating as he should and has become hypoglycemic? I’ve been around some folks who have turned horribly mean when all they needed was a little bit of food – hoping that we can get their doctor to check him out for this possibility.

  28. Stacie Johnson

    Is it normal for an aging parent to become nasty to one child. My brother seems to have a fabulous relationship with my mother. She lights up when he walks in. I seem to get the brunt of things. I probably visit her more often than my other siblings and have done more to take care of her. I love my mother deeply and have depended on her friendship. So this is very painful for me. Is there something to this?

  29. Berroci

    Frankly I think only part of all this can be explained by dementia – sometimes these old people have spent their whole lives being ignorant and self-centered, and now that they’re elderly they feel like they can take it out on others.

    Someone who’s 90 today would probably have been lucky to get much of an education 70 years ago, would have grown up in a more prejudiced and unenlightened time, and would have been directly influenced by their perhaps even more close-minded parents and grandparents. It wasn’t like this for everybody, to be sure, but often enough to cause some unpleasantness and family difficulties today.

  30. michelle

    I have a grand mother who is in her 80′s(her dad is 105).There are relatives who will have nothing to do with my grandmother(we call her Nanny)because of her blatant and abusive behaviour. She knows her attitude is wrong as she brags about “telling people off” as she calls it. The part that is really sad is i have seen this behaviour 2 times already from other relatives. Both of these 2 women died alone and miserable because they deliberately chased away anyone who cared about them. Rude,spiteful,damaging comments coupled with controlling and abusive behaviour, made people just avoid them. My grandmother has always been outspoken, but over the last 10 years or so she has be down right awful.
    One time she gave me a double whammy: “Oh don’t you look nice today. Those clothes look good on you, not like the welfare case clothes you usually wear.”
    Well that hurt alot as my household does not earn alot of money, so we don’t have the budget to buy new clothes very often. The funny thing is she actually smiles when she is mean, and seems to enjoy hurting others.
    The hard part is she is very argumentive, so there is no point in saying anything back, as she denies it, or gets angry at you. I just avoid her for awhile as with my hurt feelings i don’t want to do things back and be like her.
    It is sad because she used to be so much fun when i was growing up and now i feel myself wanting to put alot of distance from her. My husband,kids and myself, would even take her out with us on special occasions like Canada Day, but now we all struugle with wanting to be around her. I know she has health problems like going blind and various other issues, but there is never an excuse to be abusive and destructive to others, especially those who are there to help you. I taught my kids to never take abuse from anyone because no one deserves that kind of behavoiur.
    She has gotten so bad she will even verbally attack strangers. My mom sometimes takes her shopping because she doesn’t see so well any more, and my grandmother will be rude and mean to complete strangers! Perhaps the ability to control ones behaviour fades with age,or maybe it is from pain or suffering,or some other reason, but it does not pass for an excuse, especially when you know they are aware to some part for their behaviour.
    Don’t get me wrong, there really are a few nice little old ladies and older gentlemen. I even have a 71 year old landlord and he is awesome. I just find that the nice ones are outnumbered by the bad ones.
    One more thing. There is all this talk about elder abuse,but what about the elderly abusing us?

  31. Lynnian

    My mother is nearly 80 and has become so unpleasant lately, but it seems that its just to me. Her generation had such a patriarchal attitude and me being a girl, was expected to be a care giver, not much more. But the pain of the past is just being revisited on me in more blatant ways. Its good to see that they can lose their manners filter with age, and I think that will help me to depersonalise these attacks. I will try and see her a bit more, and have fun with her if possible. I expect that dementia is in the future for her, so good memories need to be created while there is still time. Thick skin coming up.

  32. mommy

    oh is that what it is? I think I’m going through this with my mom who I am feeling less close to because of the unexpected comments said from her lately. My husband seems to think she says strange stuff because she’s aging. like things most people would probably just keep in their head not to their child saying for example “I don’t get paid to watch my grandkids.”

  33. nancy

    my mom always openly disliked me unless observed. now that she is 83 she is full bore nasty and her meanness can resonate for me. i realizee having internalized meanness since before i had words to defend myself has taken a toll and i now have NO tolerance for it. my 85 yo dad has to live with her. doesnt she fear going to hell?

  34. Genevieve

    I find comfort in knowing I am not alone in feeling how I do about my 77 year old newly MEAN mom. I have decided at 70 I will exile myself to a deserted island as to not inflict this on my kids and leave them with fond memories :) .

  35. Mia Belange

    Thanks so much for your article! I’ve noticed that my elderly mom (who is normally one of the nicest people I know) will say super-inappropriate things from time to time. The older she gets, it seems to happen more and more, but these were never was aimed at me so I guess that made it easier to tolerate. Recently she’s let out some real zingers aimed right at my “hot button” issues. I felt extremely hurt. But after a day of reflecting on it and knowing she’d never deliberately hurt me, I try to move on & let it go. I know I shouldn’t take these comments to heart … it really seems she’s lost her filter (like young children.) The advice of remembering to be grateful and taking a moment to just breathe and NOT react is really helpful, though not always easy.

    I’ve noticed that when she’s aware that she’s hurt me, she begins acting like a child asking me to please not be angry with her. Fortunately, after the initial sting is gone I’m fine, but I must admit the personal nature of the comments, especially coming from a parent, make them particularly damaging and hard to forget.

  36. I feel that since my mother is older she says things she really doesn’t mean
    to me but I take it personally and hold a grudge on it for many years. It really hurts me. Then I’ll say, Mom, why did you say that about me and she’ll be in denial about it. Its very frustrating and I get really angry about it.
    I just can’t win!

  37. BB

    I have a father in law that knows he is an A– and had treated his family like this for ever. He is 85 now and I blame his family for allowing him to be this way and get away with it !!!!! They get mad at him and his mean comments then go back and be nice to him again. I on the other hand have put my foot down and made him appologize for what he says to me. He waits till my husband leaves the room to make hateful comments to me. So now no appology is enough now . I have decided he does not get to see me or my daughter ever agian . He has shown his backside to us for the last time and we are done.

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