Watching your parents experience the challenges that come with aging can be difficult. Watching your aging parents become angry because they are experiencing these challenges can be heartbreaking.
How can you be a supportive member of your parents’ lives even when they are frustrated by the aging process? What’s the best way to deal with aging parents and anger?
Why Do Aging Parents Easily Lose Their Tempers?
It’s helpful to understand where your parents may be coming from. Here are some of the possible experiences your aging parents may be going through that could contribute to their anger.
- Frustration and Expectations – Realistically, we know that our bodies don’t work the same throughout our lives and as we age. But experiencing these changes is different than just thinking about them. Your parents may have certain expectations for themselves that they either physically or mentally can’t do anymore. Not being able to do things you want to do or that you have done can lead to disappointment and frustration.
- Discomfort and Body Pain – Think about the last time you were in a fair amount of pain. You probably weren’t the cheeriest version of yourself, right? Your parents may be experiencing discomfort or bodily pain that they aren’t used to. It’s easier to become frustrated when you’re in pain.
- Stress – Physical changes combined with the reality that the aging process is actually happening can cause stress. When we’re stressed, we don’t always have the same amount of patience. Your parents may be set off by things that seem inconsequential to you, but when combined with the stressors of aging, they make them more easily frustrated.
- Health-Related Issues – New physical conditions, mental health problems, or neurological conditions could be contributing to your parent’s anger. In life, the only thing we can count on is change. That can be confusing and stressful for your aging parents as they deal with any health-related issues.
- Communication – People often feel frustrated and angry when a person doesn’t understand what they’re trying to say. Look at your patterns of communication with your parents. Are each of you talking frequently and sharing your thoughts and feelings? Is communication via text or phone being muddled? Would things be better said in person?
What to Avoid Saying to Your Aging Parents
In moments of frustration, you may find yourself wanting to snap at your parents. Why aren’t they the same as they were a few years ago? Why are they acting angrier at an important time in your life?
Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Your parents are changing. You probably are too. Try to avoid some of these phrases that might come off as insensitive.
- You’ve Already Told Me That Story – Your aging parents may repeat themselves. They truly don’t remember if they’ve told you that story before. Just listen to it again. Don’t make them feel lesser for retelling it. If you’re concerned about potential memory issues, come from a place of compassion in your inquiry instead of an exaggerated statement like the one above.
- You Always Complain – Generalizing statements such as this one might come off as offensive to your parents. If it seems like your parents always complain, maybe they’re trying to tell you something. What are they experiencing that’s making them complain? Are the complaints about one specific thing or multiple things? Try asking about specifics.
- This Isn’t That Difficult – It may be frustrating to teach your aging parents new things. It’s probably also frustrating for them to adapt to a changing world. But think of all the things they taught you. Instead of shaming, express concern. Try something like, “How can I help you complete this task?”
- Why Can’t You Remember Anything – Some forgetfulness is a natural part of aging. If you’re concerned about memory issues, try to be compassionate. Forgetting could be a scary experience for your parent too. Discuss it with them if you notice frequent memory lapses. Encourage them to discuss these changes with their doctor.
- Why Are You So Loud – Some degree of hearing loss is common during the aging process. Try gently asking if they’re experiencing difficulties hearing. Maybe offer to accompany them to an appointment. But don’t criticize them. No one likes that.
- You’re Too Old to Drive – Driving is something intrinsically connected to independence. Having some measure of independence is vital to the aging process. If you’re concerned about their driving ability, try to have a calm conversation.
- You Shouldn’t Live Alone – Like driving, living independently may be something your parents don’t want to compromise on. Use patience and gentleness with this conversation. If you’re concerned about their well-being, perhaps there’s another option like part-time, in-home care.
Managing the Changing Situation
So what’s the best way to handle your parents when they’re angry? These tips can help you remain level-headed in situations with you and your aging parents who may be acting angry.
- Stay Calm and Be Sensitive – Conversations that start with anger have the potential to end with anger. If you’re picking up anger from your parent, take a few minutes to calm down before continuing to talk to them. Try to approach the situation with kindness. Refer back to the reasons your parent might be angry. Be sensitive given your parent’s situation.
- Ask Questions – If you’re evaluating your parent’s cognitive condition, ask them questions from a compassionate mindset. If you feel the need to consult with your parents’ physicians, counselors, or other health specialists, include your parents in the conversation. Going behind your parents’ backs can lead to hurt feelings and distrust.
- Bring in Other Family Members – If you have siblings or other family members who share your concern for your parents, bring them into the conversation. It’s not the same as ambushing your parents because that could lead to hurt feelings. Make sure you and other family members come to your parents with care and love, not with accusations.
- Accept the Situation – Aging is an inevitable process. If it helps you conceptualize your parents’ aging process, remind yourself that this is a part of life. That doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. But it’s a different stage of their lives and your relationship with them.
Talk to a Professional
If you’re having difficulty relating to your aging parents or processing your emotions related to their anger, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. All Counseling can help connect you to a therapist that can help and we can even direct you to therapists who specialize in helping people manage through common aging concerns.