How to Manage Conflict with a Negative Parent

Yesterday I had a rare break when I could leave the house, all by myself.  No driver’s training with my teen. No medical appointments for my mom.

Blessed aloneness, along with a fresh haircut and a chance to listen to my favorite podcasts. Oh, and Chick-fil-a for just me. A time for some needed self-care.

Then it was back to the trenches.

Along with my current roles as a blogger and homeschool mom, I am now the caregiver of my 92-year-old mother. I’ve been in this role for ten years when my mom could no longer drive. But it has become full time now that she lives with us.

Two years ago, she had a bad fall in her apartment, which required her to stay with us for a while so I could help her. When I saw firsthand her terrible diet and how she handled certain situations, I knew it was time for the inevitable. She needed to be with us full-time for her health and safety.

caregiver resized 450

The good news is that after making dietary and other changes, my mom has very much improved. She reads her Daily Bread devotional every day and is hooked on Christian Amish romance novels. She makes her own meals and even keeps up with coloring her hair. She wants to and can do most things for herself, which has been wonderful to see. Many other caregivers aren’t so lucky. Caregiving for older parents is one of the toughest and most stressful jobs someone can have. This is why caregivers are at a considerable risk of burnout and serious health conditions (Daily Caring).

Many who meet my mom find her sweet and charming and tell her how fabulous she looks for someone who is 92 (which is true – she has never looked her age). My mom will often compliment me in front of doctors or staff, calling me her secretary since I take care of her appointments, medicines, and paperwork. While everyone assumes we are great friends, that is not the case. It hasn’t been for years.

My mom has been blessed with long life, reasonably good health, and a healthy mind. Unfortunately, she doesn’t see it that way. She has a definite “glass half empty” personality. She is first to find fault and will point out only the negatives in each situation.

Every. Situation.

On the other hand, I have the “glass half full” mentality: I search for hidden blessings and focus on the positive in situations. I always find things for which I’m grateful.

You can probably guess that a mother and daughter, two polar opposites, are not going to live in harmony. And you’d be right. No matter how positive a person you are, negative people can affect your life unless you take the right precautions (

I am notoriously a peacekeeper and try to avoid conflict. If I cannot avoid it, I do all I can to resolve it and move on quickly. The issue with my type of personality is that when conflict cannot be resolved, it can create high stress and burnout.

And that is where I am today.

Boundaries Are Important, Even with Senior Parents

Once I realized that I was always avoiding conflict instead of learning to handle and resolve it in a healthy way, I could see that I had my part in the rocky relationship with my mom. As an adult, instead of handling conflicts and her negativity toward me properly, I avoided it. This was easy to do because I could hang up the phone, drop her off at her apartment, or shorten visits. I could pretend to other family members that it was all okay, and none of it affected me. Now, I can no longer hide from the continuous negativity and conflict, and as a result, I do not have control over what my life looks like. This is because I did not set healthy boundaries with my mom.

The book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, & Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry McCloud and Dr. John Townsend states what happens if you haven’t set healthy boundaries with family members. Survival methods you created when you were young will continue into adulthood. In the past, these patterns are how you organized your life around your family members. Now, as an adult, you are sent back to those old patterns by a family member’s very presence, and you automatically act out of memory instead of growth. Once I read that, I realized my problem: as an adult, I had not set new boundaries with my mom, which gave her continuous permission to treat me like a teenager.

Respond to Negativity and Conflict, Instead of React

Now when there is conflict, I try to keep myself from reacting to something said or done and instead, respond. From Boundaries: “if someone can cause havoc by doing or saying something, they are in control of you at that point, and your boundaries are lost. When you respond, you remain in control, with options and choices.”

In all situations where there is conflict, it is crucial to keep from reacting by stepping away and gaining control. This will keep you from doing or saying something you shouldn’t. A response means that you are in control; when you react, the family member is in control.

Today, I have set some new boundaries. One is that I have permission to distance myself from my mom’s negative complaining and blaming. I have a place where I can retreat, with a door that locks. This gives me a place to reset before I react. If my mom doesn’t think she should accept nor honor my boundaries, there are times when I must pick my battles, and others where I need to be firm. Afterwards, instead of feeling defeated or unappreciated, I respond by doing something for someone else who sees my value.

Don’t Go Through Your Situation Alone. 

While our family members do not change, we can still make our own changes to help with stressful situations. In my case, I needed to learn strategies to better deal with conflict instead of evading it. It is perfectly okay for me to avoid hurtful situations. This is when a spouse or good friend who comes alongside you and knows the situation can help and support you. I have a dear high school friend who knows my past with my mom and gives me encouragement and ideas to manage my current situation.

If you have a friend who is currently a caregiver of an elderly parent, take time this coming week to encourage them, either by a call, text, or a random act of kindness. It will never be more appreciated!

5 responses to “How to Manage Conflict with a Negative Parent”

  1. That sounds like a good book, Angie! I am a Nine, too, and a bit of a loner because of it, I believe – easiest way to avoid conflict, by far – is to be alone. I have had two family members to practice boundaries with, my mother and my son. As you have said, time away from the stress, and time with those who support you is crucial. Knowing you are not alone is so important! I'm glad you are able to take care of yourself in those ways.

  2. I can so relate to this with my father! After my mom passed away, dad moved in with us. He was capable for doing things on his own but he would just sit around and tell me what he wanted. I realized he was missing mom but his glass was always empty while my was overflowing! LOL We came to a compromise and things worked out well throughout his final years. I'm glad you got to have a day to your self and Chick-fil-A is definitely the best place to hit your tummy!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: