How to Resolve Your Emotional Baggage with your Elderly Parent


elderly parents emotional baggage

Don’t you hate lugging your suite case around the airport? By the time you drag it on to the plane, stuff it in an overhead bin and find your seat, you’re exhausted.

Now, imagine dragging your emotional baggage in to your role as caregiver for your elderly parent. By the time you unpack past grievances, painful events and unresolved issues you’re exhausted before you even get started!

It’s impossible not to bring some emotional baggage on your caregiving journey. However, when we don’t address our issues, what little time we have left with an elderly parent can be impacted in a very negative way.

The good news is that our emotional baggage doesn’t have to weigh us down. It doesn’t have to consume and define this moment. I would even go so far as to say that by gaining clarity around the emotional issues we can heal through our caregiving experience and come out the other end whole.

At least, that’s what my experience has been.

Please understand that when I refer to unpacking your emotional baggage, I’m not talking about drudging up every single painful conversation or disastrous family event in hopes of having this big moment where your elderly parent repents and all is forgiven.

Chances are, that’s never going to happen!

I’m talking about you cultivating your own awareness so this journey can be healing and empowering. At the end of the day, this experience with your elderly parent can make you a better person but it’s going to take some work.

Here’s some practical tips for helping you finish unresolved issues you have with your elderly parent. Some will resonate with you, some will not. It’s never a one size fits all! The important thing is that you create a way to cope and heal that fits your needs.


  • Journaling – yes I know writing your thoughts down on paper can be tough (believe me I know) but journaling provides you with an inexpensive, accessible way to get your thoughts out of our head. I’m always amazed at how I can gain clarity by journaling. I’m also amazed at how putting my negative thoughts on paper gives them less power over me and my decision making.
  • Gain Clarity Around Your Painful Past – a big step in dealing with your emotional baggage is to identify in very specific terms what the issue is. Until you acknowledge the painful things that have happened between you and your elderly parent you cannot work your way through them. You can start by asking yourself these two questions and journal your response!

{ONE} What doesn’t feel good about my relationship with my mom or dad?

  {TWO} What would I like for our relationship to look like at this stage of life?

  • Include Others in Your Healing – seek help from others (professional and non professional) for additional help and support. This could be in the form of counseling, support group, minister or prayer group. Tears, compassion and sometimes lots of laughter can go a long way in releasing your emotional baggage.
  • Forgive Yourself – often the pain we have attached to our elderly parents is related to something we have or have not done. If this is you, find a way to forgive yourself. Your past failures and mistakes are in the past. Your hurtful words or ways may have alienated you from your elderly parent but it’s never too late to heal that wound.
  • Forgive Your Elderly Parent – this is probably the most important and difficult piece to this process. Forgiving an elderly parent doesn’t mean you accept or condone their past behavior towards you. It simply means you choose to accept them as flawed individuals with their own hurt and pain. Unlocking your elderly parent’s history will pave the way to understanding their own hurt and lead you down the path of forgiveness.
  • Include Others in Your Elder Care Plan – your family is going to need help! You’ll never be able to deal with all the 24/7 duties of caregiving (or care management) and process your emotional baggage. Not having informal or formal help is going to lead to exhaustion. An exhausted mind cannot heal from emotional pain and suffering. Exhaustion also leads to resentment and we all know what a can of worms resentment can be. If you’re now sure where to start, read this article on assessing what your elderly parent needs day in and day out!
  • Set Healthy Boundaries – sometimes no matter how much work we do to cultivate awareness our relationship with our elderly parent continues to bring pain and suffering. If this is you, find a healthy boundary that works for you. If this means hiring professional help, transitioning to a care community or even walking away (this is a tough one), so be it. I don’t adhere to this idea that we owe our elderly parents our hearts and souls regardless of the abuse they heap upon us.
  • Lower Your Expectations – don’t expect this to be a moment when the angels sing and the red sea is parted. It may be that your elderly parent is simply not able to give you what you need emotionally or your healing moments may be subtle and appear in unsuspecting ways. It may be a touch of a hand or a thank you at the end of the day or it just may not come at all. The point is you can’t control how an elderly parent is going to respond to your overtures for healing so keep your expectations in check!
  • Take Responsibility for Yourself – you’re not a kid any more (had you noticed?). It’s hard not to experience this moment through the eyes of a 10 year old you. I don’t care how much work you’ve done on yourself or how many miles you’ve put between yourself and your elderly parent this moment will trigger an emotional reaction similar to many reactions you had as a child. But you’re not a child anymore and how you react to this moment is your responsibility.

Bottom line…

Working on your emotional baggage, with an elderly parent, is not for the faint of heart. I can’t tell you how many times over the past few months I’ve gotten tripped up with my own baggage as I cared for my dad. I myself had to rely on some of these tips and really work hard to act like an adult, set healthy boundaries and forgive (mostly myself).

I made up my mind that my dad was going to know he was loved and cared for in his final days.I wanted him to know that I would do right by him.

With the help of friends, family and my journal I feel I was able to keep my emotional baggage in check and help him in a way that was acceptable to him and me. Although, we did have a real “coming to Jesus” moment when he refused to wear an emergency response system (one of those times I wasn’t acting as an adult).

How about you? Is your emotional baggage interfering with your ability to care for an elderly parent? If so, feel free to ask a question in the comment section. Also, feel free to share your thoughts in order to help others in your shoes…

Ways to get help…

Like My Elder Care Consultant on FACEBOOK for daily doses of support and advice. Or you might be ready for more one-on-one help via a caregiver coaching package. For caregiver coaching, click this link!

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My Elder Care Consultant

LuAnn Smith is a geriatric care manager, blogger, public speaker and consultant. She provides an array of services designed to assist aging families and the organizations that care for them. She provides services and information to empower both individuals and businesses to be the best they can be for the older adults in their care.