How to Deal with a Grumpy Parent or Spouse

September 19, 2009 at 9:59 pm 5 comments

Does aging make a person fussy and negative? Or does having a chronic disease turn a person into sour grapes? One of the biggest headaches is caregiving someone who’s in a bad mood–almost all the time. As a caregiver, how do you keep things positive so that you don’t fall down in the dumps with the one you’re caring for?

Those were some of the questions I asked when I was caring for my mom. She had Parkinson’s, heart disease, and then developed Alzheimer’s and there were days where I dreaded saying “Good Morning,” because to my mom, nothing was good about it.

What I do know is that being grumpy doesn’t naturally come with old(er) age. There are some really up-beat life is sunny-side-up personalities out there celebrating their 90’s and beyond. It’s not that life hasn’t handed them their fair share of difficulties, it has, but they just seem to keep on smiling and look for something to be cheerful about.

But it is true, that if you don’t start working on having a good attitude now, it probably isn’t going to come easy later in life. Happiness is in part, habit.

Ways to Cope with “Grumpy” (and I’m not talking about an adorable dwarf who helped Snow White find her Prince!)

  • Separate your emotions from theirs. It’s healthier to decide that you’re going to have a good day no matter what life throws at you–and to love your care buddy but not fall down the dark hole of gloom after them.
  • Really listen. Sometimes it just takes five minutes to sit down and look them in the eye so they feel heard. Tell them you’re sorry they’re in pain and you’re doing all you can to eleviate that pain. Hug them, pat their hand, really listen–but then know that you have to chart the course for the day.
  • Consider that some medications make it harder to handle your emotions, and it really is difficult to be in a good mood if you’re in constant pain. Do all you can to make sure their physical condition is properly diagnosed. Something as simple as a low-grade UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) can greatly alter a person’s mood–and it’s a simple to fix as a round of antibiotics.
  • Decide that you’re in charge. You have to be. It’s best that you are. You don’t have to act like “Miss Bossy,” but that quiet air of confidence and firm structure you give their day actually settles their anxiety.
  • Use humor everywhere you can. Life can really throw us some miserable curve balls and the only defense we have is to laugh. Make a joke about the difficult nurse who wouldn’t hear you out. Figure out a great come-back line for the insurance agent who tried to get snippy with you. Being snarky is a form is self-defense and it helps to get a big miffed and make a sarcastic joke–it’s better than crying or giving up–so learn to laugh at the absurdities that come with caregiving.
  • Ignore the grumpiness but not the person. Sometimes you have to let your loved one know that you can’t reward their fussiness. After a while, they just may give up this attention seeking behavior.
  • Maybe you’re the fussy one. Take a hard look at your own thoughts and words. Have you fallen into some bad habits as well?
  • Realize that some of it is just being said for drama’s sake. My mom used to tell everyone “Look at what all I gave up to move in with my daughter.” Now if that isn’t drama, I don’t know what is! I just smiled and let her have her drama moment.
  • If things get ugly, walk out of the room. They may wonder what you’re doing, but tell them you’ll come back in when you can be spoken to in a decent and pleasant manner. Do this a few times and they’ll get your point. But do realize that if they have some form of dementia, nothing’s going to stick.
  • Take a break. Take a ten minute walk a day, maybe a couple of times a day. If you can run errands alone, don’t rush back–stop by the library and pick up some books of DVD. Go by a fast food place and grab lunch–and then take it to the park. Little breaks can relieve big stress. It’s tough being with someone, anyone 24/7. You’re bound to get on each other’s nerves. Let them miss you a bit. Be sure to find a neighbor or sitter if your elder really shouldn’t be left alone. Budget in a few extra dollars a week and get out a bit.
  • Decide how your day’s going to go before you open your bedroom door. Give yourself a few extra minutes alone in the morning. I actually bought a small coffee pot I kept in my master bath and I’d make myself a cup of coffee before I left the sanctuary of my room. I’d spend the first half hour of my day with my journal, my coffee, and a few stretches. My mom didn’t miss me or demand me (yet) and that private time gave me a chance to give the first part of the day to myself–and to formulate a game-plan for dealing with anything I’d have to face.
  • While I’m not a big proponent of mood altering medications, never say never. If you–or your loved one–is suffering from depression, a hole they can’t get out of without help, then investigate your options. There are supplements, prescription meds, therapists, and other ways to deal with depression and anxiety. Caregiving is tough, and so is dealing with the fact that your body is failing you and life isn’t going the way  you planned. If you need help, ask for it and get help.

You might not be able to turn Mr. Grumpy into Mr. Happy, but you can set the mood and decide to do all you can to care for yourself. After all, the only person you can really help, is you.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • […] How to Deal with a Grumpy Parent or Spouse « – view page – cached Does aging make a person fussy and negative? Or does having a chronic disease turn a person into sour grapes? One of the biggest headaches is caregiving someone who’s in a bad mood–almost all the time. As a caregiver, how do you keep things positive so that you don’t fall down in the dumps with the one you’re caring for? — From the page […]

  • 2. April  |  September 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    These are great tips, Carol! Thanks for sharing. As far as the “taking a break”, a sister tip might be to interview and choose a caregiver service (or talk to friends/neighbors to find out if they’d be willing) before you actually need a break. It may seem like extra work when you’re first getting your routine set up, but it beats reaching the point where you need a break and then dealing with the added stress of finding a stand-in.

    A little humor: As I was reading your list I thought (with the exception of the sitter), “She could add “Teenager” to the title.”

  • 3. Rachel Schreiber  |  September 21, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Great post! We linked to you because your content is so real and down to earth.

  • 4. Fiona  |  January 20, 2010 at 8:38 am

    My Mum and Dad both work and are able bodyed and not in physical pain and they are grumpy. This web sight even helped that.

    • 5. Steve  |  January 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks Fiona, for stopping by. Yes, like you, my mom didn’t need Alzhiemer’s to pull the “grumpy” card. It does help to “lovingly detach,” and realize that just because they’re having a crabby day, doesn’t mean I have to.
      Hope you’ll keep reading!
      ~Carol O’Dell


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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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