abusive parents don't stop being abusive when they get old. elderly mother threw hot coffee at caregiving daughter. cup of espresso coffee spilt on a wooden table

Few subjects generate as much contention and heartache hereabouts as siblings and the role they play, or don’t play, in caring for aging parents.

Which led me to wonder: What about those absent children? What’s the view from their side of the divide?

In Ms. Barnes’s view, a long history of painful interactions necessitated her withdrawal from direct contact with her mother: “It’s always been a very difficult relationship.”

“She criticized everything I did — my housekeeping, my weight, my not being sufficiently deferential to my husband, my letting cats on the furniture,” Ms. Barnes recalled.

“She got really abusive,” Ms. Barnes said, even going so far as to threaten to throw scalding coffee at her daughter. They haven’t seen each other since.

“I’m sad, and I wish it were different,” Ms. Barnes told me. She loves her mother; she believes her mother loves her. She feels bad that her brother will shoulder the day-to-day burden when her mother falters. Ms. Barnes is willing to participate, even from a distance, but said her brother hasn’t responded to her repeated offers.

[W]ithout a familial history of respect and warmth, Ms. Moscowitz pointed out, the stresses of caregiving can actually become dangerous. It’s family members, not outsiders, who are most likely to abuse or neglect old people.

In her practice, for instance, Ms. Moscowitz worked with a son caring for a mother who had always been judgmental, demanding and unpleasant — and whose dementia was intensifying the problem. “The son’s anger and stress was escalating to a point where he needed to be out of the line of attack,” Ms. Moscowitz said. She became especially worried when he called, guilty and ashamed, to report that he was beginning to shout back at his mother.

Read more in the New York Times.

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