Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent

Grace Lebow and Barbara Kane. Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent. HarperCollins, New York, NY. 1999. 203 pages.

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Do you have a parent who manipulates with guilt or flattery, is insensitive to the needs of others, or becomes ill when confronted with separation? These are some of the behaviors of a "difficult" parent according to authors Grace Lebow and Barbara Kane. Many books deal with the physical ailments of aging, but few address the challenges for adult children of coping with emotionally draining parents.

Lebow and Kane, clinical social workers and case managers, as well as cofounders of Aging Network Services (, have written a valuable guide for children stressed out from dealing with parents whose own emotional reserves may be stretched thin by the aging process. According to the authors, the first step to improving relations is understanding that something from the parent's past is causing his or her behavior. A difficult parent often feels worse than the child, so showing empathy for the parent may be the key to successful communication.

This practical book is divided into chapters based on categories of problem behaviors: dependency, negativity, self-centeredness, overly controlling, self-destructiveness, and fearfulness. Stressing the need to not argue with a difficult parent, in each chapter the authors present stories and examples of how to deal with a parent whose behavior is problematic, including sample dialogues and letters. There is also a chapter on dealing with loss, grief, and mourning. If managing your parent is a contentious process, following the tips in this worthwhile book may help eliminate some of the stress.