Caregiver daughter arguing with her father

We’ve all been there. At some point we’ve reached the end of our rope with our care recipients. We’ve rolled our eyes, made a face,  slammed a door, or even yelled at them. In some way, we exploded from anger or frustration.

Then we feel guilty after losing our cool with our care recipients, aging parents, and/or other family members in our caregiving circle of support.  Aside from feeling remorse, what can we do to make amends after we’ve blown up at our loved one?

How Can We Repair the Relationship?


Making up may be hard to do, but it’s possible.

Here are several action steps to take:

1.  Have a cooling off period.  Let the dust settle before you engage with them again. It gives everyone involved time to think about what the issues are that set off a disagreement.  This could mean several hours, days, or even weeks depending upon your caregiving situation. Also forgive yourself because we’re all human and therefore not perfect.

2.  Change your mode of contact.  If you visit regularly, you may want to simply touch base via phone a few times before another face-to-face visit.  Ask a sibling, spouse, adult child or teenager to take a turn or two with the caregiving duties.  If you live with your care recipient, get away from home for some respite, provided they are safe to be left alone for a period of time.

3. Once you’re calm, think through what the disagreement or upset was about. Try to put yourself in your care recipient’s place to see their perspective as well. Try to come up with win-win solutions that everyone may agree upon.

4. Before you visit again, resolve to arrive with a pleasant attitude and open mind about talking over the issue(s) that caused the argument.  Otherwise, it’s not time to visit yet. You may want to role play the scenario with a friend or colleague before you go, to figure out how to calmly discuss the issue(s) with them. It’s best not to involve another family member in this role playing, as they may have their own emotional bias on the topic.

What If You or Your Care Recipient Become Upset Again?


When you re-establish contact and visit with the intention of making amends, be tuned in and aware of your own internal signals.  Is your care recipient beginning to push your buttons again?  Do you feel your stress level rising ?  If so, before the same argument starts over, it’s better to either leave or change the subject, rather than have it lead to another blow up!  Try to remain cool, calm and not defensive while talking with them.

At the very first hint things aren’t going well however, either change the subject (“I think we all need to think about these ideas more.  Can we continue this discussion another day?”) or leave gracefully (“I have to run a few errands before dinner — can we continue this tomorrow?”). Do this in a non-judgmental way, with no sign of emotion. Be matter of fact.

Then repeat the four action steps given above.

If you’re staying calm but you sense your care recipient is becoming upset again, it’s also wise for you to leave.  You don’t have control over their emotional reactions, but you can definitely control your response. If the same issues are starting to upset them, just stop and let it go for the time being.

Special Circumstances for Individuals with Memory Loss


If your care recipient has any type of memory loss, you must always be the one to apologize.

This is due to the fact that they most likely

  • won’t remember the blow up, and
  • even if they do recall it, they may not have the brain processing function to take the initiative and apologize

You must accept the blame when something’s wrong, even if it is a fantasy existing only in their minds.  It is the kindest thing to do under the circumstances.

When I’d leave my parents’ home after a visit, I would often ask myself, if this was our final goodbye, would I be happy with it?  I think parent-adult child relationships would be vastly improved if more family members asked themselves this question.

Linda Abbit Author, Speaker, Family Caregiving Expert

Linda Abbit is an eldercare professional and caregiver with more than 25 years of experience caring for her parents and other family members. She is the author of "The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself," (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

Linda worked for over 10 years in the eldercare and health care professions. In 2021, she retired from her position as Community Outreach Manager for Alzheimer’s Family Center, an adult day health care agency designed solely for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

She currently speaks, leads workshops and assists family caregivers through her book, blog and the Tender Loving Eldercare Facebook page. Her talks are engaging, inspiring and, most importantly, full of real-world practices for new and veteran caregivers to implement in their daily caregiving.

In June 2023, Amy Dickinson recommended Linda's book to family caregivers in her nationally-syndicated column, "Ask Amy."

Linda holds a Master’s degree in Education and was a support group facilitator for the Alzheimer’s Association in Orange County for many years.

Her motto is "Self-care is NOT selfish."

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