ROSE NOLEN: Abusive children put elderly parents at risk

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 | 12:56 p.m. CDT; updated 9:27 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 19, 2011

For too many people, it's a way of life: parents abusing their children and children abusing their parents. Often those who have grown up in abusive households where yelling, screaming and throwing things at others are common don't realize that kind of behavior is out of line. Everyone is on the alert for child abuse and aware that it is against the law but unfortunately, much elder abuse goes unnoticed.

And behind closed doors a lot of it goes on. In some families, animosities between father or mother and son or daughter run deep. I know some adults who feel one or both of their parents have resented them for their entire life. They are able to cite reasons why this is so and can cite incidents to prove their case. When parents become unable to care for themselves, their kids actually see this as payback time, even when they don't admit it. I find the number of parents who dislike their children and children who dislike their parents to be amazing. When these individuals have to live under the same roof together, things can get pretty scary.

It is also a difficult situation for an outsider to do anything. I know older people who are aware that their children are abusing them, but they allow it because they feel they are lucky to be allowed to stay with "family." Some even threaten their parents that they will put them in a nursing home if they make trouble. So many older people feel that any intervention by a third party puts them in more jeopardy.

I have heard of several people who have been coaxed out of their homes to live with their children who have seen the money from the sale of their homes rapidly disappear to pay the "family" bills. Others have found themselves employed without their permission as built-in babysitters.

The economy, of course, has made matters worse in every way. Many families have become multi-generational households solely as a matter of necessity. And for some, financial pressures add to existing tensions. Many elderly find out too late there is no home to return to in order to get away from the turmoil.

One friend was grateful to be rescued by a son after suffering a catastrophic illness, and she was pleased when he moved her to the town where he lived. Unfortunately, the friend and the son's new wife didn't hit it off, and their relationship deteriorated. The other problem was that the small town was without resources such as public transportation, housing for the elderly or access to information about state services. She is living in exile without the opportunity to make new friends. For all practical purposes, she lives like a prisoner.

Another friend still lives in her home. Unfortunately, her daughter has moved back home, citing the need to take care of her mother. Actually, the daughter lost her job and the mother is having to support both of them. The daughter has taken control of the mother's home and if her mother doesn't do her bidding, she is threatened. The mother only confides in a few close friends and refuses to notify authorities for fear she will lose her relationship with her daughter.

There was a time when older people stabilized the community. They were a source of comfort and consolation others could turn to for advice in times of need. These are the people communities depended on for their wisdom and their knowledge of how to solve problems. Today they seem to be left stumbling through the community as "at-risk" as everyone else.

It is hard to accept the fact that after people have worked for 20 or 30 years, raised their families and faced the ups and downs of life, they arrive at retirement with no sign of rest or relief in sight. It seems so unfair that they should have to continue to struggle for survival.

What a web we have woven. What a web indeed.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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