Dear Missing Link
My mother is being berated by my father because she just can’t remember many things that my father has told her. She continues to socialize and she keeps up with the news and things like that but sometimes she seems to be kind of missing a link. It upsets me to see their interactions. What can I do?
Dear Missing Link,
As an adult child, it can be awkward and troubling to think about how to handle such a situation with your parents. It is a challenge to know when your comments will be better received or not. This can be tough. Some parents, depending upon where they may be in their acceptance of their changing function, may be more or less receptive of your input. Be thoughtful and kind in your expression to them. Be very careful to recognize that your parent is always your parent. Do not be thrown by statements such as “parenting your parent.” That is patronizing and disrespectful. Be your authentic self when you choose to converse with one or both of them.
You can certainly play a role in your parents’ interactions with one another if you want to be able to make a difference for both of them. Please understand that the apparent cognitive changes that are happening to your mother are not intentional and that she, the person, is still with us. Her character will live on even if her brain wiring is causing these changes.
It would be most helpful if you could find a time to be with each of them separately so that you can make mention of what you are seeing. With your father, you might say that you can only imagine how possibly frustrating this might be for him. With your mother, you might suggest your concern that having your father pointing out to her every time she does not recall something correctly, that she feels criticized and that it may be hurtful.
Also think about the possibility that your father is feeling scared and he may only know to express this feeling through heightened emotion that comes across as criticism. Your mother most likely knows that she is slipping and most likely has many feelings related to her sense of self. Listen well.
If you could get each of them to recognize and appreciate your concern and support, you will have come a long way. What you want to be doing is clearly coming across as non-judgmental by not “taking sides” but instead to carry “the torch” of identifying feelings related to the changes and how as a family you can move forward. You may want to think about engaging a professional who has expertise in working with families in which one member is challenged by cognitive change.