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Is There a Solution to a Demanding Patient?


"I am the daughter-in-law in a caregiving situation. When I’m helping out my father-in-law, he is extremely bossy and demanding. I’m not used to this type of parent and am having a hard time not telling him off. I do want to help him, but don’t want to be ordered about as though I’m a servant.

To be fair, this was how he always spoke to his wife. He was a young adult in the 1940s, and it’s as if he has remained in that decade ever since. But now, his wife is gone and I’m the designated caregiver. Please help!" - READER



Sounds like you walked into a time warp. Your father-in-law just doesn’t know that it’s a different world now, and his behavior is likely to isolate him very quickly.

If this is a lifelong behavior and has worked for him, he likely doesn’t see the need to change. His wife handled his behavior by acquiescing to his demands, and it’s no surprise he is behaving the same way with you.

If you’re the caregiver because you want to be, you have choices. If you are the caregiver with strings attached, the choices are different. Here are the scenarios:

Caregiver by choice—no one in the family would blame you for quitting:

  • Feel free to kindly tell your father-in-law what you will and will not do. Tell him politely when he needs to wait. Ignore the ranting and raving. Eventually, you’ll arrive at a workable situation as long as you are consistent, persistent and kind.
  • Remember that you can leave the room or the house when needed, though if he is physically abusive, it’s time for outside support.

Caregiver with strings—family peacekeeping, being paid, or large inheritance potential:

  • If you are accepting payment for caregiving, do your best and let the family know if the pay is not worth the demanding behavior.
  • If you are providing caregiving to protect an inheritance, things get messy. You have merged an unwritten expectation for an uncertain future gain, and now the abuse has placed you in the middle of it all. You need to have a long talk with your husband and possibly his siblings to come to a solution and determine if the demands are worth the price. It’s not out of the question to seek outside advice from a family counselor, and I would certainly recommend that.

One final caveat—you describe an individual who was always demanding, so I assume his behavior is not related to a disease such as Alzheimer’s, or a reaction to pain. Of course, the strategies are different if a medical condition causes this behavior. If he has a new diagnosis, or chronic pain, the family may need to look for solutions to make him comfortable. There are times we assume that grumpiness stands alone, when actually, it is pain that causes a poor mood. Therefore, make certain that there is not a medical cause behind this demanding behavior.

You’re in a difficult situation with a man who needs assistance. It will take all of your patience and strength to manage. Work with your husband and his family, and make sure they stand behind your strategies. I wish you success with your caregiving role.