When Home Caregivers Must Referee Their Parents

December 26, 2016

Irritated-man-with-headache-300x200Of all the challenges that home caregivers face, one of the most awkward is being put in the position of refereeing an argument between one’s parents. Learning how to deal with this situation can make life easier for home caregivers.

The Outsider

Even though in this case the caregiver is the child of the person or persons for whom they are providing care, when it comes to husband-wife arguments, the caregiver is still in some ways an outsider. The relationship which the spouses have formed has its own special dynamics which have been forged over many years.

In some cases, the caregivers have not lived with their parents for a period of some years – perhaps decades. No matter how close their relationship with their parents, they have still not been around on a daily basis to see how their arguing style may have evolved. In some cases, watching their parents argue may bring up old, unresolved feelings and memories from their childhood, which may create additional tension and anxiety for the home caregivers.


When parents try to involve their caregiving child in their arguments, it creates a new dynamic. Here are some tips for home caregivers to consider in this situation.

  • Think about how one feels in advance. Adult children should spend at least a little time envisioning themselves in a “referee” position between their parents and guess how it is likely to make them feel. What sort of issues might it bring up for them? Are they aware of any biases (positive or negative) that they may have for one parent, and, if so, how might that affect their judgement? Are they fearful of how one or both parents may react to their decisions? Will being put in the role of referee create problems for them as a caregiver?
  • Get advice. After considering these and other questions, some caregivers may feel as if they could use help in deciding how, when, or if to get involved – and what to say if they believe not getting involved is best. Seeking advice on these matters can be very helpful. While talking with a wise and experienced friend may help, it may be better to discuss this with a professional, such as a therapist, social worker, or member of the clergy.
  • Know when to get involved. Many caregivers have a “fix it” default and may get involved in arguments between their parents without having been asked. Sometimes this is necessary, but caregivers should do a quick assessment first to determine if intervention is necessary. Sometimes parents bicker over trivial matters that don’t require a third party.
  • Try to avoid picking a side. It’s best when a caregiver can “lend an ear” to a situation rather than have to take sides and help make a decision, which can cause resentment. However, in some cases taking sides is unavoidable. When this is the situation, try to tread lightly and sensitively and be as respectful as the situation allows.

Many home caregivers have a natural aptitude for refereeing. For those who do not, consulting a professional to find the best way to handle such situations can be invaluable.

Jason Sager

We hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or if you know of a senior who could benefit from our vast array of home care services in Fairfax Annandale, please call us at 703.750.6644 or email us. We work with most long term care insurance companies as well as Veterans Affairs, and Workers' Compensation.

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