What not to say to ageing parents

By Rachel Hynes.

My mum, who was staying with us, was getting ready to cook my little ones’ dinner when she sought me out to light the oven for her.

Exasperated, I said: “Mum, I’ve shown you how to do that so many times!”

My husband looked at me shocked, and my mum was clearly hurt.

The problem was, I’d misunderstood. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten how to do it, as I’d assumed, but that her hands – weakened by arthritis and a fall that broke her wrists – were not strong or dexterous enough to coordinate the pressing and turning of buttons with the triggering of a gas lighter.

I felt like a heel. Even if she had forgotten, gone are the days when my siblings and I can tease her about her fading memory. Aged 76, it is now all too real. It seems also that my parents are becoming more sensitive and more literal as time goes on. My at-times abrasive humour needs tempering!

I apologised, I was extra kind to her, and I bought a new lighter for the stove that would be easier to use (but unfortunately is even worse). I am very focused on being more patient and understanding, because my parents have turned a corner and are suddenly old. Despite being generally positive, I am sure they have enough frustration about this of their own without me rubbing their faces in it.

I will also read and re-read this helpful article from the Huffington Post, to remind myself how to treat my parents with dignity and respect in future: 8 things not to say to your aging parents  (I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of saying half these things, and thinking some of the others). I’ll also print a copy for my teenager. If the next 40 years go as fast as the first, she’ll be needing it in no time.


How does it feel to turn 80?<br />"Twice as bad as it did turning 40."<br />Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda), <i>On Golden Pond</i>

How does it feel to turn 80?
“Twice as bad as it did turning 40.”
Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda), On Golden Pond



  1. When my Grandmother died I felt like we had all stepped up a level, my mum was now the “Grandmother” and I was the “Mother”, I wasn’t ready for that. My mum has a chronic illness which she hides really well but when you spend time with her you can see things are getting tougher for her. It is hard to realise they can’t do certain things anymore when you still think of them as they were at 50 and 60.
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  2. This is a really interesting post and article. I am also guilty of a few of those. You’ve made me think before I speak that’s for sure. Thanks.
    Rhian @melbs recently posted..Not ready to say goodbye.My Profile

  3. My Dad is 83 and is in good health. I know the day will come when I will need to be gentle with him (not that I’m not now, but you know what I mean!).
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    • I do know what you mean 🙂 Ageing happens differently for different people, and our parents respond differently as well. I hope your dad has many many years of good health ahead.

  4. I know exactly what you mean. I am finding that as my parents get older (they are both 76 too) – I feel more like the Mom and less like the Daughter. I am always reminding them to slow down and not dash everywhere – my Mom has had a few falls. We have a bit of a family joke that things happen and then my Mom will say to my Dad – don’t tell L – she’ll worry about us. The truth of the matter is, while I do worry about them, there isn’t much I can do about it. They are very independent. Live by themselves. Do their own shopping and cooking. yes, they often put stuff down / away and can’t find it – but so do I sometimes !!!!
    I am off to read the 8 things not to say to them so that I am prepared !!!
    Have a great day !
    #IBOT visitor
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  5. I do not even want to think about the idea, let alone the reality, of my parents getting old. I try to push it as far back into my mind as possible. Being gentle and patient with them, seems like a good way to be xx
    Josefa from #teamIBOT
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    • I’m like that too Josefa. Or at least I have been, but it’s getting harder to ignore and now we need to face it. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. My mum is 76 too and my dad is 66. I am pretty tough on them because I live with them and we are a boundaryless family! Sometimes I try to be easier on them, especially my mum. She is amazing considering her age. I am always protecting her from the kids when they get rough because she let’s them get away with anything! Including pulling out her hair (well, the 16 month old does that!).

    My mum’s had a tough ride from me over the last 6 years because of all the therapy I’ve done. She did say not to hold back so I haven’t. I have been kinder to her though in the last year or two because we are both in a better place. I hate the thought of her growing old. I want her to live forever!
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    • Good on your mum for letting you know you could trust her through your therapy.
      I want us all to live forever! I’m like a child.

  7. Hello there Rachel, this article is extremely pertinent for me as I am seeing Mum after two years and she’s had a wee stroke which has left her feeling tired and not able to concentrate. Like you, I feel a corner has been turned. For me the thing not to say is ‘Wahhhhhh!!’ because Mum has told me she doesn’t think she can ever come to Australia agan… even if we come to collect her, even if we flew business. Can I say here ‘Wahhhhh, I want my mummy.’

    A mum of a friend who’s very forthright said to us recently; ‘Just accept me as I am, very slow, very, very slow.’ That’s the trick isn’t it?
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    • Seana I will “waaahhhhh” with you. To live on the other side of the world must break your heart. Thinking of you on your trip. Rxxxx

  8. Thanks for this reminder, Rach.
    My mum is 80 and is still holding down 2 jobs – one being on night shift,
    I’ve decided to stop telling her she needs to retire. Work gives her a sense of belonging.
    It took me a long time to realise but now that I have, I bite my tongue when I see her walk out the door to go to work at 9:30pm after only sleeping 3 hours.
    What’s a daughter to do?
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  9. My dad’s turning 75 next month, and I am really noticing his ageing. I’ve noticed that more than anything, he needs to feel helpful, but i’m so independent it’s hard for me to let go. Asking him to do stuff is something I really need to get better at doing.
    EssentiallyJess recently posted..With Great Wisdom Comes Great RandomnousMy Profile

    • That’s really a lovely thing to recognise Jess. It is probably a combination of him wanting to feel useful when society gives the message that old people are not, and also wanting to still be needed as a parent, no matter how old is daughter is. It’s a small gift to give really, asking for help when you don’t necessarily need it 🙂 My dad is a handyman wizz so I need his help ALL the time. He’s probably sick of me asking him to fix things!

  10. Mum is only in her early 60’s but I can see changes in her that I know *she* doesn’t like. I love that she knows my sense of humour though and I can ‘pick on her’ without her taking me the wrong way…. she gives it back lol

    An older man stopped me in the street today and complimented me on the shirt I was wearing – just a singlet top type thing – saying he wishes he was still young and the cold didn’t get into him so quick. Here I was with my singlet top on, and he had a long sleeved shirt on and he was still cold.

    Things change as you get older, but you usually don’t realise them things happen until they happen to you.

    MC xxx

    • That’s great that you have that relationship with your mum. I am sure some people are able to laugh at ageing right to the end, and maybe she’ll be one of them 🙂 Funny what that man said – there are probably lots of things we take for granted right now that we will learn are part of ageing.

  11. It is hard to know what to say sometimes and to remember that little jokes we make about getting older start to hurt feelings. My dad is 70 and his memory is starting to fade which leaves him feeling intensely frustrated with his once very sharp mind. FIL recently had a stroke and although he was lucky it was only minor- he is only in his early 60s it has left him feeling 20yrs older – he said he the hospital stay involved has made him a lot more aware of how older people are treated like infants by relatives and some hospital staff because of the physical things they now struggle with, yet they are still the same person inside they always were – people just seem to forget that. It’s a frightening glimpse into the future.

    • Thekids says:

      Yes that would be frightening for your FIL – but perhaps knowing now what he (and all of us) is in for can help him prepare?

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