Dear Family Advisor

My dad has turned into a tyrant since he moved in with me! How do I tell him I'm not going to wait on him hand and foot?

Last updated:

February 02, 2011

I love my dad to pieces, but ever since he moved in with me after a hip replacement, he's been barking out orders like a tyrant: "Go get me the paper. Heat up my coffee. Did you forget to buy butter pecan ice cream? You know I don't like any other kind." It goes on and on. He's not even that sick. I work full-time from home, and he's constantly interrupting me and telling me to go to the store or take him on an errand. He treated Mom this way all their married life, but I'm not his wife, and even if I were I wouldn't put up with this.

How do I get him to understand that I'm a working adult and, while I care deeply for him, I can't fulfill his every whim?

This is a time when actions speak louder than words. Your dad has some bad habits and, without being harsh or ugly, you're going to have to retrain him.

At the same time, find ways to show him you love him. His definition of showing love may be different than yours -- it may involve butter pecan ice cream. Pay attention to what's hard for him and what means the most, and capitalize on those things. All of us need pampering, and your dad has been through a lot, what with losing his wife and undergoing a surgery that's left him less mobile.

Meanwhile, you need to create healthy boundaries. Your dad has to know what you need and what you expect. He has his own agenda, and you're going to have to be extremely clear and highly consistent in order for him to listen to you and believe you.

Prioritize your needs. If it's crucial that you get your work done, then plan something your dad can do during this time. Put a note on your office door, and even a lock if you have to. But then don't go to the kitchen to get a drink or stop to play with the dog. While it would normally be OK to take these mini breaks, your dad will see it as a breach in protocol.

Can you rearrange your work hours? Work early in the morning? If not, get your dad to take a nap while you're working, or take on some easy household chores for you (he may enjoy having useful jobs to do). Or get him out to meet with the guys at a local senior center for a game of cards or pool. He's bugging you in part because he's bored and lonely. Even if you have to insist that he go to some sort of club or outing, adult daycare or senior community center -- do it. He doesn't sound like the kind of guy who'll get involved unless you orchestrate it. He may be surprised that there are lots of men his age to hang out with and that being a senior can actually be like a second teenagehood. And eligible bachelors are a hot commodity!

Also follow your own advice: If you don't do it already, start scheduling in time to get out of the house, connect with friends, and maybe join a club or take a class or two. Be your dad's example and don't let yourself be available at his every whim. All this takes effort and planning, but both of you could benefit.