How can I get my father, who lives with us, to respect the rules of our household?

Collme asked...

How can I get my 75-year-old father, who lives with my husband and me, to stop thinking of our home as his own? We come home from work and he's added, built or moved our stuff around, and he spends every single penny my mother left him to do it. I have tried to tell him that he needs to hold on to that money for his medical bills, as we cannot help him financially. He doesn't pay rent, but he helps out with groceries, heat and so on.

He has tantrums or moves out or gives us the silent treatment if he doesn't get his own way immediately! We tried negotiating with him, but he will not keep his end of the bargain. I've asked him to leave, and he goes for a couple days and then comes back crying.

It's starting to affect my marriage as he requires my attention every waking minute. He also insists my husband follow through with any hair brained idea he comes up with because he's bored and has no friends and refuses to join senior groups. He says that it's the family's job to keep him entertained and take care of him, that he took care of us so now it's our turn. Technically, I don't have to do anything for him because he abused us with his tyrancy growing up and he's dam lucky he's under my roof. Also, he's showing major signs of Alzhiemer's! The family all feels the same: we love him, but he doesn't respect any of us, yet expects respect in return. Help!

Expert Answer

If your father has Alzheimer's or some other type of dementia, this could be causing -- or exacerbating -- his irrational  behavior and bad temper. Be sure that he is under a physician's care, and that his physician knows about the behavior you describe. His physician or a dementia specialist will likely have advice for how you should handle the situation.

If your father is not mentally impaired, you and your husband should sit down and talk to him about his behavior, and make it clear that you won't tolerate it. You said you've tried negotiating with him but that he fails to keep his agreements. I suggest you try again, in the presence of a family mediator or therapist, if possible, and clearly spell out once more the rules of your household. Give him the chance to express his own ideas and wishes, and try to be flexible when his requests are reasonable. At the same time, you and your husband should make it clear that if he refuses to respect your house rules, he will have to find another place to live.

It sounds like you've made threats, but not always followed through on them. Your husband shouldn't go along with your father's schemes if they are harebrained, and you shouldn't allow yourself to be guilt-tripped. Of course your father deserves to be treated with courtesy and respect,  but he doesn't have the right to abuse you and your siblings, or to do as he wishes in your home. It is not your job to entertain him, nor is it your obligation to put up with his disrespectful behavior. If you father refuses to honor your house rules, then you and your siblings should work togther to help him find a more suitable living arrangement.

Keep in touch and let us know how it goes!