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How Can I Help My Mom Help Herself?
April 19, 2013 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Hey Mefites, here's my question: My younger sister, mother, and I suffered years of abuse at the hands of an alcoholic stepfather - physical, verbal, etc. When we were younger, my sister and I were absolutely focused on getting the fuck out and did, getting scholarships to great schools, thankfully. My mom, not so much. She is no longer in a relationship with him, but they have been living together for economic reasons - she needs his disability paycheck to pay the bills (all of which are in her name, including the mortgage payment.)

Anyway, the last few years have been a bit of a "quiet" period for them, but things are ramping up again. He calls her names, spits in her face, has begun drinking again and recently began doing drugs. He knows she's dependent on him which is why he treats her so badly, but she can't kick him out because she needs his money. I am absolutely distressed about this, and feel horribly guilty that I escaped across the country for school and no longer live in the same state as them so I didn't have to deal with this. But now that I'm in my mid-twenties, working on getting treatment for my own depression and have some breathing room, I really want to help!

Here are the details so far:

- She is 55, has basically no money saved up for retirement.
- Financial situation is a disaster. Multiple bills and student loans, bankruptcy on the record, can't open a checking account on her own. Always in the red - I usually send money for some bills and gas/groceries when I can, but I frankly barely make any money either. House is very underwater, can't sell.
- Is a very hard worker. Has always worked multiple jobs as long as I've been alive, has two degrees, etc. Is a very aggressive salesperson, and often wins awards at work for her sales efforts.
- Has been laid off many times due to bad economy. (This is in Las Vegas, which got its ass kicked in the recession.)
- Has a background in sales, medical coding/billing, administrative roles. Masters degree from an online school in management. After most recent layoff she's been working in telemarketing/collections for 3 years, which makes her miserable.
- She is very depressed. Obviously. No means to pay for therapy/counseling.
- Can't afford internet which is part of the reason why I'm trying to help her apply to jobs from another state

I'm helping with what I know how to - I'm making her a linkedin account, already revamped her resume, searching for jobs, going to help start typing out cover letters. I've begun asking my friends from back home if their parents know of any job leads that she can follow.

I think the main thing is helping her find a stable job with a higher income so that she can live on her own. I really don't want my hardworking, loyal mother to live out her last years being spat on and treated like shit. She's been married and divorced twice - her first husband cheated and left before I could even talk, and this guy, obviously, is a piece of garbage. Eventually I want to guide her into therapy and counseling, but it's difficult at this stage.

I know she needs to do this on her own and work really aggressively to cut him out of her life - my sister and I have been making this argument since I was 10 years old - but I think part of her hesitation is that she's lonely. She has expressed interest in wanting to kick him out before the end of the year (her name is on the house).

MeFites - what can I do to make her life better? What are some stable jobs (60K+) for 55-year-old women with long job histories (I'm thinking government jobs??) How can I help her get some free therapy, or help her with her finances? I'm just figuring this stuff out for myself too so I'm really lost. I'd appreciate any advice or resources you'd have to offer. Sorry this is rambly - things are a bit emotional right now.

Throwaway: helpmymom10@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm really sorry. I don't know what there is to tell you, except try to get her to go to some AlAnon meetings, given that you have provided reasons why everything else I can think of (like selling the house and moving into an apartment) is impossible. I suppose just walking away from the underwater house is off the table? Because that is a thing that she could do. A scary thing. Getting more money and throwing out the abuser is obviously more appealing.

Maybe support from others who have lived with alcoholics will be helpful in guiding her to find a way to get this guy on the road for good. It might be useful in job networking and in expanding her social circles, too, although that's not supposed to be the main point of going.

I wish you and her the best, and I'm sorry I don't have anything better to advise.
posted by thelonius at 3:49 PM on April 19, 2013


She should be able to get internet access at a public library. Not that you shouldn't help her at all, but some of the "I can't" for logistical reasons is, well -- she needs to decide for herself to just do it. Put on your own oxygen mask first, and all. Any money you send is going into a black hole and stringing along a bad and barely tenable situation for longer.

A local women's shelter might be able to help her brainstorm strategies and identify other resources in the area (free counseling and legal advice), even if she doesn't go stay there (and abandoning the house to him without legal advice is probably not a great idea). She needs to know: If she divorces him, does he own half the house? Can she then evict him? Since her credit is already bad and the house is worth less than nothing, would it make sense to leave him, go rent an apartment she can afford, and let the bank foreclose?
posted by ecsh at 4:00 PM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


You really can't do anything. You mother is not so old that she needs help (if she was 80, I would say, intervene). She is pretty much the captain of this ship. As for the depression, this may be holding her back. If she is really having trouble, there are community clinics that can help her with some basic therapy and medication. She stays in the situation because she gets something out of it, it really is her choice.
posted by fifilaru at 4:10 PM on April 19, 2013


I am a little confused on motivation here. Is she asking for help? Or are you just wanting to help? Your post seems to indicate that she is not specifically asking for help, but may need help because she seems to be stuck in the situation.

If she is not asking for help:

There is not much you can do. Tell her to reach out to support groups and use free places for internet to find a new job. (As above posts have said.) In some states, spitting is a form of assault and if she can prove it, he can be arrested. (Encourage her to call the police if further physical abuse happens.) That could get him out of the house and give her a chance to get her life together and move or something.

Also, she is not "dependent" on him. She has made herself dependent on him. Yes she may be financially, but why is she in that situation in the first place if she is able to work?

It's an unfortunate problem in abusive relationships. It's why people constantly go back to their abuser. Why do you think that now is when she will change or do something different?

If she is asking for help:

Do what you can. Is it possible for her to move in with other family and talk to the bank about the house? Can she go to a women's shelter or get disability or unemployment herself?

That seems like the best option if she comes to you and says "Help, I need to get out and I feel stuck." However, it doesn't seem like she is asking that.

As cliche as it is, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. Give her the resources you can - Al-Anon, women's shelters, resume help, library resources, unemployment, food stamps, subsidized housing, etc.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:30 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If she wanted to leave, I'd say sell the house, take another bankruptcy (assuming her last one is long enough ago?) and get out.

If she doesn't? Go to Al-Anon yourself.
posted by jacalata at 4:52 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


After a second readthrough, here:

Eventually I want to guide her into therapy and counseling, but it's difficult at this stage.
I know she needs to do this on her own and work really aggressively to cut him out of her life - my sister and I have been making this argument since I was 10 years old - but I think part of her hesitation is that she's lonely.
MeFites - what can I do to make her life better?


You're saying conflicting things. One being that YOU want to make her life better. I want her to get counseling. I want to make her life better. The other saying that she has to do it on her own.

You can't make anyone do anything. Get yourself into therapy to deal with your issues. I believe much of this stems from guilt that you go out, and she hasn't. Again, my first comment still stands, you can support and give her resources, but don't feel guilty if she doesn't take advantage of them.

Al-Anon and therapy can also help you give resources and get away from guilt of someone not doing what you want them to do or what is best for them.

If she takes advantage of your help and support be very happy, and I truly hope she does! But you also have to be healthy and happy on your own. Your happiness cannot depend on whether or not your mother leaves her abuser and you have to realize that her actions aren't all in your control.

Hope you do better and your family heals, truly.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:57 PM on April 19, 2013


How much is your mom willing to sacrifice to get out? Would she declare bankruptcy? Would she send the keys to the bank and move out of the house? Would she take any work she could do to support herself?

If the house and money are more important than dignity and independence then there's nothing to discuss.

Tell your mom to get any old job she can get. Then have her default on the house and stop paying anything that isn't food or utilities. Sell stuff to get a nest egg.

Get a cheap studio apartment and bail on her life.

Some people decide to live in that situation, if that's her decision you have to respect it.

YOU need to check out Al-Anon, so you don't follow in her enabling footsteps.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:17 PM on April 19, 2013


You can't make anyone do anything. Get yourself into therapy to deal with your issues. I believe much of this stems from guilt that you go out, and she hasn't. Again, my first comment still stands, you can support and give her resources, but don't feel guilty if she doesn't take advantage of them.

Al-Anon and therapy can also help you give resources and get away from guilt of someone not doing what you want them to do or what is best for them.

If she takes advantage of your help and support be very happy, and I truly hope she does! But you also have to be healthy and happy on your own. Your happiness cannot depend on whether or not your mother leaves her abuser and you have to realize that her actions aren't all in your control.


This. I understand you must feel "survivor's guilt" at having escaped the abuse while your mom remained behind; and you must feel a terrible sense of helplessness and pain at seeing your mom unable to do anything about herself but endure the abuse and suffer.

Remember the Anonymous saying: You didn't cause it, you can't cure it, and you can't control it. It is painful seeing a beloved parent suffering abuse and not being able to rescue her. But you're not Wonder Woman. You can't just swoop in and rescue Mom all by yourself. Unfortunately, what one can do about a mentally competent adult in a bad situation is limited, if said adult can't or won't help herself.

It's right to feel compassion and sadness for your mom, but it's not helpful to feel guilt that you can't rescue her, because you can't rescue her, and it will only make you feel worse.

What you can do is: Give your mom the phone number(s) and information of domestic violence shelters/hotlines:

1-800-799-SAFE

Clark County Domestic Violence Resources

Nevada Domestic Violence Resources

She should seek legal advice on whether or not she should walk away from her house, etc. Domestic violence counselors can direct her to lawyers and legal aid, as well as job counseling, and therapy.

Therapy or a twelve-step group for you would be a good idea in order to have support for yourself in not feeling guilty that you can't rescue your mom.

Wishing you and her the best of luck!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:23 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If she couldn't leave when you and your sister were children and needed to be kept safe, why would she leave now? There is a good chance that she will never get her life together. Do not allow her to become dependent on you, not even a little. She has to find her own strength. If she is kept dependent, she never will. Don't let her depend on you. She has made her life choices. She is your mother, you love her, do not let her destroy you.

My suggestion is for you to start therapy to deal with your past wounds. Be strong, do well in life, give her something to be proud of.

You can be the best thing that she has ever done. That is how you can help her.
posted by myselfasme at 8:50 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry for saying something so outrageous, it's just that I've had this particular experience, but there is nothing more disgusting than an alcoholic/addict on a steady disability paycheck. This person is a diseased fuck, and the golden rule of alcoholism is situations only get worse, never better.

You need to get your emotions in check and be really practical. I have no connections in Nevada, but a simple Google search shows that UNLV offers low-cost counseling on a sliding scale, and they will turn down no one because of inability to pay. She needs $15 for intake.

Next, you and your mom need to go to Al-Anon. You need to get sponsors and start working the steps. This sick fucking cycle where she takes a beating but needs the money and that's stable, is a pathetic excuse for a life. Her problem is not that she doesn't have a job, that she needs internet, it's that she's broken and willing to put up with this shit. It is a deep spiritual malady. Go be around healthy people that are working on the same problems on a daily basis.

The next time this fuck spits on or hits your mom, she should call the police and file battery charges.

Tell your mom you love her and that she needs to get her shit together. I'm sorry for the rage in my comment, please understand it comes from a place of empathy, and treat what I say as if it has no authority and is one voice out of many. I have a very low tolerance for this kind of abuse, and I put all the responsibility on the victim to get themselves out from under this situation because, only then will anything change. And I refuse to believe God has put anyone on this Earth to suffer this type of abuse.

Even as her economic situation is perilous, she does not even have to confront the alcoholic/addict in her life directly in order to establish these boundaries. In fact, she can avoid face-to-face combat with him altogether. Go get the free therapy, go to Al-Anon meetings stat, and call the police when anything physical happens. Detach with love, get the job, build goals, find some emotional and spiritual peace and self-esteem in the middle of an admittedly very difficult situation, and then get rid of this scum when the time is right.
posted by phaedon at 2:22 AM on April 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


Also, she is not "dependent" on him. She has made herself dependent on him.

These two sentences contradict one another.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:49 AM on April 20, 2013


One thing you can do financially is start and maintain a bank account in your name and start putting money into it as a sort of "just in case" fund for her. Think security deposit money, enough for a plane ticket, things like that. Let her know that if she does decide to leave that you can help with logistics.

However, be prepared for her to leave and return multiple times should she ever want to leave. That means that the money might be "wasted". Still, I think it's better to know that you could give her that option if you needed to.

Another thing to do would be to get her an authorized user credit card and--this is important since he might be financially abusing her OR she might be awful with money or both--don't let her know about it, and instead just hold onto it in case she wants to leave, at which point you can use it to buy things in her name, secure rental cars, or things like that. Or depending on how you feel about her and money, in that case you could always simply give it to her to use for expenses. This is obviously a bit risky for you and might fall into your stepfather's hands should your mother return to him, so keep that in mind.

Also, if you find a way to let her access "Why Does He Do That" (the Amazon Cloud Reader can be accessed on a computer, for example) that would be very helpful for her.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:15 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Phaedon is right. The young rope-rider is right.

This is a deep spiritual malady. Many people have been there, and many have recovered. She can too.

Help her get into local sliding scale counseling. Help her call the police if he hurts her. Help her declare bankruptcy and move the fuck out of that house.

Set aside money in an emergency fund for her. Get a credit card for her (as TYRR) suggests and have it ready for her.

Bottom line: she just needs a small safety net and then to get away and clear her head. She is very hardworking and smart (like you) and will do way better without this guy hanging around her neck.

DON'T listen to the people who say that she needs to "pick herself up" and she may not want your help, etc. Setting up a safety net for her, for whenever she needs it, is the most loving thing you can do. Don't throw her away like garbage. She is a human being you love and your impulse is right.
posted by 3491again at 9:54 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just as a thought - ask her if she wants to move in with you, for a set period (could she live with you for say, 10 months?), at no cost. The money you're sending her now will help offset your increased costs from her living with you.

If she says yes, the offer is that she stays at no cost with you for X months, and she walks away from the underwater home, the abusive husband, everything. You pay for counseling (there are sliding scale therapists and groups that work for free on behalf of people in abusive relationships, enlist their support). Help her get a job and get back on her feet. New city, new chance.

I know this all seems overwhelming, you are such a caring daughter. Please understand if she declines no matter what you do.
posted by arnicae at 10:31 AM on April 20, 2013


be around healthy people that are working on the same problems on a daily basis.

Yes absolutely - it would be great if your mom could meet, in person, women who left, to feel understood, maybe get a bit of inspiration around what is possible. Send her links to blogs, stories, books, anything that feeds a vision of action.

what can I do to make her life better?

Remind her, all the time, of how strong she's been. She sounds like a fighter, albeit with one hell of an Achilles heel (well, two, the economy hasn't served her well, obviously). Help her dream about the kind of life she could have without this guy dragging her down, based on what she knows is true about herself. So far, I know she made it out of one bad marriage, and has built herself up more than once. She can do it again.

Jobs: I'm thinking, something commission-based, in a field where drive and maturity are more important than youth, or can at least compensate. I have zero knowledge about sales or which specific fields would make sense near you/your mom, though. But maybe: sales rep roles for medical billing software companies? Instructor for colleges where billing is taught? Insurance sales?

HR recruitment is a commission-based field, where motivated people can make money fast. It tends to veer young, but might be worth a shot, your mom could get lucky with the right company.

What comes to mind & might make sense where I am - Canada, stable-ish housing market - is real estate, ironically: here there are national agencies that work on a kind of franchising model, where agents are fully supported in setting up shop, and receive ongoing education. I think age might be less of a barrier, it might even help. When people are good, they can make bank, like it's shocking. Some states are doing better than others (foreign buyers), might take a move, and takes training, obviously. Maybe for another time..

Last thing - little luxuries are not high priorities for your mom right now, obviously. But a lipstick, a pretty blouse, a haircut can do a lot to boost someone for a day, and feeling good about how you present is a small but important part of general confidence, especially for interviews. Sending something small now and then (not so big it would make her feel guilty), if you can, might give her a little lift that way.

Question: what are her actual options, with the house? Can she see an independent financial advisor?
posted by nelljie at 1:37 AM on April 21, 2013


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