Parent Filter: What can I do about this parent/child role reversal that is poisoning my mind and my life and how can I let this parent know that even though I love them dearly I will not continue to let them manipulate me and dump all of their responsibilities on to my plate???
January 5, 2009 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Parent Filter: What can I do about this parent/child role reversal that is poisoning my mind and my life and how can I let this parent know that even though I love them dearly I will not continue to let them manipulate me and dump all of their responsibilities on to my plate???

Long story short, my widowed mother (who is young by definition - late sixties) let her life go to hell in a hand basket. My DH and I moved her in with us so that we could give her care and keep her from living the horrible existence that she was (dirty house, unable to take care of the pets she had, not eating right - living off of crap - and not managing her severe diabetes). When we moved her in with us, my DH and I were both 27 years old and had only been married for 5 months. That was over 3 years ago.

She doesn't give a damn about her health and always has a convenient excuse to justify what she feels like doing or not doing. She almost put herself in a diabetic coma once because she didn't manage her diabetes even though the doctor had clearly ordered her to do so. Obviously it is perfectly fine to eat a huge tin of peppermint bark that you had hidden in your room and then try to balance it out with insulin injections.... Right! And she has so many health conditions (osteoarthritis, obesity, fibromyalgia, SEVERE diabetes and the many complications that are resulting from the diabetes) not to mention her appalling lack of self-maintenance and personal hygiene... Two months ago, she fell and broke her leg. She wound up in the hospital and had to have surgery to repair the break. This has left her as non-weight bearing for 3 months. She is obese and cannot walk without a walker when she has two legs to walk on. So she has had to go to a nursing home until she can rehabilitate but has been very unhappy about that reality and has tried to get out of the rehab requirement on more than one occasion. She actually told my husband and I that she would be fine if she would just sit at home in her recliner while we went to work and if we made her some PBJ sandwiches and a glass of water so she could make it through the day until we got home. This is crazy... We told her no and I don't think she gets it.....

She has alienated my other siblings through her master manipulator bullshit and as a result I have lost one of my siblings (no longer speaks to my mother or myself) and the other is only helping out/sticking around because they love me and want to support me/not leave me hanging. My mother has nothing to do all day long but sit around and read trashy novels, but somehow she can't seem to manage making her own doctor appointments (even though I set up a HIGHLY convenient calender which has everyone's schedule on it - hence eliminating the excuse of 'I can't make appointments since I don't know what your schedules are and someone has to take me to the doctor). Did I forget to mention that she quit driving for no particular reason?

My husband and I have REPEATEDLY sat down with her and told her that her current situation and methodology in handling it has been unacceptable. Take a shower, change your clothes, wash your hair, eat right, exercise wherever and however you can, and for the love of god, start acting like a member of the living human race!!! Now last time I checked, she was not declared mentally incompetent and I was not appointed as her guardian. In my mind, this means that my family and I do what we need to do in order to make her life at home comfortable within reason. This does not mean that I am supposed to be her personal assistant/secretary and that she can just sit back and be the Queen of Sheba with no responsibilities what so ever. It also does not mean that she can just sit there and let herself be filthy and stink just because it takes so much effort to take a shower. And god forbid she does take that shower and clean herself up! Then she can't do anything for the rest of the day because it "took so much out of" her...

Yes, I am at fault for allowing this behavior to go on for as long as I have. But I have had my awakening and I also have a infant son who needs his mother since he is in fact a baby and cannot take care of himself. Therefore here are the questions that I have at hand:

# 1 - How can I convey that I am done catering to her, that she is an adult and needs to be responsible for herself and that I am invoking the protective shield of self-preservation immediately?

#2 - Once I have established the bare minimum requirements for her, how do enforce them? I know that one thing I can use is "if you don't/can't meet these expectations then we aren't equipped to take care of you anymore". The only problem with that is that it will become an empty threat if used too much. What other repercussions can I use?

# 3 - How can I break free of her manipulation of me through guilt? I need to rid myself of those shackles in order to be strong and not allow further mind games by the master manipulator.

Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions that you might have or any suggestions you can offer. I've set up a throw-away email address at:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Your son is more important than your mother.

Maybe it's time to start considering nursing homes, or other adult care facilities of some kind.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:45 PM on January 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seconding chocolate pickle's advice.
posted by 2oh1 at 5:50 PM on January 5, 2009

Jesus, just let her sit at home in the recliner with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This sounds like a miserable existence for all concerned.

Counselling -- for you -- would probably be a good idea given the tags on this post.

So long as she's not mentally incompetent and you're not her guardian, stop acting like it. Apparently she wants to eat peppermint bark, eat trashy novels, and occasionally visit the hospital. There is no sense in continuing to try to interfere with that.

It is not at all clear how she's manipulating you. It doesn't sound like she wants the care you're offering. This is sad, but it's not worth letting it take over your life, especially with a new baby. Let go of Mom, let go of the bitterness. If she is interfering with normal family life, find her a new home. If she is interfering merely by dint of eating peppermint bark while diabetic, let it go. Figure out a degree of funk you're not willing to tolerate, hard-ass a 'shower once per X' rule. Stop making doctor's appointments for her. Just let go.

Announce the new regime by dint of a stack of PBJs.
posted by kmennie at 6:02 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, you're obviously at the end of your rope and are putting off the inevitable "boot out" by fostering the delusion that if you just explain things clearly enough, your mother will come to her senses. It sounds like your mother understands her obligations but refuses to live up to them. The dynamic you describe sounds hopeless.

Sorry you are going through this. If you can give more information about where you live, maybe someone here can point you in the direction of a social service. Get her on a waiting list for nursing home now.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:03 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should contact your local Area Council on Aging. They can point you to resources that can be of help including in home care or finding appropriate housing if it comes to that. You can find your local council here.
posted by chiababe at 6:04 PM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Has she been screened for depression?
You don't mention what she was like before she was widowed, but if she hasn't always been like this, part of it may be depression.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:08 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

She sounds depressed. Get a psychiatrist in the rotation. If she refuses treatment, then you can pull the "tough love" trigger.
posted by availablelight at 6:20 PM on January 5, 2009

How long has she been widowed? My mother in law was widowed at 55 and though she is not as bad as your mother sounds, her social life has atrophied and she dwells on the negative at times now. You haven't described her as having any friends. She needs to get out and be with people her own age, perhaps invite over some local neighbours, people she used to know.

And yes, for all your sakes, she needs to live somewhere else. Ultimatums will not change her.

I know another older widow who also has very severe diabetes who eats what she shouldn't. Deep down, it's because she wants to be with her late husband who died 15 years ago. Don't discount the possibility of depression or deep grief.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:20 PM on January 5, 2009

I would not let her come home to your house after her stint in the nursing home. Tell her she is homeless and needs to find alternative housing. Maybe Social Security or Medicare or a government agency can/will pay for her nursing home.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2009

So, this is sounding a lot like adult children of alcoholic stuff.

Don't kill me, please. It just sounds like you are taking on a lot of her basic responsibilities and have a distinct lack of boundaries. It might hurt to cut her off, but at the end of the day she is an adult woman and needs to take steps to care for herself. Your efforts have been admirable, but can you sustain this forever, especially when it seems to be taking years off or your life and dramatically impacting the quality of life for you and yours?

I urge you to get support and wean yourself off of this pattern. And here are some huge hugs...this sounds horrible for all concerned.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:26 PM on January 5, 2009

What's a DH?
posted by gjc at 6:36 PM on January 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Regarding your numbered questions, if you go through with what's implied in questions #1 and #2, you'll just be cementing the reverse parent-child roles further. Parents punish children. Adults comply with house rules or leave. I don't think there's much you can do except once and for all lay out your needs (she will keep medical appointments, follow doctors' orders regarding her diet and any physical therapy/exercise prescribed, and maintain basic personal hygiene) and say if she is unable to comply then you will be unable to care for her. Because you ARE unable to care for her if she won't do those things: she could seriously injure or otherwise harm herself if she continues like this. To be honest, given that she's already repeatedly ignored your requests that she change her behavior, I think the upthread suggestions to look into nursing homes/assisted living right away make the most sense.

I think for #3 you should talk to an elder care professional (perhaps a contact through the organization chiababe linked to?) in order to be sure you're well-informed about the best options for protecting your mother's health and safety.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2009

What's a DH?

Cutesy message board abbreviation. DH= "Dear Husband", DD= "Dear Daughter", etc.
posted by availablelight at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2009

It sounds like your mother needs a geriatric care manager. Things have gotten way out of hand and having a third party can keep some of the negative family dynamics out of it.
posted by richg at 6:53 PM on January 5, 2009

Jesus, just let her sit at home in the recliner with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This sounds like a miserable existence for all concerned.

Perhaps you missed the bit where the mother is living in the poster's home? The mother's lifestyle and demands are definitely having an impact that goes beyond your suggestion the problem is the poster's desire to foist unwanted care on an independent individual.

anon: If your mother can't live in your house in a way that gives you a suitable environment to raise your son and maintain a healthy marriage, she needs to live somewhere else. If your siblings aren't an option and she can't care for herself adequately on her own, you're justified in looking into some sort of care arrangement - in any case, it is very reasonable to make her staying with you contingent on some minimum level of adult personal responsibility.

Guilt? Pshaw. You've already gone a great distance to care for her as best you can. If she isn't going to make it possible for that to continue - and it doesn't sound like she wants to - you're justified in letting that be the responsibility of professionals.
posted by rodgerd at 8:07 PM on January 5, 2009

I work with elders and your mom pretty clearly needs to be screened for depression. You can request a mental health eval from the doctor following her in rehab. They'll either have someone on staff or someone who visits when needed. Make sure that you get to have some input with the doc who evaluates her so that they get a truthful version of what goes on at home, and talk to the social worker there, too. You can request that your mom be followed by a home care agency after discharge from rehab, and athough the number of visits (if she qualifies) will be limited by her diagnoses (it would take too long for me to post more details about that, and the social worker can explain it), many Medicare certified agencies have a mental health pro on staff and they all have social workers who can help with finding other resources for your family. Considering your mom's age, she's probably on Medicare, and this won't cost your family anything.

I would also suggest counseling for you to help keep your mom from guilting you to the end of your rope. You are a very good daughter, but you are entitled to a life of your own and you don't have to justify that to anybody. I am RN and a good daughter, and I know firsthand the value of geting yourself some counseling.

Good luck, a pat on the back, and a big hug.
posted by puddinghead at 8:19 PM on January 5, 2009

I second the idea of looking for outside social service's a start. As mentioned above by several posters, the effect of your mother's behavior on your family is urgent and must be addressed, before your mother's behavior. I had a different but somewhat analagous situation when my mother with mid-stage Alzheimer's came to live with us. We had two young daughters at mother insisted on trying to "discipline" my daughters, in addition to many other untenable actions, which while beyond her own control, still were just not allowable/manageable in the home of our young family. In desperation, I got in touch with the state social service agency as well as a nonprofit agency that worked with Alzheimer's issues. The contact with the Alzheimer's nonprofit was the best thing I ever did. The person understood the issues, helped me to sort through those, and identify my priorities and helped me find the help I needed. This person knew all of the options/possibilities, and did things for us in a matter of weeks that I could never have done on my any amount of time. It is possible and even likely, as other posters suggest, that depression is an issue for your mom...but again, getting some new eyes on the situation seems like a real priority for you and your family.

When you make contact with anyone...Doctors, or any healthcare providers, as well as social services, non-profits---and this is key---tell them a bit of your story and ask for referrals/contacts to persons and agencies that would be most able to assist you...You'll be comforted at the concern people have for your situation, and the contacts some of them will have that can help lift this enormous load from your shoulders and begin to help get things under control...for your peace of mind, and for your mother's ultimate welfare.

Blessings on you for caring for your mother and being the one to stand in the gap for her!
posted by mumstheword at 8:44 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good for you for seeing the situation realistically. She's self-centered, irresponsible, and manipulative. There's a good chance she's mentally ill, too. You don't need that in your life. Now put some distance between yourself and your mother. Get away from her. And best of luck with all this.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:05 PM on January 5, 2009

Enough. For your sake, for the sake of your siblings, your child, your dear husband, this is enough.

Ultimatums may fall on deaf ears here, so be prepared to execute consequences exactly as you had planned them.

"Ok, mom, here's the deal. My home is no longer the safe, happy haven that I run to at the end of a long day. The way you're living is putting a strain on my relationships and my mental health. I don't like being upset, so here's what I want to happen. I want you to shower. Seriously. X times a week. I want you to make doctor's appointments when it is convenient to us. You are a guest in our house, and in order for us to accommodate you, you must also accommodate us. If we can't fix these problems, you'll have to move out. If you can live on your own, fine. If not, we'll have to find a place for you. If we foot the bill, we choose the place. If and until then, please respect our house rules and give me the privacy to give time and attention to my family who need me too."
posted by big open mouth at 10:25 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please re-read puddinghead's post. Then reread it again. I'm a little saddened by the responses that amount to "lay down the law" or "throw her out." Older people are, if anything, particularly prone to depression and other mental health problems, in part due to the physical processes of aging. If your mother does have a mental health issue, she may not be capable of responding to that lay-down-the-law, take x-many-showers-a-week sort of approach.

That does not mean that I'm saying you should accept the situation as is, that she's not responsible for some of her behavior, that she doesn't have serious character defects (including being manipulative), or even that she should be living with you. (I think she needs a place in managed care.) But I don't think you'll see success if you just sit her down and say, "Okay, make these changes, or else [I'll throw you out, wash my hands of you, fill in the blank.]"

Do get the pros involved. People who work with elders, social services, etc. will be able to help you appropriately assess what your next steps are. You've gone above and beyond here, no question. You have my utmost respect for taking care of her on your own as long as you have. Now it's time to get support and assistance.
posted by Herkimer at 10:44 AM on January 7, 2009

I'm so sorry that you're in such a difficult situation. There's lots of good advice here, but I might suggest contacting MeFite TheStraightener, who has a great deal of experience in these types of situations and might be able to give you some good advice about next steps. I don't mean to offer up other members for consulting services, but I've been very impressed with his knowledge about of social services and effective interventions.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2009

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