How do I not get taken advantage of ?
March 6, 2009 3:10 PM   Subscribe

What is the best approach for me to take and continue helping my senior neighbor out without being taken advantage of by her and/or her children?

I have an elderly neighbor ( in her eighties) who my family has been helping for the last 17 years. We've done things like cut the grass, clear her driveway ( and sidewalk) of ice and snow, drove her and her husband (before he passed away two years ago) as well as taken her to appointments, out for suppers, and on day trips, etc. Recently however, she has been having fainting spells and her heart is not that good. There is a good possibility of her driving license being canceled because of her health. She is very upset about losing her independence. She has three children, two of them have licenses to drive, have their own vehicles, and are capable of taking her places but seldom volunteer to. They live close by. My neighbor lives alone in her own home.
posted by Taurid to Human Relations (12 answers total)
You have no obligation to help her out. It's just nice if you do.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:14 PM on March 6, 2009

I think you continue to help out at the same level you've been comfortable helping with for the past 17 years. If you're asked (by her or her family) to take on more than you can due to changes in her health, etc., you can simply say "I'm sorry, that's not possible," leaving her family responsible to pitch in. Assuming you're in the U.S., you could also check out the eldercare locator to see what public social services might exist if her family is unwilling or unable to take on more of her care.
posted by scody at 3:32 PM on March 6, 2009

I think you have to be able to say "no" occasionally so that they know you are not at their beck and call. Find something that you know will not hurt her physically if you say no and say no. If you understand your limitations and have the discipline to not go over them, you should be fine.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:10 PM on March 6, 2009

Why dont her kids help?
Have you spoken to them and mentioned the "problem"
posted by Palmerpoodles at 4:51 PM on March 6, 2009

Your obligation extends no further than your ability to give and your comfort level in doing so.

Follow your heart on this, and let the family, and your neighbor know what the limits caring and honest.

And, good for you for all you've done up to this point....
posted by HuronBob at 5:43 PM on March 6, 2009

Best answer: If your family has been doing this for 17 years (bless your hearts), then the kids (although I suspect that they are in their 40s, 50s or 60s considering their mother's age) are probably used to the convenience of you doing things for their mother.

Do you volunteer to help or does your neighbour ask you? If she asks you, why doesn't she ask her kids? Are you more approachable? Are they mean to her? Did she spoil them to the point where she couldn't even think about asking them for help? Knowing the answers to this won't help you with your dilemma, but will help put things into perspective.

Perhaps it's none of the situations above - perhaps your good naturedness is being misinterpreted by their family so they think that you enjoy helping out and you don't mind at all. It might not occur to them that you are making a sacrifice - so although you feel that they are taking advantage of you, they haven't considered this fact one bit.

It's hard to determine the situation from your description, but here is my advice: Do what you can and what doesn't inconvenience you. Don't volunteer to help unless you really want to help. If she asks for your help and you are not able to, tell her that you'll call the kids. When you call the kids, don't ask the kids for help - just state the facts - "Your mom needs to go to the hospital. You should arrange when you can pick her up." Act like you are doing them a favour by calling them, and not like they are doing you a favour.

This might feel weird, especially when you are used to being of the accommodating nature. But remember, some people wouldn't understand that behaviour if you spelled it out to them - it's not that they're bad people necessarily, they just don't think that way.

Don't stop being accomodating - just start accomodating your needs first!
posted by bitteroldman at 6:33 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My apologies if I'm missing something, but where does the "taken advantage of" part come in? It doesn't sound like anyone is asking you to do more than you've been doing. No one can take advantage of you unless you let them. And of course, being taken advantage of is a state of mind. If her children weren't around what would you do for this woman? If you and your family left town, what would you do for this woman?

I would let the children know of the woman's additional needs (whatever it is that you are unwilling/unable to take on). If they cannot or will not help, you may want to look for other services that can pick up where you leave off.

I wish there were more of your kind of charity in this world. I hope you do not become resentful about your assistance of this woman because of her children. Hopefully they will step up when you are clearly not able to continue, but you have no control over them.
posted by Piscean at 7:02 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't have any particular advice, but I want to tell you about Epi. Epi lived across the garden from my Oma and my Kleine Oma (technically my great aunt or somesuch) in Germany.

When my Opa died, my elderly Oma was all alone in her little house, and she was partially blind, and not used to doing for herself the things her husband had done. Later, Kleine Oma moved in to keep her company, but she was another elderly woman. Epi and his wife Annalise took up the charge to do those things, which we could not, because we didn't live on the same continent, never mind in the same town. Oma kept Epi in beer (not a cheap proposition, admittedly) and Epi changed light bulbs, did small repairs, took them on major shopping trips and advised them on other matters. His family considered moving away to a smaller home after their kids were grown, but he didn't want to leave Oma and Kleine Oma with no support system.

Oma and Kleine Oma stayed in their little house across the garden from Epi until the day they died, Oma about 2 years before Kleine Oma. They were able to remain largely independent, even after Kleine Oma went totally blind, and to feel safe and happy right up until the end. Epi and Annalise have since moved to a smaller home a couple of towns away.

What Epi did for those two old women was a blessing. He gave them a life they could never otherwise have known, and I'm incredibly grateful to him for showing a love and care to my grandmother that I couldn't offer.

I see my own parents doing the same thing now for an elderly member of their community center, and it fills me with pride to know that they don't have to do those things, but that they do anyway. That they are paying forward the debt of gratitude that we all owe Epi by caring for Vera in the same way, whether they realize it or not.

Please don't burn yourself out on this (I'm definitely not suggesting that you avoid moving for fear of leaving them alone, that was truly above and beyond) but please know that if you can help this woman, you will be adding immeasurably to the world's store of goodness.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:59 PM on March 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

What a great story, Jacquilynne. :)

My grandmother is on another continent to me, and her friends and neighbours (and former neighbours) help her in a similar way. My husband and I help our neighbours a couple of doors down in the same way (picking up groceries, taking bins in and out for them, trimming hedges, helping when they can't figure out their internet/computer stuff). Someday, some nice couple a couple of doors down will do the same for us... it's just a big circle.

My own parents are probably a bit like your neighbour's children. There's no reason they can't help more. They just don't. Then again, they aren't much involved in other aspects of my grandmother's life. We're a weird family. They might be, too. My uncle lives 500 miles away. He's in contact with the neighbours, and helps whenever he can. I'm in contact with the neighbours as well, and send them care packages & presents from overseas to show my appreciation. One of the daughters of a former neighbour (and friendly helper) for my grandmother is talking about coming to England/Europe for a post high school grad trip. I'm working overtime to find places for her to stay so she can do that without breaking the bank. My mother lives 15 minutes away, in the same town, and does nothing. She doesn't even acknowledge the neighbours and friends who help her own mother so much. Like I said, families can just be like that. If someone talked to my mother about doing more for her mother, she'd be highly offended and defensive, would likely not do more.

Talk to her kids, sure, but don't expect them to suddenly change. They might like to get to know you, though, and build a relationship with you. Maybe they'll help you in ways you can't imagine they would have at the beginning of the road. You never know.

You have to decide which is harder for you to live with: feeling taken advantage of, or feeling that the neighbour is hiding her condition from you because she doesn't want you to feel taken advantage of. I know which would be harder for me.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:00 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you have the phone numbers of her children? If she ends up losing her license and needs help getting groceries or other errands, call them and say you notice she needs help running errands and ask or suggest they set up a weekly schedule to take her grocery shopping, etc. If they ask for your help, just say your family can do the occasional thing, but they need to step in on a regular basis.
posted by gt2 at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. You've treated me to a couple of heartwarming stories. First jacquilynne, and then Grrlscout. Thanks you for sharing them. Very nice !!

I should maybe clarify a few things.

1. I live in Canada.
2. I feel her kids ( ages...the married son is in his late 40s, and the single daughter just turned 50) don't help as much as they should because they're used to me picking up the slack....and like it that way. Thats where the "being taken advantage" comes in"
3. The elderly woman is always saying to me how her children are always "busy" and don't have much time. I feel she made time for them when they were small, now its their turn.
4. While I don't feel I have been taken advantage of up to this point too much by her, I do feel that since she will almost certainly lose her license, I will be asked to do more than I already do.
5. Both her two ( driving) children work, I am retired.
6. Her two children are fully aware of her needs.

Thanks again.
posted by Taurid at 4:01 PM on March 7, 2009

Actually, you know, I think I do have some advice to give you.

I live in the basement suite of a house, and my landlady is elderly and ill. Her daughter is a friend of mine, and I'm occasionally called on to do various things for her, including at one point, some very personal things like helping change her diapers.

What helped me extract myself from that situation was setting a deadline. In the short term, while the problem first started, and the daughter was out of town and unable to make alternate arrangements, I was willing to step in and do more to get past a crisis point.

But there had to be a deadline to that level of involvement, and it was when she returned from her vacation. At that point, we then sat down and figured out as a group how she could get the care she needed, while minimizing my involvement to the level that I was comfortable with (ie, no diapers, but I would cook her meals and bring them to her, no shopping, but I would track her medications and make sure she was taking them). There were still challenges, because if she phoned at 2 in the afternoon (I work from home) and needed someone to help with a diaper, I didn't really feel like I had a choice, but they eventually arranged for more regular check-ins by others so that was less of an issue.

Don't be afraid to actually have that conversation if your friend is willing. If you just go with the flow and do things as they come up, you'll probably end up doing more than you'd hope to because the children will leave gaps that need to be filled and you'll be the only one to fill them. Work as a group to identify what her needs actually will be -- doctors visits, shopping, medications, whatever. Then figure out who can do those things; keep in mind that you and one of the children are not the only option. Look at things like taxis, public transit, meals on wheels, seniors service programs, home care workers to take care of some of her needs.

The children may be resentful that you're forcing them to face these issues head on, and you may get some 'who do you think you are' pushback, but you have to kind of stand up for yourself, and hopefully your friend will stand up for you, too.

One other factor you should consider before you get into it is the issue of money. If they offer you money, to do the things they should be doing, would you take it? Do you want it? Will you feel the same about all of this if it becomes obligatory? After a particularly nasty task that I had to do, my landlady offered me money. The thing is, I would never do that particular task for that amount of money, so instead of making me feel appreciated, it made me feel insulted. It's one thing to do something revolting as a favor for a sweet, desperate old woman, it's another thing to do it for a lousy $20, you know? It might be another thing, though, if they were 'chipping in for gas and insurance' rather than paying you for your services, I dunno.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:08 PM on March 7, 2009

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