How do I stop being so stressed out about my mother?
May 21, 2020 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I called my mother today and her latest medical calamity sent me into a spiral of anxiety. She's aging, she's mentally ill, she does the bare minimum to take care of herself, and... god... I'm just exhausted. It's one thing after the next with her all the time and, likely, always will be until she dies? Aside from therapy (which I'm in), what else should I be doing? I'd like to dial down my stress from, at least, an 8.5 to a 5.

I don't even know where to begin without repeating all of my previous questions about her, at this point. She's 75, untreated (well, now it's sort of treated) schizophrenia for many years, poor hygiene, doesn't take care of herself THAT well, etc. Has started having more noticeable medical issues in the past year, which we've been getting her treatment for. Seeing a family doctor, cardiologist, etc. Although, COVID-19 kind of put the kibosh on her going to any of her appointments, which... makes sense.

I moved away for a year in December for a job opportunity (now I live about 5 hours away). Around the same time she was hospitalized for two weeks, the social worker/doctors were going to go into an assisted living facility following a capacity assessment... which was never done for some reason, so they released her. She's been OKAY on her own for the past 5 months. Nothing crazy has happened. Except now I'm working myself into a fit over her fucking TOENAIL that broke. (My thoughts: will it get infected (she doesn't wash her feet/fungal issues), is it bleeding everywhere (she doesn't tell the truth), is she really in pain (she never says she is), etc. Like... ENOUGH is ENOUGH. I can't keep flipping out every time something happens. I've even considered driving to see her this weekend to look at her fucking TOENAIL! This is getting ridiculous! Enough!!!!!

More than I like to admit, I think I am always stewing and simmering with stress about my mother. She doesn't care about her health (never really has), so I have to take this whole burden on. There's really no one else who can help. Her neighbours check on her and chat with her from time to time, but that's it. No relatives in the area. Before COVID-19 started, I was going to hire a housecleaner/aide to do light cleaning and check on her once a week, but that's been forgotten about and I'm not sure what to do about that anymore.

I just feel like it's ALWAYS going to be one calamity after the other with her until she dies. Like, this is it! This is my mother and this is my relationship with my mother. And maybe I haven't fully accepted that before, or realized it, but... god... how do you deal with this? It's always going to be something and I'm soooooooo tired of getting worked up about it ALL. THE. TIME. It's just exhausting and I think I have had enough of it.

I constantly feel like whatever I'm doing is not enough or wrong or whatever. I also find it so isolating. People understand being a "caretaker" to an elderly parent, but they don't understand the wrench that mental illness throws into it. And I find myself getting especially frustrated with her now because I don't KNOW where her "mental illness" ends and where her "old age" begins when it comes to doing tasks and chores, if that makes sense. So I have such a low threshold of tolerance for her behaviours and what she does/doesn't do. When the nurses at the hospital saw her feet in December (dirty because she doesn't wash them, gross toenails, etc.) they kept saying empathetic things like "Oh, that must hurt" or "Oh, you must be in pain" when they saw them, but... as her bitch daughter, all I could think is "Well, they probably wouldn't look so nasty if she bothered to clean them herself in the last 5 months," as the person who HAS cleaned her feet when they reached a disgusting point and cut her toenails.

Anyway, I just can't maintain this level of worry and stress with regards to her ALL THE TIME anymore. I'm just so tired! In addition to therapy, what else is there? What else can I do? How can I not let this dumpster fire of a mother eat up sooo much of my energy anymore?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Human Relations (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Around the same time she was hospitalized for two weeks, the social worker/doctors were going to go into an assisted living facility following a capacity assessment... which was never done for some reason, so they released her. She's been OKAY on her own for the past 5 months.

If you're this constantly stressed out, it sounds like she hasn't been okay. If she was about to get a capacity evaluation as a step toward going into assisted living, there must have been a good reason she was headed in that direction, and I don't really understand how that could kind of just go away under the rubric of "for some reason." It sounds like as long as she's living alone, apparently content to be physically falling apart, the concern about her basic well being is going to be displaced onto you. Maybe follow up with the people who for some reason didn't evaluate and place her? I don't know that you'll be able to get back on that track while she's at home and not in the hospital, but the impression I'm getting is just that this thread dropping has led to your level of anxiety. I don't see how someone checking in once a week will put a dent in your anxiety about this. From what you're describing, she probably shouldn't be living at home unless you're feeling pretty absolute about "living at home is always better."

Meanwhile, this is easy for me to say because it's not my mother, but before I drove five hours there and back in a pandemic, I'd consider calling the local police department to send someone out to do a welfare check. If she appears to be a danger to herself, they will take her to the hospital. (Grain of salt: what people doing welfare checks consider the threshold for "a danger to herself" is sometimes, to be generous, not intuitive. If you do this, ask them for a call back after they see her to report on her condition, so you can either get some peace of mind or say "yep, time to get in the car.")
posted by less of course at 11:37 PM on May 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

For more than a year, I've had escalating anxiety triggered by my mother's situation. I've been in therapy, on antidepressants, on sick leave, etc. And then just before the lockdown, I went to my doctor and said my anxiety was completely out of control and I was not able to function. He gave me some really strong anti-anxiety medicine and basically said he hoped I'd never take it, but now it was there for avoiding a psychotic episode. And then he looked me in the eye and said: your mother is an adult. You are not responsible for your mother. She was responsible for you and she failed. You owe her nothing. Let it go.
I think probably several therapists have said this to me several times in much longer sentences, but for some reason this made a huge impression on me. I felt better already going home. I have till now not taken the drugs he gave me. I don't know if it will have any effect for you, reading it from a stranger on the internet rather than from a family doctor who has known me for twenty years. But if you can, give it a thought.
(He was not asking me to abandon my mother to the streets, he was encouraging me to distance myself from her irresponsible life choices and use the POA she has given me to handle her affairs from my home and reduce our interaction to a minimum, rather than visit her).
posted by mumimor at 3:34 AM on May 22, 2020 [41 favorites]

Can her doctor, or the hospital, assign a social/caseworker to you/her?

My mother is seventy-five and is a problem. My dad is seventy-eight and *has* problems. Because my mother can't manage his necessary physical assistance needs on her own, the caseworker arranges & coordinates with insurance/medicare(?) for a support-type nurse to come three days a week, get him showered etc., and let my mom go to the grocery store.

My relationship with my mother is fraught. Even before every conversation was a nightmare of physical catastrophes combined with a heavy dose of narcissism, I would sometimes cry when I got off the phone from the sadness and frustration of it all.

I talk to her on the phone now roughly every 4 to 8 weeks, and I visit twice a year for no more than four days, preferably three. I've stopped fussing about packing--I don't know why this helps but it does. I used to think, but what if, what if, as if I was going on a cruise. Now I wear what I'd wear for anything else and fuck it.

When we talk on the phone, I use the time for folding laundry, cleaning shelves, whatever makes that time feel productive instead of feeling like I have given several pints of blood.

It's improved my mental health. If she were kinder, if we were closer, if she didn't say things to me like, "I've always thought of you as a Zumba sort of person" (you have to know me to know how completely insane that sentence is) indicating that she doesn't know anything about me, or care to, it would be different. If she got the daughter she wanted or I got the mother I wanted, it would be different. Maybe I wouldn't have chosen, deliberately, to live six hours away. But here we are.

She has more assistance, and I came to see things as unchangeable. There is peace in knowing that something sucks but will never be different and also peace in no longer assuming I'm the person to blame.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:47 AM on May 22, 2020 [16 favorites]

I was in a similar place with my mother and have a couple suggestions -

- Read the book, "Codependent No More." I picked it up for a different reason (and was always put off by the title), but it was a revelation for me. It made me realize how tangled up I got in other people's lives, taking responsibility not just for my choices, but for theirs as well. Read it then take some time to evaluate the degree to which you are taking on the burdens of others when you should not.

- Decide how much time you will carve out for Mom, then give her only that time. For me, it was two days a week. On Wednesdays I would run errands for her, go to appointments for her, etc. On Sundays, I would visit her which meant cleaning up her place, often taking her out for a meal, maybe going for a drive. I then set up a schedule with my siblings where they called her once a week (not on Wed. or Sun.) so Mom had interactions with others. I also outsourced some things that I was doing that others could do.

Your boundary drawing will look different, of course, because your burdens are not the same. It is OKAY to limit your worrying to a couple times a week then to not think about her the other days. You do not have an obligation to fix everything for her.
posted by eleslie at 5:05 AM on May 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm so glad for you that you took the job 5 hours away. Stop calling her. And stop answering her calls whenever they come in. Let her know a specific slot of time on specific days during which you are free to talk with her. And a time limit for those calls, say 15 minutes. Keep your phone on silent. Better yet, if at all possible get a second phone so that you can keep calls from/to her and whatever caregivers, caseworkers, etc. separate from your friends' calls, your work, and whatever else you might do with your phone. Keep the mom phone turned off, check it once or twice a day and don't respond outside of scheduled times for interaction.

You've done way more than your share of helping her and it's not your fault if she has no other family member willing to help. It's time for you to create a life for yourself. I remember you said your job is a one-year contract, right? Be sure to find yourself another job far from your mother when this one ends.

My mom had schizophrenia and yeah, I understood that some of her behavior was because of the disease. But, she was also a mean nasty person. who did her best to undermine my sense of self-worth. Who knows how much was the disease and how much was just her. One of the things I found helpful was vigorous physical exercise. And often, as I did the exercise, I'd punctuate my moves with words directed (in my head only) at my mother. Walking as fast as I could up a steep, very steep, hill, repeating fucking bitch under my breath. I think it helped. If nothing else, it kept me in good shape.
posted by mareli at 6:10 AM on May 22, 2020 [10 favorites]

In addition to therapy, what else is there? What else can I do?

Maybe mindfulness meditation? There are some free guided meditation .mp3s at UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center ( ranging from 3 to 20 minutes in length. UCSD's School of Medicine has some longer and more varied guided meditations here, hosted on SoundCloud.

Or skip about 23 minutes into the Youtube video in this decade-old FPP for another ~20-minute-long session with more exposition which I like very much, led by Jon Kabat-Zinn (a medical stress reduction researcher) at Google. (And you can listen to the rest of his hour-plus presentation, too, but the chunk starting at 23 minutes is the guided meditation portion.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:26 AM on May 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Also The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) may be able to put you in touch with support groups for caregivers. They offer a free HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) and the NAMI online directory can be searched for local NAMI organizations.

You might ask your own therapist about support groups too.
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 AM on May 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

My mom has dementia and we have a complicated history. Sometimes I have to breathe and remember that I cannot fix old age, I cannot fix dementia, I cannot fix our health care system, I cannot give them an idealized old age that looks like an ad for fiber supplements. I'm still trying to figure out where to draw certain boundaries and I know that will change over time as the situation changes.

In the meantime:
* Take care of yourself. Managing your stress is hard but important - your therapist can help you identify strategies (take a walk in nature, do some yoga, meditate, call a friend)
* Work with your therapist on identifying and setting boundaries.
* Check with NAMI (website| helpline) to ask about about resources for yourself and for your mother. Your situation is not typical, but you are not alone.
* I'm not sure what conditions besides schitzophrenia your mother has, but if dementia is an issue the Alzheimer's Association (website | 24/7 helpline - 800.272.3900) is very helpful.
* And resume working on the aide angle. People don't stop needing in-home care under SAH, and knowing your mom has someone to come and check in on her will help your level of stress.
posted by bunderful at 6:45 AM on May 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just as a clarification, can I ask: does you mom actually call you asking for your help? Who initiates all the calls and conversations about health? Does she think these things are a problem (like her toenail) and call you asking you to fix it?

I'm wondering, because you don't say in your post that she's stressed about these things, rather than you are stressed because you think she doesn't take her health and hygiene seriously. This question is not meant as judgement on you. But I think the advice that will help you will really depend on which of the two quite different scenarios you're actually dealing with.

Scenario one: Your mom makes you responsible for her health problems. She calls you up, expects you to fix things, guilts you into being her caretaker. This is a mom problem, and requires you enforcing better boundaries with her.

Scenario two: Your mom thinks she's fine, but from the outside you can see she is doing things that risk her health. This is a problem within you - which is good, because it means you can work on it yourself without her cooperation! - and requires you finding ways to manage your anxiety levels.
posted by EllaEm at 6:58 AM on May 22, 2020 [12 favorites]

She doesn't care about her health (never really has), so I have to take this whole burden on

Emphasis mine.

No, you don't. I know you feel like you have to, but you actually don't. You can allow your mother's health to occupy exactly as much mental space as you want it to. It's good you're in therapy, because your therapist can help you set appropriate and healthy boundaries with your mother. It's important to accept that you are not your mother's keeper, unless you want to be.
posted by cooker girl at 7:44 AM on May 22, 2020 [20 favorites]

This sentence in your question stood out to me.

so I have to take this whole burden on

Oh dear. That's just not true. While you can choose to help with her challenges they are not your burdens. The weight of carrying them has killed your joy.

This is your mother. I truly understand the challenge! My mother had mental illness. Age added dementia, enough that she could be a danger to herself. I worked a few miles from her. My siblings all fled as soon as they were able. They resisted all my pleas for help. I felt that crushing burden of making sure she was safe, despite her working actively against me.

My point is, everyone, including you and your mother, believes that responsibility for your mother ends with you, that you are always her Person In Charge. This is simply not true. And can actually work against her need to have agency over her own life to the best of her ability.

Maybe she lives in her home as if she is homeless, without bathing or cleaning or communicating appropriately. Anyone familiar with the homeless living in tents would tell you that she's better off where she is. If your mom has the capacity to eat and toilet and shut her front door, she is a functioning adult. Will she allow a caregiver to enter her home and cooperate with them? (My mother wouldn't.) Would she be better off in a long term facility where someone can care for her? If that's an option, sure. Will she cooperate with the search, the admission, the move? If not, will an agency take on that responsibility? What if she gets there and then wants to "go home" and leaves?

I love the book Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow. I'd been in therapy again and again but maybe it was timing, I don't know, the message hit me like a truck. It helped me understand that other people's lives are their own to live, no matter their challenges. Carrying their burdens didn't lessen their burdens, it only added to my own! Yoga and meditation helped with anxiety.

Others here have given you lots of great practical advice. I hope you can find resources that help your mother where she lives that will help you both. Then pursue happiness and peace for yourself, without guilt.
posted by toastedbeagle at 8:00 AM on May 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

Just as a clarification, can I ask: does you mom actually call you asking for your help? Who initiates all the calls and conversations about health? Does she think these things are a problem (like her toenail) and call you asking you to fix it?

It's definitely more "Scenario Two." No, she doesn't call me to deal with her health at all. The most she'll initiate is asking me to pay for her prescription delivery (she doesn't have a credit card, so I use mine -- I'm reimbursed, it's not an issue). Or she'll tell me how her blood pressure has been, because she's been tracking it (or so she says).

For example, with this stupid toenail issue (my god, again... I'm stressed out about a toenail that isn't even on my foot!!!), she added a box of band-aids to her prescription delivery from the pharmacy. I asked her about it, because I knew she HAD a ton of Band Aids at home, so I asked her how she used up so many Band Aids. Then she said, oh she stubbed her toe and it's bleeding and blah blah this whole story!! Then I freaked out about her stupid toe, like if it's bleeding... what if it becomes infected due to her dirty feet and fungal toenails! I start to panic about this and even typing this I'm worried. {I'm actually worried enough about her toe, that I feel like I should take her to see her doctor when I visit next weekend.... but... I don't know, should I??}

Her health stresses me out because, ultimately, I'm the one that has to deal with the consequences of it -- not her, because she doesn't give a shit! As another example, she doesn't take care of her teeth, so they're falling out, decaying, etc. She insists there's no pain, she insists her rotting teeth don't bother her. But I've spent hours trying to research dentures, what are her options, etc. because I know it's something I'll have to deal with in the future.

I feel like, and perhaps wrongly, that because she's elderly.... people who don't understand the situation JUDGE ME for not taking "better care" of her. Again, in the hospital when the nurses were so empathetic and concerned about her dirty feet, I just rolled my eyes at them internally. I've always been told that I'm supposed to have "more compassion" for her and all this, which stresses me out and makes me feel like what I'm doing isn't enough. It's not enough to take her to the doctor, order her groceries, organize her prescriptions. I don't mind doing THOSE tasks. But then people expect me to be her nurse, to wash her feet, to brush her teeth, and I just can't do that. Part of me has zero compassion towards her, because where was the compassion she was supposed to give me as a mother? I guess, I feel like if I don't take on the burden of her health problems, people will judge ME and think that I'm the one neglecting her... when she's the one who's neglected herself and everyone else for over 20 years due to her mental illness.

Okay, that went off the rails...
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:07 AM on May 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Having seen your updates, can I gently suggest this is not about your mother? Rather, this is about your anxiety and fear of being judged by strangers.

Perhaps it would help you if you examined whether you also feel anxiety about being judged in other parts of your life as well. This might be something to talk about with your therapist.

Because you probably know, right, on some level, that people won't actually blame you for your mother's problems? She's a grown up! If she was a child: then yes, you would be responsible for making sure her teeth don't fall out. If you turned up at a doctors office with a ten year old daughter with no teeth, then people would probably hold you responsible for that. But she's an adult. If her teeth fall out then it's her responsibility, not yours (if indeed it is anyone's fault). Not now, and to be honest, not necessarily in the future either unless you decide to make it your problem.

I hope this helps.
posted by EllaEm at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2020 [13 favorites]

As the daughter of a recently deceased dad who had mental health issues his entire life that were probably not as significant as your mother's but were plenty significant to me, let me ask this: Are you a victim or a volunteer?

As my dad got older and sicker, I felt like a victim for a long time. Then I started going to Al-Anon meetings and learning about boundaries and saying No to my dad and also No to the expectations of others. I got a phone call the day before Thanksgiving one memorable year from an ER physician wanting to know if my dad lived alone or if he had housemates who could help him change his bandage. Bandage? I asked. What bandage?

It turned out my dad had accidentally set himself aflame while working on a car. The doc was really angry at me after I told her my dad lived alone. She said, literally, "it's Thanksgiving. Why the hell isn't he with you?" And I said, mildly, "I invited him, but he didn't want to come." We lived several states apart and I didn't blame him for not wanting to come see me; I sure as hell wasn't going to spend Thanksgiving with him because he was a huge pain in the ass.

Most recently I've had to deal with the only family in the area, a cousin who could not understand why I didn't force my dad to go live in a nursing home (until he had a second stroke and had no choice). I explained to her that he was a legal adult and it wasn't up to me to decide how he should live. The local adult protective service had evaluated him two separate times and decided he was still capable of being in charge of his own life. As I told my cousin, "You don't want to live the way my dad lives and I don't want to live the way my dad lives, but it is what he wants so I am going to respect that."

I guess, I feel like if I don't take on the burden of her health problems, people will judge ME and think that I'm the one neglecting her... when she's the one who's neglected herself and everyone else for over 20 years due to her mental illness.

I had to get over that. I helped my dad to the extent I could without becoming crazier than I am already. I was absolutely judged by various folks and, honestly, my life is better because I, too, have learned not to give a shit. I don't care what my cousin thinks, I don't care what the neighbors think, and during my visit to my dad, I didn't care that I pissed off the night nurse by pressing to get my dad the morphine he needed. So my advice is to work with your therapist (plus meditation, time in nature, TED talks, exercise, funny movies, whatever the hell works) on letting go of your fear of being judged. You will be judged. So what? That is a serious question.

People who do not have a mental illness (as I do) or do not love people or have relatives/friends who are mentally ill (as I do) but have opinions about people like me can go fuck themselves. My cousin, bless her, cared about my dad but was clueless. She just did not get it and could not handle my dad's outdoor hoarding or his formerly homeless and also mentally ill housemates. But as my former Al-Anon sponsor said, "What I remember about your dad is that he most enjoyed getting to be himself by being in charge." That was true. The best thing I did for my dad was to let him be in charge for as long as possible. That included letting him go home unsupervised after he set himself on fire.

If you let go of your anxiety about your mom and about what other people might think of you, what might happen? Your mother might become very sick and die. All humans die. Would that be so terrible? Would that be your fault? Why? If you stopped obsessing over your mother's health, would you have time for things that are important to you? Would you be able to take better care of yourself?

My dad was a wonderful human being but a pretty awful dad. Al-Anon taught me that I did not choose to be born and that I did not owe my dad anything. Still, I loved him and toward the end tried to support him in ways that worked for me. I also tried to remember, when he was being an asshole in hospice, that very few of us consciously decide to be assholes or ill or both.

It's okay to choose yourself. That is what I did, ultimately. I could not change my dad or who he was. But I could take care of myself as much as possible without cutting him out of my life completely. My dad was never going to recognize what I needed. He could never take good care of me as a kid, and he certainly couldn't help me after I was an adult. That was my job, so that's what I did. It wasn't easy, but I did the best I could. You, too, can learn to do this. Giving your mother help that she has not asked for and that makes you resentful is not a gift to either one of you. Becoming sick with anxiety is a heavy burden, indeed. Perhaps it is time to set down that burden. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:53 AM on May 22, 2020 [49 favorites]

Bella Donna has wisdom that I co-sign. It's very hard to love someone who has a problem. It's also very hard to be in a larger community where you are viewed as the one "responsible" for the loved one with a problem (fairly or, usually, unfairly) because people can see the person with a problem and they want to find someone to blame because their hearts can't blame the person with a problem.

Towards the end of my (alcoholic, probably autistic, genius) father's life many people took me aside with comments on his behavior or health basically imploring me to do something about it, save his life, what was the problem here (OMG Bella Donna's Thanksgiving story could have been told by me nearly word for word) WHY WASN'T SOMEBODY DOING SOMETHING. And it was stressful. And I have anxiety, possibly partly because of being raised by someone like this within a community like the one we were in. And what people were telling me, basically, was that I should give up my life to save his. A very gendered implication. A very "He's a genius and you don't have a family so...." implication. I said no. And it was mostly okay and sometimes it wasn't and I learned, over time, to not let other people's anxieties colonize my brain.

My father was good guy, a bad dad, and not my responsibility. Al-Anon and NAMI (they have some amazing family support groups, not sure if they do in your region) helped me get to a better place. And it's worth understanding that you and your reactions are part of the cycle (I say this with kindness and not judgment). Trying to find ways to break the cycle can help ramp down the anxious spirals. It's hard to love someone who has a problem, but usually not for the obvious reasons.
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on May 22, 2020 [19 favorites]

This is in a different direction from relationship advice, but I found it very helpful to read the book Being Mortal and start to think about autonomy, and self-respect, and self-determination. And how as people get older, in the US, we infantilize them so much and start to think they should live in a bubble of perfect safety, like we treat little children.

Sometimes an adult goes skiing and breaks an arm. Maybe they could have avoided it by doing something differently: turned better or practiced more on easier slopes or not tried new physical activities. But we generally all agree that it's okay for them to do this, that they have the right to take risks with their own health and life, even for the sake of "fun" and other non-essentials. And generally it doesn't mean we're not going to show them compassion - we don't snap "it was your own damn fault!" when a friend or colleague shows up covered in bruises and scrapes. We say, like the nurses did, "oh, man, that looks like it hurts!"

So I'm just wondering. If you mentally imagine that she's 20 years younger, and you can't force her to do anything, does that give you a different feeling? Can you take some of that feeling and carry it back to your actual life, and stop feeling like her perfection is your responsibility?
posted by Lady Li at 11:23 AM on May 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think the other thing here that you might need to hear is that you don't have to be perfect to be loved.

Neither does your mom. You can love her by accepting her flaws, and loving her isn't a responsibility for you to somehow repair all of her flaws and make her or her life perfect.
posted by Lady Li at 12:41 PM on May 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

Lady Li I think that's where I get stuck as well, because... in all honesty, I don't love my mother.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 2:54 PM on May 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

in all honesty, I don't love my mother.
I imagine that must be very hard to say in public but it's important that you get to name this truth. People are allowed to feel what they feel and people are allowed not feel love towards their mother.

Ignoring what other people think (easier said than done but still, trying to ignore) the questions comes down to what to do you to this human being who happened to the be one who gave birth to you and gave you whatever parenting you got from her when you were little. And how does that balance against what you owe to yourself as the person with the primary responsibility for making sure that the human who is you is taken care of.

And then, when you think you have an idea of the answer, ask How does that change if the other person doesn't want my help and doesn't care about the things that I think she should be caring about? Because even if you think you should be making sure she lives a safe, clean and healthy way, she is in charge of her own life and you can't make her want these things for herself.

Finally, her problems are your problems only to the degree you take them on. For example, she is fine with her toe nail bleeding. Eventually it will either heal up or get infected. If it gets infected, eventually it will become a crisis and she will go see a doctor or go the ER. The doctors will fix it and then send her home or determine that she is no longer fit to live on her own. None of these things have to your problem unless you choose to get involved. Same with the teeth. If you were my daughter, I would appreciate all the research that you are doing to find options. But I am not your mother and she doesn't care. So you are volunteering to all that worry for someone who doesn't want it. What happens if you don't? Teeth get rotted, gums get disease until eventually she decides to go see a dentist. The results will be much worse than if she took care of them now but she is choosing not to. If you want to get involved and try to change her mind, that becomes your choice. You might want to choose it, but you don't HAVE to.
posted by metahawk at 7:37 PM on May 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

I have two younger siblings. One of them dropped all contact with our dad, and for good reason. The other was in contact with him infrequently, and for good reason. You truly aren’t responsible for your mother even if society is trying to force you to feel and be responsible for her. Instead, you can try to chart your own way between no contact and total responsibility.

Life is an experiment, so you can experiment. If you call your mother several times a week, consider cutting back to once a week for a month to see how that feels. (That is just an example.) There are people outside of yourself who think they know the ideal way to approach your situation. That is bullshit. There is no ideal way to approach this situation, there is only whatever turns out to be best for you. And you can only find that out through experimentation.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:37 PM on May 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

in all honesty, I don't love my mother.
You are such a brave person to write this, and I'm sending you all the virtual hugs.

People assume that you have to love your parents and that you have to care for them when they age. But what if they never loved you, or never cared for you when you were young? One time, my dad invited me for tea, and with my stepmother sitting in the couch next to him, he told me that he had been ashamed of me for many years. Not because of anything I had done, he was ashamed of having gone through a divorce and having a child from a failed marriage. This was part of a proces that had been going on for some years, all the while with my stepmother as the boss, pushing it on.
But this specific day put the whole puzzle in place for me. It told me that everything I had felt since I was a child was real and true. It's so weird being a child and feeling unloved, but not being able to figure out why or how, like being gaslighted by your parents. During the last decades of his life, my dad and I grew very close. But those words had to be said for it to happen, and he was the one who had to say them.

My mother has never been so brave, though I am pretty sure her feelings about me are similar to my dad's. Just yesterday, I was talking with my sister-in-law about my brother's astma, which he has grown out of, and she didn't know, so I shouted at him, and he came in and talked about it. And I told both of them of how when we were kids, he would be lying in a dark room right here, with our mother holding his little hand and worrying. While I, also suffering from hay fever and astma, was literally sent into the field to help turn the hay. It was good for me to say this out loud, because my brother feels I was spoilt by our grandparents. Damn yeah. They looked at a skinny, sick unloved kid and decided they needed to save her.

The thing is, my mother has actually done worse things to the two children she cared for. My brother and sister are struggling with far worse things than me, but that means they are even less ready to help our mother. I am the primary careperson because I don't care as much. But obviously I do. Caring for my mother now sends me back to being 11 or 12 and struggling to keep things normal for my smaller siblings while my mum raged and ranted and drank herself into oblivion. It sends me back to the stress and fear of being a child with adult responsibilities. I love my siblings, I want them to have a good life. I don't love my mother.
posted by mumimor at 12:52 AM on May 23, 2020 [10 favorites]

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