I have come to the point where I just want to withdraw from 99% of responsibility for helping to take care of my mother.

Started by

My mother is 86 and still lives in her own home. She is very hearing impaired but refuses to admit it and get hearing aids. It's agony trying to talk to her on the phone, so I've almost given up. She refuses to allow anyone to clean and de-clutter her house even though it is a safety hazard. Every time I try to have a conversation with her on the phone, I end it after about one minute because otherwise it will become a screaming event - she is verbally abusive to me (to put it mildly) - and I will end it by hanging up on her. Ten minutes later, she acts like nothing happened and I'm still in the turmoil of hurt feelings and rocketing blood pressure. I'm 67 and I do not want to continue to subject myself to this stress. A few months ago, I thought I was going to have a stroke or heart attack due to the stress. I do have one sibling, brother, and he drives my mother to some medical appointments and to the grocery store or walmart. I take her to most of her doctor appointments. I have decided to stop making even simple suggestions that might help keep her safe and able to continue to live in her home. Every suggestion is met with defensive remarks about how she's managing just fine. All of her defensive statements to me are in a shrill, sometimes screaming, voice. She sometimes screams "okay, mama!" I want to stop communicating with her. And, so, I'm feeling very guilty about it. What has anyone else done in this situation?


I brought up the hearing problem a couple times and was shot down. So I told my mom that if she wanted to hear better, to let me know and I'd make an audiologist appointment. When she started to get upset, I told her I'd never bring it up again and haven't. She never has asked for a hearing check up. Her choice.

I also stopped making suggestions that would keep her safe. I know she stands unassisted, which is so dangerous, but she isn't going to stop.

We too, have those rip into you and then act like nothing happened conversations. I attribute that to it being such an old habit, she doesn't even snap to what she's doing. And age related memory loss. I can't stop her from trying to rip into me but I can stop it before it does damage.

Detach. Detach. Detach. Reduce contact with her.
Your mom most likely has some level of dementia. Her executive reasoning, and hearing, are failing. Arguing and yelling will accomplish nothing.

You could notify APS that you can no longer keep her safe. Eventually she will end up in the ER and from there to a care facility.

It’s terrible but sometimes there’s no other way and it’s quite common. I just went through the whole mess with my parents getting them into care.
I have found that the elderly have problems with hearing aides. So, if you got her one she probably would not wear it. As my brother said to me...it's me not her. I am the one that's OCD. If it doesn't bother Mom don't let it bother you. When she gets abusive walk away or tell her when talking on the phone tell her that your hanging up till she can talk to you nicely. Remember you r the child. No parent likes their kids telling them what they should do.
If this is new behaviour tell her doctor. She may need her meds checked or have an evaluation.
You're already feeling guilty? You haven't done anything yet!

If you are feeling guilt at the mere thought of -

I'm not sure what to call it. Your mother has *asked* you to leave her alone. The shouting matches and her abusiveness result from your not leaving her alone. And you still feel guilty at even so much as the thought of leaving her - not even alone, just leaving her to it. You'll still *be* there when she needs you.

Are you sure you're feeling guilty, as such, rather than utterly stressed out and sick at heart over a completely impossible situation?

Do you live close enough to drop the phone calls altogether, pretty much, but instead visit once or twice a week? Phone calls with people who can't hear - there goes my eyelid tic again! - are a trial, so that gets your conversations off to a bad start. I'm just wondering if visits in person, that you can end cheerfully as soon as you've heard and seen enough, might be easier to handle.

Have you talked to your brother about how your mother is? What's his take on it?
Sometimes what feels like guilt is actually the conflict within you between feeling like you should be taking care of your mom, and wanting to protect yourself from the nastiness. If your nature is to be nurturing, then it's very difficult to accept a need to pull back. Cm's advice above is pretty solid.
Detach. Detach. Detach. Reduce contact with her. Especially reduce contact where you are trying to get her to do something she doesn't want to do.

You certainly don't have to tolerate her verbal abuse. "I'll come back when you are feeling less upset, Mother."

I'm 72 and getting used to hearing aides. It is MUCH harder than I expected. I'm not at all confident that someone 86 and perhaps somewhat cognitively impaired would be successful. I have no experience with them, but I know there are phones available for the hearing-impaired. I wonder if that would be a better option to try?

I completely understand with the frustration. It's not easy, thats for sure!
guiltandanger, I hear you (no pun intended) about the frustration of trying to communicate with a mother who has hearing problems (and won't do anything about them). I have to repeat Every. Darned. Thing to my mother.

My mother is 91, and lives alone (in a one-story condo) about 7 minutes from me. Atrial fibrillation, blind in one eye, very poor balance, neuropathy in her feet, hard of hearing, and her reasoning is going. I am her Dummy Driver Daughter. 

She obsesses about things. Her main crusade is against Big Pharma-caused Vitamin B6 toxicity. She's convinced she had it (she didn't), and now she is waging war against the makers of Centrum Silver. She has talked to the FDA, NIH, med malpractice attorney, state medical board and a local medical school. She filed a FOIA request from the FDA, and she has no idea what she's doing. She is convinced that the FDA and NIH are going to force the pharmaceutical companies to change their vitamin formulations on HER orders. !?!?! She called the FDA again last week, and they told her they will "open an investigation." (I'm sure it will be an open-and-shut investigation.) She wanted me to email her "documentation" to the FDA. I balked, and she started the crying (and I'm sure shaking, although I didn't see it since this was over the phone) routine, calling me a "nasty person," that I owed her, that I didn't do much at all for her, etc. I caved and said I would do ONE mail, and that was it. She decided to give me $20. Yes, I took it. I wasn't going to ask for it, but maybe this $20 will discourage her from asking me to do this sort of thing again. And if I hadn't taken the $20, she might have tried to do get me to do more.

They are going to want her Centrum vitamin bottles at some point. She thinks the FDA will send someone to her door to get them (good luck with that, Mom....even if they come to the door you will never hear the doorbell ring!). I'm sure she will be instructed to mail them. If this is the case, I will drive her to the post office, and she can wait on that line and deal with the rude clerks. It will be during a day and time when we are already out and about. 

Oh, and my mother said her hearing is going, and that it happens to everyone. And to wait until I am 91! She refuses to consider hearing aids.

I can imagine how well these telephone conversations go during her crusades...

She's also hot about the USPS not delivering to her (approved) doorside mailbox instead of a cluster mailbox during the last week or so. One of her senators will be getting a call about THAT (might have already happened).
I DON'T have "care" of my mother, but your post resonates with me.

She occasionally wants me to call someone to chew them out about something--a catalog that she ordered from and isn't happy with their product--her paper didn't come, her mail is mishandled. The list is endless.

Mostly I listen to her vent. If it's a problem that I CAN, in fact, deal with for her, I ASK MY BROTHER first (he has control of her) and if he lets me, I deal with the problem at hand.

It's always kind of silly and small, but to her, it's huge. I try to respect that her life is very compromised and "small" and to her these issues are big. I am glad she's not mad at the president or someone in "power", that I simply won't do.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support