Mother pushes my buttons.

Started by

I find it hard to fathom that my 88 year old mother could be so mean, manipulative, judgmental, intrusive. I now see a side of her I did not know existed to this extent. The boundaries are skewed, she will open my mail and read it, listens to any and all convos. She will jump at the opportunity to try to belittle me, lay guilt on me. She blames me for just about anything that is not right. Example- dining room light switch not working. I discovered it,so therefore I broke it, I have forgotten to mail letters or lost them, never get it right at grocery store. I fix her a hot nice dinner every night guess what? No gravy? Meat is tough, vegetables undercooked, food is cold. Laundry is gray, not white. Nasty nasty. No she has not been diagnosed with dementia. I am seeing that she likes to belittle me and then hope I will squirm. Sounds ridiculous but the woman can get ugly.
I live with her, take care of her. I am really starting to dislike her. As soon as I express my displeasure or ask her why she is so ungrateful she blows me off, feigning ignorance. Extremely HOH, has had many falls and was very sick recently. She is recovering and I take full credit for weeks of caring for her in all the ways she needed care that you readers all know about. Because she is my mother I hold my tongue but am getting ready to blow or else go go go. Not sure where I would go any where but here. I am trying for the first time in my life to put myself first. I have been a caregiver all my life, ( retired RN) and this toxicity is poisoning me. And I'm not going to let it.
Any words of advice on how to handle this dua ersonaity( sweet cute little grandmother/ nasty b*tch).


You must be living with my mother's evil twin. As you probably already know, you are defenseless against her. If you try to talk to her about being so disrespectful, she will calmly explain to you that it is you who caused the problem. There's nothing you can do except install a reset button and carry on... either that or leave.

Something bad that it does is makes us shut down emotionally when it comes to them. This morning I told my mother I was going to get a ladder. We need one. I didn't think anything about it until a few minutes later she came into my room with her face twisted with anger, saying "No, no, no.!" She lit into me in the most hateful way. I just watched her like the crazy person she was. Finally I said that I was going to spend my own money, so what did it matter. She said that no, I was not going to spend my own money, that I had to save it. Huh? Oh, brother.

At one time this would have upset me greatly. This morning was like meh. The trouble is that everything about caregiving is becoming like meh. I just go through what I'm supposed to be doing without much in the way of emotions anymore. I don't blame myself for this, because I realize that my life would be miserable if I didn't. It feels terrible when family caregiving becomes like a job with no pay. I envy people who have sweet, loving parents.

So... my advice is to install a reset button for yourself and to learn to pull back when she gets angry. The anger really isn't about you. It is probably some rumination going on in her head. When she gets angry and your bp starts to go up, just step back and let it slide off of you. You know that it is her and not you, no matter how she tries to convince you otherwise.

(Sorry for the feel bad message. Caring for an abusive parent is not always the most pleasant thing.)
Emotional shutdown is exactly right. When she tries to nice because she knows she's been nasty, I shut down. Don't want to hear nor do I care what she has to say. I'm waiting for her to ask what's wrong? I almost don't even care to utter the words, it requires energy and I have to conserve because I'm at the end of the caring rope, if you know what I mean. I just can't believe that at the end of her life she would be like this. I am thinking long and hard about leaving. My plan would be to just go. Tell no one and be gone. It has been assumed that I would care for her. I am divorced, children are grown, limited income but not that limited. My 6 sibs do on't ask about me, they assume. They would find out very quickly how I am if they got stuck here for any length of time. They would be pissed off at me that's for sure. But like I mentioned, I'm going to care for me. No more of being the martyr. I'd say it's about time. I am 64 years old.
joaniej, you sound so much like me. I'm 63 and came here after I divorced. I have two brothers, but they don't have much to do with us here. It would be fairly easy financially for me to leave, but the mess that it would make would be big. Still I wonder if I want to spend my retirement years like this. I know I deserve better than this in my life. Wouldn't it be nice to be with people and be able to laugh and cut up? Sounds like heaven.
The reason why she pushes your buttons is because she installed them. An 88 y/o bully who plays victim when her prey starts fighting back. A dash of emotional blackmail and you fall back exactly where she wants you to be: at her feet. Respecting yourself is hard when you've been skillfully pre-conditioned for servitude. And even harder when you accept being treated like a doormat. The heart is fickle, and this is one of those instances when you shouldn't listen to it.
Joaniej, I've been on these discussion boards a few years now, and sometimes I think I've read about everything -- there are few surprises here anymore. But this is out-of-the-ordinary: "I now see a side of her I did not know existed to this extent." It is more typical (at least on these boards) for abusive in-care parents to have been abusive all their lives. For it to pop up for the first time in this situation is not exactly standard. So ... what's changed?

Was she like this before, but perhaps you weren't the victim? Was she manipulative with your dad? Siblings? In-laws?

You say she hasn't been diagnosed with dementia. Does she have any other signs that something is going wrong in her brain? If this is truly new behavior for her, dementia would be a suspect. Other conditions could also cause this. What are her other impairments that require her to have a caregiver? How recently has she had a complete physical? I think I'd start there if I were you. Don't tell her it is because of her behavior! The clinic wants a good baseline exam of all their regular patients over age 85. (Or any reason she might accept.) Put your concerns about her behavioral changes in a note to the doctor before the appointment. Knowing what is causing this might not change anything except your understanding of it. But that is worthwhile.

Eddie is right that parents can be experts at pushing buttons -- generally parents are the ones who installed them. And JessieBelle gives good advice about a re-set button. I also suggest just disconnecting the buttons that are causing you the most pain. If anyone wanted to push one of my buttons they'd say, "the vegetables are cold" or "no gravy?" or "this is a waste of good chicken." Insulting my cooking is fightin' words. It would be very hard, but if I had to disconnect that particular button I'd say, with forced cheerfulness, "Hmm ... my veggies seem hot. Should we trade?" or "Pretend they are the salad tonight, Mother," or "Do you need help rewarming them in the microwave?" Or "So sorry, you didn't mention you wanted gravy when we talked about the menu," or "I'll eat the rest of the chicken dish myself. Would you like cottage cheese for dinner? How about a bowl of Wheaties?" or even, "Oh, Mom, I know how you feel! I used to hate when you tried new recipes! But I won't make you clean your plate. There's some meatloaf from last night if you'd rather have that." In other words, I'd try very hard not to take it personally, not to get riled, and to offer an alternative to her, just as pleasantly as could be.

Is Mom able to prepare meals? Help with grocery lists? Planning menus? I'd try to involve her as much as possible.

I'd try to laugh at mom's ridiculous accusations. "Wow, what power I have! I turn on a light and it breaks. Must be my magnetic personality!" (And I'd also take note of the lack of logic she is exhibiting.)

But none of that is easy. I suggest you deserve some counselling or therapy yourself, to support you as you deal with these behavioral problems of your mother and/or support you in a decision to resign from caregiving.

By the way, IF your mother really needs full-time caregiving, I would advise you against just moving out without notifying anyone. Tell your siblings. Tell her doctor. Give a week or two notice so some other arrangements can be made.

On the other hand, if she is capable of living alone, if she really doesn't need a caregiver and you are simply her volunteer servant, then simply moving out might be more acceptable.

You are NOT required to continue in the caregiving role. The longer you stay in it, the harder it is going to be to leave. Do you want to do this for another 10 years? But I suspect that even if you hate the role, you still love your mother. Respect yourself with the least damage to her. You'll feel better about it in the long run.

My mom, who has Parkinson's, is 93, and has had me as her caregiver for the last 8 yrs and counting, tells me, rarely, that she "still loves me"....really? "still?"...then she complains that we're "not as close as we used to be"...and the reason for that would be what? could it be that she's become the most negative, difficult, needy, clingy, nothing is ever her fault, manipulative person that I've ever met?, because according to her I'm the one who's 'changed'. Every single day is a battle with her and it just keeps getting worse...I simply don't like her and don't want to be around her because of her attitude. No appreciation for all that's done for her, only complaints [or as she calls them 'comments']. If nothing else, when this is over and done with? I will have no regrets and will not sit and wonder if I did all that I could do for her. I try to 'detach' from her...and that's what needs to be done...but it only works for a little while and then I'm right back in the middle of trying to reason with her knowing full well that it's impossible. I wish that I had all kinds of suggestions to give you, Joaniej, but nothing that I've tried has made much difference. Sorry.
sulynn49, in your situation there at least seems to be some explanation. Your mother has a disease of the brain. She has deposits of a defective protein in places in her brain that effect her mobility. She may have some in places that impact her personality. And if more develop in other places she will have what is called dementia.

I'm sure that does not make the whole ordeal of all that negativity less toxic. But at least you know you are absolutely right ... it is not anything you are doing that is causing this negative behavior.

Have you discussed her extreme negativity with the doctor who treats her Parkinson's?

What often puzzles me about these situations is how/why the daughters or daughters-in-law stay in life-sucking role they are in. Wouldn't everyone be better off if Mom were being cared for by people who were trained and paid to do it, and who only dealt with it 5 shifts a week and went home everyday to a more positive situation? What if you were the pleasant, loving, visiting daughter, who could leave if the air got too toxic?

It is easier for me to understand why some old people get so toxic than for me to understand why otherwise healthy and normal daughters saturate their lives in this.

Anyone care to take a stab at explaining it?
My explanation for why otherwise healthy and normal daughters stay in the life-sucking role they are is is that many of them were groomed by their parent in childhood for that current role in adulthood. It's an emotional dance which the parent can't stop, but only the adult child can get out of dancing with. Parents with toxic personalities don't like loosing their dance partner for they are so dependent upon them that they will try everything to hoover them back into the dance and when various things fail, they increase the intensity of Fear, Obligation and Guilt which has always worked effectively in the past when needed in desperation.

See the thread here on AC about emotional abuse.

I don't know why daughter in laws stay in such toxic situations.
Thanks, cmagnum. I suppose that does explain a lot of it. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around, having had loving parents who truly wanted their kids to become independent and happy. (Not perfect parents, but what I've always thought of as "normal" parents.) I've learned on this site how lucky I was, and how hard it is for adults raised this way to extract themselves. And I always hope they will get some help for themselves.

I can't tell from these brief glimpses whether Joaniej and sulynn49 were really groomed for this role since childhood, or whether this is a condition that arose in their parents' old age.
Yes, you were blessed.

I meant to write see the thread on AC about emotional blackmail.

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