My widowed Mom just wants attention, ALL the attention.

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My mother is a still very beautiful 82 yr old woman who was widowed 2 and 1/2 yrs ago. My dad totally adored and babied her. She babied me (an only child), but didn't like his attention on me at all. He babied her up until his dying day. Now she's turned her guns on me, expecting me and my husband to be at her beck and call. She can 'act' better than anyone I've ever seen-- especially act sick. Her physical last month showed she's perfectly healthy, her blood pressure, cholesterol, urine, etc were all wonderful, the dr was amazed! But in her mind, she is an invalid and she calls people on the phone and puts on this sick act like she's at deaths door so well that almost everyone thinks she's honestly sickly. She stops eating and makes herself weak and feels sick. She's lost about 25 lbs the past yr and is always exclaiming,'' Oh look how thin and poor I look! I've just got to have something wrong! That dr must be overlooking something!"

She's run off all her friends and expects me to call every night to listen to her moan and groan about everything under the sun. I have a newly retired husband who wants to live a little before we run out of time. He wants to take a cruise, go camping, something! I have rheumatoid arthritis and am not able to do much myself but could do that. I am just so upset I can hardly type this-- I know I'm probably not making much sense! People in the family have told me to just tell my mom that I'm busy, or I cant deal with her right now, but she always gets sick by not eating and then I have to take her to the dr and get xrays or mri's or whatever tests she can convince the doctors to run on her....

I'm so fed up I don't feel like I can make it! I love her and feel so guilty about even writing this, but I don't know what to do. Unless I sit with her and spoon feed her I honestly think she will starve herself to death. We recently moved her from her large home in the country to a two bedroom apartment closer to her doctors and shops. She desperately wanted to move from her country home because she was afraid of the isolation, but now that shes in her nice apartment she's decided she HATES it! Nothing but complaints about it from her. My husband and I have just about killed ourselves trying to make her apartment look as much like her house as we can, hung pictures and copper kitchen things on the walls, etc, and it's very pretty. She is just so unhappy.... She wants daddy back and things to be like they were before, where she is queen of the castle and calling all the shots. I just wish I could convince her to EAT and to get involved with senior activities. She wont even give anything a try. (she has used not eating to get attention from my dad back when I was a young girl in the 60's so I know she will continue to use this method to control me) I talked to her dr about how she wont eat and he just got in her face and said,'' EAT. You're HEALTHY." She remembers this, but still wont eat. She can't afford to live in an assisted living facility and doesnt want to. Does anyone have any advice for me? I just want her to live her life and let me have the rest of mine before it's too late. My husband is 64 and I'm 61.....

Thank you in advance.


If you're sure your mom doesn't have a mental illness, then she's a fully functioning adult woman. She can choose to eat or not. Is it possible she's depressed? If that's possible, I'd get that treated and then it's up to her to make herself happy. She's the only one who can do that.

You owe your mom care and concern and you've done everything humanly possible to get her set up to be happy (or at least not miserable). If she doesn't want to take that opportunity, it's not up to you to twist yourself into a pretzel to make that happen. You don't have to be her entertainment committee. You don't have to give up your life in service to her. She sounds like she'd still be miserable even if you did! She wants her old life back, but you can't give that to her. No one can.

So live your life and be happy with your husband and be a loving daughter to your mom, but don't try to be her savior. Only she can fill that role.

Thank you Blannie. You've written exactly what my aunts and daughter have told me... BUT when I try to be independent then she stops eating and ends up getting sick. She's fallen from weakness, or eaten wrong things and made her colitis act up so bad she's had fever with it! She is on an antidepressant, but I've seen her act up like this all my life. I had NO idea how much daddy was protecting me from! Now that he's gone, I'm all she has. I've told her straight out that while I love her, I have a life with my husband and we need our space and I wont be calling her every single night (or day). She cant understand why I wouldn't want to check up on her in case she's fallen or sick or something. (she has one of those medic alert buttons around her neck) We go a couple of days without me calling her and then I hear from her that she's so sick and sure enough she IS. I cant understand it, all I can figure out is she knows how to make herself sick for attention.

She LOVES attention of all kinds, I've never seen anyone so full of themselves. I'm afraid if we go off on vacation that she will pull something and get 'sick' and ruin our trip. There is no one to take care of her but me. We went on a trip about 10 yrs ago for a month down to a condo and when I called to check in after a few days I asked her how she and daddy were and she hesitated then said,'' Oh..... we're... fine..." like something was wrong. Daddy had been having some mini strokes so I asked her if something was wrong with daddy and she immediately brightened up and asked,'' How could you tell?!" all happy like she was getting attention vicariously through him. She said the dr said he was ok, for us not to hurry home, etc. But her tone of voice was so off that it worried me. The rest of our trip I kept my cell phone by me in case he had a stroke and we had to hurry back home. When we got home he was just like when we left! And she acted like she had no idea why I was upset. She is in her right mind, she is just spoiled. I am just going to have to have another talk with her--- which she will promptly forget and we'll go back to the same old life... I'm so tired of being used. What's weird is that she traveled and partied and had a great life and let my aunt take care of my grandmother-- she didn't have any problems being sick then! But if I mention that to her she starts crying and saying how guilty she feels about my grandmother now and if she only knew then what she knows now she'd have done ANYTHING for her mother... I know I sound like a wimp, but it's hard when I'm the only child and don't have any help with her.
You sound like a wimp, but a well-trained wimp. Your mother is pushing all those buttons she installed during childhood, especially the guilt button.

She is blackmailing you with the not-eating threat. You say she did this during your childhood, too. Well, she obviously didn't starve to death then, and I assure you she won't starve to death now.

She wants to make herself sick for attention? She can get her attention from doctors. Maybe one of them will suggest psychiatric treatment.

Your aunts and daughter are right.

You don't need another "talk" with her. You need to establish some boundaries and ENFORCE them. Go o a cruise. Once you are on board you couldn't rush back to her if you wanted to. She has a medical alert button. She knows how to dial 911. You are not her living relative.

GO ON A CRUISE! (You might want a few sessions with a counselor first, to reinforce what your aunts an daughter and people on the forum are telling you.)
stcroix1970, since your Mom likes to cry wolf, do one better, tell her that since she is so very sick, you are now looking around for smaller facility for her. She will be trading in her nice apartment to a one room suite which will be easier for her to keep clean :) Who knows, she might think twice about this so called game she is playing. Some day something serious might happen and no one will be paying any attention.... [sigh]
stcroix, my mother cries wolf so often that I don't know if I would be able to tell if there was really anything urgent. It does worry me that yours will even stop eating to prove the wolf is at the door. It almost sounds like a mild form of Munchausen's syndrome -- a mental disorder where illness is feigned in order to get medical attention. Munchausen's is usually more extreme, though. Still I suspect that your mother has learned that factitious sicknesses get her attention. It sounds like maybe some psychological therapy might help her.

These types of disorders are disheartening to a caregiver. How do we establish boundaries without appearing like we're uncaring? I understand the feeling, since I live with my mother and the discussion of symptoms begin in the morning and go throughout the day. To preserve yourself and your marriage, you have to set those boundaries. You can't just run to her because she decided not to eat. That is rewarding bad behavior, which it seems is what she wants. Instead make her an appointment with a therapist so she can talk about it with him/her to find out why she needs to do this.

I get the feeling your dad spoiled your mom, as you wrote, and that she was the beautiful belle of his ball. Now she is an 82-year old widow. That must have been a very hard fall for her. It would be nice if she would form friendships with people her own age, maybe learn to dance and get a dance partner. There is still a lot of life to enjoy, since she has her health. Maybe some therapy will help her find her way and take the burden off your shoulders.
Have you ever heard of FOG? It stands for Fear Obligation and Guilt. It's the way your mom is controlling you.

Make an appointment with a therapist and talk about this. You need help understanding how to set boundaries with your very narcissistic and manipulative mother. Talk to her doctor about a referral to a geriatric psychiatrist. And book the cruise.
She would be well suited to Assisted Living. With her SS supplemented by the money from the house sale, ends should be able to meet. Once we got Mom to an ALF, the feigned illnesses stopped. She is now getting the meds instead of skipping them and she has lots of people around her to keep her mind off of ailments.
Heck, I'd play her game right back at her. Very sweetly tell her that you think it's time to move her to the nursing home if she's so sick she needs constant care. Call her bluff!

You've gotten great advice and I agree with the mild version of Munchausen's. Here's the definition of the mental illness: "It is a mental illness, in which a person repeatedly acts as if he or she has a physical, emotional or cognitive disorder when, in truth, he or she has caused the symptoms. People with factitious disorders act this way because of an inner need to be seen as ill or injured, not to achieve a concrete benefit, such as financial gain. They are even willing to undergo painful or risky tests and operations in order to get the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly ill. Some will secretively injure themselves to cause signs like blood in the urine or cyanosis of a limb. Cyanosis is the condition occurring when the blood supply is cut off to a particular part of the body and the skin takes on a dusky blue color. Factitious disorder imposed on self is associated with severe emotional difficulties.

Originally called Munchausen syndrome, named for Baron von Munchausen, an 18th century German officer who was known for embellishing the stories of his life and experiences—is the most severe type of factitious disorder. Most symptoms in people with this disorder are related to physical illness—symptoms such as chest pain, stomach problems, or fever—rather than those of a mental disorder."
Stcroix, I'm so sorry to hear what you're going through. My situation is somewhat similar to yours in that there is nothing wrong with my mom, she has been tested dozens of times for so many things yet always comes up healthy as a horse! My dad died 4yrs ago (he did everything for her) and since then me and my 3 brothers lives have been a living hell and it keeps getting worse. After countless doctors, 3 months at a treatment facility(that was a good 3 months:), we have never been given a diagnosis, but words have been thrown out: malingerling, fictious disoder, psuedodemtia. Oh, the lies and everyday games have mentally beat us down and torn us apart. We have come to realize we can never do enough for her, we can't make her happy.
I agree with Pam and would try to find a way to make AL work for you and your family. Maybe she will get the attention she wants from there. That is our next plan of action, but as my mom is only 66yrs old I think we are far from done!
Good luck to you
Your mom sounds like a very self-absorbed person who expected/demanded to be babied/spoiled by your dad and after spoiling/babying you, she now feels entitled to be babied/spoiled by someone which is you as payback for all the spoiling/babying she did for you.

She must have been spoiled/babied all her entire childhood up to meeting and marrying your dad. Thus, she has developed a very dependent personality which is very manipulating. The personality she has comes from her life experiences and how she has learned/chosen to respond to them.

At this late age, I would not expect her to change, but you can change by setting boundaries and refusing to dance her emotional dance with her. You didn't make her how she is. You can't fix her nor can you control her. All you can really do is recognize where she is and to put your personality on a healthier path.

That's easier said than done, but for your own well being and for the well being of your marriage, that needs to be done. If you have any grown children, you need to set such boundaries to show them a good example for them to follow as adults in their marriages.

You don't owe her being her emotional babying/spoiling substitute for your dad. You are a married adult with your own life and you need to go forward and live it.

I gather that she does not live in your home and I would advice against that and would never advise moving in with her. I think she needs to go to assisted living, find an elderly boyfriend who will spoil/baby her for the attention she gives to him and she would probably eat that up.

BTW, what does your husband think about this whole dynamic? I would imagine he's ready for you to stop dancing with mom, and for you two to live your lives. He's your primary focus for he's the one your married to. You can't be your mom's emotional substitute for your dad. That's not good for you or her in the long run.

I wonder if some men were raised with the idea that to be a good husband meant their role was to spoil/baby their wives because I've seen this dynamic before. In the long run it is not good for the wife or the adult children.

Good, luck. Keep in touch and let us know how things go.

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