I am an only child. How do I deal with taking care of my 85-year-old mom alone?

Asked by

I am exhausted. The kind of tired I'm talking about can't even be put into words. I'm physically tired, mentally tired, emotionally tired dealing with and taking care of my mom. We've never been close. Not one minute of one day. She was very verbally and physically abusive when I was growing up, she's always been a chronic complainer who's never satisfied, and never happy about anything. Nothing has ever been good enough for her, nothing is ever done 'right' in her eyes, and she's always talked to me as though I'm a brain dead idiot without two brain cells. When I was in school I was never allowed to do my own work. If I brought something home to do from school, she completely took over and did the entire thing, which caused a lot of resentment and anger in me. I still hear about how' ungrateful' I was to this day, and I'm 45.

I was so happy to be gone from her house and life. I had a job I loved, my little duplex, my wonderful yard, my dog, my social life. Then she starts calling. She wants me to move in here. I was horrified. It was no, no, no, and NO. My mom is also a die hard control freak of the worst kind. She's always felt the need to tell me what to do, how to do it, and when I could and couldn't do it. I've never been able to make even the most simple decision for myself without total chaos if she disagrees with it. Needless to say we've been at war a long time. She's the type that won't ever forget, or ever let anything drop. The slightest disagreement with her results in all out craziness. She views anyone disagreeing with her as a direct attack, and god forbid you go against her wishes. There is, and has always been, hell to pay. She'll go on and on and on about it for weeks, months, years. It just never ends. I was so happy to be gone. When she started asking me to move in here, I almost went into heart failure. I knew what was coming. For over a year and a half I dealt with endless phone calls, messages on my machine, threats, crying, screaming, name calling, theatrics that could of won academy awards, pleading, guilt trips, etc. Finally, I gave in and moved in here just to shut her up and get some peace. It was the biggest mistake I've ever made. I should have known there would be no peace.

When I first moved in, I was working full time, at a job that paid well, and that I loved. Unfortunately, every time I turned around, I had to take time off of work. My mom was in and out of the hospital for one thing or another, she had to go to doctor's appointments, she wanted me home because she wasn't feeling well, etc. I ended up losing my job because of so many absences.

After losing my job, I worked hard to keep up with the house, which is big, and the yard, which is huge, over an acre. I couldn't please the woman, and still can't. She complains from the minute she wakes up, until she goes to bed about what a 'lazy ass' I am, how I 'never do sh*t for her', and on and on and on. When I get one part of the house spotless, she complains that I didn't do the other half. When I start on the rest, she complains that the yard isn't done. I CAN'T take care of the yard, I'm one person, and a yard that big needs a crew, but she says I'm 'making excuses as usual'.

I feel like a rat in a trap. I clean up after my mom when she has some horrific accidents, I try and make sure she's clean and eats healthy, I try and keep up with everything related to her and her care, but it's just never enough, and I'm reminded of that daily. She ended up with an ear infection, and she even complained when I'd put the drops in her ears, saying I 'wasn't doing it right'. I didn't realize there was a 'wrong' way to put 4 drops in someone's ear. This is the story of my life with this woman.

I've been here almost 3 years now, and I feel literally like I'm a little crazy. There isn't one single day that goes by that my head isn't pounding. Noone wants to be around the woman. She runs them off with her never ending 'poor me' stories and misery. This isn't old age related either. She's been this way all my life, only now it's a 1000 times worse. She refuses to allow anyone in the house to care for her, and she won't go to a retirement home. I never leave these four walls anymore. I am angry, depressed, exhausted, weary, and sometimes I really wish either she would hurry up and die, or I would. Then comes the crushing guilt. I feel like a horrible awful person for feeling resentment and anger at being put in this situation, because there is noone else. I'm it. I have no friends in RL, I lost them all when I moved in here. I can't and won't invite anyone over here anyway, because my mom will not hesitate to tell anyone who'll listen how awful and horrible I am. Workers that come to the house, total strangers, hear all about it. Right now, I'm not living, I'm just existing, and most days I wish I wasn't. Thanks for listening. I needed that off my chest.

Answers 1 to 10 of 10
Expert Answer
3930 helpful answers
Thanks for sharing your heartbreaking story. You really aren't "standing alone" - at least you reached out to agingcare.
You must get out of this situation. Please contact your local non-profit social services or county social services and find a way to get counseling. You'd be better off in a women's shelter, as you are being abused.
You are right - you aren't living, you are existing. And now your are financially dependent, which is what your mother wanted - more control.
Please get help to learn how to detach and move on - even if you have to leave without giving any forwarding information. If your mom really needs care, let social services know she will be living alone. This situation is endangering your health, and could endanger your life. If you can't find help through local agencies, please at least talk with a church pastor. Someone there can help you find resources to get out of this situation, but you have to start the process.
Please take care of yourself.
Standingalone, First of all you went against your gut when it told you NO NO NO to moving in with your estranged mother, now you need a do over. You've gotta take back the control that you relinquished to your chronically complaining mother. Tell her you're moving out in 'X' amount of time, but that you'll help her find a place to go, or a person to help her before you go. You'll need to find a job somewhere in there I know, but maybe you could crash with a friend or someone if the deadline comes and you still don't have work. Either way, you know in you GUT that this is the right thing to do. This time listen and heed your instincts, they're usually right. Unless you're a martyr then all bets are off.
Were our mothers separated at birth!? My mom is only narcissisic and OCD, you have it worse than I do, you have one that is pre-dimentia at least. Mine is just aggrivating, clinging and needy, yours is harmful to you and eventually, believe me, to herself as well. Nothing you do will ever be able to please her, I guarantee if she goes into assisted living or nursing home she will drive them nuts too, but that is what they are paid for. Mine is a bad enough patient when she is in hospital, having her phases of being Queen Elizabeth, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis, sometimes all rolled into one, while trying to convince everyone that is not in charge of her care that she is Betty White or Donna Reed. Yours sounds straight Joan Crawford. I came back here from a life I loved in CA and have not had a satisfying day since. My last vacation was in '03 (which was satisfying but it was away from here, and mom was more mobile in those days), since then it has been a steady decline of freedom and a steady increase in tension and reponsability. I was able to get a little help through the senior center in our county, we have wonderful Tina come in two hours a day 4 days a week, she does housecleaning and if mom needs help with her personal things she helps her too. The housecleaning thing does take a little pressure off me so that I can get out for a little shopping or personal business occasionally. Mom literally expects me to be at her every beck and call, even if she is in one room and I in another she will talk to me as if I were waiting just outside the door for her use. Generally, I find that there is absolutely nothing satisfying in my life. If you do not have POA, try to get it, or gather info enough to have her declared incompetant, get her into assisted living and GET OUT!!! You are only 45, she WILL keep you under her thumb as long as you let her and as long as she can through any kind of manipulation she can use. If she is in relatively good health this is only the beginning, it will get nothing but worse. I am wrestling with the possibility of even bringing up the subject of sending my mom to a nursing or assisted living home that we cannot really afford, and I know that she will cry and dump guilt trips on me but the reality of the situation is that I am 68, with a few problems of my own, and it is getting harder and harder for me to take care of her, the house (which is not worth much in this lousy real estate market), the yard, and still have any time left over to live a life. I feel my own waining years dwindle away, and it makes me very sad and depressed. You cannot shoulder the responsability of satisfying her narcissisic, obsessive personality all alone. A parent who was truely able to love would not ask you to or treat you thus. You owe her nothing. Protect yourself, you are the only one who can.
Standing Alone..... My heart goes out to you. I have a friend that has a situation similar to yours with her mother and I have seen my friend's health decline trying to be everything to her demanding, unable to please mother. I believe my friend has allowed herself to be her mother's whipping post because she is hoping to inherit her mother's savings. If you are staying for similar financial reasons, please remind yourself that any money you inherit will not be worth giving up your health for. Stress takes it toll and you sound stressed to the max.

I agree with some others here who have said for you to tell your mother you are going to make arrangements for her care and then do it. You have to take care of yourself FIRST!!!

I also have to say that since joining a good Bible based church a few years ago, I have been amazed to find out that you actually can give your problems to the Lord and he will be happy to do your worrying for you. I know it's easier said than done but it's true. He wants to help you. You just need to ask.

I will say a prayer that things will start turning in the right direction for you. Take care and God Bless!
I thought I wrote this...but then I'm not an only child....Seek Respite care..it will give you time to collect your thoughts and decide which direction to go before it's too late...caregiving does take a toll...trust me....I don't think guilt will ever subside but you will feel more at ease once you make a decision...do it for you
My heart bleeds for you because my mom has the same personality. Although I am not an only child my sister practically jumped for joy when I told her I would move her near to were I live.......the stipulation was that she go into a continuing care facility.
After many months of researching and the help of a free service called "A Place for Mom" I was able to place her in a lovely facility....I took her right from the airport to the facility(she's in assistant living) and she was miserable and nasty for about 6 months. But I knew I could never live with her at my home.....Now she seems to be adjusting (it's about a year) and I visit her once a week and call her a few times during the week. She has no friends there (which, I expected because she never has had any) but has learned the "ropes" to be friendly to the aids who have now become her "friends" It was a hard decision but the right one because
she is being well cared for and taking her meds regularly and is living better than she ever has before.......When the days come when I feel guilty I just remind myself of my childhood and how she treated me. And I know she would never give up anything for me if it didn't benefit her. She has been a miserable person all her life and you can't change that........So think about it---It was the best decision I ever made
I am so happy that you are reaching out!!! You are not alone. 1st pray for guidence and then go get it. Caregiver groups are free and so are some of the 1 on 1 counciling. I found mine and you can also. Do it for you. You deserve it!
Standing Alone, I too am an only child of an 88 year old mom. Unlike you, our relationship has always been great. For the last 3 years I've been taking care of my mom at her home, going back and forth from my home, she was progressivley getting worse, but I tried to keep ladies coming in around the clock, until that wasn't even enough. I had a very debilitating stroke in 1986 when I was 30 years old, I began last year to have stroke symptoms again from all the stress, that is when I knew I had to do something, so I got her into assisted living in Sept of 2010 almost a year ago. She has had a very hard time adjusting, and at first she would tell me " I wouldn't treat a dog like you've treated me". We've pretty much gotten over that hurdle, and we are close once again. I doesn't matter what decision you make, at times you have to get to the point you think about your own health. I realize I have not given you much to go on . Please do what is best for YOU. God Bless you. Just remember you are never alone.
Dear Standing Alone: I hope this message goes through-problems on the first try, so hope it works this time. I can relate to your situation totally, I am a 62 y/o only child and caring for my 86 y/o Mom as well as a 90 y/o neighbor of hers (another story) in an independent senior apt, but I do not live with her. So much time is spent running back & forth doing everything similar to your duties. I am often exhausted to the max. I have not yet found any respite care that I would not have to pay for, and we have no spare money. However, these are my suggestions to you: It is essential to mentally detach yourself from her on an emotional level -difficult but necessary to deal with the hurtfulness and the challenges. Your mother is abusing you and controlling you, and even as an adult you allow her to do so. This will probably escalate to physical abuse as the dementia progresses, so don't wait for that to happen before you take action. Keep in mind, she begged you to come live with her, because on some deep level she recognized that she was declining in her ability to care for herself. She will never recognize you as an adult - as long as you continue to react to her from the postion of her *child*, she will continue to control you. You moved in as the adult to manage her care and her household -that is your mission, and that is your business to manage - treat is as such. On your own, consult in person with her doctor, and explain everything about her behavior, her treatment of you, and your caregiving duties. Ask him to have her mentally/psych evaluated-most likely she will be found mentally incompetent. Also ask him to write a script (so med ins covers it) to have a visiting nurse come to the house to evaluate her needs. Take advantage of their recommendations for skilled home care, PT,OT, and or a custodial aide. Even if it's just a few hours a day, it will free you up. Also on your own, immediately consult with an elder care attorney. Discuss Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and her Will, if there is one bring it with you. You should also be joint holder of her bank accounts, as well as owner and beneficiary if her life insurance, annuities, etc. The attorney will clarify all of these issues. If your mother is declared mentally incompetent, you will have the green light to manage everything. In that case, you should seriously consider selling the house. In the meantime, hire somebody to do the yard work and maybe some of the household duties if it is too much for you. She evidently can afford it, so do it and don't let her tell you she won't allow it. She is not in a position to dictate to you any longer, so don't you allow her to get away with it. What does an 86-y/o woman need with a big house and so much land? You could use the money from selling the house to get her into an assisted living facility, and maintain control of her quality of care, and visit her as often as you care to. Use the lawyer to guide you in all of the above issues. Make a task list of everything you need to attend to ain order to acheive your goals so you don't lose track of them. In between all this, join a support group if you think it will help or just get out one night a week to save your sanity - she will live. Investigate respite care and use it whether she likes it or not - you may be *standing alone* but you won't be *standing* much longer if you don't get some help. Be strong - take control - you can do it.
I am in a similar situation, but I am 47 years old and my father is 73 years old. My situation is similar to what orangeblossom5 wrote. Yesterday, was my last straw with my father. He lives by himself, but I am required to do everything. He treats me like I am the child, but at the same time the parent at times. He is very emotionally abusive and has been controlling me with guilt, and criticism. He has lost two wives, including my mother due to being verbally and physically abusive. I realize that my father is a woman abuser. He is also an alcoholic. I have decided since he will not move into assisted living, or a nursing home, that I am not going to enable him any longer. I have a life to live and I have the right to be happy and free.

He is not a healthy person emotionally for me to be around. He said some things to me yesterday that convinced me that I deserve better. He has been putting my mother down and that is very hurtful to me. I realize why he does not have anyone coming to see him, because he is a mean, selfish, miserable person. He tries to control everyone, even his friends. I have allowed him to ruin my self esteem and self respect. I have to move on, and let the chips lay where they may. He has chosen to live on his own. I am not his slave or his wife. I am not a door mat.

I have had it with him. I want my life back.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

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