How do you deal with the guilt of leaving them alone, even when they say they want to stay in their home?

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I think we need more information in order to grasp what all is going on.

1. How old is your mother?

2. What are her health problems?

3. What if any assistance is she getting at home like meals on wheels, home health, etc.?

4. Has a doctor evaluated her and said it is no longer safe for her to live at home alone or really should not live at home at all?

5. If you have any siblings, what opiniion(s) do they have?

The ability to live in one's home is very, very important to an older person and they go through a very great sense of loss when they have to leave. Like my mother, they will fight it until the bitter end when medically it just become impossible for them to live at home.

I wish you the best in dealing with this.

One last question, have you considered getting some counseling to help you sort through and deal with your feelings of guilt? If not, I suggest that you do.
Okay, here we go.....

1. Mom is 89.
2. No physical health problems to speak of. She takes 3 meds per day, 2 for blood pressure, 1 for thyroid. She sees her doctor twice a year and always gets a clean bill of health. She still bowls once a week on a senior's league. She does, however, have dementia.
3. No assistance. I live with her.
4. Nope. At this point she's okay to be in her home.....she needs "looking after," not physical care. She's fine with her personal hygiene (mostly - washing her hair is an issue), she gets her own breakfast and lunch, she dusts the house and makes her bed. She cannot do her laundry or cook anything. She does not wander, in fact, she's afraid to go outside farther than the mailbox. She has no short term memory...will forget what you're talking about when you get to the end of a sentence. She makes up a lot of stories.
5. I'm an only child. Great, huh?

The issue here is that I'm moving out. I'm re-marrying. Being with my mother almost 24/7 is not a good thing for me......and ultimately, for her. I'm stressed, I'm unhappy. I get accused of things I do not do, and although I know it's the dementia, it's hard to deal with on a constant basis. I think some distance is needed and that I will be a better caregiver and daughter because of it. I'm only moving 20 minutes away. I will zip over there on my lunch hour, I will go over and make sure she eats dinner. I will be there at least one weekend day. I'm planning on contacting her church to see if some kindly folks can spend some time with her a couple of days a week....if not, there are a few agencies in our area that will provide some companionship (she won't go to an adult daycare facility......she doesn't want to be around all those "old people").

Mom's not happy about me leaving. She enjoys being waited on, and part of the problem is that I think I've been playing into that. She lived alone for 3 years after my dad passed, and that's the first time in her life she lived by herself...and she hated it. She "guilted" me into moving in with her, and I've been placed in the role of my father, who waited on her hand and foot. But I'm still feeling guilty about leaving. And the more I think about it, the more I think I'm dealing with "only child guilt," and that somehow I feel I have to do it all myself.
Top Answer
Thanks for answering these questions for they give me more to work with.

I'm glad that you are getting married and appluad you for your many good insights into the dynamics which led you there, would possibly keep you there and makes it tough to get out of there. Even more reason to get therapy, to get the book Boundaries in Marriage, and for your future husband and you to go over this book and make some intentional, practical plans otherwise he might run from the marriage because he feels that he might loose you to your mom.

I"m an only child whose mother absorbed into herself emotionally like a spouse. Your mom has used the all too often used F.O.G. routine of emotional black mail better known as Fear, Obligation and Guilt. It sounds like she can function well on her on, but she wants you to keep filling the role of your dad not in the sense of a partner but like, frankly, a slave. I've also been through the issue of my wife being over connected with her mother (we both have our mother issues we have been in therapy for) and so I know from the perspective of a husband what it is like to feel like there is more than one woman in your bed, that your wife is more married to her mother than to you, etc.

You don't have to do it all your self and be the over functioning, overly responsible super adult as if you were functioning like your mom's mom. That an't your role. You are your mother's adult child. Evidently, she does not like that and wants you to revert emotionally to being her little girl once again. It sounds like she has a tough time with adult/adult relationships and prefers relating people in more of an adult/child relationship which is not fair to you or to your future husband.

You're dealing with some powerful family of origin issues here that you did not create, you can't control what she tries to do in keeping you in those dynamics nor can you fix. All you really can do is to work on getting you on a healthier path, protect yourself and your marriage with sound boundaries, and if she chooses to get on a healthier path fine and if not fine because it is not up to you to martyr yourself or destroy your future marriage as some sort of savior that's supposed to die for her.

Again, I wish you well, but the freedom you need most likely will not be gained on your on efforts alone.
A couple of more questions since you said that you are re-marrying.

Did your mother and her ability to play the guilt card with you have anything to do with your previous marriage breaking up? If it did, that is even more reason to get counseling.

Do you think it would be a reasonable statement to make, 'mom I must move own with my own life, I can't be daddy anymore for I'm re-marrying and this means that I will not longer be able to wait on your hand and foot, but it does not mean that I'm abandoning your. You are just going to have to go be with those older people some and let people from church come buy and help you, etc.
Thank you so much for your insights! Believe me, I realize and agree with them all, and see them all occurring in my (and my mother's) life. As you well know, being an only child brings a whole different set of dynamics to the adult parent/adult child relationship....growing up, the only child is usually the product of one very strong parental figure and one more easy-going and somewhat detached. My mother (and it's usually the woman) was the dominant figure in my family. By her very personality she exerted all the control and no one questioned her authority. Now, this is not to say that she was abusive in any way, physically (oh my goodness, no! I was only spanked once in my life!) or emotionally (well, let's say not intentionally, but there were many instances where she worked behind my back to try to keep me in line and at home).

I've developed some insight through the years into how my mother functions. She lost her father to TB at a very young age. Her mother was forced to go to work to support my mom and her sister, and mom, being the eldest, was put in charge of her sister. My maternal grandmother was uber-controlling and manipulative, and when she said "jump" my mother always said "how high," sometimes to the detriment of her marriage. My aunt passed away when she was a young mother. My mother suffered a miscarriage before she had me. I think, as a result (amateur psychiatrist, here!), my mother has a genuine fear of people she loves leaving her, and has been working her whole life to control us as to keep us around. Add to that the training she received in manipulation from her own mother, and I can definitely see the avalanche of guilt I've been running from my whole life!

My relationship with my mother had nothing to do with the breakup of my marriage.....I've been divorced for over 12 years, and my father was still alive and well when that happened. My mother, although she loves her 3 grandchildren, was not involved in their upbringing on a daily basis, did not "drop over" all the time, and did not call us at all (everyone has always had to come to her; she's never makes a call or a visit on her own).

With regard to your "moving on with my own life" comment.......that's almost verbatim what I've already told her. But, with the dementia, I'll be saying it over and over and over again every day until I leave...and beyond.

Comments on a few of your other points.....I laughed about the "slave" analogy." I often refer to myself as "the hired help," and my mother as "your highness." And as far as functioning as her own mother, when she was hospitalized a few years ago a nurse asked her who she lived with. Her reply? "My mother."

Yes, I've always been on a very short leash. I was able to break away to have a marriage and raise my children (and no, I didn't marry to get away...believe me, I searched my soul long and hard on that one!) , but now I find myself right back in the kennel. But thank God I'm finally able to gain some perspective and deal with the situation as an adult, not as a child.

I suppose the guilt I feel is really coming at me from other sources. I have friends who are caring for their aging parents and they are somewhat horrified that I would even consider leaving my mother. However, ALL of them have parents with physical needs who cannot function on their own, and they don't understand that my situation is a bit different.

My intended understands the situation and is more than willing to be there for me and provide the support necessary for all of to lead our lives. He lived with his mother until she passed at age 94, so he is well aware of and quite conversant in the idiosyncrasies of the very aged. We've also talked long into the night of my family dynamics, so he's been able to recognize my warning signs and get me back on track. His insight is just one of the many reasons I'm marrying him!

I've gone on & on, haven't I? Putting it down in print helps in sorting out my feelings.....I just hope I've been making sense!

Again, thank you!
J - I've been exactly where you are and I must tell you that
1. she will ALWAYS say she wants to be home, at some point "home" becomes the time in her life when she was fit and able to do anything she pleased
2.the guilt won't ever completely go away
3. you can - with practice - detach some what and
4. at some point you'll feel a sense of relief that you're NOT caring for her so don't feel guilty over that too.

Your mom's safety must come first and living alone is probably no longer safe for her. As her dementia progresses, "home" will only become less safe and the risk to her even greater. Given your moms abilities she sounds like a great candidate for assisted living. I'd say there is too great a risk she'll do something like start the stove and forget it, forget medications, etc.... You've been living there, you've done your best it's okay to think about what will make you happy. Financially you also cannot sacrifice your ability to support yourself in old age to see that she is cared for. Giving it up to someone else will enable you to remain a loving and patient daughter for visits with her.
Everything you have written has made perfect sense and I think it was therapeutic to write it all down.

My therapist has pointed out to me that it is one thing when we are not aware of the dynamics to see how we were trapped by it and we need to go easy on ourselves there because we were powerless. However, once we have insights and then chose to allow ourselves to be enslaved again or fall into old patterns but then try to place the blame on what our parents did is actually a cop out.

I'm thankful that as an only child you did not experience what I did. Being enslaved is one thing, but believe me being emotionally absorbed as the only son of a single parent mom as if you were her substitute spouse is a hell that I'd wish on no one.

I hope with your own children that you have been able to break the chain of your family tree. Your mother sounds like she has some very strong abandonment issues which do tie into the dynamics in her relationship with her dad and with you. Her worshipfulness sounds very much like my MIL who is the most enslaving witch of a queen mommy dearest Victorian narcissistic borderline woman I"ve ever met! Her deceased husband was beyond being hen pecked or dominated. The poor man was an emotionally emasculated man which I could understand once I learned about his family of origin. The only reason he is missed is because he is not there to do ___ for her. She is one of the greatest contradictions of someone who claims she believes in equal rights, treated her husband like dirt, hates her son in laws, wishes she had her daughters all to herself, only wants her grandsons around if they can help her with something, hates men in general, blames me for inspiring her husband to rebel some toward the end of his life, reads her Bible and devotionals along with attending church religiously while holding to quite an extreme fundamentalist Christian faith with ultra Victorian morals while her business morals should have her in jail and her interpersonal relationships are such that she manipulates people and says if she needs friends that she has enough money to buy them which is true.

The only reason my marriage has worked is that we both got therapy for our family of origin issues. We each have some issues that remain which we have talked with each other about these very openly and have decided on ways to keep ourselves from being controlled by those issues.

Please be careful of getting too far into the role relationship of him as your therapist or even a substitute dad for you need to have a fully adult/adult relationship. Most likely some of this will change once you get married just because of the dynamics of marriage. Even therapists are told not to use what they know at home on their own family as if they can be their family's therapist.

I wish you well in dealing with your mother and with your marriage.
Thanks, Lynn. I've thought about assisted living, but she says she'd rather I shoot her than "put" her anywhere. I know.....we all hear that. Home for her is actually a 2 bedroom, 1 floor condo in a 55+ community. Most of the residents are over 70, and most are women living alone. I'm the youngest person here (and I feel like a teenager, lol!). Mom still knows her limitations...she knows she can't use the stove/oven; in fact, she doesn't even know how to turn it on. She doesn't drive. She only takes 3 pills a day, and I put them in her daily pill receptacle every Saturday night. She takes them faithfully every morning. She has her little routines and only gets confused when they are somehow disrupted. She reads, she watches tv. She has her good days, she has her bad days. Most times I don't start conversations with her, simply because I never know who I'll be talking it my real Mom? Or is it "little girl Mom" who's being annoyingly silly and cute? Is it "Don't treat me like a child Mom?" Maybe it's depressed Mom, or martyr Mom, or maybe it's delusional Mom. It's like living with someone who has multiple personality disorder, and it can change daily, hourly, or even in the course of one conversation. But even with all that, at this point she can pull off her personal hygiene and basic daily living routines. So, for now, I feel ok about her staying at home. She will be looked after. If I see any changes, and I'm thinking that distance will provide me a better perspective, assisted living will be the way to go. Even if she doesn't want to be with all those "old people."

Crowe.....Wow! I'm speechless. Thank God you're working through it.
I went through this personally with my husband's mother. Her husband died, and she absolutely refused to move out of that little dingy house that she'd lived in for the last 50 years. So, she sat alone and watched TV, and walked her driveway. She also got to expect us to visit and rescue her from pure boredom, and would get mad when we didn't. At one point I got in her face and told her that it was HER choice to live alone and look at 4 walls, and it wasn't fair that she get mad when we didn't come see her everyday. And I stopped coming by for a week. But I did feel guilty. I felt terrible that she sat there day after day alone, it would have driven me crazy for sure. We brought in meals on wheels, life alert necklace, did her yard work etc. Because of macular degeneration she couldn't see well, because of dementia she had no short term memory, plus she started tripping over her own feet and falling. She'd have a goose egg on her head when I'd come by, and couldn't remember falling and hitting her head. I know it seems weird, but I am SO thankful she finally fell and broke her hip! With all her doctors agreeing, we moved her into asst living after rehab for the hip.
Now, if she sits there in her room all day it's HER choice. She can leave her room and walk the halls and visit if she wants to, no more excuses. I still pick her up and take her lots of places, but not out of guilt. It's out of love.
I am chuckling about your mom not wanting to be with all those old people. It reminded me of my grandma. I went to visit her and of course, all the wheel chairs were lined up in the hall outside their doorway. Gma was way up the hall and I had to pass many of the "old people". I always spoke to all, some wanted a hug or just to touch my hand. Gma told me when I got to her "don't pay attention to all those "old"people,she was 91, you came to visit me, and some of them are as crazy as loons". It might've been rude to say that but that was gma, never thought she fit in that category.
I think many elders remember nursing homes of old. Some of them haven't seen or visited the new ones or the beautiful asstd living facilities. I'm sure, though, their fear of being put away overrules all that.

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