How do I deal with my manipulative aging mother when I'm the only child and I live across the country?

Asked by

Hi, I am new to this site and hope I'm in the right place. I've been reading articles and posts, and it has been so helpful to read about what other people are going through with their aging parents.

I'm wondering how you all deal with difficult parents when you live very far away. How do you deal with the guilt of being far away and with the stigma of putting mom in a "nursing home"? How do you deal with the manipulative "nobody-loves-me" parent?

My mother lives in FL, my husband and I live in CA. I'm the only child. My mother is in her 60's but acts like she's in her 80's. She has problems with alcohol, blood pressure, arthritis and anxiety. From what I can tell, she rarely leaves her house. I'm concerned about what I will do when she needs assistance. I'm also concerned about how I will cope with her personality--she's becoming withdrawn, but then lashes out at me unexpectedly. Right now she's not speaking to me because her Mother's Day card did not arrive on time even though I explained that I mailed it the week before. Even though I called her early that morning to wish her a happy Mother's Day, she said I had done nothing.

I've offered her suggestions to help with her anxiety and her physical problems, I've recommended everything from yoga to counseling to medication, but she's not interested in any of it. She seems to be angry with me for not doing more for her, but she hasn't been able to articulate what she needs from me. She feels mistreated, but I call her dutifully every week and visit her at Christmas.

I would love to hear from you all. What is your experience with long distance caretaking?

Answers 1 to 10 of 17
Top Answer
This is a great question. I live in Florida, am 60 and my mother is 82, acts like she is 102. She has some of the same personality traits your mother exhibits. My mother is very healthy and to our knowledge has no dementia, yet.

My difficulty has been her odd personality. I do have a brother who lives nearby but he does almost nothing for her. She has left me off her POA, has no living will or medical directive and is very paranoid about letting me get any information about how we will care for her. Forget about her banking, only my brother is privy to that. Both treat me like I am not family.

I too wonder how I will react when she needs help. I live far away too and at the moment if anything happened to my brother, my only option would be to get guardianship. Now that is a can of worms.

I would recommend you ask your mother "what would you have me do"? You can not move or change your life, I am assuming you are still pretty young and working. She must come to you. Either live in an Assisted Living or Nursing Home when the time comes. As you will read, many will tell you the horrors of having these types of parents live with you. It is not good.

Read Nina Brown's book the narcissistic family and google daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com. I am not saying this is her problem, but this turned on numerous lights for me. Nina Brown's book is written to help you cope with a parent who thinks only of themselves and how to stop the cycle of how we react to parents with these personalities.

Also look at how she has been your entire life and make sure she is not suffering from dementia or alzheimers. The alcohol abuse can be a large part of the problem. Anxiety can also make her difficult, my mom has untreated anxiety and depression.

I hope she will work with you but I have found my mother to be unchanging. I had to change. It is the only way to survive. Good luck to you

Thank you so much for your advice. I don't think my mother has dementia or Alzheimer's. I think she's had these qualities for a long time but they are getting worse since she retired recently and seems to have little to focus on. I'm resentful that she acts like she's elderly when I know people her age who act like they're in the prime of their lives. Though she does have some very real health problems, it seems like attention seeking behavior, or at least self-inflicted by poor lifestyle choices and an unwillingness to seek help. It's taken me a long time, but I'm finally beginning to see how dysfunctional our relationship is and I've been working on that. I suspect some of her behavior is rooted in fear that she is "losing" me because I have been detaching from her emotionally, and because I recently married. I don't believe she will change, so I'm working on accepting that. I will look for the book you recommended.
The biggest thing you need to remember is: You can't change anyone except yourself. You are doing the right thing. You are detaching from her because she is trying to destroy you. Congratulations for not allowing that to happen.
Long distance caregiving is a pain in the ass, not to be polite about it. Remind yourself that you can only do what you can do. Try to find someone who is on sceen who will give you a daily, or at least weekly, update. You might even offer to pay one of her old friends to do this. If she doesn't have any because she has outlived them all, try to find someone in her church or other social group willing to do this. I found it immensely helpful when one of my father's long-time neighbors chose to do this for me. It freed me to concentrate on makeing the money that helped pay for his care and to sleep soundly, knowning that I would most likely receive a call from him before an emergency developed.
Remember that, unlike other situations, you come first. You are going to outlive her. You need your sanity to do this successfully. Read all the books that have been reccommended. Find yourself someone to talk to. And take heart from the fact that other's are sending good thoughts your way.
Maybelle41: The previous responders made excellent suggestions, so I'll just get straight to my point: as an only child myself who worked 2,500 miles from a narcissistic mother, and then retired in 2006 to move back near her to support her when my stepfather died, I can tell you that it was MUCH worse to be nearby at first. Her attempts at manipulation were much easier to make with me nearby. It has taken several years to iron out a working relationship with her that doesn't make both of us irritated and uncooperative. What I have learned is that a 90-year-old mother is NOT the mother I knew even six years ago before my stepfather died. She is incredibly self-centered, paranoid, unwilling to listen to good advice, and spiteful when she doesn't get her way...and that's with me visiting her every week, spending the whole day ferrying her around, and performing many household repairs, etc. My point: lack of proximity to your mother probably is NOT the problem. Your mother's change as she ages is the problem, and being close might only exacerbate issues between the two of you now. Sometimes keeping a distance is a GOOD thing, no matter how much she tries to lay a guilt trip on you. :)
Maybelle: I think Madge1 gave your excellent advise. I will only add that your mom would probably benefit from some activity that would take her focus off of herself. She's alone now (I am assuming no husband) and has no purpose. Her drinking may have increased as a result.

It's not your responsibility to uproot your life or take on the burden of guilt your mom wants to give you. She may very well be upset, on some level, that you have found happiness in your new marriage. As people age, they see opportunities pass them by and it can be hard to adjust to the fact that young love is not in the cards anymore.

What did your mom do when she was working and how long has she been retired. I'm just curious about this. I'm not suggesting that you make it your life's work to find your mom an interest.

Take care and be happy, Cattails.
My mother has been extremely manipulative and critical my whole life. I also have detached myself emotionally. She's queen of guilt trips. I think I have better than an inkling of what you're being subjected to! Ambsmith had a great idea about having someone nearby keep tabs on her. But, your mom willl probably complain about it and refuse the help and then get angry at you for trying. I'm just saying what kind of a reaction I'd expect from my own mother. You're in a tough spot. I tried looking into senior meals that could be delivered. Mom didn't want them. I tried getting some light housekeeping done through senior services for her so that I don't have to do it. She didn't think it would be enough and didn't want a "stranger" in her home. I know this sounds heartless, but prepare yourself, if you didn't figure it out already, you won't be able to do enough, or do it right, no matter what. Distance is a good thing! Its sad and frustrating. I read some of the comments here about the daughters that take care of their parents so lovingly and I ache that I've missed out on that. But, it could've been much worse. I think you'll probably need to see what your mother will allow you to do for her at a distance - someone checking on her, meals, house cleaning, maybe some social thing to make her life less limited. There should be a senior services office in the city she lives in, but is 60 old enough? I don't know.
Again, THANK YOU to everyone for you advice. It's so helpful just knowing I'm not alone, and that I'm not crazy!

Cattails--I completely agree that an activity would help my mom, but she seems to be her own worst enemy when it comes to interacting with people. She retired about 2 years ago or so. When she worked, she would complain about work and/or her co-workers and friends. She is a remarkable complainer, actually. She would actually take offense at gifts her friends had given her saying, "Now why would so-and-so think I would like THAT!". I'm thinking, "Mom, she's your friend, and she GAVE you something!" There's a shocking lack of gratitude. Now that she doesn't have work anymore, I think her focus has shifted to me. She has few friends and doesn't like to socialize. She joined a group shortly after she retired but found a reason to stop participating. She doesn't take kindly to suggestions (believe me, I've tried and I still do occasionally).

Ambsmith and JudymW--thank you for the ideas. It's good to know what kind of options are out there for when the time comes that she needs care. I have to work, and can't imagine being able to move back. My question is probably (hopefully!) very premature, but I worry about how I'm going to care for her.

It is good to plan ahead and set up what you will do and when and how much time you can devote to her needs it depends on your working and you kids needing you-if she getts too needy boundaries will have to be set-you only haveso much time to give to everyone-she may become angery when something can not be done in her time factor-she will have to learn to adapt,
Maybelle, just a short story to let you know how nutty my mom is. Day before yesterday I called her (she never calls me) and she told me her neighbor (my dad's cousin's widow) had a stroke. This poor woman in the past year has had a broken hip, light heart attack and now a stroke. I said to mom, "how awful, I just feel so bad for her". Mom comes back with, "well I am not in that good of shape either.".

Now, my mother has no illnesses. Takes no drugs. Doesn't need glasses, just readers. Has never had heart disease, cancer, hip replacement, anything ,many 80+ year old people have. No dementia, alzheimers, nothing. Just a narcissistic personality and this she has had her entire life.

Just another wake up call for me as to how glad I live in Florida and she lives in Alabama. Thank you Jesus.
Maybelle - God Bless You. Do not uproot your life for your mother. Three years ago I quit my job, rented out my home and moved from Oregon to Michigan to care for my parents who at that time were 86 and 87. For years my mother told me I need to help out more. Then when Dad lost his driving privileges I thought that moving back to help out was the right thing to do. It was not. Reading these posts I'm surprised to see how many mothers out there are just like mine. There is no appreciation for what I have given up and for what I do for her. My friends are on the West Coast, my daughter is in CA, my three brothers do not want to help and I'm stuck with someone who does not think of anyone but herself.

Please do not consider uprooting yourself for your mother. For heavens sake, I'll be 60 this year. She is not old and needs to get herself together. Take care of yourself and keep looking into solutions from afar. Do not, do not, give up your life. Peace.

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