How do I occupy my mother's time without me?

Asked by

My mother is 77 and extremely co-dependent of me. I am her only caregiver and I have to work to support myself. When I'm not at work (40 hours per week) I am subject to guilt trips and negativity as she is lonely and doesn't have anything to do. I have left my dogs with her for a period of time to possible solve this issue however she is not one to listen and takes them out to much and since she is not very stable in walking has managed to break both arms at different times over a 1 year period. Therefore, I don't leave the dogs with her anymore but she is jealous when I am home that I have dog company. She jealous if I receive a phone call from a friend. Mobility is very limited with her as she refuses to use a cane or walker and prefers to hang onto me which is one of the main reasons I don't feel comfortable taking her anywhere and yet she wants to go ALL THE TIME. After working a rather complex and stressful job I just want to go home. I'm tired. I have my own responsiblities...laundry, dishes, house cleaning, linen changing etc. I've made several attempts to explain to her that I have a load covering her responsibilities (groceries, medications, bills, etc) and then meeting my needs that I can't be responsible for making her happy and entertained. There's no time for myself and as I get older (48 now) it gets harder and harder to meet the load I am caring. My mother does not have 1oz. of responsibiltiy in her body. All family member have past away at this time which leave me to handle the caregiving alone. I run daily at 120% responsibility no fun is even in my vocabulary. Yet the negativity and guilt trips and jealousy I have to deal with daily due to her being miserable is really taking it's tole on me. I've been reponsible for her since I was 16 years old. She is not in the best of health as she has heart failure. How do I have time for myself to live my life and keep her occupied? My life is more than half over and yet I haven't had the chance to live my life without guilt trips and negativity from her that I don't do enough? I give all that I have to her. There's nobody in my life because it causes so many problems trying to meet friends needs and her that I can't handle it and I have to let my friends go. I've been married twice and both times my marrage has failed and I have nothing to give when I am done with her. I have also provided her with a new computer (which she does no how to use), big screen TV, cable and I have even bought her a Kindle thinking she could fine somehow to entertain herself but there's no motovation for her to do anything but complain in self pitty. Does anyone have any advise? I am desperate. Thanks for listening.

Answers 1 to 10 of 33
Top Answer
Hi Jill: When abused Caregivers speak, we listen, and many will respond to you. You will get a lot of opinions and advice, but then it is YOUR decision about what you must do.
You are obviously a victim of your Mother's psychological problems--whatever they may be--and so far, it sounds as if she has ruined your life. Just reading your post ruined a bit of my day, and I don't even know you. We see so much of that here, and being compassionate, responsible care givers ourselves, we very much want to help you resolve your situation.
Have you ever seen a counselor to help you "detach" for your own health? Part of the problem is your reaction to her. You know many people who are not in a similar situation, right? Because she got ahold of you at a very young age, you did not learn about BOUNDARIES. To me, it sounds like you are really her Siamese twin. First, you must get strong to separate from her, emotionally, then physically.
Speaking of the "things" you have purchased to occupy your Mother reminds me of all the things I used to do and containers I bought to try to help my daughter get her bedroom organized. I thought, If only I get the perfect item, she will use it and her room will be neat. hahaha Excuse me while I laugh--at myself. She is 23 now, a lovely young woman with heavy responsibilities in her job, lots of friends, amazing gifts--but she is still disorganized and I cannot stand to go to her apartment. Your Mother's rationale is not yours, for if it were, you would have a life and she would be cheering you on to have one!!!
I hope you realize she is victimizing you, and that YOU are the one in control of that. I am not saying it is easy after being ingrained for 48 years, but if you want your autonomy, you are going to have to decide to become an individual.
My heart aches for you--it reminds me of these poor women who were abducted and held against their will for years. Stolen life.
I hope you get the advice and support you need, Jill. The first step in a new direction is always very difficult, like getting ready to jump into a pool of very cold water: you wait for just the right moment when your fear leaves for a split second. You must dig down and find your will to live beyond this burdensome, unhealthy attachment. I wish you strength and peace, dear one. Hugs, Christina
I'm so sorry for your difficulties right now. If the things we try don't work, we have to try other things. And it changes every darned day, but that's the way it is. One thing my mom's speech therapist told me many years ago was that I MUST stop allowing my mom to hang onto me when she walks. Your mom is clearly capable of walking unassisted when she is alone, don't allow her to do it when she is with you. Feels mean, but helps her.

Get her magazines to look at while you are at, for mom Country and Birds and Blooms have helped. She works large piece jigsaw puzzles. Have her fold her own clothes and put them away. If she doesn't do it willingly, you can at least try dumping them on her bed so they are in her way to see if it helps. And get someone to come in and stay with her or take her for an outing sometimes. If you can't afford this, look for resources to pay for it. If her husband was in the military, there may be a Veterans benefit that will pay for this. If you don't think she presently qualifies financially, you can move some of her money into your account so that she qill qualify, they don't have a 5 year look back period like Medicare does. Can you afford for her to go to a senior day care program? Was there a hobby she was once interested in? Provide the supplies for her to be involved in that. Will she take her photos and put them into photo albums? If you have provided things for her to do, and she refuses to do them, then you are no longer responsible for her boredom. Refuse to receive it.
I appreciate this question, and the answers here, too. It's easy for us to believe our parents when they talk and act like it is OUR job to make them happy. And I think they may honestly believe that. But it's not. The only person eh can make that choice is you Mom. And she doesn't have a great track record in the department, does she? Finding the way to see her as separate from you...and the grace to say NO when she demands a yes...that's where you are being called right now. Her world can only be as big and vibrant as she chooses it to be. Whether you drive her to the mall, or whether she sits at home doesn't matter.

If the question you are actually asking is,"how do I get her to stop demanding these things of me," the answer is "you can't.". All you can do is draw boundaries even though she is asking. All you can do is take steps forward in your own life. Call one of the friends you've dropped. Go see a movie. Talk about anything except your Mom. Start to build your own life without her, and let her inevitable complaints be white noise. Sending you (and others in this boat) lots of love...
Hi Jill,
My mother is the queen of the guilt trips so I understand your pain. I had to guit working to care for her 24/7 and it has really taken it's toll on my life and health. Now I don't think I could physically work unless the enconomy picks up to the point of supporting the real estate market again. I cannot do any lifting and even sitting at a computer for more than a few minutes hurts my back. So if you have a good job, hold on to it and if your health is relatively good, keep it that way.

Caregiving is incredibly hard whether you stay home with your charge or work and have to come home to it. Congratulate yourself for your self-sacrificing spirit and don't let her make you feel bad about yourself. If your mother is like mine and has parented by using guilt to keep you in line, she will definitely not change at this point. It will only get worse. Detach now! You are doing an amazing thing so you have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. The only person you can change is you. Do it now before it's too late!

It sounds like your mom can walk some without falling, but then so can my mom. About half the time she can walk without assistance, but then at any given moment she will fall and injure herself. That is going to happen whether you are there or not. I'm here all the time and yet mom has fallen too many times to count and really hurt herself. Broken bones, skin tears and staples in her head. Don't feel guilty about her falls. She wants you to feel guilty enough to do what I did and quit working and stay home with her. I learned the hard way that that's not going to help her and may render you unfit to do anything else but care for her. And you'll be doing that in pain.

To tell someone to detach and not feel guilty when they have a lifetime of ingrained guilt is like telling a blind person to describe the color red. It's impossible for me at this point, I'm 60. Maybe at 48 you have a chance to change things. I'm just now learning to detach from SOME of the guilt. A shame I didn't do it sooner, but at least now,(that my physical health is in serious danger) I am making some small progress. I still walk beside mom, but I usually don't hold on to her, I let her do it. Again, one reason I don't hold on to her is that I've strained my rotator cuff and it's very painful to do so. Don't wait for that, go ahead and let her do it on her own and maybe just walk beside her. If she claims she needs to hold on to you, tell her it's better for you both if you just walk beside her.

If she has an income and you don't need it to pay your own bills, use it for day care or in home sitter. Get out at night! Make some friends and have a girls nite out at least once a month. Take a dance class (you don't need a partner, my son met his present wife at a dance class and they are very happy together) or join a book club, church, sewing group, anywhere there are people. Your job may be the first place to start.

As someone said once....don't do as I do, do as I say do. I am just now letting friends and family sit with mom so I can get out of the house. But I almost turned into a basket case before I let go of the guilt enough to do it. Mom pouts when I go, but I just let her do it and try to ignore it.

Sorry this was such a long post, but I can so identify with you and wish I could change your outcome. In some strange way it would make me feel I was changing mine.

Take care, I will be thinking of you.

Be strong for yourself Jill, now while you still can.
I totally agree with Christina28 and Suethequilter. Like Christina mentioned, you have to take care of yourself first. Having retired as an HR Manager, if your funds are low, perhaps check into your company's mental health program within your insurance hopefully at a very reasonable co-pay and see if you can go to a helping professional. Also, Suethequilter mentioned the senior day program. This is a very good outlet for your mom. These two ladies have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. I wish you the best and I too wish for you strength and peace.
You must take care of yourself. It is not selfish to be good to yourself. Try to provide the bare basics for your mom. Food, a short visit or phone call. Suggest that maybe someone else could come and sit with her a couple of times a week because you just CAN'T. Remove yourself from the position of social director or coach. I felt the same way about my mom but she lives with me and is 88 with moderate to severe dementia. I went through the feeling like I had to offer her things to do, much like you would a little child that you were babysitting. It is draining and finally I came to the realization that she is who she is, she has things around her to do but refuses to engage and let her sit, let her be bored, let her complain but do not let it get to you. You can tell her that you have other responsibilities much like she had when she was your age and you have to attend to them. We are all here to listen and support you - HUGS
suethequilter - I think all these posts have very good ideas but I have to disagree with you about moving some of the money into your own account to have Mom qualify for anything. This can cause a lot of legal problems which I'm sure Jill doesn't need on top of everything else. I hope I haven't turned her post into a different direction. Sorry.
My mom moved to the town I live in about 11 years ago, she is 89 now. We had a frank discussion that I couldn't be her sole source of entertainment. But as she has aged, she has become less outgoing or willing to put up with people who don't have exactly the same views as she does on everything, she also refuses to go to the senior center because she doesn't know anyone there. I know my situation is very different from yours, but sometimes it is helpful just to know you are not alone in your feelings. I too feel guilty for not being entertaining enough. I am also 48, have a full time job, and two children in middle and high school. I don't have alot of extra time. Sometimes, my Mom just has to be bored, I can't cure her boredom. You cannot cure your mom's boredom, you have tried, you have done your best, you cannot do better than your best. Try to go easier on yourself, you deserve it. Also, as far as the refusing to use the cane. I have told my mother that if she won't bring her cane, I won't take her. She also sometimes wears inappropriate shoes for where we are going. I tell her she can't go with me if she doesn't change her shoes, and guess what, she gets mad. Oh well, be mad. You are going to have to take a stand for yourself. You will still feel guilty, but you will have made a start. I really hope you find some time for yourself. Hang in there.
As far as the $ goes, your mother can 'gift' you $10k per year. If your mother is willing, you go in together (bank) and open an account with both names and you can both use it. Will she do this, I don't know. Your mother has learned how to control you and other's through emotion. You intern have learned to be controlled. All YOU can change is your reaction and thoughts to 'all' events. Think differently about her moods, needs, comments etc, and how you choose to have them affect you. This will help set healthier boundries for you. We are never to old to make changes in our lives but we can't do it for someone else. Contact "Mobile Physicians" (look up a mobile outfit in your area). My mom had insurance + medicare. Doctor's, nurses, and aid's, come to you and also get Hospice involved when it's overwhelming for the caretaker. Your mom in order for Hospice to get involved doesn't have to be on her last leg as we all seem to think. At least you'll get advice and professional opinions to help your decision process.
kathleenbrandl: I wish that many years ago I had the information you just gave to Jill. I would just like to say that I had an account with my grandfather and took care of everything since he lived with me. My mother and uncle had no time for him. Anyway, he passed without signing his will and, of course, his accounts were immediately frozen. After much legal haggling etc. I did not get a penny as I was told that my Mom and uncle were next to kin and I was only a grandaugter. I took him in because I loved and cared for him as he loved and cared for me when my parents didn't have a thing when I was born. I was not looking for any payment anyway just enjoying his company and stories and wisdom. Well, this is the past and now is the present. The family split and I have not seen them in over 30 years. Sad. Have tired to no avail. This is why I posted about the legal end as I do not wish for others to go through the same heartaches. It still hurts but things aren't going to change ever! I still think of all the good things he did for me. Your post had a lot of good info. Also, I lived in CA at the time of all of this. I was wondering if it was the same in all states. I have just one more thing to add to this lengthy post (sorry). Be sure to keep good records on the account. The lawyers are murder on this. If all the "i's" and "ts" aren't done it can become a nightmare.

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