Q: My mother wants all my time and attention. How do I handle it and still have my own life?
A: That is so frustrating, but it's really about boundaries. Start setting reasonable but strict limits of when you can be available and when you can't--and don't allow yourself to be manipulated. If you never give in to your mother's demands for attention, she will learn that moaning and groaning doesn't work and she will eventually stop using that method. If you finally give in, she will just continue to push harder and harder each time knowing you will eventually cave in.
Use an answering machine to screen your calls and never pick up if your mother is being negative or nasty. When she asks for your help in a reasonable way, respond positively to reinforce the behavior. Tell her how proud of her you are and how much you appreciate the way she approached you this time. Always reward good behavior to get more of it.
Ultimately, getting your mother involved in activities would be the best thing for both of you. Call your Area Agency on Aging to find the Senior Centers and Adult Day Care Centers nearby and learn about enrollment and schedules. It may take a bit of coaxing to get her out of her comfort zone at home, but the healthcare professionals at these places are very familiar with this problem and will help you. You might ask one of the social workers to call and talk to your mother a few times to develop a relationship, or perhaps even drop by the house to say hello.
Then, take your mother out for lunch and then casually drive by "The Center" and drop in to say hello to the social worker she is familiar with (of course you have an appointment lined up). Have the social worker offer her a "job", saying how much her help is needed with the bingo, cooking, singing classes or whatever she enjoys. Encourage your mom to "volunteer" to help the seniors. She may not like it at first, saying that everyone is too old or it's too much effort, but most seniors will make new friends and get into the routine fairly quickly and look forward to going. The pressure on you to entertain her will be drastically reduced—so don't give up!
If your mother cannot physically attend, you can hire a companion to come visit her on a regular basis. This person can read to her, sing with her, watch a movie, take her out to lunch, for a walk or ride, play a game, talk about the old days, etc. Also, call your public library to find out if they have a volunteer program, as oftentimes they will bring books, audio books, movies and travel videos to the home. These deliveries provide a visitor with whom your mother may enjoy chatting. And, be sure to contact the Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov) to find out about other programs available for the elderly in your area.