Clingy mother is monitoring and taking up my time. What can I do?

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Hi,
I came back from working away a few years ago and now I feel like I've become the unofficial or default care giver to my long term depressed mum who is on disability because I'm the only son. The rest of the family keep her at arms length. She was divorced 13 years ago & has no friends or nobody she sees often anyway. She is always wanting to see me!!! I could handle talking on the phone but all she does is drink and I am expected to sit in pubs for hours on end or go for a walk and then spend time with her. This is literally 5 or 6 days a week If I let it happen. I often have to do practical things for her because she is up and down and poor with time keeping or responsibilities like basic hygiene or home keeping. She will make plans and not stick to them then expect me to be free when she wants.

I'm so fed up as don't have a life of my own, I need space!!! & sometimes feel guilty because she is so lonely - I considered planning to move country or just escaping many time, I'm in my mid 30's and this is not what I wanted for my life. What can I do? I've spoken to her many times and got angry with her clinginess but she just doesn't get it.

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Building boundaries is indeed hard work. Giving in or running away are both a heck of a lot easier.

I don't mean this as a criticism: on the contrary, you've made me remember that it's all very well for us to suggest that you set clear limits on how much time you give your mother and what sort of support, and stick to those limits no matter how much whining and drunken rambling you have to listen to; but in reality it's not so simple.

So building boundaries is not easy. But it is definitely worth it.

At the moment, you are looking at only two options.

Option 1 - you stick around for your mother and find that your entire life gets taken over by her and her needs and her wants.

Option 2 - you disappear completely. She feels abandoned, but for once in her life she is actually not wrong.

You're right about her life not being anything to do with you. I don't mean it's your responsibility to care for your mother. It just isn't: she's an adult with identified issues, it's up to her to work on them or not. But you do in reality care about her, and I doubt if you would be able to leave her behind and not worry about it or feel bad about it - possibly even getting sucked back in through pure guilt, which would be... not pretty.

So neither option 1 nor option 2 is really going to solve anything for you. Somewhere in the middle you will find your option 3, the one where you do what you feel you *reasonably* can for your mother but you wall off the rest of your life and don't let her in.

Moving to live and work abroad might be a good way, actually, putting plenty of distance between you and your mother's daily life. But don't do it in secret! Don't let your mother's issues make *you* behave irrationally! If everything were normal, you would leave a forwarding address, you would refer your mother to any health care or social work services whose support she might need, you would let friends and family know your plans. Well, *you* are normal. So do those things.

If you can't remedy the situation, now...

What would the situation look like if it were remedied? Do you have a clear image of how you would like things to be?
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She's on disability benefits so she can't work or hold down a job. Of course she's an alcoholic, she's been depressed 30+ years so we've been through counselling, alcohol courses and therapy. She's on medication. I feel like I give a yard & she takes a mile so it's very difficult to help on positive aspect without her taking more time than I can give. I'm planning to move country & simply not tell anybody as a plan B if I can't remedy the situation. I don't feel her life and failures are anything to do with me, she's lived her life and I have to live mine!
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Your mom survived while you were away and she will survive if you go back to living your own life. Your mom sounds like an alcoholic. Does she acknowledge her issues, or deny that she has anything wrong? If she will admit she needs help, then you can help her get it. If she denies anything is wrong, then I'd simply ignore her requests and go back to living your life. She also sounds like a survivor. As soon as you leave, she'll find someone else to cling to. It sounds like she's gone through the rest of your family and you're the last one to wake up to the situation. You have every right to live your life independent from your mom and her issues. Those are for her to solve.
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What is the nature of your mother's disability? Is it the depression itself, or something else, like mobility problems or respiratory issues? Why is it she can't work?

If she has managed to alienate her entire family, I'd guess there is a serious mental health issue involved. It could be depression and/or some other condition. Is she being treated by a mental health professional? Is she following a treatment plan? Does she take medications? See a therapist regularly? Use a blue light panel? Exercise each day (walking counts)? Limit alcohol?

Your mother is sick. She is lonely. She is frightened. And she is your mother. Of course you would like to help her. But there is a big difference between helping and enabling. If she is willing to make an effort, do everything you can to support her. Go for a short walk with her every day (and then go home). Take her to some senior activity a few times to help her get used to it. Go into counseling with her a time or two, if her therapist thinks that is a good idea.

But stop doing things that only contribute to the problem! If you mother was diabetic, would you sit with her in a bakery for hours, while she stuffs herself with high-carb food? She has, at the very least, depression, and sitting with her for hours in a pub is NOT helping her.

As you say this would go on 5 or 6 days a week If you let it happen. That is the key. You have to stop letting this happen.

She needs some physical help sometimes. So do I. My son comes over and fixes a leak or helps hang a picture. It is pleasant for both of us. Keep helping your mother with genuine household needs. But also be aware if she has limitations that really should involve outside help. Does she need a weekly housekeeper, for example? What kind of hygiene help does she need?

Enabling her to feel dependent on you is a big disservice to both of you. Do you intend to listen to her tales of woe for hours at a time, for the next 30 years?

If you can do some things that would be truly helpful to her, like get her on a regular schedule with the mental health clinic, be supportive of her treatment plan, take her on occasional outings (not to the pub), go for walks, then doing those things would be appropriate as a loving son.

Enabling her to wallow in her depression and drag you down, too, is just not a loving thing to do.
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You do need space! You need to plan and get on with the life YOU want, not let your mother's dysfunctional wants/needs run your life. Decide how much time you want to give her, what kind of help you want to try to get her and then the rest of your time is yours, no matter how much she calls you or how lonely she is. You do not have to answer all her calls. You can let some go to voice mail.

Alanon can be very helpful for family members of alcoholics. I recommend you give it a try. You can google Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) and find valuable material.

Good luck and let us know how you make out.
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So your mother has no real physical illnesses or disability but apparently has some psychological problems? I’m wondering if you could perhaps admit her to a psychiatric facility to get a detailed diagnosis and some appropriate medication for her?

If she’s THAT helpless and drinks heavily she needs substance abuse treatment as well. I don’t know, if you’re closest relative talk to a lawyer about involuntary commitment.
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I think you will have to do the hard thing and just start saying "NO". You are not responsible because she is lonely. You can't fix her. What you can do is suggest she get counseling.
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