My mom isn't that old (about to turn 69) but has spent the past 15 years slowly disassociating from the world. She has severe anxiety that she refuses to acknowledge, much less treat, and spends her days feeding it through a combination of medical appointments and cable news. She doesn't go out much anymore because she's afraid, and now her (treatable) medical issues are a convenient excuse. She's spent YEARS on a hunt for a good medical excuse. Back in my 20s she would email me at work that she had some tests done, she was sure it was cancer, I should get genetic testing done (she never had cancer). It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize all of it was a cry for attention. If I call any of this out to her, or try to address her anxiety, I'm the bad guy or she has no idea what I'm talking about. She wants her anxiety I think. It's her best friend. It makes me so frustrated to watch her completely waste her life in this way. Oh the irony that her hobby is finding a physical malady but won't actually treat what is wrong. We went through a period of estrangement about 10 years ago because I stood my ground against her in an argument. We didn't speak for a year. Our relationship has never really been the same. We're now entering another period of estrangement because, as I've grown, I've refused to be her doormat or provide her the reaction she wants. During our previous estrangement I worked with a therapist to set boundaries for myself. She hasn't handled that well either. She is frustrated that I keep her at an emotional distance. She doesn't understand how sad that makes me too. The wrinkle now is that I have kids of my own. She loves them and they love her but I struggle mightily with exposing them to all of this. I spent my formative years walking on eggshells and being emotionally devastated by her guilt trips. Frankly, it sucked. She is a woman who will cut off her nose to spite her face and she will choose to have no contact with any of us over admitting any kind of accountability or fault in how she behaves towards me. My husband would prefer that we just grin and bear it for the kids' sake since she at least has the awareness not to lash out at them. He wants our kids to have grandparents and he thinks I will regret it if I let this relationship go. I know he's right. How much of this is the mental illness that I should be sensitive to and how much is just her? I guess that's why I'm writing this. What should I do?

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It is your mother's choice not to be treated for her mental illnesses. It is your choice not to put up with it. I totally support limiting your children's time with Grandma if she will be teaching them manipulative behavior. I totally support cutting her off if she is evil or dangerous as my mother was.
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I wouldn't cut off contact. She's not harming your kids, not filling them with paraoind or racist ideas, is she?

Set your boundaries and keep them . Visits are kept short and friendly. Holiday celebrations are planned in advance to include at least one non family member, which will keep mom on good behavior.

As she grows older, promise yourself that you will help her find care, but not provide care. Take it from me, just helping out and visiting the care facility is stress enough.
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Limit contact with her. Your own boundaries up!
Learn more about mental illness at NAMI.
Attend a NAMI support group for families of a person with mental illness.
The skills you will gain may help you to persuade her to get treatment.

If there is any suspected drug abuse, alcoholism, or self-medication, discontinue contact until she is clean. And, of course, no contact with your kids at all if this is the case.

What is most sad, is that the attention she needs would be given willingly to a friend, but because her needs will overwhelm others, she only feels more abandoned and rejected as she feels you pulling away. For her health, ask a mental health professional what to do. For your health, do the same, as I see you have done.

Your concern for your mother comes through the written words. However, your health and your family's health takes priority.

Would she go to an out-patient day treatment? Do you know if she has a diagnosis of bipolar and narcissistic personality disorder? Bipolar requires meds.
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Mental illness is a treatable offense.
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Over the years, as I’ve gotten older and come to realize certain things, I realize my mother had untreated issues as well. All my ,ice she was dramatic, paranoid and jealous of me. When I was 12, she read my diary in which I poured my heart out about how miserable I was and how nasty she was to me. I have never forgiven her for that. She had no friends. She blamed my father for that. She felt she was far superior to him intellectually and that he would “embarrass” her if they socialized. She was self-centered and she used any medical diagnoses and fed her martyrdom with it. She was such a harridan during menopause when I was growing up, I was in fear of going through it myself. She kept my grandfather’s cancer diagnoses a secret from everyone, including him, which also fed her martyrdom. He committed suicide and that also was kept a secret by her.

When I married, my husband and I decided we did not want just one child. I am an only child and did not want that for my own children. When my daughter was born, my mother was beyond thrilled. But when I announced I was pregnant a second time, to say she was less than thrilled is an understatement. When I delivered a boy, that exacerbated the situation. Mom was a man-hater for reasons I don’t want to know. She was never really close to my son although he loved her. She wasted no opportunity to tell me we should have only had one child.

I never kept my children away from my mother. “Nana” was always a valued member of our family. They loved and respected her and for the most part except for some snarky remarks she behaved herself. She wasn’t really a babysitting grandma ( she told me she would NOT be) so they weren’t on their own with her very often.

Don’t isolate your kids from her. As they grow, they’ll realize that Grandma has issues. Your husband is right. Don’t engage with her during visits about any touchy subjects. But it would be a shame if your kids missed out on “the Grandma experience”.
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