How can I handle my mother's constant nagging for my attention because she is 'lonely'?

Asked by

How can I handle my mother's constant nagging for my attention because she is 'lonely'? I myself am a mother, grandmother, work at home with medical transcription and volunteer at my grandson's school. My life is as I wish it. I had not planned on having to 'be there' for an emotionally needy elderly mother whose constant complaints of 'being lonely and depressed' are starting to make me depressed. My mother was not there for my siblings and myself growing up after I turned age 9, because she had a 'break' with sanity. She packed up the kids (five of us) and dropped us off at the juvenile shelter because she said "we were driving her crazy". This happened after she divorced our father. I and my siblings spent years in foster care and often, I felt we were scattered to the winds. My mother did not really come back into my life until I was married with a child. Then, I suppose, I would have no real need of her. Over the years, I lost three of my siblings to Huntington's Chorea and my surviving older sister, will have nothing to do with our mother for what she did to us as a family. I have tried to forgive and forget and have some sort of relationship with my mother, but it has always felt one-sided, on my part. My mother is a very cold, selfish person whose outlook on life seems to be, "what about me?". She has never tried to cultivate a relationship with my daughter, now grown, and my grandson. She seems oblivious to the fact that relationships take work. You have to earn someone's love and care. She seems to think because I am the surviving child who WILL talk to her, that I am her responsibility. She even moved closer to my home (less than one mile away) into a retirement apartment facility, in an effort to be close to me, and for, as she puts it, "in case she needs me". When I do set aside a day to spend with her, she sits there like a bump on a log and wants to be catered to, as if she is a desired guest. Her selfishness and cold nature have made all others in the family ignore her, and it has gotten worse over the years, where no one wants to be with her, as there are no redeeming qualities in her, as a human being. My sister and daughter are amazed that I would want anything to do with her. Sadly, I think I have tried to make this mother-daughter relationship work between my mother and my self, but again, it all feels so one-sided. I have begun to avoid her more and more in an attempt to keep my life as normal as it is. I am so tired of entreating HER to go out and make friends. One of our last conversations on the subject were my asking how it was going regarding attempting to make friends in her apartment complex. She snapped at me, and I mean snapped, when she said,...." I HAVE tried!!!!! I don't like any of them, and none of them like me!!!!!" This apartment complex has over 300 units. All the residents are in her age range. I.e., late 70s to early 90s. I am left with the feeling that she really doesn't want a friend, she wants me, and my time. My resentment over the past with what she did to our family, and the present, with how or why she feels I should be obligated to 'be there' for her, when she was not there for any of us, is getting worse. How can I keep my positive happy life from being destroyed by her constant nagging for my time and attention, when again, as I said, is not enriching at all, as she sits there like a bump on a log and barely ever says more than a paragraph worth of anything. Most of the words out of her mouth are in part, her mantra, which seems to be "I'm lonely, I'm depressed, DO for me!!!!!!"

Please help!

Answers 1 to 10 of 35
This is a very difficult situation for you, but one thing to remember: Your Mother is responsible for her own happiness.
I commend you for having a relationship with her after she abandoned you and your siblings when you were children. It does sound like she has issues and possibly even a personality disorder. You may want to do some research about Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Unfortunately, she will only get worse as she ages and you need to ask yourself if you are prepared to be her caregiver. Good luck.
Top Answer
Wow, I am convinced my Mother has a personality disorder. Almost everythig you have said about your Mom is exactly like mine. She didn't divorce my Dad or abandon us but the pity party is the same. Mom has no friends and never has, is very selfish, it is always 100% about her. Never even tries to meet me half way. I think if you read about personality disorders you will see your Mom. I have. It is better when you distance yourself from her. Like your Mom, my Mom has never "been there" for me. She wanted nothing to do with my wedding, left me with twin babies (she couldn't miss her sleep) and stopped visiting 12 years ago (at 68). She also never protected me from a verbally abusive father. The similarities are interesting. I am sorry for your pain, I know how it feels.
I believe that this is a common problem with aging single parents as I too have struggled with a complicated relationship with my Mom. From your post their personalities are very similar. Ultimately your Mother is responsible/and needs to be accountable for her own happiness. From your post it appears that this is a life long personality problem rather than something tramatic that caused her bad behaviour. I think it is important to set boundaries as to avoid taking on her problems. Also if your siblings do not want to be involved I would suggest setting up a support system through a different avenue as to avoid caregiver BURNOUT...this can happen when you are the only person helping. I found the book 'Coping with your Difficult Aging Parent' helpful. Good luck and stay healthy.
I'm late but just found this site. Your mother sounds very similar to my grandmother, emotion wise anyway. I am her only grandchild, and I have a son of my own as well as a house, a dog, and a full time job. My grandmother lives alone but relies on me for emotional support on a daily basis. She is always lonely, depressed, nobody calls her, nobody goes to see her, she needs things done and no one does them for her,'s all about her. Sometimes, actually most of the time, I just want a break from it because it wears me down (and makes me feel guilty), and I struggle with depression on my own a bit (not that she would care about that). Throughout my childhood, I unfortunately did not have much of a relationship with her, because of her nagging and always making me feel guilty. Plus she had very little to zero concern over my emotions or how I was feeling. All that mattered was that I did what she told me I should do. In fact, I got a new job recently (my last job almost gave me a nervous breakdown) and she had the hardest time with it because she can't call me at work now with every little thing. For months she kept asking if I would go back if they asked me. Never mind how miserable I was at the old job, as long as it works out for her needs. I feel for you because I know exactly what you are going through. I've tried to her her to go to the senior center but she doesn't like those people. Sigh.
I do feel a responsibility to her though because she did babysit my son when he was younger (he's a teenager now), so I feel I owe it to her to do what I can, but I want my life back and I want to stop being her emotional crutch. She tells me often enough she wants to die, she is lonely, miserable, etc...and it's so hard to provide emotional support on a continual basis when she gave me none growing up.
Dear Phoebe:
Do not feel guilty as you are not responsible for your Grandmother's happiness, she is. When she goes on one of her tirades of "I'm lonely...I want to die", just say nothing or "it is too bad you feel that way". You cannot fix her life, nor are you responsible for what she has become. I suggest you research NPD - Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There are many books and website that cover this issue. An important thing is to preserve your life that that of your son by learning to set boundaries. Good luck and bless you.
Wow! It really is important to get support from others and find out what agencies you can access. Otherwise you could "loose yourself" in the depths. You have my sympathy.

I am going through a similar situation -but the level of guilt is compounded by my mother's health issues (Osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, severe anxiety & depression). My Dad is having radiation therapy for cancer and she's been hospitalized twice for UTI's. They are both in their mid-80's. My sister and I are both back in therapy after 9 months of helping them navigate through lots of healthcare and paperwork. They are both in denial about the fact that they are "elderly" and need home health care (at the very least) or moving to assisted living. I am going to research the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Meanwhile, I hope you can set up some healthy boundaries. There's a great book, "Boundaries" Henry M. Cloud. Hope it helps.

Take care,
Someone in the forum sent me this link awhile back and I found it very helpful. Remember that there are varying degrees of narcissism, but in the end it is still difficult to deal with.

This site is such a blessing and hats off to the person who designed it and made it happen. I have been going through much of the above with my mother who is very emotionally needy. My husband and I became Christians 38 years ago, and our lives have drastically changed from self-centeredness to centered on God and His plan for our lives. Before I begin my day I read my Bible and pray and ask the Lord to direct and guide me and give me the grace for the situations that arise. When my mother voices her depression issues, is angry at me, expresses her regrets, complains, etc. I try to disengage and redirect the conversation or sometimes sit quietly and pray for her and myself--for more grace and love. I have learned that I cannot change her heart--only God can do that. I cannot give her friends, be her Activity Director in life, cannot give her peace, joy, all she is lacking...but I can be her daughter, friend, helper, encourager, etc. during her last days and try to help make them as pleasant as possible. Then--when all is finished, I will know that I have lived to please the Lord, and will have no regrets as far as caring for my mother. I usually try to make our visits pleasant--take her to the beauty shop, join with her in some of the activities at the A.L., bring her already-addressed envelopes and stationary so she can send put stickers on the letters and send them to loved ones a few times a month, laugh with her, listen to her, etc. I am learning more and more to love her and bless her with my words and actions in a way that pleases God--without expecting much in return. My greatest desire is to have God's commendation -- "well done, good and faithful servant" than my mother's approval or dissapproval. I found it also important to be sure I am balancing my time in having my morning devotions, reading the Bible and praying, meeting my husband's needs, being a blessing to our kids, and our new grandchild, friends, bookclubs, walking our dogs, gardening, etc. I prayed for you as I read your article. This can be a lonely road we walk on, but I have found that as I turn to God for His wisdom, discernment in His word, and He gives sufficient grace to the believer as to how they should live out their life--then there is peace, joy, and the patience to endure whatever befalls. May God bless you and give you daily grace:)
I don't understand why you continue to try. She created her own loneliness, let her dwell in it herself. Enjoy the life you built with your daughter and grandson and completely stay away from your mother. Hopefully your mother will see her loneliness for what it is and try and change for the better.
Sounds as if you've done all you could do. Maybe just try to tune her out and limit contact as much as possible. Both my parents are stubborn and won't try to make friends where they are either. Not much I can do about it, though. I don't really want to ruin my life over their problems at this point. I just visit when I can. Just try to relax and tune them out. Good luck and God bless you.

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