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I'm trying to set boundaries with my elderly mother. She insists on living "independently" but constantly wants and needs me to do things for her. These things can be anything from simple daily living tasks (such as coming to her house to get something she wants off a top shelf in her cupboard or bring in her mail so she doesn't have to go outside to the mailbox) to serious immediate needs (such as picking her up off the floor when she falls).


This situation is of my own making. I tried to be more helpful and accommodating to Mom after my Dad got ill 2 years ago. I've been even more helpful since he passed away several months ago. She has come to rely on my level of "jumping" when she calls.


It is time for me to pull back and set some boundaries with her, but I want to do so in a kind and loving manner. My mom is a master manipulator. She tends to use pity and anger if I don't acquiesce to her demands. Does anyone have any suggestions about how I can do this?

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Start with changing her environment. We did everything we could think of to make it easier for my dad to live alone. There is now nothing stored up high. The top shelves are empty in all cabinets and closets. He has a grabber tool for reaching things he’s dropped. We removed fall hazards like rugs that weren’t secured down well. We added grab bars like crazy in his bathroom, a shower seat as well. There’s a Knoxbox on his front porch for emergency responders to use to get a housekey from if they need to come in so they don’t have to break down the door. The post office has a form to fill out to have mail delivered to the door for the disabled. Order a pendant for her to use for real emergency needs. My dad wears one from Great Call. In essence, make there be less reason for calling. Then absolutely set boundaries and firm ones. Remember there are emergency responders who will come, you aren’t the only source of help, and some things can wait
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Reply to Daughterof1930
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Take her out to lunch ( people tend to e better behaved in public places).

Explain that you are finding it impossible to be available to meet her needs as they arise. Suggest a system whereby she keeps a list of tasks for you to do once a week. Suggest that she hire help for big tasks like housecleaning and lawn care. Ask if there is a young neighbor who could reliably bring in her mail each day for a small fee.
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Isthisrealyreal Mar 30, 2019
And move items off top shelves.
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I struggled mightily with this. Finally - much later than I should have - I sat my mother down and told her just what I would, and what I would NOT, do. Doing this kindly is almost possible, but just this side of it. You
must recognize 1. your life comes first, & 2. you are in charge. Mom has to understand that she can’t expect everything of you; she may need occasional help from others. The painful issue for me was realizing that one should NEVER be
the only person she relies on. You will sink into quicksand if you don’t get this.
After Mom fired a few people I hired to help her, I told her that she would go without this help if she did this again. She pulled back on her demands, because I finally became strong! YOU MUST TAKE CHARGE. Love these parents but don’t be manipulated by them. You’ll lose yourself if you do.
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Psalms23 Apr 2, 2019
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Good suggestions about rearranging her home to be more accommodating to her. Of course you will then find out it is more about just wanting your attention rather than actually needing your help. My father would often call and expect me to leave work to reprogram his remote control. Showing him how to do it himself was NOT what he wanted. As he would say...it was easier if I did it. Not easier for me mind you.

I learned to stop running over. Even if I was available I would put him off for a few days so he would not expect me to jump for every little thing. He would have some crisis he would expect me to jump for. It is amazing how many times the crisis would be long forgotten when I couldn't make it over there for a few days.

Depending on your life and schedule maybe set a time and day once a week that you will always visit. Minor requests need to wait for that time to get done. She won't starve just because she can't reach the box of saltines on Tuesday and you can't be there until Thursday.
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There are a couple of really intelligent books by a psychologist named Harriet Lerner that I think every caregiver should read. The first is called Dance of Anger, and the other is called Dance of Intimacy, and both talk about exactly that -- setting boundaries, but doing it kindly.

Basically she says that we often get ourselves into trouble when trying to set boundaries because we haven't taken enough time to truly sort out what our boundaries are. We know we're being asked to do too much, but haven't fully sorted through exactly what we can and can't do before we start a conversation about it, which makes it hard to stand firm when the loved one pushes back -- which is actually a predictable response, and one we can prepare for.

I strongly recommend you read at least Dance of Anger, in which she describes a woman, Katy, who is a caregiver for a father who is being incredibly manipulative and demanding, and the way she eventually sorted through this complicated situation.

These books are both quite old, but still in print (available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and they aren't written specifically for caregivers, though she definitely addresses a lot of caregiving issues. I highly, highly recommend both of them to anybody caring for a loved one. They're the two most intelligent books on boundary setting that I've ever read. She doesn't offer magic solutions, but I found what she did say to be life-changing
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CTTN55 Mar 31, 2019
Laura, I read both of those books a number of years ago. There was a lot to think about in regards to my relationship with my mother. And that was long before our relationship became really difficult in the past few years! Thanks for mentioning these books, as I want to go back and reread them.
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I like the key box idea. Also, the postman coming to the door. Have a slot put in her door with a basket on the inside to catch the mail. Really, I can see why she maybe afraid to walk to a PO box. Those 3M hooks come in all kinds of sizes now so basket should be easy to install.

Does she really need something off the top shelf? Usually what I have on the top shelf is something I don't use that much. Maybe this would be a good time to get rid of stuff she no longer needs or uses. That will give her room to have the stuff on lower shelving. My Aunt had a small pantry that was easier to get to shelves than her cabinets. So she put her dishes in the pantry and her food in the cabinets. Another friend was wheelchair bound so the lower cabinets became storage for dishes and pots and pans the higher for what had been in the lower.

From the time Mom could no longer drive, I set boundries. One day a week we went food shopping and ran errands. Mom was still involved with Church and was able to get rides to things going on in the Church. I took her on Sundays. She had friends who invited her to go to events held around the community. We eat at BK every Friday. Have been doing it for over 30 yrs, with our girls and later grands. After Dads death, Mom went with us. Yes, there were times Mom needed a prescription picked up. A ride to appts, which were made on my time. I was working part time.

You can't be at someones beck and call. It will just drain you.
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NeedHelpWithMom Apr 2, 2019
I have the key box. Got rid of the alert button because it didn’t work well and actually caused more stress. Mom couldn’t hear them, and so forth. I do like the key box though. My kids can let themselves in if they forget their key!
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Great topic, great answers. I also carry a phrase with me, that I say to mom in ways appropriate at the time: you may be insisting to live independently, but leveraging me for everything is NOT independence. It takes using other people / services for cerain things, and planning and rearrangement of furniture and items such as people have listed above. I think it is kind and useful to relieve them of the delusion that they’re successfully independent when pulling on one person all the time.
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Kingsbridge Apr 2, 2019
I always knew my dad was able to continue living independently because I ensured he had what he needed; but I never said this to him...what a great phrase to use and so so true. Thank you!
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In setting a boundary, you are seeking to protect yourself, not change the other person. Just tell them calmly how it is going to be and leave it at that.
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kdcm1011 Apr 4, 2019
What a great answer! Totally sums it up. I am definitely keeping this as a reminder. Thank you.
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The sooner you set a new normal, the better. I was never able to do it
and ended up having to put my mom in a personal care home. There,
the wonderful care giver tells her what she needs to do and walks out
of the room. Mother is doing things for her that she could not do for me
because I always "helped" till it was beyond my ability and I was
dropping her and running constantly at her beck and call like it was her
job to control every moment of my time. Patterns are terribly hard to
break. I concluded it is two different things to be a daughter, and to be
a caregiver. I am back to the daughter role and that is much better. If
you have to be the caregiver, you have to give up the "daughter" role.
My mom loves her caregiver and the caregiver loves her but it is not the
same as when I walk in- she becomes helpless again. I do not know how
it happened- it just happened very gradually. That is why I say, "Stop it
now before it develops any further." I think it was Abraham Lincoln who
said It does not help a person in the long run to do for them what they can and should do for themselves.
If she can write, she can make a list of things she needs next time you
come. Any non-emergency item should go on that list. I was able to
gain some control when I set a schedule:
This is when I do these items......
Here are your supplies so you can do this.
Lunch is in 30 minutes....
I won't be at the grocery till Tue and will be glad to pick some up then.
We can keep an eye out for that......

God has been faithful every step of the way and He will not forsake us.

Blessings as you serve His children.
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Psalms23 Apr 2, 2019
Amen! Ditto ❤️ Almost feels like you are writing from my head. I felt guilty so long because I had to stand up for myself... Thanks
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Sometimes it’s a fantasy. No matter how kind we are, it won’t matter to them. They will still be mean in return.

Don’t look at yourself as a failure either if you lose your temper. I had a therapist tell me that he lost his temper over problems that occurred in his house. Then he went on to say that, of course it happens. that everyone has lost their temper before and that it is perfectly normal to get angry at times.

I got so sick of people judging me that I couldn’t express how I felt. It took a therapist to say it was okay to feel what I was feeling. We feel what we feel, work through it, move on. Don’t let people make you feel guilty about how you feel.

This situation puts enough pressure on us. Don’t feel like you have to be perfect. If you screw up, so what. Everyone else has screwed up too.

Chances are they just won’t admit it. I admire people who admit it. I don’t admire anyone who always tells others what to do and never admit to doing anything wrong.
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Psalms23 Apr 2, 2019
Amen!👍
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