My sisters don't see Mom, and she's exhibiting codependent neediness in response. Now what? - AgingCare.com

My sisters don't see Mom, and she's exhibiting codependent neediness in response. Now what?

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Since my father died, my mom has had a hard time with emotional independence. We have a codependent family and since my father died 4 years ago and she is not a full time caregiver, she doesn't know what to do with herself and has a lot of trouble making decisions and feeling comfortable in her own life. She also is starting to struggle with self care, like eating properly. She has a lot of anxiety about things like whether to visit one of her adult children, if she should drive, if she should move (she is in a paid-for condo for retired people, but wants to move to some dumpy apartment), if there is a problem with her electrical, her car, etc. She also gets overly involved in crises related to her children, such as my sibling's health problems, etc. and literally makes herself sick over it. She is relatively physically healthy but has been getting worked up about everything.

The elephant in the room is that she is upset that one daughter never visits her because she is agoraphobic and has been angry for a long time, and one daughter never visits her because she is "too busy," but my mom would never verbalize this, and rather than confronting them, she is now having lots of crises and dramas that require hand holding by phone. In the mean time, I am the only one who visits but she gets irritated easily with me because I am straight forward...you don't feel well, go to the doctor; you have anxiety and insomnia, maybe you should see a psychiatrist; you don't like your neighbor, don't talk to her, etc. I know that sometimes people just need to talk, and I do listen, but with her it is not a normal exchange. Sometimes she is just irritable and needs to unload on someone and other times she spends a lot of time talking about how pathetic she is, when really she is pretty capable in many ways. It's hard to navigate the truth and the drama. It's all about guilt and internalized chaos. She wants to put everyone in their place and be bossy, but she doesn't. She wants help, but on her terms. She wants to control your response to her. I have asked my sisters to visit her more in person, but they think they are helping by calling her a lot and playing their roles in our unhealthy family. If she has a real anxiety problem, which she probably does, she needs professional help, but they are both just so blinded by assuaging their guilt by playing out the drama but also keeping their distance. One of my sisters is a nurse, so she considers herself an absolute authority on everything, so even after being basically absent for a year, she is now "handling it," by phone, based on her "diagnosis and knowledge of the proper treatment plan for anxiety." What? I realize I have issues with sibling rivalry and sound like a child myself, and I need to work on that, but I also need help navigating this parental care, which is only going to increase with time.

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The other thought is that Mom exhibits codependent neediness as a cause and your sisters don't care to deal with her as an effect. They may not be making Mom worse than she is, though their refusal to deal with it is enabled by you being available to do it instead. I guess it would be pretty painful for Mom if you were to kick that elephant out of the room by telling Mom her other kids really aren't coming over because they don't want to be with her. Sometimes maybe it is better to let the elephant stick around, I guess.

Competent non-long-distance diagnosis and appropriate treatment for her anxiety disorder or whatever else is going on may make both your lives a little better. And it sounds like you are legitimately worried about mom and though Sister Nurse thinks she will be able to make the judgement calls about when it really is urgent and needed for you to get over there, you are not confident that she cares enough. Would a LifeLine for her be helpful? Would she even use it?
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I second Jeanne's wish that you keep coming back to post. When you have exasperating siblings on your hands, venting really does help!
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lilacbranch, Ow. I'll bet that did hurt. But acknowledging a bad situation gives you power to deal with it that hoping and denying doesn't.

You sound like your head is screwed on straight. I'm betting you'll survive this intact.

My mother is in a nursing home with dementia. She recently broke her hip. We enrolled her in hospice. Behind each of these statement you can probably imagine a whole scenario of anxiety and indecision and turmoil. My three sisters and I don't always have the same outlook on the situation and there have been tensions. We are blessed that each of us sincerely wants what is best for Ma and respect each other even when we don't agree. And while the family has plenty of quirks and foibles it has always been basically functional. If you and your sisters are stuck in some roleplaying from a not-very-healthy history it stands to reason that your relationships with them in this time of need are going to be even more fraught with tension and conflict than mine. Stay strong! Accept that you cannot change them but that you are in charge of yourself. You sound very capable in that department.

I also have three brothers. My sisters and I have pretty much written them off in this context. For various reasons, some legitimate and some I would judge as selfish, they really aren't part of the support network. I love CountryMouse's observation that there are plenty of other people who can help, even if you can't count on your relatives.

Does one of you have POA? It might be a good idea to encourage that to be well thought-out and then arranged.

You've gotten your question answered. I hope you won't go away. I'd sure like to see you actively posting on this forum!
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Hi all, Thanks for your additional feedback. To answer your questions, I am slightly closer but still two hours away and I have younger kids with their activities, etc. and a full time job, which neither of them has.

So the other shoe dropped and your instincts were correct...It's all about me and my fears and nothing new with my mom. I had emailed my sisters, nicely, for the record, to ask if they would visit more. It turned out that I was most afraid of my sisters totally dismissing my request for help, and they did. I am so angry right now. The crazy one told me mom is fine and she does what she can. Of course she's too agoraphobic to visit her mom, but she does the occasional weekend antiquing and winetasting. The bossy nurse told me she's in charge and she'll basically tell me where to be if she thinks mom really needs help (seriously?) and that she doesn't have to visit much because she was more involved when my dad was sick (OK, so she was a resource translating medical info for my mom, but really we all did our share in terms of being there with them).

Wow. That hurt. OK, asked and answered. So much for collaboration.
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Meds for Mom.
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You didn't say if your mother lives near either of your sisters or not. Maybe her codependent neediness is her needing to have more help with things and she don't know how to come out and ask. This would explain the aggravation towards your sisters. Seems she expects them to know what she needs. You are there helping, they are not. Can you ask her what she would like them and yourself each to do to help her? Then call and tell each sister what she has asked. It is a start. When you get no help from them, tell mom that you and her can look around for some help. She may just need a companion.
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Thank you everyone. So helpful! She actually does have pretty strong social connections through her church, but the weird family stuff is its own issue with old roots, and I think her stress is bringing it all out there, especially the judgemental, controlling side of her. Countrymouse the story you shared was extremely helpful...the freefall thing...I think you are so right. My mom was a caregiver for her mother for several years, and my dad battled heart failure for more than 10 years, and she micromanaged everything. She is definitely in freefall. Plus, she always counted on my dad to make or at least validate her on big decisions, and he was strong enough to tell her when to settle down. I appreciate your comments about me. To be honest, I needed to hear that. I don't know. I think I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since she has been mad about my sisters she has been more feisty with me, like she needs to push us all away. My husband joked, "God forbid you are the good one." Maybe this does raise some childlike fear of rejection in me, that maybe my superhero sister will "get credit" for solving every problem, but I will stay in the line of fire the most and be miserable. That could be my fear. In terms of what needs to happen, I think I wanted everything to be more fair and for us sisters to communicate and be on the same page in terms of understanding where she is at, but hey, that sounds hilarious now that I type it. Anyway, your comment was super helpful. I need to be more conscious of my expectations and anxieties. I have asked my sisters to do a three-way call just to have a conversation about our sense of where she is at, but I realize that having the conversation may not mean any changes in terms of what they do.
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Lilac, I'm sorry to hear about your mother. Struck a chord with me: my FIL died two years ago after a 50+ year marriage. One SIL lives in Australia. My ex retired early on ill health grounds which also tidily relieve him of caregiving obligations (though MIL does spend the occasional weekend at his house, being waited on by his wife). The lion's share - wrong metaphor. What lion would put up with it? - of the caregiving falls to my other SIL and her husband. And it's just as you describe: an endless daily list of worries, needs and demands.

I agree with PamS, stay down-to-earth with her, you're doing really well. But when you say "now what?" - I'm wondering what you would like to happen, on the one hand? And what you are worried might happen, on the other.

I also agree with Nancy, and have tried a similar argument on my mother, pointing out that other people of her age may not have families to visit them and might welcome a friendly conversation - she could help them. My mother has promised that next time she stays in respite for one week she will make an effort to speak to people. I'll believe it when I see it, but she did promise.

I understand and sympathise with your irritation with your nurse sister. I'm sure treatment for anxiety would help, but a) it's not the whole story and b) how would sister know if she never goes to see? Very annoying - even if she's right!

But I think what I'm getting at is: concentrate on protecting yourself from this situation getting out of hand. Have in mind how much time and mental energy you're prepared to commit to your mother indefinitely; is that going to be enough? What needs to change? Should she move? Is it time for a family conference to PLAN her wellbeing for the next, say, five to ten years?

And don't let her complaints about your siblings get to you. That's a hobby. Nothing you can do about it, not your problem, and actually not a problem for your mother - it's just a topic of conversation. Nothing you or your mother could say would change what they do, anyway. People develop their own patterns for calling and visiting. And meddling.

Hm. What was your mother like while your father was still alive? She looked after him, is that right? - Was she taken up with caring for him for a long time? I wonder with my MIL if the sudden release from that strain put her into free-fall. But then again, I suppose we can't know how much emotion their respective husbands soaked up - maybe we only notice the dependence now because there isn't anyone else for our mothers to unload on? Do you think?

Your mother is a big subject, and one I don't think you should be left to deal with alone. Don't forget there are lots of people who can contribute - medical, pastoral and other professionals; friends, neighbours - so you are not all that stands between your mother and loneliness. All I meant to say, on reading your post, is watch out for you. I got a sense you're dreading something? - man the barricades before it happens!

And if sister wants to muscle in and take over? Tip: let her! :) Best of luck, I'd love to hear what you think.
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The RN is right, address the anxiety and the obsessions will diminish. It is equally important to provide Mom with social activities with her peers. Your straightforward approach is very GOOD, you have learned to set appropriate boundaries and avoid manipulation. You will need more of this down the road, especially when she stops driving.
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lilac, what I've observed about people like this, is that they are dwelling on themselves WAY TOO MUCH. What I have seen is, when a person starts thinking about someone OTHER then themselves, things get better. If you mother can help someone else, maybe someone in her building, she will feel much better about herself. It REALLY is better to give than to receive don't you think? That's been my experience at least. If you mother can walk and talk and still get around, she can reach out and help someone else you is worse off than her. Honestly, when a person only thinks about themselves it's depressing for sure.
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