My mother has struggled with depression for some time since my younger sister died in 2001, and my father, to whom she was married for 53 years, passed away about a year and a half ago. The depression is worsened by chronic pain from arthritis and her unwillingness to take an antidepressant (she says they make her feel "funny"). I live about two hours away, and I call two or three times a week and visit about every two weeks or so. She offers her opinion on what I eat, what I wear, how I cut my hair, my weight, my makeup, my vehicle...the list goes on and on. She's unhappy because I never got married and had kids, so she has no grandchildren. She also complains because I moved away and I'm not there to help her. (She says I do more for other people than I do for her.) She also constantly complains about everything. I know her criticisms don't make any difference to who I am as a person, and I do what I want regardless because I know it's impossible to please her. Sometimes the constant comments wear me down, and I don't know what to say in response. I think I need to do a better job of setting healthy boundaries as far as what she says to me. Any suggestions are appreciated.

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Wonderful advice here. It's not about you having shortcomings and thankfully you know that. Understandably this is wearing you down. But depression is an ugly beast and as was noted, antidepressants don't work for a lot of people and can be negative for many. Your mother has been through the loss of her life partner and her pain likely makes her feel helpless and hopeless. She only recover from either. The only control she has is to complain.

You need to set boundaries for yourself about how much you'll be exposed to this. But Bob, the ever wise Jeannegibbs and all of the others had it right. "Agreeing" with her, just being kind but not responding to her negativity - that sort of response will likely be less wearing in the long run than fighting against it.

Keep reaching out for support. Many here have similar situations to cope with.
We're with you,
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Suggest you consider saying, "Mom, you may be right." Then smile. She won't quit but if you keep saying that or variations of it, she may at least slow down.

You may want to try telling her about your own gratitude list of just the nice things in your life: live in a free country, have enough money to live on,
the beautiful sunshine on many days, rain enough most of the time to nourish the plants, a decent car to drive, and so on...Perhaps she might list some good things in her life.

Another "trick" is to try to counter each complaint with, "Oh, mom, I never noticed that nice knick knack on the side table before...It is so pretty."

HardAxx dept: "Mom, when you say things like that it makes me feel bad.
You have complained about a dozen things in the past two minutes....I want you to know that I am going to hang up now. I am not willing to listen to your complaints any longer today." Then say goodbye, do not wait for a response and hang up...Do not answer if she calls back. Tough to do, I know.

You have a difficult assignment. Bottom line as I see it: Mom, won't change, but you can draw a line and if you decide to, you can stick to it.

"Bless them, change me" is a good prayer.

Grace + Peace,

Helpful Answer (23)

I totally understand the situation! My mom would always comment about my hair and weight when I'd make the 1100-mile trio to visit. I would take the, "Ah, I'm sorry you don't like it, but this is as good as it gets." She would stop. I ended up moving both my parents to am AL in my little town so we could be close. As my momma's vascular dementia progressed, she took a total turn and keep telling me how pretty and attractive i was...even pulling in caregivers to confirm her observation. (Please note, I'm in my late 50s and no beauty queen!) I do believe whatever our elderly loved ones say is a reflection of how they're feeling, not what they're seeing.
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I think you need to do a better job of setting healthy boundaries as far as what she says to you goes.

Or just ignore her. Change the subject. Hear your doorbell ringing. Smell something burning in the kitchen. Gottoa go Mom. Love you. Goodbye.

Or kill her with kindness. Poor lady. The combination of depression and chronic pain is truly pitiful. Hug her. Tell her how sorry you are that she isn't well. Tell her what a great job she did in raising you to live independently and follow your own path. Thank her for that. Bring her little gifts. Of course they will be the wrong color or the wrong size or too glitzy or too plain, so be sure they are things you can take home. "Oh, I'm so sorry that this African Violet will be too much trouble for you to take care of. I didn't think of that. I'll just take it back home so you don't have to bother with it. Shall we go out shopping and pick out something for you together?" Between visits send cheery thinking-of-you cards.

Or Distract her. Change the subject. "I really miss Dad. I know it is even worse for you. What is your all-time favorite memory of him?" "What was your own mother like when she was your age?" "Sometimes I think of Sis and smile. Remember the time she ..." "You don't like my car? Well, I think it suits me. What was the first car you and Daddy owned? Did you help pick it out?" "What were you doing for fun when you were my age?"

Her constant complaints are her problem. Don't let them become your problem. You seem to have a very sensible attitude, and I suspect you cope better than average. Every time you visit, plan a little reward for yourself when you get home!
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Just as you know it's impossible to please your mother, so it is also impossible for her constant, universal discontent not to get you down. Use any and all strategies that lighten the moment for you, but most of all remember and comfort yourself that it is Her and Not You. Tolerating this is part of loving her, which is not always fun. As you know.

To add to the collection already amassed (!) -

My mother, when wearying of complaints or bad news or hand-wringing, would chip in "… and the goal is but the grave!" with a deep theatrical sigh at the end. It's a quotation from one of the more morbid Victorian poets, I think - must look it up some time.

Say "I know what you need!" and offer to get her the complete Radiohead collection.

Do a Trotsky vs. Stalin and repeat each complaint with rising intonation e.g. "that hairstyle is terrible" "this hairstyle is terrible?" The original goes "I was wrong. You were right. I should apologise." Which becomes "I was wrong? You were right? I should ***apologise***???"

When they know they have just annoyed me, my children give me a cheeky peek and say "I love you Mummy :)" Now of course I am always reasonable and my complaints are invariably valid, but even so… This might be useful as an occasional tonic for your mother's spirits, you never know.

Try not to get annoyed with her. I used to get irritated to the point of arguing with my mother about her negativity, and my God what a waste of breath and temper that was. Plus it just gives me one more thing to regret. So try not to do that.
Helpful Answer (14)

When my mother would criticize how I looked, what I was wearing, etc., I would tell her 'you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine." When my dad complains about my car, I point out to him that instead of being taken every where he needs to go in it, he could go on the transportation that his AL facility provides. Sometimes the criticism is more reflective of their unhappiness with where they find themselves in life and not really about you. I don't let it rain on my parade.
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I understand it's very challenging. My Mother in law also does the same. She lives with us. Day in and day out she gives be constant negative feedback as to the dishes I prepare for her and even water being salty. Its not her but her dementia that's doing the rounds. I say to myself time and again her behavior is not her but dementia in action, and that gives me some solace to keep moving forward with positivity.
Helpful Answer (11)

Several things... Depression is an ugly beast... especially since losing a child, followed by a long time spouse can often be difficult for her (or anyone) to deal with.
Antidepressants are not the answer, as they have been proven time and time again to be ineffective... and yes.... they DO make her feel funny. Believe it or not, FISH OIL has been proven to be far more effective in dealing with depression than prescription anti-depressants.
Your mother is lonely, and seems like she does not have a large circle of friends to support her.
I took care of both parents for over a decade, and I my dad could often be critical as you describe. Just remember, it it not about you at all, and often when they lash out, it is because they are afraid of their own mortality, and their own disappointments with themselves.
For you... just do the best you can do, and simply be mindful that she is probably struggling in her own way to deal with things. I also wish you the best, and keep your courage and simply love her where she's at.
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This sounds much like my own mother. No matter what I do, it's never enough, and the complaining is a constant. My advice is to stick to your boundaries, and find things to say that you are comfortable with. I tend to either change the subject or respond as though I hear what she says, such as "that's a good idea," if she tells me how to dress, eat, etc. (then do what I want). I know that I cannot argue with her, since she tends to be a narcissist and believes she is always right, therefore being a "right fighter" who will keep trying to make her point if I don't acknowledge it. It has helped that I can meet with her doctor privately whenever she has a medical issue or her behavior gets out of hand. She doesn't know it, so she listens to what he recommends. Putting her on Xanax greatly improved her sleeping and attitude. She took it first for sleeping, but it definitely improved her overall attitude in general. Now that she is 88, some senile dementia is coming into play and affecting her anxiety level, so a visit to the doctor was needed. She has increased the taking of Xanax to during the day, but it's too soon to see a difference, so the complaining goes on. As for yourself, there are times when the constant complaining drains the recipient, and then you need time to decompress to get through it. No one can hear such negativity without feeling affected by it. I try stress reducers that work for me, such as praying, walking, and having a supportive family and friends who buoy me up. I wish you the best.
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When you accept the situation that your mum is depressed and can't change, you will start finding strategies to deal with it in yourself. You will start seeing the situation in a different light. Probably pick a time of day to visit mum when she is relaxed, like after lunch when she has a nap in the afternoon or early evening. In those quiet times tell her all the positive things, something to make her smile and the truth that her criticism wears you down and you want your meetings to be happy times. Some days are good and some challenging, but with time, it will change. Say a prayer before you talk to her or before you visit her and ask God to help your talk to be peaceful.
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