My sister is the primary caregiver and in charge of her finances (which are plentiful) and she totally enables my mother to constantly complain about illnesses, inability to eat, everything negative. Mother is very inappropriate in social interaction and mostly refuses to go out unless it is totally for her appointments, etc. She takes no prescription meds but lots of health supplements. It has caused a great deal of friction in our family although this is nothing new! Mother has always been this way, but now it is growing worse by the day! And my sister refuses to be reasonable about ignoring some of this bad behavior. I was a former educator with an emphasis in psychology so I know about setting boundaries, not enabling, etc. I am at a loss as to how to apply what I "know" as this has become so personally frustrating. Thank you for any helpful suggestions.

I agree with the other posters. Your sister may just be trying to keep the peace because she’s tired and burned out and just agreeing with Mom is easier than constantly trying to thwart her negative behavior. Psychology never worked with my mother, who was also negative and socially awkward. If you want to try your theories on Mom, why not give your sister some respite and take Mom for a week?
Helpful Answer (13)
Reply to Ahmijoy

The older we become, the more like ourselves we get! Your mom is pushing 90. Goodness! That is a lot of years to become set in one's ways. If she has always been Negative Nelly, it probably isn't realistic to expect to turn her into Sunshine Sally. That isn't a behavior change -- it is a personality transplant!

And your sister is what? In her fifties? Sixties? Pushing 70? She is not exactly a high school student, open to new ways. Does she have a background in psychology or teaching? Has she ever expressed a desire to learn the techniques you think she should use?

As you know, the only person whose behavior you can control in this situation is your own. By all means, use every method you can think of to try to make your interactions with Mom more pleasant for you. Just be realistic in your expectations of your mother, and also of your sister.
Helpful Answer (11)
Reply to jeannegibbs

Boundaries are not an attempt to make someone do something. They are not about getting the other person to understand and comply. Boundaries are about us getting clear inside of ourselves as to what is appropriate and necessary for OUR OWN mental health, and then taking action accordingly.

If you are trying to use boundaries to make your mother or sister behave differently so it doesn’t bother YOU, then YOU are the one who is overstepping boundaries.

An important first step in developing healthy boundaries is to get acquainted with, and take ownership, of your true self. This is essential before healthy boundaries can be set and maintained. As adults, we are responsible for the decisions we make in life. We have freedom to respond, to make choices, and to limit the way others' behavior affects us. As a "free agent", we can take responsibility for our freedom by setting boundaries, or borders, between ourselves and those around us.  Some people refuse to set boundaries because they see them as selfish. Others actually use them to be selfish. Both are wrong. Boundaries are about SELF-control.

It seems like this is something you think your sister should do, but it is really what YOU should do. You have to be able to identify “your stuff” as separate from “her stuff,” and deal with your own stuff, by working on yourself.

Ask yourself why it bothers you so much that your mother is the way she is and your sister is the way she is. Then focus on what you could do to work on YOUR OWN feelings, so you can be at peace in the situation. If you need help processing those feelings, I encourage you to talk to a therapist for support.
Helpful Answer (11)
Reply to DrowningDIL
MaryKathleen Oct 11, 2018
You are right on.

The only thing I can add is if Vickieanna gets tired of it, just say, "We have talked about illness or whatever for 15 minutes. Let's talk about something else".

Their is a joke about old people doing an "organ" recital.

Help your sister, give her respite. Don't worry about changing either one of them. Not your monkey, not your circus. I am sure you have read Codependent No More. Don't try to rescue, people don't appreciate it.
If your sister is the primary caregiver, it sounds like she is the one who needs to set boundaries with mom, but you can't make her do so. The best you can do is set boundaries and apply what you know for yourself. When the complaining gets to be too much, you can excuse yourself from the call or visit.

I would try to find ways you can support your sister as well. Ask her what would be most helpful to her. If your mom is a drama queen, the complaining and negativity can't be easy for her to deal with either. Try and approach your sister in a supportive way, rather than putting her on the defensive. Remember, you both love mom and are in this together.
Helpful Answer (10)
Reply to FrazzledMama

Be grateful to your sister as primary care giver, unless you want to be in there instead. Perhaps she has developed skills in just ignoring the negative behaviour, which is why it isn't upsetting her. Your mother is enough to cope with, without getting upset by your sister as well.

There have been other posts about how to help the family member who is carrying the biggest care giving load. Ideas include acknowledging that they are doing just that, occasional gifts, some respite - even paying for a holiday for them while you give them some respite. It can smooth over a lot of niggles. If you swallow your criticisms and try to be 'nicer', she might be nicer to you, as well as easier to approach with your ideas.
Helpful Answer (10)
Reply to MargaretMcKen

I was on the other end of the spectrum for a long time. My elderly mother has a host of issues (mostly mental illness), but is physically healthy, has capacity and money to live independently (for now). For years I tried everything, ignoring it, cajoling, pleading, was very difficult. But, my Sister was not involved because she was living across the country.

Then, Sister came back and started telling me how we had to do something, this situation wasn't OK, etc......

My response - what the (expletive) do you THINK I've been TRYING to do here all these years? Do you honestly think that YOU have a solution I haven't considered or tried?

Is it possible your sister is having these feelings too?

Of course, I also understand where you are coming from. SO many people in our extended family are HARD CORE enablers, and have contributed to Mom/her mental illness progressing over the years, when in my opinion, there would have been more love in honesty.

If I can make a suggestion - maybe try sitting down with your sister and have a conversation. Ask her why she's doing what she's doing, whether she thinks its productive, or whether she's open to talking about new strategies. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you both are closer to being on the same page than you think.

Of course, your sister may also be completely delusional and see no problems here. In which case I would encourage you to make sure that you do what you need to do to keep your own sanity. Boundaries help, but as someone else here pointed out, boundaries are for keeping you well. They won't change Mom or Sister's behavior. And remember, boundaries can also be flexible. I've had to set boundaries with my Mom and Sister. But I've also found that I need to (or want to) change those boundaries at times - depending on what's going on with Mom and Sister. Or what's going on with me. Because the boundaries are for me, so I'm allowed to say where they are.

BUT - there are certain things I have Zero Tolerance about and I absolutely refuse to act as an enabler, or agreeing that inappropriate things are OK or "normal".

I think the most important thing I have learned in dealing with my (undiagnosed but clearly mentally ill) Mom, is that this is not question of finding the right way to talk to her or just getting to an explanation she will finally understand. Speaking logic and reason to an unreasonable or mentally ill person is like speaking French to a Russian. They might nod, but you're just not going to be understood.

I hope this is helpful. Hang in there. You are a loving and caring person, and it's so difficult when our loved ones do not want to accept help. I think you should take comfort in the fact that you are trying and that's more than a lot of people out there do. Good luck!
Helpful Answer (9)
Reply to MrsC2018

My Dad used to say,
"It was being so miserable made him happy"

He loved to moan and groan about his illness this and his illness that!
He would moan to everyone and anyone.
To be honest it gave me a bit of a break. lol At least I did not have to listen.

If your sister is coping with it (in her own way) I feel, may be, you could 'leave well enough alone'.

Saying that, I am sure she could do with some 'time out'. She must be under so much pressure.

Just make sure she knows you are there for 'her'.

Take Care and good luck
Helpful Answer (8)
Reply to BuzzyBee

Its tough sometimes and I can see your sisters point of view. Parents like to moan at times and who knows if its genuine or not? Sometimes it easier just to do whatever to keep them happy.

I went through it with my Dad. He'd make up things like chest pain, can't breathe etc. Of course, you've got to take it seriously. Even the ambulance people and doctors did - alas now they wont even come out because hes done it so often.

Hes even self inflicted a head injury on himself because he didnt agree with the doctor that he didnt need to be in hospital (for a chest infection). Bang head same result achieved.

But where do you draw the line? Its a tough one. At the moment, I tend to ignore after years of it. Probably not funny really but we'll find him dead one day and say "Oops he wasn't making it up this time".
Helpful Answer (7)
Reply to paulfoel123

Like said, maybe sister blocks it out. Some people have the ability to tune people out. And since Mom has always been this way, nothing new to sister. Its probably easier just to let Mom vent then try to change her at this point. For some reason Mom needs the attention, maybe didn't get it as a child. For you, u can set boundries. When visiting, tell her you want to have a conversation other than complaints. If she can't do that you won't visit as much.
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to JoAnn29

Do not ask "why" questions of your sister; they are accusatory and likely will not be received well. Read up about the difference between "helicopter" and "drone" caregivers; it's fascinating. Ask your sister how she is coping with all your mother's negativity. Let her talk while you actively listen. Good luck!
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to NYDaughterInLaw

See All Answers
Subscribe to
Our Newsletter