My mom's demands are getting worse. How can I set boundaries without putting my parents, particularly my blind stepfather at risk?


I have tried to set boundaries and repeatedly explain to my parents that I can't just come at a moment's notice, but they just continue to demand that I shop or clean or whatever they need the same day. They absolutely refuse to listen to me, when I try to plan for a even for few days at a time. (My mom is on oxygen, multiple health issues, barely mobile, no walker or anything. And my stepfather is blind.)

I'm an independent contractor, so my schedule is somewhat flexible but constantly changing. They fully understand how my schedule works, have no trouble making and keeping appointments for themselves, yet can't or won't absorb any schedule information related to me.

Typical scenario: She randomly texts me "Can you go to the store today?"
Me: "I told you that I was double booked an hour away! That is why I wanted to do that yesterday. " Yesterday she didn't need anything, but today they have no food. And then my blind stepfather will walk along a busy roadway to get her candy or coffee creamer or whatever she must have!!

When I am at their home, (1-3 times weekly), cleaning and taking care of everything, they are too absorbed in television to help me organize any scheduling or listen when I tell them when I can shop, clean, etc. They hush me until a commercial or until whatever they are watching is over. My mom gets annoyed with me and says "I can't think about that now!"

Then while I'm busy, cleaning like a whirling dervish she demands that I come, because she doesn't want to yell or can't hear me. I stop what I am doing, inevitably my stepfather, who is blind, walks into the middle of the swept debris or starts preparing food for himself in the area I'm doing dishes or starts fumbling through clothes I am sorting. Then I am trying to wrangle him, listen to my mom, who is asking for candy or tea or to get something from another room! She still "can't think about that right now" when I ask anything relevant to schedule or planning.

But if I don't do what she wants immediately, my blind stepfather gets up to do it and gets in the middle of whatever I am doing, which is not only irritating, but dangerous.

I don't know how to set a boundary and keep my stepfather safe. He won't accept any limitations and they won't even discuss trying to make their home accessible for him. My mom has a meltdown if I move anything. Recently, I put a basket on a table and put the things he keeps losing, sitting on, breaking, etc., she threw a tantrum! I just ignored her, but it's non-stop drama.

I'm exhausted and frustrated. It's getting worse and worse. I'm on my own caring for them, no local family or friends. Only child, no siblings.

This question has been closed for answers. Ask a New Question.



We're straight back to the friction and hostility that you fear your attempts to help might create. I think you're going to have to look on that particular fear as Square One, and change it. If you don't, you'll get nowhere.

What if APS don't intervene but your mother gets to hear that you contacted them?
What if your stepfather's brother doesn't help, but - again - word gets back to your mother and stepfather?
They would be so angry with you! - for discussing their private business with other people.

Quite possibly. And? So? Would that anger be reasonable? Or would it be self-defeating and foolish?

Look. If you sincerely fear for your stepfather's safety, report to APS that he is a visually impaired senior attempting to be his wife's primary caregiver; that his home environment is unsafe for him; and that you are prevented from providing support. Focus on your concerns for him as the vulnerable elder. You'll need to be specific about what risks you are concerned about - give examples including dates, what happened, what resulted.

I wouldn't expect too much of the brother and sister-in-law. Presumably they're no spring chickens either, and maybe have their own difficulties to deal with. If they're not regularly in touch with your stepfather - or if previous encounters with your mother have been... um... "lively" - they may be immediately on the qui vive about what exactly you're asking them to do. If you do call them, first of all ask how *they* are doing and listen carefully; then you can judge whether it's appropriate to raise concerns about your own parents. Worst case scenario, you've exchanged a nice chat and an update - nothing wrong with that.

But to return to the boundaries issue. Only one way round that. You have to stop being afraid of pissing your mother off.
Helpful Answer (4)

I would just tell his brother and wife exactly what your concerns are and you are desperately trying to protect these 2 people you obviously love and were hoping that they could advise you. If your parents had a tantrum that stopped communication with you, lands who knows what was said, you may be the big purple senior eater. Be sincere, people can tell when it's from the heart. You may have to be the bad guy, I tell my family that actually being the bad guy is not so bad, I always know where I stand😁 and sometimes you just need to walk away for a while, that's okay too.
Helpful Answer (1)

You do not mention POA for finances or healthcare. If they are not in place, my first step would be to tell them, you cannot possibly do anything more for them until they have signed those documents.

Next step, there are many ways to get to a doctor's appointment that do not involve you taking time off work. They can take a cab, local medical transport etc. You do not have to drive them. If you call their doctor's the receptionist should be able to provide the names and numbers for local services. I was a receptionist in medical offices for years and I kept this information handy.

Grocery delivery. It is available in most communities. I set it up for my former mil about 10 years ago and she loves it. It took two years to convince her to do it, but she soon came around. Also prescription delivery.

You can even with out Healthcare POA, send a letter to their doctors explaining your concerns and listing the things they are not capable of doing and the risky things they are doing. The doctor may or may not address the concerns on their next visit.

As far as modifying the house goes, although you see moving furniture as making it easier for your step dad, he may not adjust easily. They are also scared of giving up what little control they still have.

I am not someone who is afraid of people being mad at me. If their living conditions are unsafe, I would have no problem reporting it to the authorities. If Mum and Dad get mad, but in the meantime get help it is a good thing.

I am not sure what you expect your step dad's brother and wife to do? I think it makes sense to let them know the situation, but it is unlikely they can change anything.

Follow up with the veteran options.
Helpful Answer (3)

Thank you all. Yes, I have been posting for a few days.
I made a little progress today. I went to the pharmacy and got a list of my mom's prescriptions. I searched their landline for my stepfather's brother's phone number and the Agency on Aging returned my call.
Unfortunately, the Agency on Aging was very little help, as I thought it might be. There is not an option for an assessment, unless they apply for it. If I could convince them to apply, if qualified, they would be put on a waiting list. The agent would not even give me a range of how long it could be. But I did some research and there are 55,000 elderly people waiting for services. It could be 5 years. I can't deal with the hostility that could arise from trying to convince them with these odds.

My other option is calling Adult Protective Services. Which, although she couldn't give me any information on what that could accomplish, I believe that it's a way to bypass my parents applying for services and they would end up on the same waiting list. And again, it could instigate hostility and drama and just add to the difficulties.

I asked for guidance on how to manage as a caregiver and she gave me numbers of two local Caregiver Support Groups/Services. I'm going to call tomorrow.

We live in Florida, where we have the highest elderly population in the country. Social services are diminishing and not really a viable resource. I've been struggling financially since moving to Florida and tried navigating the social service systems a few times. I just don't have the time or energy to waste on more dead-ends.

The other option may be a Veterans grant. we started to apply for one a couple of years ago, after a Homecare agency gave me information.

My next step is to reach out to my stepfather's brother and his wife. If I had their support, it could be easier to get my parents to cooperate and apply for something or consider some accessibility modifications to their home. I'm just very anxious about contacting them because when I tried in 2013, they were very cold and dismissive. I think they are beginning to see that my parents are not managing well on their own, but I run the risk of them not being cooperative and telling my parents that I contacted them.

I could use advice or suggestions on how to approach them, what to say and how to say it . Should I post separately? And where?
Helpful Answer (0)

Did you post a similar question a couple of days ago ?
Helpful Answer (1)

My dad pulled these kind of stunts, he was going to be in control and by hook or crook it would be his way or the wrath was upon me. NOPE, NOT GONNA HAPPEN, I could never dance fast enough to please him, so why would I kill myself, I love my dad but, he does not own me and thereby I am free to do what I can, when I can. If he makes bad choices to get his way, no guilt, he is a grown man and has not been deemed incompetent so I in actuality can not force anything, that my dear is a two way street. Set boundaries, let her rant and rave and be willing to say, I'm not agreeable to being treated so poorly so I'm leaving now, think about it and next time I come over hopefully we can deal with your immediate needs, leave, expect a tantrum, don't answer calls and then go back, if this doesn't stop the atrocious behavior, repeat, she needs to learn that piddling on your only helper is a really stupid thing to do and enough is enough. I would bet your mom has always been a manipulating control freak. You are no longer a child and have every right to set and hold boundaries, these kinds of personalities will eat you alive as long as they get what they want and could not care less how it effects the one being consumed.

May God grant you the strength to set and hold boundaries and to endure the tantrums that will come.
Helpful Answer (2)

Working for a Visiting Nurse agency I found that , unless Medicare rules have changed, Medicare does not cover shower chairs. Wal-Mart sell them.

I was so lucky. Mom had her stubborn times but on the whole was very easy. Maybe hiring someone a day or two a week to run errands and clean. Maybe get lunch and dinner. You could provide them with a prepaid card to do the shopping. Gift cards can be used this way and refilled. Tell Mom and Dad what days the person will be there and start making lists. Hopefully you have POAs on these two because you are going to need to make decisions when they no longer can. I think the need for an AL is there. Try to explain you no longer can do it all and they need help. If you have POA, contact the pharmacy they use and ask if you can get a print off of their meds.
Helpful Answer (2)

Hi Sunset, I'm exhausted just reading your posts! How old is Mom/Stepdad? Frankly, it does sound like a cognitive decline has begun. But, How do they remember their appointments and then call you the day before? They must be noting it somewhere - can you find out where?
Assisted living would be ideal! In the meantime, others have offered great ideas. When a friend of mine had ALS she was running us ragged picking up one item at a time. I sat down and told her she was going to wear out her helpers with that behavior. I asked her to make a shopping list once a week and have someone get those items. Ditto on her asking friends to change her curtains and bedspreads seasonally. I know my Mom used to do it that way, but I don't and told her to pick one set and use it year round. But I digress . . .
One thought (from my experience) is to allow time for errands when you visit. Check out the frig etc. I'm running out to the grocery store Mom - your stores are less crowded than mine. I'll get you candy and ice cream - anything else? Let's look at the cabinets.
Finally (and easier said than done) They NEED help. Can you get a companion to come over. Simple things like food prep etc. I always accompanied the person the first time to be sure they had the lay of the land. AND just get the shower chair or whatever Mom needs. You don't need a prescription and you can order it online. The Occupational therapist mentioned in another post will give specifics of what is needed.
Helpful Answer (1)


You are a fairly extreme example of someone who is accepting "responsibility without power." You need to stop doing that, because a) it's terrible for you; and b) it will do nothing to improve your parents' currently precarious living situation.

As things stand, and until someone with the legal authority to do it says otherwise, your mother and stepfather are consenting adults - fully in charge of their own decisions, fully responsible for the consequences of their own choices. Which means you have no authority to change anything, no power to make improvements, no way to fulfil the obligations you are taking on. It's impossible.

One thing strikes me in particular. A big factor for you is your fear that if you don't do something your mother demands, your stepfather will do it at risk to himself.

But think this through. For the majority of the time, your stepfather just muddles through, and you don't worry about it because you don't see it. So... I know you can't stop worrying about him, but try to remind yourself that this is up to him, and you are not responsible for what happens as a result.

Or, let's take your typical scenario...

She randomly texts me "Can you go to the store today?"
Me: "I told you that I was double booked an hour away! That is why I wanted to do that yesterday."

Try this instead...

She randomly texts me "Can you go to the store today?"
Me: "No, I can't. Write a list and I will go on [insert convenient day]."

They've no food in the house? Really? I'd be very surprised. They may not have supplies of whatever your mother has taken it into her head to fancy at that moment, but I'd be astonished if they had literally no food in the fridge, the freezer or the cupboard.

Your stepfather goes out instead? Well, you can't stop him! Up to him.

There are two things you can do immediately. You can contact your local social services and request a needs assessment for them. You don't need anyone's permission to do that. Your mother may refuse to co-operate: this would be annoying and a waste of people's time, but that in itself will go on record along with the fact that you have reported their difficulties. Moreover, the decision is not entirely your mother's; and if her refusal adversely affects your vulnerable stepfather, that too is something to be taken into account. It's worth doing - social workers know their business.

You can also try to track down a friendly but firm occupational therapist and ask for a review of their home layout. Things like the famous shower seat are improvements your mother might welcome, and if the advice comes from a knowledgable professional perhaps she'll take it better.

Both you and your stepfather are fearful of your mother's meltdowns. Professional therapists and social workers aren't. Get allies! Stop trying to do this job on your own.
Helpful Answer (11)

There are so many things that I think of and suggest and research to maintain their independence, but I have no power to do anything. I can't even move their furniture to make it easier for my stepfather to walk around, without a huge meltdown.

When he broke the faucet on the sink, I had to go to the hardware store, buy what they wanted and then return it. Then they paid $500 for another faucet that isn't good for a blind man. Same scenario when he tripped over dishwasher door and broke it completely off.

I just can't reason with them.
Helpful Answer (1)

This question has been closed for answers. Ask a New Question.