I live long distance from my elderly parents. Dad slowing down, Mom picked up a lot of slack as a caregiver because Dad can't do as much now, but has always been an "overdoer" which is my nice way of saying she has a bit of a martyr complex. She is very stressed out, has lost some good friends in the past couple of years, complains about how tired she is, etc. She has been very short and I'll just say it - unkind - numerous times in the past year. I understand this is a really hard time for her. She has always been a bit of a control freak, but we got along and had fun together in the past. Childhood was a little rocky. I think she is unhappy about her marriage and this has affected her outlook on life. At this point in time, she is giving me the silent treatment and won't say why. I can guess - she's not happy that I willingly moved farther away from them due to my husband's job. But since she won't talk to me about it, I can only guess. This has been going on for close to a month. In the past 6 months she hasn't called me (though I talk to my dad every week). She doesn't want to get on the phone. When she does get on the phone, she is sullen and rude. When I tried to talk to her about coming out for a visit to help them with stuff, she gets very condescending and tells me how busy I am and they don't need my help. So I went and booked a flight anyway. I'm going to be there on Friday, fly back on Monday. She isn't talking to me, so her text response was "Your father will have a list for you." I can only assume that she will make the list, give it to my dad to give to me. Major passive aggression going on. FYI Dad and I have a good relationship. No issues there.

I have a sister who lives in their town, but she doesn't check in on them regularly and does her own thing. She'll come over and visit on a holiday but really isn't in the trenches when that's needed. Not trying to sound like the hero, but I'm basically the responsible kid and I'm trying to figure out why my mom is villainizing me at this point in time. What purpose does it serve for her?


None of us knows your family like you do, I will go by your comments regarding your mom being unhappy.

You say that you have a good relationship with your father. That’s wonderful! Enjoy your time spent with him. It isn’t your fault that your mom isn’t communicating with you. You offered her a chance to speak and she declined. I realize that you would like a better relationship with her and of course it hurts that you don’t.

If you wish to look at the ‘the list’ made for you, agree to do whatever you want to do. If something isn’t agreeable to you, simply say that you aren’t going to do it.

Do your parents have money to pay for their needs? If they do, they don’t have to rely on you or your sister. They can hire someone to help with whatever is necessary.

My youngest daughter moved several states away from us shortly after graduation. She loves where she is living and has landed a great job. We. are very happy for her. My oldest daughter lives near us. We don’t expect either of them to do anything for us. We want them to live their own lives. They have busy lives and do not need to be concerned about our needs.

Love isn’t about expectations or controlling others actions. I wish that more people understood this. More people would be content in their lives. So much unhappiness is due to people being concerned over what others do.

There is a saying that I am very fond of, “Sweep your own porch first before telling others to sweep theirs.” So, sweep your porch and allow your mom to sweep hers, or NOT sweep it. It’s her porch.

Enjoy your life with your husband. Enjoy your time with your dad. If your mom has a history of being miserable, let her be miserable. If she refuses to speak to you, it’s her loss. I hope there never comes a day that I don’t speak to my daughters. The bottom line is, you can never make your mom be happy, nor can your dad or sister. Your sister has probably already figured that out which is why she keeps her distance.

Don’t rely on others for your happiness and don’t feel as if you have the power to make an unhappy person happy. You can’t!

All the best to you.
Helpful Answer (27)
Reply to NeedHelpWithMom
Beatty Jun 10, 2021
I just love your "sweep your porch" saying!

Agree. If Mom needs a bit of help or maybe a lot of help, with Dad, housework or just sick of cooking.. hopefully she can arrange what she needs, a house cleaner, meal delivery service etc. Or speak up to ask where to find help. It IS hard to ask for help I know! But it IS her porch after all.

Clear communication will help so much more that the silent treatment or passive aggressive behaviour.

It's not the OP's job to turn up to be the *Fixer*.
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Thank you for all of the comments, suggestions and thoughts. I am in my hotel now about ready to drive over there. I don't stay at their home because they are in a retirement community and to be honest, I need a little space to decompress each evening after my visit.

Right now my goal is to let mom drive the train. I have prayed and prayed for grace to be a duck and let stuff roll off my back. That's if she's argumentative. If she's sulky, I'll let her know I'm ready to listen to whatever she has to say. If she remains silent I will silently remind myself there's no use in begging. If I use up my list of things to do, I have some suggestions on things I'm able to help with, if they are met with a negative response, I will let them go. I'm not sure what I'll be walking into today, I'm taking it one day at a time.

My sister and I are not close, not at odds either. She is a party girl, free spirit and does her own thing. Mom doesn't ask for any help from her. I will try and offer to take them out for a meal, but while I am perfectly capable of paying for it, it is usually a battle of wills and my mother is like a dog with a bone on paying for everything (or having my dad pay), so I usually give up to keep the peace.

I am bound and determined not to let her ruffle me this weekend, which is hard, but I have been a good student of what to do and not to do when passive-aggressive behavior is going on - I realize it's what I've learned from an early age, I don't anticipate Mom will stop, I recognize it in myself, and I don't want to do it anymore. All I can do is control my own attitude, and hope that any help I give this weekend makes life a little easier on them.
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Reply to Tribe16
Isthisrealyreal Jun 11, 2021
You got this!

Have a great weekend and do what you feel like you need to and grey rock your momma if necessary.
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To be frank it sounds as though your parents are a bit in a position of reaping what they have sown lifelong. I would not be visiting without being told that a visit is welcomed and looked forward to. Your mother has made her own choices and her own life, and to get attention for bad behavior? Let's just say I wouldn't be enabling bad behavior. I would get on with my life and consider myself very lucky to be out of range of her fire for the most part. I WOULD do as you have, a short visit. And you may know more after this visit. Meanwhile do that "list" your Dad has, offer to take them out for a nice dinner, then get back home and enjoy your life. I would feel different about this if your mother was ever kind, nice and welcoming, but as you describe your childhood my impression is that this is nothing new. I am certain your mother is aware of her options. This is her choice. Some love martyrdom, though I think most of don't label them "Saints". I would not speak to her about "is there something wrong. Don't go there. Pretend everything is just hunky dorey. If she has something she needs to regurgitate, let her do it on her own.
Helpful Answer (20)
Reply to AlvaDeer
Sunnydayze Jun 12, 2021
Excellent advice. I’m taking a screenshot for my own use! Many thanks!
Let me tell you something about these over-doers or 'martyrs'. They not only ruin their own lives, but everyone else's as well. Your father also suffers because of your mother's martyrdom.
Your sister gets off free and clear because with martyrs they pick a scapegoat they can passively-aggressively dump on. Unfortunately, it seems your number came up. Your mother will continue to lay one guilt-trip after another on you or keep up the silent cold shoulder towards you. She'll probably step up the skulking and rudeness too because what she wants from you is a fight when you're there in person. Don't give her one. This is what martyrs do. They need someone else to be just as miserable and unhappy as they are. They also love big blow-up fights too. It usually gets them the sympathy and pity they always crave.
That old saying "Misery loves company" is the God's honest truth.
I speak from experience. I've been the scapegoat of my mother's martyrdom since the age of six when our father moved out. He was no longer there for her to dump on so she found someone else to become a psychological and emotional landfill for her. Unfortunately for me, it was me.
Stop playing your mother's game. If she refuses to accept the kind of help you're willing and able to offer, there's nothing you can do about that. Don't beat yourself up with guilt and shame like you're doing something wrong because you're not.
Good for you going to see your father. When you get there throw her "list" in the garbage and ask your dad what he wants you to do to help out. Then in very plain English, tell your mom to climb down off her Cross and that if she's unwilling to accept outside help with the caregiving, there's nothing anyone can do. If she insists on doing it all herself, then put up and shut up.
This is what I finally had to do with my mother and her martyrdom. It took me almost 40 years to do it. Your relationship with her will improve when she finally knows that you are not her scapegoat anymore. You will even see some respect growing too.
Helpful Answer (14)
Reply to BurntCaregiver

I’d spend little time trying to figure out your mom. For whatever reasons she’s chosen this behavior and seems happy with it. Make it a fun visit with your dad, take him out to places you’d both enjoy. Don’t try to include mom or defend yourself to her. Do what you can to help and let them be. Your dad has chosen this marriage so no attempts to disrupt them. I hope you enjoy the visit, don’t take her bait, and have quality time with dad
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Reply to Daughterof1930

Quick update - within 20 minutes of arriving, Dad and I back in the car with 5 hours of errands. Mom was pleasant, didn't acknowledge any bad behavior, neither did I - she got some quiet time at home which I know hasn't happened in forever. Dad was wiped out when we got back and went down for a nap. Mom told me she didn't want to fix dinner for all of us and we'd have to do take out - I offered to make dinner and make some freezer meals which she declined... I asked if there was anything else she needed today and she declined... she showed me her full and organized freezer (they eat super healthy and I know she doesn't like to eat out anyway, Dad and I went out during our errands.) I said no problem, I had to do homework in my hotel room anyway. So yesterday was as good as could be expected. My future daughter in law had a bridal shower this morning (out of state, watched on zoom this morning with her future sister-in-laws) in the hotel room. Told mom I'd come over with my laptop if she wanted to watch, but she didn't so... anyway, I'm headed over there now. Last time we broached the subject of POA, she got mad at me and said "I'm too busy (meaning me, not her)" and they were going to get a fiduciary. I think she gets in moods and cuts her nose to spite her face. We'll see how things go today to broach again.

Thank you for the encouragement.
Helpful Answer (12)
Reply to Tribe16
NYCmama Jun 12, 2021
Keep doing what you’re doing. Your Mom is tired and frustrated and I suspect very grateful you came and helped out. Give her your 3 day best and a few hugs. I think what she can’t express is how lonely and restricted she feels. As for POA, make a promise to research one and set up an appointment for your next visit. Perhaps you can even get your parents to visit you for a brief “vacation”. Sometimes all it takes is to hit the re-set button. I hope your weekend ends well and that your mom feels safe enough to express her appreciation. Many blessings.
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I don't see your mom as exhibiting bad behavior. I see her as just barely hanging on, and she desperately needs help. Not to put you down, but flying in for three days is less helpful and more of a burden she doesn't need. In essence, even though you say you're there to help, you'll be company more than anything.

It's beyond time to really get to understanding what's going on and what needs to be done for your parents. I'd say you've hit the point where the roles of parent and child are about to switch, so it might be a little bit of a dance to maneuver yourself into the position of decision-maker and take the pressure of decisions off your mom and dad.

I've said it here on this forum many times -- older people have a really hard time making decisions, and they don't multi-task well either. My dad was my mom's caregiver and was seemingly completely competent, but if he accomplished just one thing in a day beyond caring for my mom, it was a win. Unfortunately, that meant that the house never got cleaned, food he'd bought to make dinners in advance rotted in the refrigerator (they also lose their sense of smell as they age, by the way), and bills didn't get paid on time here and there, including the taxes one time.

My dad would have said that he had everything under control for the most part, but he really didn't, and it wasn't until he went down with cancer and I moved in for two months that I realized how bad it really was. Caregiving is all-encompassing, and the caregiver is left feeling exhausted and resentful.

Don't make this a visit to spend time with Dad because you get along with him. Instead, spend time with Mom to really understand what she's dealing with, then after you get home, stay on top of what's going on there and find ways to lighten her load.

Far too much of your post is speculation about what you think your mom is thinking or feeling, but don't really know unless she tells you. Please make a real effort during this visit to ask her and be prepared to LISTEN.
Helpful Answer (11)
Reply to MJ1929
MaryKathleen Jun 12, 2021
I don't agree. Not speaking for 6 months and won't tell you why? Phooey with that nonsense. That is passive aggressive and no one should put up with it. They want you to beg and beg to understand and they just turn their head and pout. Been there and done that and I will never, repeat never do that again.

It sounds like a gal that I know who is in a fit because her daughter moved to another town when she and her husband retired. My friend (and I am getting so disgusted with her I hesitate to call her a friend) thinks her senior children should support her both financially and physically. She said once, "I guess I am asking too much", to which I replied "Yes you are, why should Becky put her life on hold for you?". Oh, will she move close to them? Of course not.

If mother is overwhelmed, she needs to change her environment. I had to get someone to clean for me. I make it a point that I hire the work done, and I try not to ask anyone for help more than once a year. All our friends who used to run to help for BBQ and beer are either dead or don't drive.

Just taking in your post and imagining your folks there in their home having the prospect of your visit to bat around. Looking at the list. Mom trying to figure out how she’ll get it all done before you get there. Lol

I think that you are feeling a bit anxious. You dad is the patient but mom is who you are worried about.

Your mom doesn’t sound happy. Probably with life. It’s a big adjustment she’s going through. She may not feel like talking to you as you have perhaps disappointed her. She knows that you have the right to live your life etc (yes, there’s that) but can’t help feeling a little abandoned and doesn’t want to rehash it all with your quick visit and the same result. You on your plane … her dealing. She has a right to her feelings and it’s hard to put on a happy face sometimes when life is especially hard. And there is fear for the future and depression.
Probably doesn’t want to set herself up for another disappointment. It will be a little easier for your dad because he knows she needs help and is hoping you will be that without too much drama.

She knows your visit is a band-aide, you want to feel better about what you’ve done and she’s supposed to just accept it and pretend it’s all okay. Well, it’s not okay. None of its okay. But it is what it is. But hopefully when you are actually there, the ice will be broken.

Maybe you shouldn’t compare yourself to your sister. She didn’t set herself up to be the responsible kid and then fly away. A lot of time went into grooming you for your role according to what the therapists would say. You walked off the stage. Now what?

If mom has always been distant and dad warm and loving, you’ll feel right at home.

If this is new behavior for mom, and you notice changes that go behind being miffed, maybe put on your detective hat. Check out the medicine cabinet, get her doctors names and see about following up on any health issues.

I think my advice would be to go for a real visit. Take it all in. Talk about life and choices. Read the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. Talk about the five questions Gawande recommends. See if you can help all three of you figure out what’s next and how you will contribute or not.

I like Grandma 1954’s idea of a regular helper. Even if it’s a housekeeper.

At night, when they’ve gone to bed, walk around with your phone and video the house. This will help you if you end up getting involved with repair people or considering safety measures. Also video your parents as they interact or as you ask them questions. It will help you see what’s going on with them and notice changes easier for when you see them next.
Pay attention to their mail, to the food in the cupboards, sit where they sit. See what they see. This time of COVID has taught us that life is very precious and unpredictable. Deep breaths and know that your mama still loves you. Once you are there, it will take on a life of its own.
Helpful Answer (11)
Reply to 97yroldmom
Beatty Jun 10, 2021
"maybe put on your detective hat".

Yes good advice. Go with an open mind. Eyes & ears open too. May see or hear how it really is.
Hello wonderful daughter.
* It seems to me that you need to deal with your guilt or unmet needs from what your expectations are from 'a mother figure.' I will presume that much was lacking as you were growing up - and/or
* Your mother may have some dementia - brain functioning triggering her. You cannot do anything about this IF she doesn't want you're support / assistance.
* DO NOT allow yourself to be a martyr. Deal with your own unfinished business, emotionally and psychologically.
* You are an exceptional daughter - dedicated, showing up, consistent, caring, compassionate.
* From the outside looking in, I would focus on your dad. He must experience a lot of his wife's (your mom's) frustration, resentment, anger. He will soak up your loving, compassionate support and caring.
* As many say here, you can't change your mother. Only she can. You can be available. Until then, if it was me, I would step back - WAY BACK - unless or until your mom reaches out to you.
* She is in a lot of pain and fear. She feels stuck and doesn't know how to get out of her internal hell. (I might be a bit dramatic here). You cannot fix her.
* She could benefit from therapy (as I believe you could - to learn to let go) and certainly a caregiver to help as needed.
YOU MUST take care of you/rself before you can be available for an/other. So glad you are visiting your Dad and seeing how it goes w/your mom. I know it is very difficult to create emotional/psychological safety barriers around your-self... I kept trying for three years w/a client full of rage with me being the target. (Yes, I stayed due to needing the work). In any case, give yourself plenty of TIME OUTS, regroup, refocus (your thoughts - to change your feelings).
- Try doing some visualizations and affirmations. IT WILL HELP TREMENDOUSLY to visualize ahead of time a tranquil, calming, beautiful environment you've experienced (or perhaps a loving experience w a spouse or your own child) when you feel triggered. YOU NEED to learn to change the channel. As I learned in a counseling training program, visualize a TV station and then see yourself changing the channel. Learning to 'shift' out of a present, unhealthy situation is critical to your own well being.
- Give yourself a lot of applause and a self-hug, for being the outstanding, loving daughter you are. Gena.
Helpful Answer (11)
Reply to TouchMatters
AT1234 Jun 12, 2021
I started to mention dementia as in her not him, take a breath please talk to sister, but I’ve been in your shoes ok still am. My moms was difficult relation too but dementia made everything more complicated. Trust me, “sweeping your own porch” is great thought but just can’t happen in all situations. Grace.
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I think you answered your own question, when you said that mom is "stressed out, has lost some good friends," and complains that she is tired. I'm sure she is tired and stressed, if she is now the main caregiver for your dad. And the fact that you live far away and your sister that lives close doesn't pitch in, probably makes her feel that she's all alone in this. And that can be a very overwhelming feeling. Unless you've ever been a caregiver, you really can't understand what they go through. She is also probably used to your dad taking care of not only her, but also things in their life, so all this might be new to her.
So I wouldn't take her silence personal. To me it just sounds like she's a bit overwhelmed with everything, and doesn't know where to begin in getting or asking for help. Hopefully when you get there, and can sit down with her face to face, she may open up to you with what her concerns are while caring for your dad.
And just let her know that even though you don't live near that you are willing to do what you can to help. I think she may just need to know that someone is on her side.
I may be way off base on this, but that is the optimist in me speaking. Best wishes.
Helpful Answer (10)
Reply to funkygrandma59
AT1234 Jun 12, 2021
Btw, a weekend may not be enough to get much of anything done. It sounds like your mom is a burned out caregiver. Sister will prob never help. Your life is about to change, sorry.
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