My mom is so needy -- I feel like a bad daughter because I can't be there 24/7.

Last updated: January 21, 2010

My mother, who at 56 has coronary heart disease and a stent, lives alone almost 1,000 miles from me. My parents divorced five years ago after decades of marriage, and I'm the only child.

I don't want to move there, though I worry about her constantly. Her health is stable and she's working, but she tries to make me feel guilty for not living close to her. I try to call her every day, and she complains it's not enough. When I can't talk long because I'm studying, she implies I don't want to talk to her. She feels I'm putting my boyfriend of eight years before her, which is far from the truth.

She also seems to have different symptoms daily. She goes to doctors all the time, and they can't find anything wrong with her. I have such guilt -- I feel like a bad daughter. I worry something bad will happen to her and even have nightmares. And when I go home, all she does is ignore or criticize me! How do I help my mother become happier? How do I cope with being so far away?

You're clearly not a bad daughter or caregiver, so stop those thoughts right away. I use the rubber-band method -- I put one on my wrist, and when I see it, I'm reminded not to give in to negative and defeating thoughts. From what I gather it really is OK to live away from your mom for now.

Getting divorced and having heart disease aren't easy, and your mom's complaints and fixation on her health may stem from these events. In fact, it's common for people to become depressed or anxious after major surgery. Her life has changed in pretty significant ways, and she has every right to feel scared and lost. She wants and needs attention-- and sadly, she's seeking it in unhealthy ways. In time, and with your encouragement, that could turn around.

As difficult as it might be, I'm glad you're not relinquishing your life to rush to her side. Your choice not to hurry home and "fix it" is a vote of confidence that she's capable of setting her life on a new course, which it sounds like she is. Give her time to adjust, but also help her develop a plan and begin to make new connections.

After a divorce, people lose part of their established life, including some friends and activities. She may need to seek out some new gal pals. Plenty of single, widowed, and divorced men and women would enjoy her company. She needs you, too -- you're her family and lifeline. She's also that for you.

Calling her every day may help -- even if you only have five minutes and literally have to hang up on her (after several warnings, and with love). Talking often strengthens your relationship, helps you keep track of her health, and enhances her sense of being cared about. My own mom insisted I call every day, and I'm so glad I did. I have the same tradition with my adult children. Even a "Busy day"¦I'm well"¦I love you" means so much.

But inching your mom out of her negativity will take time. Does she have a computer? If not, encourage her to get one -- or a mobile device that will allow you to e-mail her. E-mailing to touch base can be less frustrating than phone calls.

Be her sounding board, but with limits. Tell her she's got ten minutes to vent, but then you get a few minutes to vent, too (about your boss, your hair, the weather, so there's a give and take). If the negativity becomes too much, remind her it's not good for her or you and insist that she change the subject or you'll have to hang up -- and then keep your word. She may get mad, but she'll get the point.

You might even sometimes insist that each of you end the conversations with three things you're grateful for. We are soluble creatures, meaning that we tend to absorb whatever thoughts are around us. That's why it's so important that we surround ourselves with active people who have a good outlook on life. I hope you'll come to view your daily chats as a privilege. Ask any daughter who's lost her mom.

Nudge your mom to take a continuing education class or become active in her community or house of worship. It's good that she's working, but we can hide in our work and then come home and crash in front of the television at night. Help her find out what other activities are available nearby. They'll take her mind off her health and help her meet others.

Caregiving may enter our lives at what we think is an inopportune time, and we don't always get to choose where life will take us -- but we do get to choose how we respond.

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7 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 2 years ago

I'm in a similar situation in that my mom is single, and I'm an only child who lives a few states away. My mother has narcissitic personality disorder, and it has affected my childhood and continues to affect my adult life. There came a point when I realized that everything I was trying to do for her to make her happy was in vain. She'll never be happy, and it's not my responsibility to make her happy. I've learned to set healthy boundaries and take back control of my life and most importantly, not feel guilty for that. I disagree with the author of the article. You are not responsible for your mother's happiness, therefore it is not your responsibility to see to it that she can get along in this world; she's a functioning adult who should be able to do this on her own. It's one thing to offer her help if she's willing to take it and there are positive changes to be made, however in cases like this where an adult daughter is made to feel responsible for her mother's happiness and is expected to put her mother's life before her own, you will only be faced with a life of more guilt and manipulation. You won't be doing yourself or your mother any good. I found the book "Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers " by Dr. Karyl McBride to be very eye opening. Even if your mother doesn't have a full blown personality disorder, this book might be helpful to you to better understand how you can free yourself from your mother's guilt and manipulation.

over 4 years ago

My mother has been that way all her life. She has been married 3 times. My father and her were married for 29 years, she decided she wanted a divorce. She met and married her 2nd husband who died at home with lung cancer. Not long after that she met her 3rd husband who she has been with for 20 years. In that 20 years her husband has ran off all her children for one thing or another. We have not been able to go to her house to see her and she complained about us not coming there. She knows the reasons but still insist us come there. Now she has falling and required brain surgery to relieve the blood on the brain. She is not right. The doctors say she has alzheimers from the fall. No matter what has gone on I still try to keep intouch with her. I call the nurses everyday to make she she is ok. Hang in there and make sure you take care of yourself and BE HAPPY

Anonymous said over 4 years ago

It sounds like your mother is the selfish party in this situation and not you. You don't sound like a bad daughter at all. Maybe this is a little too blunt, but I call it like I see it! Your mother sounds like an inconsiderate, unthoughtful, out for herself kind of person. I know that sounds harsh, but my mother is the same way. I think it is really selfish of her to try to make you feel guilty for wanting to study. You also mentioned that she wants you to live close, but when you're around she ignores you and criticizes you. It sounds to me like she is an unhappy person no matter what. DO NOT FEEL GUILTY!!!!!!!! HER CHOICE TO BE UNHAPPY IS NOT YOUR FAULT!!!

almost 5 years ago

I want to add to this a bit. I always when I was young felt the same very way. Now when I have grown kids I think I can understand my mother much better. Thanks God she is alive and I can do as much as possible now to make her probably not so many years here pleasant. I think, at the end, all matters is the family and our family. I have perfect carier with great salary, my husband is doing really good too. And somewhat (may be related to my acomplishement in family and work) I am ready to give now, as I don't want much for myself. All of you are really young and have a very good future ahead of you. Don't be mad to your mom, you might me in her shoes one day. I can not understand how you can feel that talking more than 15 minutes is waste of your time? If you talk 15 minutes more, you only "lose" 15 minutes (so what? go to sleep 15 minutes late), but you gain something that can not be counted.

Anonymous said almost 5 years ago

A computer is a good idea, but get one with a webcam and download Skype on it. Then you can also See your mom and she can See you when you talk, plus, it doesn't cost a long distance call.

almost 5 years ago

I too have the same situation; my mother seeks attention and sympathy from others by always having a medical "issue". I live 25 miles away and also can't be there for her every need. She can really be a "downer" for me, always complaining and making me feel guilty for not always being there for her. I have tried to limit my calls to 10-15 minutes and not every day; every other day. When she starts to complain or make me feel guilty, I either quickly change the subject or pretend I have another call coming in and switch over. It gives me time to gather my thoughts and take a breather. Do not feel guilty; you are a good daughter and you have a life of your own. Don't let your mother drag you down; try to be understanding, but have your limits. Try to do what you can from a distance and visit her when you can. But, please, don't let her make you feel guilty. Suggest she pursue other interests to take her mind off of herself; she needs to feel needed and loved. I got my mother involved in volunteering for the hospital; she saw how lucky she really is and how she could help others. Suggest that to your mother. Remember, time has a way of fixing things; keep the faith and remember that this too shall pass. God Bless!

almost 5 years ago

Because, before my Mom passed I had somewhat the same situation accept my Mom and I were a few miles apart and my brother and nephew lived with her but she just wanted the majority of your time!! I do love and miss her and wish I could have spent more time with her, but I AM NOT GUILTY about the Time I did spend with her!! She knew I was there for her when she really needed me!! Be Blessed!!

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