Dear Family Advisor

Mom is guilt-tripping poor Dad that he broke his "till death do us part" vows by putting her in a nursing and rehab center.

Last updated: Apr 27, 2009

After Mom's fourth hospital stay in a year, we decided to keep her in the nursing and rehab center, as Dad could no longer handle her care needs -- bathing, cooking, cleaning, walking, toileting. She thinks my cousin and I have "brainwashed" him into thinking he can't care for her anymore. She's being downright nasty, telling him that he broke his promise of "till death us do part." How do I stop Mom's guilt trips?

Your mom can't see the "bigger picture" right now because she's angry and scared. She has every right to feel lost and betrayed, and she's taking it out on your dad partly because he's a safe target. It's going to take some time and perhaps some intervention for her to come to terms with being in the nursing center, but if you and your dad feel she needs to be there, then stick to your guns, even though you'll probably still be in for an earful.

Your father is most certainly keeping his vows, and I hope you tell him that again and again. He needs your love and support now more than ever. His guilt and worry about your mom is undoubtedly hard on him -- it could even make him sick or depressed -- so attend to him first. Since spouses know how to manipulate their partners, encourage him to visit your mom only when you or someone else can be there with him. Find a confidant outside the family he can trust and respect: Can he talk to a spiritual adviser? Does he have a wise friend who has experienced something similar, or is there a support group nearby he could try?

Your mom would benefit from talking to a professional, too -- a minister, rabbi, therapist, or someone at the care facility. If she meets with this person several times, she can begin to open up and work through her feelings.

Check on her regularly at the center -- talk to the staff and find out how she's doing when she doesn't know you're there. Sometimes people put on a show when their family or friends show up; she may actually be doing better than she's telling you she is. Visit at different times of day and night to make sure she's getting good care and that she's adjusting to the many changes she's undergoing.

In the end, if you're confident she's getting good care and she's still giving everyone a hard time, practice some tough love. Reassure her of your love and your dad's love. But remind her firmly that everyone has considered this decision very seriously and this is what's best. You may have to do it several times, and you may have to leave if she's acting ugly. After she calms down, you can point out that "for better or worse" is a two-way street, and that she should consider how hard it was for your dad to try to take care of her properly when he couldn't manage it. For better or worse means having the resolve to do what's right -- even if it's not easy.