Dear Family Advisor

Caring for a Parent and Child at the Same Time

Last updated: Dec 27, 2011


I've been caring for my partner's 80-year-old parents since February, because his mother had a stroke and his dad has dementia. But I'm 38 weeks pregnant, and I'm at a loss. His mother won't accept help from anyone except us, so I'm doing the meals and shopping, sorting out the papers and the medications, and so on. My partner, who works full-time, handles their money.

I don't think his mother understands how hard it is now that the baby is almost here, because she calls about any small problem -- like if she can't turn on the TV. I've tried explaining to her that I can't do as much now, but she seems disappointed and I feel guilty, because I really do care about them. I've tried to get her to agree to some help, but she says she can do it all herself -- and then she calls on me.

As hard as it's going to be, you're going to have to let your partner's mother do without until she realizes that she can either do more things for herself or accept the help of other people. It will be hard at first, because I know you want to help her and because it's now a habit, almost easier to do than to think about. But stand your ground. You're building the foundation of your future relationship, so think long and hard about what you want it to be.

Unless you want to live like this from now on -- being called dozens of times a day and stopping whatever you're doing to meet her long list of needs -- you're going to have to take a deep breath and let her suffer a little until she gets the message.

The reason why this is so important now is that you're bringing a child into this world, and that child needs and deserves to be first in your life. Keeping a newborn (a child of any age, really) alive, thriving, and healthy takes an enormous amount of time and attention. It doesn't just happen. This child is your primary responsibility. Your partner's mother just got a demotion, if that's the way she chooses to look at it, and she might become jealous and petty and cause all kinds of drama. Let her. It doesn't mean you care for her any less, but your child comes first. It's as simple as that.

There are times, as a caregiver (and a mother), that you feel guilty and overwhelmed, as though there's just not enough of you to go around. You have to learn to do what's best for everyone and who needs you the most at the time. And you will. Motherhood comes with many "on-the-spot" lessons.

And think of this: Your baby will probably turn out to be a delightful surprise for everyone! He or she will instantly reprioritize your life. You'll clearly know what you need to do, that you need to care for your child's needs, get enough sleep to be alert, and do all you can to keep him or her safe.

Another perk is that a child brightens everyone's lives. All of you, including your partner's mother, will enjoy a new center of attention, so many of today's concerns and squabbles simply won't matter anymore. Congratulations, and don't let anything take away from this momentous and joyful event -- let your joy ripple into all you do!