Dear Family Advisor

My mom wants me to drive her on her dates!

Last updated: Jan 31, 2012


Mom is starting to "take up" with a gentleman at the adult day center. She wants me to drive them on a date! Dad is in a care home with late-stage dementia and doesn't even know who she is anymore.

I know she's lonely -- and I'm not upset with her -- but I don't know that I should go along with this, much less be the driver.

Your mom is lonely and needs a friend. And there's such a thing as "battlefield ethics" -- meaning that in extreme circumstances, a person may make choices they might not otherwise. It's not that it's right or wrong -- it just is.

Saying that, I don't suggest that you do anything you're not comfortable with. Don't cross your own boundaries, but also try not to shame your mother or judge her. Your mom has to make and live with her own choices. So do you.

You have three alternatives:

1) Turn a blind eye and allow her and her friend to continue to enjoy whatever it is they have, while not condoning it and also not stopping it. 2) Help your mom spend time with this man by driving them places or doing other tasks that may assist her. 3) Tell her flat-out that you don't approve, and perhaps remove her from this adult day center.

It doesn't sound as though you would choose the third option. You feel for your mom -- and your dad. They're both in difficult situations, and there are no easy answers.

That said, your mother may or may not have romantic feelings for this man. She may just have a connection with him, feel that they have something in common, and want to "hang out." Is that wrong?

Would it be okay for her to be friends with a man? Different people have different viewpoints on this, but we can't always help whom we click with.

Then again, she (or he) may also have romantic feelings. Older adults are people too, with desires and needs.

In terms of right and wrong, marriage and fidelity, everyone has their own definition and guidelines to follow.

There's yet another angle to consider: Your mom might simply need more social stimulation than this single day center can provide. Maybe she'd welcome the opportunity to be with more other people in addition to this new male friend. Don't view this relationship as just sexual or even as a one-friend-only situation. Your mom has expressed a need, and it's a very normal one, so do all you can to find ways to meet it. Are there any senior trips she might take? Are there other clubs or activities she can get involved in?

If your mom continues to ask about the dating, tell her the dilemma you're in. Explain that you know your dad can't be there for her right now, and that you're trying to understand her situation, but that, as their daughter, you just can't help facilitate this. Don't shame her; just give her a hug and ask her to understand where you're coming from.

Meanwhile, even if you can't fully support your mom on this issue, treat her with tenderness and try to understand what her life is like. None of us can quite fathom what your mom is going through, and we can't really say what we would or wouldn't do in a similar circumstance.

And try not to get too worked up about it! Some older adults become like teens again. They flirt, they gossip, they have crushes, and they get over them. This may be a phase. It gives her something to look forward to, and it may be a harmless distraction.

Being there for both of your parents, in such different ways, is probably making you feel like an overstretched rubber band. I'm sure that caring for your parents in this way isn't what you expected, but it certainly keeps life interesting, doesn't it!