How do I balance caring for my demanding mother and participating in my family?

7 answers | Last updated: Oct 27, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How do you deal with a mother you love, but still treats you like a child. She blames me for everything that happens. She has neuropathy and edema. She had a mass removed from her pancreas a year ago. Her feet, ankles, and legs are really bad. We don't know what is causing the neuropathy or the edema. She is refusing to have anymore testing done. Everything has to revolve around her. My husband and children are getting very upset that I don't have time for them. My mom lives in an apartment by herself, but is at our house alot. In the past 18 days, she was here 15. It was a long holiday. I just don't know how to put my family first and not hurt my mother. With her health getting worse, we don't know...I also have a daughter that has UC (ulcerative colitis) and seizures. She is getting very upset at my mother and the way they are being pushed aside. Any advice would be great......


Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

Setting limits with the people you love is a difficult but necessary part of life. That being said, your mother has made that a particularly challenging task. She has made a choice to stop medical treatment, though that treatment might improve her symptoms dramatically. As a result of this choice, she needs to be taken care of and the burden is on you. I don't know if there are other options available to her for assistance, but if not, you are in a tough bind. Your mother's needs are forcing you to choose between her and your husband and children.

Your mother has been behaving as though she is angry, and she has been putting her needs ahead of yours without showing any appreciation the conflicts this creates. It is not clear to me from your question whether this is the way she has always been, or whether this is a change. If this is the way she has always been, you will have to find a way to set clear limits with her and to assume no matter what you do, she will not believe you are doing enough. Under those circumstances, I would suggest you have a frank discussion with your family about what you are struggling with and let them help you set appropriate limits. If you haven't told them, it is important you tell them how much you love them and that you feel badly you are not attending to their needs. If your mother has always been as she is now, you probably have a reflexive way you deal with her, and your reflexes may not be helpful at this time. If your reflex is to do whatever she asks, you and your husband and children are going to pay a big price. It may be that your husband and children can help you set limits that get your needs, their needs and at least many of your mother's needs met. While it is true, you will not meet all her needs, she is making the choice to stop getting treatment for her medical conditions, and you can't fix that.

If your mother's behavior is not typical of her, then there are other things to consider. Is she depressed? Is her medical condition or medications she is taking causing psychiatric symptoms? I would strongly encourage you or someone else you and your mother trust to have a discussion with her and try to persuade her to get a careful medical evaluation that includes attention to those questions. It will be important for someone, perhaps you, to go with her to this appointment so the doctor understands how she has been doing and you get a clear understanding of what the doctor recommends. Once you have the information, I would suggest you bring your husband and children up to date, and together you plot a strategy that best meets everyones' needs, including yours. It may help you, whether this behavior is typical of your mother or new, to work for a bit with a psychotherapist to help you make decisions that will be best in both the short and long term.


Community Answers

Hamr4 answered...

Thank you Dr. Ribbons....yes, my mother has always been a very demanding person...She is on a medication for depression. I will try and set some bounderies with her and see if that works. We are now trying to get her to find out what is causing all the medical problems...I do thank you for responding to my question and giving me your advice....


Aabeth answered...

I know it's hard, I love my mom too and she needs constant looking after. It is so hard to be a parent to a parent. My mom is healthy except for her mind. She gets mad a me if I don't let her watch my son. well I have seen people with their parents, they can be so mean, I try my best to give more love than words. Right or wrong I don't know, but a hug always makes me feel better.


Joyg answered...

As hard as my advice will be to accept for many, YOU are the most important person in the experience. If you do not put yourself and your needs first, you will become ill yourself. THEN, who will take care of your Mother. Make this clear to her. She has made her choices, good or bad, now you need to be firm and make some good choices for yourself.


Ladl77 answered...

I can relate to your dilemna of feeling torn between your mother and your nuclear family. You must be firm in communicating to your mother that your husband and children are your first priority (after yourself) but that you will do everything in your power to manage her needs. Work out a schedule if necessary so that she isn't always at your house invading your family time. I, too, am the primary caregiver for my cranky, depressed, demanding mother. I learned from her experience with my grandparents what can happen to a neglected family unit. She prioritized my grandparents over my father and over me and I learned then that was the wrong order. I swore then that should the same "fate" befall me that I would place my family first. I keep my mother at arm's length, physically and emotionally, otherwise her behavior and demands would destroy my family from the inside out. Don't let guilt and insensitive comments from ill-informed outsiders beat you down. Only those who have walked in YOUR shoes can fully understand how YOU feel. Best of luck with your particular situation...just know that others can relate and are going through similar situations as best they can which is what you should do as well.


Orien2 answered...

I think she wants to die maybe either way you need a counselor or priest. I'm sure it must be difficult for your mate and children call respite care or hospice you need help you sound like a teenager you can't have it both ways, ma'am. Girlfriend you need to be rubbed or have your nails done or a beer get out of the house go for a walk with your man just enjoy it or watch the sun go down sitting on the car. Go on a date with your compainion go to movies, pizza, have each other in bed you are the only one letting her run your life. So you go with your dude and aside fom obvious needs like food, meds and needing to lav ignore everything she throws at you and ear plugs or head phones work nicely or just pretend she isn't there or you cannot hear her. You need whatever it is that makes you feel better about yourself. Maybe take her shopping or she's lonely or sad. A hobbie something she like that she can still do. It sounds like both of you need to focus on something happy rather than something sad go to a concert or a basket ball game or watch it on TV and drink fancy drinks like mimosas or take her to a mex resturant or a chinese one or a japanese steak house. Or do what I did shave your head to prove she cannot control you at all then get a wig for work. Think what is your mom's worst fear then dress someone up as that or pay someone who looks like that to come home with you tell your mate it's a joke. So you give a Hell's angel or a dentist with a harley dress him in a tank top and put temp tattoos on his arms get someone to draw on his arms and make certain he smells really bad. He comes in sheds his jacket and you cling to him at his feet and he pulls you up gets his arm around you and announces this is his woman and he is taking her away from here. Then both you board the Harley and you stay out of the middle because you are getting killed, girlfriend by this woman. She is taking advantage and you sound tired and frustrated if I'm not mistaken you aren't well right now. Running a fever most like muscle cramps tired most like and immune system bout to go bye bye. You need to forget about all your problem get a rub down or drink a beer. This is tough what you are dealing with. Didn't have a good relationship with ma. What seems like caring is control maybe but I do not know you. Yet going off with a guy who looks like a parent's worst night mare will take care of the problem. That her daughter could do that would be a shock. It might work. Rebels have better immune systems. They produce more killer cells. Doc if you don't know that you are behind in immunology check out love medicine and miracle by Bernie Siegal. Rebels have a better immune system so that is why only the good die young.


Ca-claire answered...

hamr4 - Such a difficult place to be in. What I have found over the last 6-1/2 years that I have been caregiving family, is that giving less time, and only when they absolutely need it (not just wants), makes them actually appreciate you more. So try spending only once or twice a week with your mother for an hour or so to take care of her 'needs'. If she has a key to your home, take it away from her and make it clear that she cannot just 'pop' in for visits or to take you away to do something for her. If you don't want to take her key away from her, pay a fee to a locksmith, and change the locks on the house - good to do every 4-5 years anyway.

Set aside one night a week for just your immediate family (husband and kids). My Church encourages us to use Monday night for this. Dinner together (no cell phones), then an hour or so discussing what's happening in each of your lives. It can help to discuss your Mom as well - since she takes part of your week anyway. Also, reserve one night a week for you and your husband to have some alone time. Go out to eat together, even if it's fast food. Go to the park and walk together, or sit on a park bench and just enjoy the quiet. Taking care of these simple steps can strengthen your family to be able to handle the tough times ahead.

If your Mom has chronic pain, and may be depressed, try having the Dr. put her on Cymbalta. It can help with the neuropathy, and if she's on Neurontin, they can drop her off that with Cymbalta. It worked well for my Mom's neuropathy and constant pain from arthritis.

Best wishes to you and your family. You will make it through this. Just remember, you are the caregiver - not the person responsible for making your Mother 'happy'.