How can I get over my anger at my mother regarding my father's care?

6 answers | Last updated: Sep 06, 2011
Wowmom129 asked...

My mom had to do everything for my 87-year-old father, and became resentful as a result. I begged her to hire someone to come in and help her. but she flatly refused to consider it, because she didn't want strangers in her home. Then, last weekend, my father fell when I was away at my daughter's soccer tournament. He hit his head on a bench, had to have stitches in several places, and fractured his second vertebrae.

Now my dad has to wear a neck brace for three months (if he lives that long), and will go from the hospital to a full health care facility instead of the assisted living facility I had hoped for. I'm convinced that if my mother had had someone helping her, my father wouldn't have fallen. I know I will never know for sure, and that I should forget about it and move on, but I can't help it: I'm very angry at my mother. If she'd accepted help, it might have given us another month or so with my father, and we would have the comfort of knowing we'd done all we could for him. Instead, he is all beaten up and in pain.

I've tried to forgive my mother and understand what she's going through, but I keep thinking that she should have put her feelings aside and done what was best for my dad. Am I selfish to feel this way?

Expert Answers

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

It is understandable that your affection and distress for your father are making it difficult to see your mother in a compassionate light. At the same time, it's important to accept that we can hold powerful and contradictory emotions. In other words. you don't have to get over your anger and dismay with your mother's actions in order to feel compassion for her and to forgive her.

Often what gets in the way of forgiveness is the beliefs we hold about the motivations of others. What do you believe motivated your mother's decision to refuse help? I'm guessing that your view of her motives are mostly negative. It would not be mean or unreasonable to see your mother as selfish, self-serving and uncaring.You can find ample evidence to support such a view, but does maintaining a case against your mother help you? It certainly gets in the way of forgiving her.

What happens if your imagine neutral or positive motivations behind your mother's behavior? Leave aside. if you can, what your mother should or should not have done. and try to focus exclusively on her positive or at least neutral motivations. Perhaps she believed that your father would not want anyone besides her caring for him. Not wanting a stranger in her home could be an intimacy issue; perhaps she did not want someone coming between her and your father. It could be an issue of dignity: being dependent on outside help may be humiliating to her. Perhaps she wanted to maintain a sense of normalcy, and that would have been shattered by taking in outside help.

Ultimately, you don't know what was behind your mother's decisions, but if you can stay away from negative interpretations you should be able to forgive her. Try to be patient with her and with yourself, and with time, forgiveness should become easier.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mother takes terrible care of my father who has Parkinson's. I've seen it with my own eyes and she describes other examples to me so it's not my imagination. For example, when they walk outside, if she sees other people walking up ahead, she'll leave him in the dust while she hurries ahead to walk with them - KNOWING that he has issues navigating the curbs AND that he has fallen, hard, there before. I firmly believe that she wishes him dead. The irony is that my mother is starting to show early signs of Alzheimer's and my dad seems to have escaped it, so she may become the more dependent one before long.

Dsand answered...

Talk about "divine intervention"! I had just suddenly burst into tears, thinking about my Mom...and had come to my email to contact my brother for support, when I saw this topic in an email from It was exactly what I needed to find.

To the original poster...I feel your pain. Really. I have resentment towards my sister because she sneakily moved herself into the total position of power over our mother's life...and then refused to consider either assisted living or a nursing home for Mom, when she started to fall a lot and decline in general. I am now watching my mother live in misery, with no real hope of improvement or enjoyment in her life. It's very depressing to me and it makes me feel like I failed my mother, even though I've tried countless times to intervene.

To the Jonathon...your response was EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful post. Yes, it is my sister's motivations that are the hardest part. Everyone in our family thinks that my sister has financial motivations for her actions, regarding Mom. (If Mom went into a nursing home, Medicaid would have to kick in...and there would go my Mom's house, which my sister is counting on to help her financially.) is easy for my sister to justify her actions regarding our mother because Mom has always said she wants to stay in her own home. My sister also hides behind "I've prayed about this, and this is what God wants me to do." Funny, but when I pray, I get a different answer in my heart.

Still....the truth is, none of us know for sure what motivates my sister. Jonathon's suggestion of trying to imagine my sister's motivations as either positive or neutral is very helpful. I have said that when Mom is gone, I will probably not have anything to do with my sister again and will never forgive her. I know, however, that "never forgiving her" will cause ME more pain than it will her. So, your words are helpful regarding this aspect.

And to the third say that your mother has early signs of Alzheimer's. It could be THAT, plus some measure of denial that causes your mother to deal with your father the way she does. Maybe considering that possibility will enable you to find some compassion for her.

Finally, I know that my own feelings of guilt make things worse for me. I haven't done anything "wrong"...but that doesn't lessen the feelings that I could have somehow done something "better". Now I feel that it is too late and I feel helpless. But this message thread has been a help.

Wellspouse02 answered...

To Wowmom129

I feel your own relationship with your mother may be interfering with your view of the situation... You want to help, but your relationship needs to be put right first... Maybe counseling would help you?

In response to Jonathan Rosenfeld:

I was a long-time spousal caregiver and am a member of the Well Spouseâ„¢ Association,, which helps husbands, wives or partners of people with chronic illness and/or disability.

I think you put your finger on something when you said,

"Perhaps she believed that your father would not want anyone besides her caring for him. Not wanting a stranger in her home could be an intimacy issue; perhaps she did not want someone coming between her and your father."

As a spousal caregiver I certainly did feel the intimacy issue -- it's a "don't ask, don't tell" thing where friends and relatives don't ask the well spouse-ill spouse how the illness has affected their marriage -- and the couple does not tell anyone about the state of their own (often damaged) intimacy, or other details of their situation. Spousal caregivers take the longest to self-identify. Also, it may be that besides the mother's belief, the father, the ill person, actually was pressing her not to bring anyone else into the home -- a lot of spousal caregivers are confronted with an ill partner who believes they are the only one who could or should be caring for him/her. Finally, if that situation persists, it can lead to burnout for the spousal caregiver, if they also believe this...

I suggest to Wowmom129 that she ask for 3rd-party help for her parents as part of counseling for herself...

To Anonymous:

Whether your mother walks ahead or with your dad, he is still going to fall -- that's the nature of Parkinson's, and in either case, there will be times when she cannot catch him.

My first wife had balance problems, not PD, but still... one time I was walking alongside her on bumpy pavement, when the wheeled walker she was using hit a bump the wrong way, and the next thing I knew, she was on the ground, and I didn't even have a chance to catch her.

As above, I suggest third-party neurological evaluation for your mother (if she is getting AD), and possibly counseling for yourself, to try to restore the balance in your own relationship with your parents...

A fellow caregiver answered...

Actually, the issue is not really that he might fall; I realize that can happen. The issue is that she has some kind of personality disorder that is causing her to set him up for unnecessary falls (and other kinds of ailments). For example, his therapist wants him using a walker and she won't let him. I've been in therapy my whole life because of my parents, and I don't think therapy for me is the answer to the dangers my mother presents to my father. However, I have decided to stop trying to prevent my mother from seeking to have my father committed to an Alzheimer's unit (you see, he has Parkinson's, but she has been lying to the facility to try and get him put into the memory care center) because there have been so many lies and dangers (and even though I know he hates the idea), I now feel it is marginally the lesser of two evils and at least in a specialized unit away from her I will no longer have to worry that she is starving him, over-meditating and over-napping him, and leaving him prone (no pun intended) to physical harm, not to mention her constant emotional humiliation and abuse. It's a complicated situation and there are a lot of factors happening. It's very, very sad.

Dsand answered...

To Anonymous: If you believe your father is being mistreated, it is absolutely appropriate to contact your state's Department on Aging or some other social service agency. You can even do so anonymously. Maybe it would be BEST to do so anonymously, so they won't dismiss your concerns as some sort of family drama. They will investigate. And then you could feel some sense of relief, because you won't be trying to intercede on your own.

I know it's difficult to watch a dysfunctional relationship...especially when it involves your parents and one (or both) of them is showing signs of needing your help. There is only so much you can do. I am going through this with my mother and sister. My sister has taken control of my mother's life for a long time now. And my mother has gone along with that. I always thought it was a strange relationship, but I figured it was their lives, to live how they chose. But NOW, I see how my mother is being harmed by my sister's control...and it's too late for me to make a difference.

Your problem sounds like more than you can handle alone. I think your Department on Aging might be a good place to start, to try to find some help. I wish you luck.