How do I get a break from caring for my mother?

11 answers | Last updated: Nov 25, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My  mother thinks I should be available to her 24/7. I live with her. I need a break for my own sanity. How do I deal with this? She can be very abusive.


Expert Answers

You have two different problems, it seems to me, and both need addressing. The first problem is that you need regular breaks from your caregiving duties. The second problem is that  your mother's behavior is unacceptable.

In general terms, both these problems have the same solution: you need to develop some boundaries to protect yourself from caregiver burnout, and abusive treatment.

What would such boundaries look like? First of all, you need to make it clear to your mother that she cannot talk to you in a rude or belittling way. The best way to do this is by speaking directly about how you would like to be treated. Avoid accusations, threats or guilt trips, as this will only put your mother on the defensive. Instead, use "I" statements to make it clear that you love her and are committed to caring for her, but that you expect to be treated with respect and courtesy.

As part of this discussion, you can also make it clear that you need and intend to begin taking  regular breaks from caregiving. Before you sit down to talk to your mother,  do some research on respite care, senior centers and other caregiving resources  in your community. You can get started by contacting your local Area Agency on Aging. Have this material on hand when you talk to your mother, and present her with options so she'll have choices about what type of caregiving arrangements she's comfortable with.

Do not let yourself get derailed if your mother resists your attempts to take time for yourself. As a caregiver, you need regular breaks to pursue your own interests, see friends, or simply relax and do nothing. IIn fact, if you continue at your current pace,  you are at risk of becoming ill, burned out and/or seriously depressed. You will be a far better caregiver if you have the opportunity to regularly refresh yourself and recharge your batteries.

You may need help and support to change what sounds like a long-standing dynamic between you and your mother. If you talk to your mother and she  continues to act abusively toward you,  or/and if she refuses to allow anyone else to care for her so you can have some time off, I'd advise you to see a therapist or mediator to help you resolve this issue.


Community Answers

Ginger answered...

I don't know if I have an answer but I understand what you are talking about because I'm in the same boat. My mom expexts me to do everything for her. I can't sit down or do something for myself unless she is sleeping. The visiting nurse told me that I was an enabler and that I have to just say no.! But to do this I get all stressed out because I know that she will argue with me. So i grin and bare it. I have alot of health issues myself but she dosen't understand. Maybe you can give me some advise?


Sweetone answered...

dealing with my mother and her memory loss has been hard and until I learned that ,I as the caregiver had to take care of my self , t be able to take care of her , when she is demanding and wants only me , i have say I will when I get back or wait for just a few monents, talking ugly is not allowed by her or any one else that helps to care for her. now in this stage of her progress she does not want to be distured at certain times, we have learned to let her rest and she will cooperate better.


Desings answered...

I'm sorry to hear that your mother is being abusive. My Dad is like that, too. I've had to tell him more than once that he cannot say mean or sarcastic things about me, even if he thinks it's a joke. He tends to think everything is a "joke" so that he can't be accountable for it. At least that's the way he was before his dementia. If someone knows if this is a trait of dementia, I'd like to know. Anyway, he has now learned that he can't say mean things about me or anyone else. He also makes comments on someone's looks, their weight especially. I tell him it's not appropriate to discuss someone's appearance. He's still learning that one. I don't have any children of my own, but I am a child and family therapist. I've discovered that if I respond to Dad's behavior as I would a 5 year old, it's pretty much on the mark and he responds well to it. I don't get harassed and he learns limits.

Early in his dementia I had more comments from him about being treated like a child. Those were his more lucid moments, unfortunately. I did apologize to him, but I reiterated that those are the rules. Now he has fewer lucid moments, if any, and he just tells me, "Man, you're tough." Above all, I try to keep the balance between limits, rules, and dignity. Sometimes, it's very difficult.

Good luck with setting limits with your Mom.


Hellofasituation answered...

It all depends on your individual circumstances. If your mother is abusive, there are different gradiations of such treatment. Does she generally have empathy for you, but gets frustrated and lashes out? Or, is she incapable of emphasizing, in which case she will be cruel, demeaning and brutal. This would mean she has sociopathic traits and you and your feelings are mearly strings that get pulled in order to produce a desired outcome. The result is you feeling gutted like a fish, and your mother will get great satisfaction and enjoyment out of doing this. Can you blame her? Psychologists can still not agree on what causes this condition. She may have been born this way or it could be the result of growing up in an extremely abusive environment. Either way, not engaging with a sociopath is often the way to go, but detachment often enrages, which could be dangerous. I'm sorry you are in this situation. Especially since we all care for our mothers, even more so if they've seemingly cared for us.


Seansmom answered...

my mom will soon be 92 and she has been living with my husband and I for about four years now. It is difficult as we are pretty much together 24/7. I used to feel guilty when I went out without my mom but Im slowly learning I must....there are not any two people on earth that can be together constantly. everyone needs breaks from one another. Ive come to the realization that Im a wonderful daughter, my Mom had a wonderful life and she is in a safe caring environment but Im also entitled to breaks from time to time. It is exhausting. I totally understand what you all are going through as Im right there with you... I keep all my interests...i even started a blogtalk radio show literally as a hobby. I became a caregiver but I as well as all of you are far more than just that. I speak of all things related to 50 somethings...Im 52. If you do get a break and would like to hear my amateur show...here is t he one I did on kindness....good luck....http://www.blogtalkradio.com/donna-marie-ryan/2011/10/20/lets-start-today-to-show-the-world-kindness


Kunzite52 answered...

I used to think I could do it all myself. But was told otherwise by those who knew better. Time away from her will help you both. At first dad would bemoan going to senior center. All the way there he would say, "You are just going to dump me there!" At first I responded, now I do not address that talk at all. I put pictures up of his caregivers at Senior Care, and talk to him about them. I now drop him off with no problem and when I come to pick him up he is happy to be with me again. It takes about 3 weeks to adjust but they DO adjust. Find a center where she can go, a good one, get references from doctors or aging corp. Make the step and watch how things change. Do not play into anything that she starts on...change the subject or be clear about not accepting that and walk away, do not argue, never argue with dementia patient, it only aggravates them. Good luck, and God bless you!


Desings answered...

I agree with kuzinite52. It's not helpful to argue with a dementia patient. Dad likes to argue because it's stimulating entertainment for him. When he doesn't like the guidelines that are in place for his safety and health, he'll argue about not having to do it, specifically taking showers. I have just told him it's "shower day" as if it was a national holiday. He may like to argue but I ignore him. You can't reason with a person who has dementia. That's something that their brain can't do. I just change the subject, or walk away. It saves a lot of stress. I hope things improve for you. God bless!


Gadjett answered...

Has your mom been diagnosed with Alzheimer's (Dementia)? If so... my mom was always a very pleasant, kinda shy, bit reclusive person - then Alzheimer's ugly head struck - now she's in severe stages, being ugly, not wanting help dressing or undressing, incontinent, etc., etc. Even before this I would take her to an assisted living facility if I needed to get away. Then I found our local (40 mi.away) Alzheimer's organization (found thru Alzheimers.org could pay for some respite care - I think combined with Area Agency for Aging (I'm in E.TX). 12 days a year paid for! YEAH! Has really helped a lot! Now mom has reached Hospice level, so instead of Home Health coming to bath her 2x/wk, I have an aide who comes 3x/wk (not nearly as good as Home Health), but they also provide more respite care for her, giving me a MUCH needed break! I also really liked and agree with DeSings comments! The Assisted Living (which is a great place!) only charges $60/day - which works for both myself and Alzheimer's. My best to you - you are not alone!


Kunzite52 answered...

"specifically taking showers" Desings said. When I got dad he had not been showered in so long he was covered in rashes. I do not tell him we are taking a shower. I give him his anti schizophrenic medication 15 minutes before, up the stair chair and directly to the seat in the shower. I talk non stop while I wash him. I put a heater in there so he does not get cold, I wrap him in a towel between scrubbings. I constantly tell him what a good job he is doing. I do say, "Do not swear at me". I ask him if he likes the lotion on his back, if he feels better now, I do not let up on my talking, I keep going, moving till he is done. I do not stop cause he says so, I simply make a funny remark or try and comfort him but keep going. Blessed are those who have aides to shower them, yet dad is so accustomed to me I am almost afraid to let someone else do it. I hope this helped with the shower thing. Cause if they are difficult that is MOST difficult. Bless us all who take the time for our parents!


Trubrite answered...

I have the same problem, my mother picks fights with me.. I have a room upstairs n every once in awhile I go there. If I don't come down with in 5 minutes she comes up n starts the fight, I know th abuse tht everyone feels.But now I go out to a park ,library,church n stay for sometimes hours.. My mom doesn't want help,she would rather b by herself'' which I found amusing to say th least..Or I go to Jersey to take care of my grandkids..We all have th guilt about our parents.. I don't have help either ,I have 2 other siblings tht have families of their own , but every once in awhile I wish they would call ,is tht so hard..