What can I do about my emotionally dependent mother?

13 answers | Last updated: Nov 30, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I feel that my mother is becoming increasingly emotionally dependent on me. She complains that she is lonely, yet when I invite her to go places or to get together with a group, she refuses. When she was unable to afford to stay in her home, we built an apartment on our property for her. She complains regularly that it is too small, yet when I suggest adding on, she doesn't want to, nor does she want to look at other places to live. Basically, she's unhappy and since there is no one else (I'm an only child and my dad is dead) she blames me. She refuses my help, and won't talk to her doctor about her feelings. My mother is only 66 and the thought of living like this for many years to come is so discouraging. I'm at a loss for what to do.

Expert Answers

It sounds like your mother is lonely and depressed, and you are the easiest, most accessible target for her frustration.

I suggest that you sit down with your mother and talk about the situation before matters grow worse. If communicating with your mother is likely to be fraught, you may want to see a family therapist or mediator, who will make sure that you both have the opportunity to express yourselves, and to be heard. Be honest about your experience: tell your mother how hard it is to see her so unhappy, and find out if she has Ideas for how the situation could be improved.

If your mother is depressed, the therapist or mediator should be able to identify the problem, and suggest treatment. It's possible that her mood swings are a symptom of a another problem, so it's also a good idea to consult with her physician.

You can also encourage your mother to expand her social network by helping her tap into local resources for seniors, like classes or volunteer opportunities. She may resist at first, but keep trying.

If your mother refuses to communicate with you or to get help, you may have to consider a different living arrangement. It sounds like an untenable situation, and there is no reason you should be miserable in your own home. In fact, your mother may be an excellent candidate for some sort of assisted living facility, where she'd be more independant from you, and also have the opportunity to meet people her own age. Don't surprised if a change in her living situation improves your relationship, as well.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

Community Answers

Orien2 answered...

I think assisted living is probably a good idea they are equipped to handle older adults and keep them safe. Also they are made for carts or wheel chairs. Have elevators, then folks her own age and activities geared to them. I'd say pick 5 of them that you think are good and say mum I know you are unhappy probably lonely and bored these are five places you can live that will be better so what say we shop and you pick the one you like best.

If you come with your feelings of unhappiness she'll take it personal and make you feel guilty or at least attempt it. She'll be safer there anyway and you will not have to worry about her blowing up the kitchen or taking her to doctor's visits and most of them are pretty sharp eyed about things.

They have pendants to active if they fall and pull chains in the bathroom they make attempts to keep people from falling or being hurt if they are any good. I'd say pick one that is clean and the food is good also check the bathrooms and ask to see a unit if you can. From what you described I see assisted living as the best option yet she is not going to make it easy to get her out of your house because of the contrary nature of the complaints it's like she wants attention and is using emotional tug of war to get it.

However you say your needs or wants she ain't going to listen. If that's how your relationship has always been then trust me honey she ain't gonna listen. My parents don't listen either and I hear it when I read your words.

Questions Are you tired after talking or interacting with her?

Do you have an emotional reaction when she complains like angry or immediately react with some emotion or the other?

Be honest are you sometimes frustrated with her or your situation?

Has this been the case through out most of your life?

Whose idea was it for her to live with you? Did she put pressure or make you feel guilty and are the people in your house who live there fed up with her?

Did she object to you finding your own life?

Did she always complain in the manner you described just now?

If any of these or most of them are true then she's going to give you a bunch of trouble. You are going to need your family to help you deal with her countermove you can bet she'll make one because the truth is I think she enjoys complaining and making you feel guilty about doing what you need or want. This is why she doesn't want you to expand the apartment or to go out and complains when you do it makes her feel in control and she's not going to cooperate unless you pick five and let her pick one.

The complaining is not about her being unhappy in the way you described it but about making you feel inadequate since if she always does this then she must be getting something out of it and you gotta ask yourself what it is? What's more likely given your relationship throughout your life not just this time in her life?

If you think about it then you'll find out why you are miserable and lost. Regardless of your decision what comes first is learning what her game is and refusing to play it her way any longer. You are too emotionally involved in this to come in stating what your needs are tell her what you've observed from the situation at hand it will look like concern yet before you talk about it bring the data in on the assisted care facillities the five of them you inspected and place the data before her and present it just like I recommended you do and then take her to all of them let her rest and then she picks the one she likes the best.

Once you get her out then you can clean that apartment up and rent it to someone to defray some of the expenses. Find out what you can get through a service since they probably screen the people they place so you don't end up with a total loser or something. Who could be worse than your mom trust me there are some real turkey's out there.

Whatever you do she's going to try what worked when you were a kid most likely and what worked most of your life and she might even cry or accuse you of everything she can think of. I believe you should role play the interaction with a friend and tell the friend to throw everything she could think of including tears, accusations that you are a terrible daughter, call you names and do the anger thing or the we're a family and we should help each other and anything make it as hard as can be managed to stand your ground and then switch roles to show her more what your mom does to pressure you into something so she can gear her attacks and such in that direction.

Also I recommend reading verbal self-defense, it's a book and it will help with other things not just this situation it's useful. Also William Ury's Getting past no. This is tough stuff it's alot like a math test or an English exam you would not think of walking into one of them without studying.

So be prepared for a serious back lash yet don't do the victim number either or she is not going to respect you. Don't get angry either. Expect the counter move. So pick a role play partner who is really good at turning the screws and is really agressive also doesn't pull punches either and practice until nothing gets you to emotionally react suddenly no matter what gets said. She's going to try to push your buttons just expect it she's done so probably all your life that's why this is wearing you down so much.

If you expect to be hit or attacked then you won't be angry or surprised when it does and you can think about how to deal with it best and in the most effective manner you can think of.

This will help you in every area of your life. Clear and calm reasoning under extreme pressure. It will help you buy and sell stuff without getting taken for a fool, it will help you deal with kids, husbands, bosses, coworkers, business partners tricky customers and anyone else. Prepare for the counter move imagine her worst reaction what's the worst thing you think she will do and what she is likely to and make up dialog then step away calm down and then work on defusing it even if you do not have a partner you got a computer or a notebook.

Imagine yourself in her situation add how she typically reacts to anything she doesn't like and what her methods are and then think how she would use them to get her way. Go over your interaction history for clues. You know your mom pretty well you've known her all your life.

Depression isn't the only thing that's going on in this mix. I'm right aren't I? Don't go off on her she probably doesn't know how else to relate and you've gotta learn how to move differently as well. My guess is this has beeen going on a long time. Get counselling as well. Good luck.

The viking answered...

That advice is right on the money. My mother is 88 and fits your description perfectly. I took care of her for 7 years, and ended up with breast cancer. I truly believe, since there is no history of cancer of any kind in my family, that my cancer was caused mostly by stress. I'm sure you love your mother, but if you love your own family, make other arrangements for her.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I'm 64, my mother is 85. This problem will not get better. My mental and physical health are geting worse from having dealt with this over the last 15-20 years. Get your mother into assisted living or nursing home if you can afford it. I can't afford it and her income is bsrely enough to keep her off medicaid. I have a brother in ABQ and a sister in St. Louis. They think I'm being melodramatic,because she acts so much better on their yearly visits. My husband died in July,2010, and the situation has only gotten worse. I have jokingly considered a hit man for one or the other of us, but I really have no practical answer. You are young enough to deserve a life of your own.

Lostchild answered...

Hey- My mother is the same way and the same age! though she does not live with me YET... and I'm trying to keep her in her home as long as possible. I'm also an only child and my father died...

Hey- if your in NJ- I'd love to arrange a play date for those two.

Ckh answered...

Hey, I'm almost that age--live alone, with my husband and Mother in care. It sounds to me like your Mother needs an anti-depressant--and quite frankly you could probably use a three month course yourself. I will say, I don't think I'm old--I'm active and socially involved--something I think is necessary. I also Dragon boat --this for me has been a great activity as it has made me work physically and also has a natural social interaction in it. I realize your Mom may not feel inclined to do something physical esp. if she's not used to it but I think it would help--a gym, the Y, etc are options. Is ahe involved with anything social--cards, MahJong, a docent at the local art gallery, a hospital volunteer? Perhaps you can help her get involved with something. Don't let her push your buttons. You know where hers are and she knows for certain where yours are. I'm assuming you are somewhere in your 40's and your Mother may live for another 20 years. How do you want to spend your next 20 years? My Mother is 84 in care with dementia, my husband is 78 in care with Parkinson's. I am in the last percentile of my time and want and expect to have a good go of it. Perhaps you and Mom need to reexamine together what your expectations of the next decade is. One idea might be to work on a living will for yourself and suggest she fill in one with you--just so you "know" what she wants and expects. You say we so I assume you have a partner--perhaps you can all work on living wills together so that your "children ca know your wishes" Good luck--remember you'll age to--so plan now!

Kristenhonore answered...

She is 66? Nursing home? Assisted living facility? You're all kidding right? She could have more than 20 good years of life left. Unless I missed something more than depression a "facility" is not going to be the answer, sending her to one would be less humane than hiring the "hit man" you described.

If she lives under your roof you have to set some ground rules. Talk to her, how long has your dad been gone? Has she dealt with that loss yet? Does she resent being dependent on you but doesn't know how to break out of her cycle of self-centeredness? Have you dealt with that loss yet and some of your resentment at being left in this position? Don't try and change her over night. Tell her that to continue living with you she has to see a counselor, take her to the visit or better yet make the appointment for the two of you. Find her one that specializes in loss and older patients. (Hospice and Cancer centers are a fabulous resource for counselors .. you don't have to be dying to use their advice) Some areas have Geriatric clinics that deal with patients over 60, they deal with the whole patient... go to the internet and look in your area.

If after a few attempts she refuses to get help then you will have to make some very tough decisions. You may have to tell her that if she won't get help she will have to find some where else to live. That you won't sit by and watch her slowly die of depression and you won't let her drag you into her world. Give her brochures, phone numbers or other information for senior housing that is based up on her SS income, tell her you will make the calls for her ... they have waiting lists but having an ending date, even if it's 2 or 3 years down the road it is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Tell her you will make sure she has what she needs, but that if she has given up on her life and refuses to try and help herself that you will go on with your life and refuse to watch her waste her own.

A fellow caregiver answered...

i'm shocked at some of the replies here..what i see lacking is closeness of family members.my family and i lived all our lives as a "brady bunch type family"..yes..that close..my mother is 87 years old and has lived in an assisted community for for only one month now and hates it!! she'll soon be moving into hte independent living complex where i live .most people in assisted living are way beyond 66 years old.your mom's behavior is related directly to depression not "age" ./to stick her in an assisted living community is a mistake because it will further her lonliness and depression//what you need to do is get her to speak openly and calmy about the situation between you both and you also be calm and collected during the conversation. it's possible she needs medication for her depression .her depression could also be directly cause by some other condition that she has. i don't know how close you and your mother are but i'd never think of putting my mother in an assisted living community unless it was a complete and utter emergency and she could not live any other way/i don't care what people say about assiisted living communities,most of them are all about filling empty rooms and receiving what money they can get from their ekderly tenants.my mother has made plans to move from the community she has recently lived in as she didn't realise she'd be so far from me.my father is currently in physcal rehab due to a stroke he had in may.this community she's in ,literally doesn't care that she's lonely and depressed for family and even though she has her "wits" about her they're trying constantly to talk her into remaining there.but she's unhappy and lonely.they recently threatened her with a court order.i don't know what they think they can do,as she definitely doesn't have dimentia or anything similar.my point is,assisted living communities are very well known for their taking control of residents and even have the reputation of tearing families apart by deceitfully using the law to force residents to remain there,who don't really want to be there and like my mother should NOT be there./inedpendent living is is great.. if a person still has their wits about them and is capable of living by themself at all,then independent living is awesome but assisted living would be nothing but a nightmare of lonliness and depression. ..and if you ever sent mom there ,and in the future wanted to move her to independent living or even back home with you,you'll have to fight the assisted living community just to get her back ...they WILL attempt to keep her there//they'll swear to you that they're only thinking of what's best for your mom(regardless of what she wants or decides)//

H20 answered...

She is only 66, only 66. That is still young. Only 66, acting like that ..only 66..WHEW!!!! If faculties are working she should be ok. REALLY, SHE SHOULD BE OK.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mother is in "a very down mood" whole life.She is 65 now.

She got divorced at 32. It is a type person and nothing will change.

We don't choose our family.It just comes in life.

Try to do as best as you can and hope for a best.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mom is 67 and pretty much acts like an emotional teenager. I can't blame her sometimes, she has been married 4 times, one left, the other 3 died of cancer or heart problems. She pretty much feels like she is destined to be alone and that makes me feel like that is the reason she depends on us kids so much.

I'm going through my own divorce right now and it is so hard having to deal with that and deal with my mom. We tried setting boundaries before she moved in and she crossed all of them within the first week. Then she says I have no right to tell her how to live.

I just told her yesterday she needs to go back to her own home, even though it's in a trailer park, and let her know she is always welcome to visit, but she can't live here.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I had to answer... I am in a somewhat similar situation. My mom is only 56 but she is so unhappy. My parents lost their home due to bad choices. This was right after my mom decided she wanted to separate from my father. 3 months later we bought her a house. Cash. Smaller and a bit farther away, but nonetheless, we bought her a house cash. She complains constantly about it. It is too far, the neighborhood is poor and horrible (we were never rich), and recently the house was broken into and she is now depressed (again). She never worked outside the house. I give her money, pay for her health insurance and it never seems to be enough. I just decided not to give her anymore rope...and I feel horrible. I have told her to look for a psychologist, to take medication if needed... I was used as her confident before and it ruined my teenage years... I really cannot deal with it. I know it is hard. The best I can suggest is to look for support for yourself. I see a therapist to helps me put things into perspective.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mom is 71, and acts quite a bit older. Sometimes 66 can be old, depending on the person. My mom was becoming increasingly dependent on me. She stopped driving, and called me to take care of too many things for her. I know she also has some depression and anxiety which is being treated. I would have been inclined to move her in, but thank god, I have a husband with a brain. He knew this would not be the best for her and would have been a big problem for us as well. I have 4 children and barely enough time to take care of my own family. I was taking away time from them, to help her too much. I, instead, found a very nice independent living senior apartment. They provide many services, like meals, cleaning, live in management, emergency necklaces, etc. But they are not an assisted living facility. Her apartment is her apartment. They also provide TONS of activities. I will admit, it was not that easy convincing her, but she did finally agree. It has given me a real peace of mind. She has not been there long, but is meeting new people and starting to participate in the many activities.

Remember this: Your mother is not your life. You have a life and you must lead it. Don't let your mom, or anyone, guilt you into taking care of her. This will affect your marriage, your other relationships and possibly your health.
Good luck.