What can I do about my emotionally dependent mother?

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 Answer

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.