What do I do when my mother, who has ovarian cancer, expresses resentment about my siblings not coming to visit her enough?

2 answers | Last updated: Dec 30, 2012
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother, who has stage III ovarian cancer, often complains that my brother and sister don't take care of her or visit her as often as she'd like. This resentment makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like we're talking behind their backs, plus I'm anxious that maybe she's saying these things about me to them.

Expert Answers

Gloria Nelson is a senior oncology social worker at the Montefiore-Einstein Medical Center in Bronx, New York.

It's easy for resentment to divide siblings when you're care giving for a parent with cancer, so you're wise to be concerned about this issue. And if your mother's complaining and resentment are making you uncomfortable, you need to talk to her about it, or it will damage your relationship with her, too. I'd start by acknowledging your mother's feelings. Tell her you know how alone she's feeling and how much she needs companionship and support. Acknowledge her expectations, and try to get her to talk about them. You might ask her, "If my siblings were more involved, what would you like them to do?" Then you can talk about how she might go about asking for that support from them.

It's also, possible, though, that your siblings won't be able to come through for her in the ways she'd like, for any number of reasons. Sometimes a patient's children are very busy, sometimes they're just not natural caregivers, sometimes -- let's be honest -- they're too self-absorbed and wrapped up in their own lives. In this case, your mother might have to accept painful feelings of hurt and disappointment, and you can talk about that. You might need to revisit her expectations and talk about what people are available to her beyond her own children. Sometimes support has to come from outside the family or from more distant relatives, so ask your mother if there are other people you can call who might step in and play a more involved role in her care.

It's also important to talk about how everyone gives in a different way. I had one patient whose son was very devoted, but she was disappointed that he wouldn't visit her in the hospital. He did everything else, he just couldn't do that -- he had a phobia about it. We talked about all the other things he did and how it was important to focus on those. If there are reasons that one or both of your siblings aren't as available as your mother would like, help her focus on them. Then she can't take it so personally that they don't come as often as she'd like.

Community Answers

Dreamkeeper answered...

How about talking to your siblings and asking them why they don't come to see their mother more often. Sometimes when one sibling is doing the job, the others are relieved and based on their own fears excuse their presence. Tell them that she really would love them to come.