How do I deal with my mom's requests to visit her in assisted living every day?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is 90 and living in assisted living, but she expects me to come every day to visit her. I take care of her medicines and bills, take her to church and all her appointments, but I would like to have a day off once in awhile. I have a husband, a home, adult children, and young grandchildren. If I tell her I am not coming, she gets very upset and tells me how lonely she will be if I don't come. She tells me she cannot stay there if I don't come every day. I know she is safe, but I feel so guilty if I don't go and angry if I do. How do I cope with all this guilt and stress?

Expert Answer

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

Ah! The GUILT card! Here you are doing everything you can to assist your mother, and she lays a guilt trip on you - and you buy it! Shame on both of you!

You cannot do much to get your mother not to play the guilt card. She may not even realize she is doing it. I have a daughter who lives in England. For a long time every time she called, I'd tell her how much I missed her. Finally I realized that I was making her feel guilty. Now I bite my tongue, and assume she knows that I miss her. So, don't try to teach your mother not to do this; she may be unaware of the effect she is having on you.

As usual, you are the one who must change. It is obvious that you are doing a great deal to add to the comfort of your mother's life. It is completely unnecessary for you to make daily visits, or even weekly ones. It is up to her to establish relationships with her neighbors, just as it has been all her life. There are activities, there are staff people, there is a lot to do in an assisted living community. And if there is not, she is capable of making things for herself. This is not up to you!

Don't tell her this, though; it will cause conflict. Instead, don't tell her when you are coming back. When you say, say, See you later. Do not allow her to pin you to a specific time, unless it is in the far future. Visit when you can, and when you think you have to enjoy the visit and not feel rushed. Offer no explanation - she will argue with whatever you say.

If she complains about your lack of daily visits, leave or hang up the phone. What she will learn, gradually, is that if she complains, she will have a short visit with you. If she is pleasant, she will have a longer one.

Happiness is not something you can make another person feel. It is up to each of us to find our own happiness. What you can do for your mother is to be there when she is ill, to celebrate good times with her, to praise her when she accomplishes a goal, to help pay her bills, and take her to doctor appointments, and all the other things you are doing. You do not ask for her thanks. Reject her attempts to make you feel guilty.

It is up to you to make sure that this final time with your mother is quality time.