How can I help my mother if she refuses my help?

4 answers | Last updated: Dec 01, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I am an only child, and my mother is 83. Over the past three years, she has become obsessed with hating and degrading my significant other. Any communication she has with me or the family turns into another tirade against him. She has $40,000. in credit card debt. She thinks because she has equity in her old rundown home, that her debts are not a problem. I have helped her by giving her money on occasion, because her Social Security is only $545 a month, but she says she doesn't want my help. I have tried to get her to file bankruptcy, but she refuses. I have told her she needs to sell her house so that we can get her a condo that requires less maintenance, but she says she doesn't want a condo. She refuses to see a physician. It's impossible to communicate with her by phone. I cannot afford trips to see her and she has even told me not to come at the last minute -- so I lost money on the cancelled airline tickets. She has never helped me financially or emotionally, and I have always been there for her. She is spry and gets around fine. She also drives. I cannot help her if she won't let me. Help!

Expert Answers

You are in a very frustrating position, but I think you answered your own question when you said "I can't help her if she won't let me." It sounds like you've tried in good faith to offer help, and your mother doesn't want it, for whatever reason, so there is nothing else you can do at the moment. Many adult children face similar frustrations when dealling with elderly parents. It sounds like your mother is struggling to maintain her independance; it's unfortunate that she chooses to do so in a way that is hurtful to you. But you can't force her to do what you think is best for her, and the more you push, the more likely she is to refuse your help.

This doesn't mean you should simply wash your hands of your mother and her problems. I suggest that explain that you want to be there for her, and that the door is open whenever she chooses to accept your help, then back off and stop offering her advice. Keep in touch and visit when you can to make sure she is doing alright. Your mother is at an age when she's at risk for medical problems, so it would be a good idea to contact a couple of her friends or neighbors, and make sure they have your contact information in case they have concerns about your mother's safety, health, or driving abilities.

You might also consider hiring a geriatric care manager in your mother's area. Your mother's behavior could signal some kind of dementia or other mental problem, particularly if it is out of character for her. If she refuses to see a physician, there is little you can do about this, but a geriatric care manager will check in on your mother, and make sure she gets help if she needs it. A geriatric care manager may also be able to help her manage her financial and living situations. Of course, it's possible that your mother won't be any more open to a geriatric care manager than she is to you, but sometimes a non-family member's advice and help is easier to accept.

Finally, you have the right to expect your mother to treat your significant other with respect. Make it clear that you won't stay on the phone with her if she insists on disparaging him, and follow through.

You may find that if you back off a little and stop offering advice, your mother will be more open to you, and some of these power struggles will gradually loose their central place in your relationship.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out!

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I think Connie's answer is unreasonable, although correct legally. For example, she would not say to you if you had a child that was neglecting or harming themselves to accept, "There's nothing more you can do." This is your mother and I can understand your feelings of moral obligation. You must realize though, that U.S. society does not provide any rights or responsibilities to adult children for their parents.

Connie is also wrong if she thinks her advice of imposing some care burden on neighbors and friends will help, nobody will get involved, especially if it's not their family.

Don't worry about the $40,000 in credit card debt, that's fine, you're not legally responsible and it doesn't matter.

I would suggest you visit and learn how to talk, communicate with her, keeping in mind she's likely to have some sort of dementia. When she's receptive, ask her she's prepared her various documents, her Will, POA, Living Trust, etc. Hopefully, she'll be willing to name you as agent.

Then when things get really bad, like it is not safe for her to drive, or creditors are trying to get payment, or she's losing weight from not eating and buying groceries, you'll be able to begin to help.

Unfortunately, our U.S. legal system only gives you rights and responsiblities when she's been determined by someone else, a court or docs, that she doesn't have her own capacity.

Texlas answered...

I am having the same sorts of problems with my parents. My mom has alz, and is now in assisted living. My father is at home. He still thinks he should be able to drive, handle his own finances and take care of my mother. None of those things are working out for him. He has at least two credit card bills in collection. He goes to the store and buys stuff he already has in the freezer or pantry. He calls my siblings and tries to play us against one another in getting my mother home. My sister who lives nearby, Has just about washed her hands of the whole ordeal. I have a durable poa for healthcare, and finances. I was recently told by Adult protective services, that I could indeed be held responsible for my fathers actions, If they decide I am neglectful, by letting him get away with A. driving, B. spending irresponsibly, C. agitating my mother too much, etc... If you get any helpful advice that is realistic, I would love to hear it!

Brigitte answered...

Promptly get back to the Adult Protective Services and get them to tell you the steps to take to immediatly remove his drivers licence and car sold with money paid to his account. Don't sell the car to any relatives or friends as you'll end up with slanderous allegations. Find out the steps to take to have his money administered or use a reputable trustee dealing with such.Do get him assessed fully going beyond competancy as his agitation and some compulsions may be reduced by treatments of the medicinal options. Removing the car would reduce the wasteful shopping. You might succesfuly contain his impact on your mother by stopping him seeing or contacting her for a time. Have your own records of as many visits you can track and what happens proving the need to have boundaries on this.The backing of medical investigations findings are needed to confirm that his condition includes distorted rigid perceptions that aren't readily amenable to change untill he has had an opportunity to adjust to the altered stage of life he and his wife have reached.If that's endorsed your mothers setting can get police to remove him if banning him doesn't work alone. While he may be furious initially and sustain grumbling disaproval as these things are implimented, he will privately be more accepting and relieved not to try and cope with what he really cant manage or efforts in attempting to be restoring what he can't. Do try and find some other outlets for him socially or anything else to occupy his time and mind to reduce ruminating on recent fixations. The later such is left, the harder it is for him to adjust. Do all this always in a calm pleasant manner regardless of his responses. Your acting calm, confident, appearing controlled consistently will have a lot of impact on his acceptance and adjustment later.Make sure you give the bare facts for the need for those actions in a way he does not feel regarded as stupid or failing, just aging has created certain limitations needing intervention to resolve them realistically. Never go in to lengthy repeated explanations or disputes, just keep to I told you why and it's happening and I do understand you are disappointed by these further necessary changes. The sister who is fed up would be good to get just to back your decisions with you doing the tasks. Do try to get across to others the necessity of this stage and for all to respond as I suggested consistentlyGet it over and done with, you know whats right and responsible, you accepted the enduring power for necessary orders when the time has.