I retired almost a year ago and my mother immediately moved...

7 answers | Last updated: Nov 04, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I retired almost a year ago and my mother immediately moved from an independent living facility (which she hated) into my home. I have taken her to Sr. Centers, community centers, church, I have suggested day-trips, but I am her sole entertainment, support, and conversationalist.

Due to a severe fall, I had to move her from across the country to my area as she can't live alone although she thinks she can. At the time of her move, her trusted physician told her to be sure to have contact with people her own age, but now my mother says she doesn't enjoy "those old people" or have any interest in them. She is almost 89 and my father passed away four years ago at 88. She lived alone until her own injury which included a lengthy recovery.

My mother enjoys sitting and talking with me, watching tv, or reading the newspaper. I am an only child and have no support system for myself or for her. I have politely (and assertively) encouraged her get outside activities and have even taken/gone with her to do so. I have even explained that I would like some time alone which she thinks is odd and claims she just wasn't raised that way. However, she did not want her mother to live on her property in separate housing. She would be insulted if I took her to respite care or to adult foster care and she doesn't really need that level of care. She can really get stubborn at times and will push my guilt buttons as well.

I have compassion for my mother and know it would be very difficult to be out of your own home and dependent on your adult child. She says she is living a day at a time and I think getting around others would help. I feel very blessed that my mother is still living and is as sharp as she is. But, I still would love to have some time alone in my home. So, my question: Can anyone suggest how I get some time alone in my home with my mother doing an activity she enjoys?

Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

First, your mother must have done many things right to have raised as wonderful a person as you have been. You have been incredibly loyal, caring and responsible. Though you have bent over backwards to be helpful to her, you have gently suggested limits for your mom, which would allow you to have some life of your own and replenish your energy. Without such limits, it will not likely be possible for you to continue this arrangement and be the son or daughter you want to be. Ultimately your fatigue will make you less patient, more irritable and unhappy. This will inevitably be reflected in your relationship with your mother and will not serve either of you well. Furthermore, it is not healthy for your mother to be reliant on a single caretaker. As her physician recommended, maintaining social networks is very important for her. Continuing interaction with such networks helps to avoid or slow the course of dementia, and is likely to improve her mood and help give her life a sense of meaning. Perhaps in her case, she would prefer volunteering her time at an organization such as the Humane Society, a homeless shelter, a church interest group, or for a political candidate rather than spending her time at a senior center. What is important for you both is that she find something social she does on a regular basis independent of you.

You have tried a gentle approach to persuade your mother to have some life of her own, but she has not been willing to comply. I am afraid you now need to take a tougher stance. I would suggest you use her trusted physician as your ally. I would make clear to your mother that you want to do what you think is in her best interest (as well as your own), and her physician made it clear she needs more contact with other people. You then need to make it happen. If she continues to resist, at some point you may need to make it clear if she is going to stay with you, she must follow her doctor’s advice. For both you and your mother, you must be clear and firm. If she is unable to give you the room you need to live your life, it may be in both your interests for her to live independent from you. It sounds like it will be very difficult for you to draw such a firm line in the sand, and of course no choice comes without risk. As you sort through the advantages and disadvantages of taking a stronger stand, I would strongly encourage you to meet with a mental health professional. Such a person could provide some help in sorting out the feelings you are struggling with and as they get to know you better, can give you advice more specific to your own situation.

Community Answers

Pollytnjc answered...

I could have written this problem myself!!!  My mother is a little more willing to meet others but the problem is more that I am also new to this community and work a lot of hours, so it is harder for me to get her out. However, one solution I have found that has truly helped is I have a friend whom I've hired to become her companion 2 afternoons a week. My friend knows lots of people and things to do. She  has gotten my mother involved with a mission (feeding the homeless program) and is also able to take my mother to get her hair done or doctor appts also. It is a huge relief to me, altho it is very expensive as I try to pay well for this service. My mother says she does not need a companion (or baby-sitter as she sometimes refers to it) so I pay.  I hope I can keep it up. Additionally, my friend has provided me the opportunity to get away on weekends for personal time, and that is also well worth the cost.  I have found that seniors (especially those with alzheimers or dementia like my mother), sometimes think like kids, not fully aware of the impact their decisions have on those of us caring for them - I have always tried to make sure my mother is making her own decisions and rarely become insistent. But there are times that you just have too. I love my mother dearly and try to always remember how she was there for me - and still is.  The guilt at times is terrible especially because I work so much, but I know I am doing my best and she does too.  I have the great blessing of knowing that years ago mother  told me that if she ever became dependent upon me and unable to make good decisions for herself, that I must not feel bad or worry, and no matter how much she protested, to please do what was best for all.  It doesn't keep me from feeling guilty, but it has definitely helped.  I have had friends who have told me it would have been wonderful to have had that same conversation with their mothers/fathers because they deal with much more guilt.

A fellow caregiver answered...

It seems like it is an epidemic--I also could have written your letter with very few modifications.   My father passed away 4 years ago at the age of 88.  My mother is now 86 and has Parkinsons Disease.  I am so thankful that she is doing as well as she is--only somewhat forgetful and not disabled by the PD.  In fact, she is still able to live on her own which is what she wants (I offered for her to move in with me and my husband but she wants to be on her own as long as she can).  She needs help to run errands but is able to do most personal care on her own.   So what is the problem?  Just as you said, I am her only social outlet.  I have finally convinced her to hire someone to clean the house--but she doesn't even what that person to be there unless I am there to "handle it".  I have found someone that would be a companion when I can't be there--but mom claims she doesn't need a "babysitter".  My husband and I are both self employed and live about 1,000 miles away but bought a condo near mom so that we could spend several months nearby helping her.  That has quickly come to mean that she can't have me gone more than a day or two.  She says that as long as she knows I'm nearby she's fine....but then when I try to take a day to myself she calls every 2 hours to see what I'm doing and if I'll be "done" soon so that I can "come home".  She keeps apologizing for taking so much of my time and asks what she can do, but then when I tell her (e.g.,  we need to hire someone else that she can call on or depend on so that I have a day off) she puts the huge guilt trip on me, ends up losing sleep because she's so upset, talks about being ready to die, and I end up regretting that I spoke up.  I have found a great support group and exercise class for her, the people are great and it is within 5 minutes of her house--she went a couple of times but doesn't want to go anymore.  Everything she used to enjoy, she can't do anymore and has no interest or ability to get involved in anything else.  Her friends have either died or moved away to be with their children.  While I want to be a loving and caring daughter I am feeling that my business, my husband, and my life (as I used to know it) is suffering with no end in sight.  It's been helpful for me to read about others' situations and suggestions.  I am all ears if anyone has a suggestion for me!


Pollytnjc answered...

I was reading your note, and thought how much you have done to reach out to your mother and at such a cost! It may be time that you have to sit her down and say that the options have changed. Continue to give her options, but narrow them to those that are workable for you. One option might be that she must have the housekeeper one day each week without you there. Another option might be that you will come one weekend a month and run errands with her and give her undivided time that weekend, but otherwise, she will need to depend upon her housekeeper or support group. If she belongs to a church, ask them if someone would consider picking her up on Sunday mornings and take her to church/Sunday School, or during the week to a Bible class. Most churches will reach out and assist in this manner. She won't receive this well, most likely, but it may be that you have to be firm. Introduce one option, hold firm, and you can always start introducing others later. I feel for you. The guilt is there no matter what you do. But remember you are doing this for her best interests too. Her life will unquestionably be improved by it. You can let her know that unless she cooperates with you on some options that you may be forced to move her closer to you. I have said to my mother that if the roles were reversed, she would do the same thing, and she did understand and recognize that. Your mother may be more stubborn, but it doesn't mean that on some level she won't understand. Good luck.

Annieb answered...

Hugs to you for all you do. Like many other posters, your note feels like I could have written it. It took me 4 years to address the problems you are facing - the very hardest part of caregiving for me has been becoming the center of my mother's life. Until my mother moved across country to live with me in '05 at age 87 (she had lived alone since my dad died in 1993) I had lived happily single most of my adult life. I work full time and had a busy social life. Not much changed until about 18 months ago when mom's memory loss became more severe and her mobility decreased as the arthritis in her hip worsened. I woke up one morning and realized I had pretty much given up my life outside of work and home. However, I recently submitted to advice from friends and my own health professionals to get some help figuring out how best to get mom involved with other people. We are very lucky in my community to have an excellent Alzheimer's resource agency that provides facilitated support groups, care coordination services, and home assistance services. As of a couple of months ago, I'm working with a wonderful case coordinator who has helped me get mom into an adult day care 2 days a week and we are setting up a companion to come to the house 4 hours a day 2 days a week. Because the coordinator found the appropriate day care center and home companion and handled all the paperwork, I was able to focus my dwindling energy on a loving but frank talk with mom to get her to try both the day center and companion for MY benefit. It was a HARD discussion. But like your mother, my mother loves me and wants me to be happy, too. I remind her that she is doing this for me -- and it has changed her attitude and she is now enjoying her days at the center. Even involving her in a little outside activity has helped me immensely. Best of luck to you in finding the path that will work for you and your mother.

Lorees answered...

Thank you to everyone who commented here - it was so helpful to read all these questions and comments!

I moved to the Charlotte area 3 years ago without knowing a soul here and got a job where I work from home. My mother lives with me, and since moving here, she has been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. I had hoped to sell my home and return to Orlando, where I have a brother who could give me some regular relief as well as a large network of friends - I could have my life back! But, as wonderful as my house is, nothing is happening so it looks like I will be here for longer than I'd hoped.

My mother has some mobility problems, so she gets around very slowly. Her doctor has suggested daycare, to get her around other people, but she wants no part of it. She is so stubborn! She also thinks she is in control, but she's clearly not - dementia is obvious to strangers she meets. Being with her 24/7 is sapping me dry, so I'm considering, for the first time ever, finding a companion so I can at least shop a little by myself.

A new neighbor just suggested this site to me, so I just signed in for the first time today. I'm already finding it helpful and feel like maybe there just might be light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you so much!

Hugs4me? answered...

Thank you all for sharing your caregiving situations and comments. I am dealing with pretty much the same things. One difference is that my mother has been this way all my life. She was young when she had me and I am beginning to think that may have alot to do with her lack of ability to progress and have a more independent life. My father passed away in September and now I am back to doing way to much for her since he is not here to do it all. Right now I am rapiidly approaching Total burnout. I have tried everything mentioned by all of you even before I found this site. I knew what I was "in for." I have a sister who will not help out, but likes to add her comments which basically allow Mom to stay in this rut. I've pretty much given up on everything and decided it's doing more harm to me than her. She doesn't respond to my my needs nor care about doing anything about her own. I have tried to draw the line and set boundaries kindly, but to no avail.
I also lost my son last year 4 months before my father, so I really need some support for myself which I am getting, but I still get so depressed when I have to see her all day long in her pajamas and watching tv. She has some mobility problems due to arthritis, but she refuses to do as her doctor tells her to do. I don't know how much more I can take. I try to get out at least for an hour a day to get fresh air and stay focused, but I am becoming angry and frustrated at having to do for her when I am still grieving myself. Currently I am looking for someone to spend 1 day a week wth her, just to get her use to being around someone else. I hope maybe that will help and open a few doors to getting somewhere, otherwise I think it's just hopeless. Thank you.