My mother won't accept help from anyone else and my life is a mess because of it, what should I do?

A fellow caregiver asked...

When my father died about a year and a half ago, I was left to "take care" of my mother. My mother has had health problems for many years but I didn't realize how stressful my dad must have had it.
My mom is definitely in early to mid-stages of dementia, which my dad had been successfully covering up. He had been doing everything, including housework, medication dispensing, bill paying -- even cutting her toenails!

However, my mother has always been a difficult, narcissistic personality -- very mean hearted, very stingy, very degrading. Certainly this has increased tenfold since my dad died.

She wants to stay in her own home, but she doesn't want to hire any help. She lives in a 2,000 sq ft home on an acre. She also has the financial means to hire help -- lawn care, snow removal, housecleaning, etc. However, she only wants ME to do all of these things.

I am a single parent with a full time job. I have two adult children and two children in college. My adult daughter has recently moved home with her infant baby. My younger son is bi-polar.

Needless to say, I am at burn-out level. I try to do everything possible for my mother, but I can't do it all. And I've tried to explain this to her over and over again. All she does is say nasty things and then manipulate me into feeling guilty and doing it. I feel like I'm 16 again.

She wants me to pay her bills but she wants to micro-manage every detail of the bill paying. She won't do it, but she thinks I'm not doing it the way "it should be done."

She doesn't drive and she makes appointments AT HER CONVENIENCE and expects me to take her. I've been told at work that I can't continue to take time off. She knows that I can't take Friday's off work, but she makes appointments anyway. Then she expects me to make arrangements for her to be taken to those appointments. She is set up for transportation through our local senior center but she thinks she is too good to ride in public transportation.

I am spending about 20 hours a week (or sometimes more) doing things for my mother that she does not appreciate and thinks I should be doing more. I've tried telling her that my kids and my job have to take priority but she is very manipulative. If I am doing something for one of my kids, she has an "emergency" that she dreams up.

Anyway, I went to the doctor yesterday. My blood pressure is sky high (and I've never had problems before) and she wants me to have tons of tests. Obviously, my health is now affected.

Has anyone dealt with these problems before? What have you done to alleviate the issues?

I've lost friends because I'm never available. My own house is a wreck -- because I'm never there. And I am so tired. Help!

Expert Answer

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of

Dear Caregiver:

You are clearly dealing with burnout, among other problems. I am sorry to hear of the toll this difficult situation is taking on you. In reading through your question, I think this is the most telling part:

'I try to do everything possible for my mother, but I can't do it all. And I've tried to explain this to her over and over again. All she does is say nasty things and then manipulate me into feeling guilty and doing it.'

First, I suggest that you take a good look at the guilt you're feeling. It is driving you to do things no reasonable person should do. Making yourself your mother's slave is not only unhealthy for you, it is worsening her behavior and her total dependence on your compliance with her demands. If you need help in addressing those guilty feelings, a counselor can help you. If you need to refuse your mother's demands so you can get to an appointment for yourself, do it. This is the bedrock of making changes that will save your own well being.

Counseling is sometimes paid for by insurance. If not, sliding scale and lower cost services are often available in large cities and suburban areas. Find someone soon, please!

Next, I think it can be helpful to make a long list of all the things your mother has demanded that you do for her in the last two weeks. I'll bet if you write them down, the list will be long. Look at the list and see if you can reduce the time you spend on mom by at least half. If she doesn't like it, it's not your problem. You must put yourself first. Turn that 20 hours a week into 10 or less that you do for her. Tell her she'll have to make other arrangements for the rest and give her a list of resources, caregiver agencies or community services for the elderly. Then let it go.

Here are some final strategies to help you set limits with this manipulative and difficult mom you have. Take them to heart and learn to say and use them:

  1. If she dreams up an emergency when you are busy, you can say "I am not able to come at this time, mom. I am doing something very important. I can be there (tomorrow, next day or whatever works)". If she complains, hang up. Don't keep indulging the manipulative behavior by listening. Repeat yourself like a broken record if you must.

  2. Do not take her to any appointment she has not pre-arranged in advance with you for transportation. Let her miss appointments. It's just too bad. Make the new rules about this clear by putting them in writing and then stick to them as if your life depended on it.

  3. Set aside at least one day off per week from your mother. If you make it clear, verbally and in writing that she is not to bother you on this day off, you must not take her calls, not see her and not do anything for her at all. If she leaves tormenting messages, ignore them. Tell her to call 911.

  4. Ask your mother's doctor, if you can, about medication to keep her more calmed down. Her behavior is torturing you and damaging your health. It will only get worse if you let her keep doing what she's doing. Medication can help with behavior problems for people with dementia. The dosage needs to be very small and the doctor needs to monitor the effects very carefully. Speak up and ask.

  5. Finally, reach out for support to your family, friends, and support groups. Millions of caregivers share your kind of burden in one form or another. The National Caregiver Alliance is a good resource and numerous, local organizations also are there to help. If you don't know where to start, find the nearest Area Agency on Aging and get resources for you for all the things that can make this job less stressful.

You never need to feel guilty about putting yourself first. your body is telling you that you must change or your own health will collapse. Please take care.