Fraught relationship with demanding e... - Mental Health Sup...

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Fraught relationship with demanding elderly mother


I am 55 and my mother is 83 and we have never had a close relationship. I grew up feeling emotionally unsupported by both parents but especially my mother, and have had self-esteem and confidence problems all my life. Although she is healthy for her age, my mum's mobility is restricted by vertigo and laziness - she admits this. Ten months ago she moved to live a few minutes away from my husband and me in supposedly assisted living/sheltered accommodation, but will not make any attempt to socialize with residents unless we are there, and expects us to do all her shopping, drive her whenever she has to go out, do household chores and make calls she made herself until she moved. We feel taken for granted, and she has always been great at making snide comments about me, which means I can never relax when with her, and I'm now beginning to get anxious and fear depression (which I've had before) because I feel so trapped by her needs. My husband is too kind and does a lot for her, as he doesn't have the 'baggage' I have. Friends say, 'Just set boundaries' or 'Tell her you won't do such and such', but because I am so afraid of offending her and creating a bad atmosphere, I can't do it. My mum may live ten more years, as her own mother did, and although it's awful to admit it I am dreading it. I have considered counselling, but what I really want is not to feel responsible for my mother and for someone to share the burden.

Could anyone give me any advice on how to manage this situation?

26 Replies

Hello Helen

If she is living in assisted accommodation could you not talk to the people who run he place and see if they can do more? Also maybe getting her shopping delivered to get would give you a break also, is that possible?

Your friends might be right about setting boundaries, maybe your mum would act better if you did. Setting the boundaries might feel awkward but maybe you should think of your own health first and make sure that you yourself are ok. If you do become unwell how hard will it be for you to cope then.

helenb63 in reply to Hidden

We need to check the information folder she was given when she moved in (she didn't bother to read it), as we don't know exactly what is and could be provided (even if it costs more). We'll get a laptop so she can choose her shopping - she won't have any technology in the house.

It's true that we get ill we'll be no help to my mum, but she doesn't see that her demands are in any way unreasonable so wouldn't understand if we mentioned that.

Hidden in reply to helenb63

You think if you did less for her she might appreciate things more?

helenb63 in reply to Hidden

It's hard to say. We believe she would get angry, as she sees no reason to ask for support from anyone else; in her mind it's our duty. My husband won't say no to her even though he knows how I feel about it all, so it's causing tension between us too. (Yes, it's childish, but I resent the fact that he gets on better with her than I do!)

Hidden in reply to helenb63

You should think of yourself more, if it means being selfish then be selfish, your own health is important too.

You must set boundaries, scary yes. I would go to counselling first as that will empower you and give you the chance to really focus on what moves have to be made. You are entitled to a guilt free life with no burdens. It will be helpful for you to talk through your feelings with someone qualified and neutral that isn't tied to your family.

Wish you well Helen xx

helenb63 in reply to Cara78

Thank you. I'm not sure about the 'no burdens', though, as we are supposed to care for our parents as they become more frail. What annoys us is that my mum is making herself needier than she 'needs' to be and just assuming that we will take up the slack, without giving us the option to say no sometimes.

Cara78 in reply to helenb63

The way I see it is no one can make me do anything I don't want to do. I get that we should care for our mothers as they grow older but I would set times because I need a life also. This life is for living and being true to myself and if I'm caring for my mother it wont be a burden unless I make it one. I have accepted my mother's differences and as long as I do the right thing for me, nothing will become a burden or chore as its done out of love regardless of the way she may act. I'm not perfect, she's not perfect but I help when I can. Too much=toxicity.

helenb63 in reply to Cara78

I admire your strength, but 50 years of reacting unhelpfully to a narcissistic mother are not so easily undone.

Cara78 in reply to helenb63

It's not strength, it's choice, I can appreciate its difficult, it was for me too, but there came a time when I changed it otherwise I'd live bitter.

Hi I understand this as my mother and I had a very fractured relationship too. I found answers by building emotional walls she couldn't penetrate (or only rarely) and limiting my contact with her. I also stayed off any subjects which could be controversial and painted a smile on my face using my sense of humour to defuse any awkwardness.

It wouldn't be you causing a bad atmosphere but her so why worry about it? You are in a difficult situation as like me you obviously feel you have to do your duty towards your mother even though she is so awkward. I would keep it light and all conversation fluffy and leave when it all becomes too much.

Oh and 1 other thing I found out when helping to look after my own mother. Whatever you do or don't do you always feel guilty. It helps to accept that guilt comes with the territory and just do the best you can. x

helenb63 in reply to hypercat54

Thanks for the helpful suggestions.

Cara78 in reply to hypercat54

I like that "keep it fluffy" certain conversations go now where and I'm on the roller-coaster again. My mother and I say before I come over "boundary check" otherwise we will fall out, this has taken years but there are just some things that are best left in past. We don't talk about politics either as our views differ, or religion. I like to keep it as light as possible. I get tired of opinions too, sometimes it's good to not have any.

hypercat54 in reply to Cara78

I always found a sense of humour essential especially when she was being difficult. I would laugh and say hey mum stop being so bossy or do you think I have got all the time in the world or you are wearing me out. She would usually laugh back but even if she didn't I got my message over :)

With your mum Helen I would have set days when you would see her and keep to them. You are going to have a more difficult relationship with your mum than your husband is as obviously you have much more of a past with her. If your husband wants to do more than let him and go shopping or something instead! x

helenb63 in reply to hypercat54

Good ideas; thanks.

Hi Helen,

Welcome to our supportive community. Well done for taking a brave step out of your comfort zone to reach out for help. As you have begun to find folks here are only too willing to come alongside you and share from their personal journeys and experiences. You are obviously having a difficult time right now, but I do agree with the great advice and support the other members have given to you. Well done everyone, you are , as ever, AMAZING!

You may also be interested in joining another HU community as well , called Care Community which provides peer-to-peer support for carers like you

Do talk to your doctor (and hers possibly) about the situation with your mum, and about your own mental health needs. Your fears are very understandable, and as you have seen you are not alone in how you feel or your experience. Caring for loved one can be a lonely and frustrating road. We are listening!

Keep in touch! Best wishes, MAS Nurse

Sounds to me that she would be better off in a home for her own health and yours. I think it's time to think of yourself & be content in the knowledge you have done all you can. Comes a time when you have to put yourself first. Things will work out. She will get help from someone else as they cant let her sit there an dwindle away. Try not to feel guilty. You have done a wonderful thing for your mum. She will settle & see reason eventually. But maybe cut your visits down too. I hope this hasnt come across as harsh as I dont mean it to be at all. Take care of you 😊

I'm so sorry that you are going through this. I am 50 and finally healing after years of abuse from my narcissistic mother. I moved to help her. That was a huge mistake. She made me feel horrible in every way she could. She would show people in public a fake facade, all nice, sweet as pie. But behind closed doors, she was the devil. I feel so foolish for being used by her but now I understand that she is a narcissist and that's what they do. They don't have empathy. They only care about themselves.

Please save your sanity. I moved away to another city 7 months ago. I'm going through counselling to heal from her toxicity.

What helped me was reading about "elderly narcissists" and how to keep your distance from the pain, guilt, abuse, etc.

I have gone " no contact" with my mother. She now try's to discredit me to friends and family. She even called my ex husband and told him horrible things.

I thought I was a strong person but I suffered greatly and it will take me a while to move forward. But now I'm free of the abuse!

Narcissists take advantage of others and suck them dry until you are not useful to them anymore.

Be careful, I wish you well,


Hi Helen, I know I’m a bit late here, so I hope you’re still following this.

You and I could not be any more on the same page. I can also connect with Deb1658 110% as well.

I’m 57, my mother 93, living in an assisted living facility for a couple years now. I’ve yet to see her or speak with her there or by phone. Yes, it’s engrained into us that we care for our parents when it’s time. She’s always expected that as her right so to speak. She gave me birth and a place to live with food and clothing after all; and I forever heard of all the sacrifices she made for my siblings and myself. I’ve always wondered “WHAT SACRIFICES”? People have children, you raise them the best you can, it’s not any of our choices to have been born nor should it be a sacrifice we make to raise them. It’s simply what parent(s) do without a thought is how I’ve always felt.

Almost 6 years ago, my marriage was crumbling around me. I’d been depressed and have suffered with major depression, anxiety, since 2006 when also losing a job that I could no longer manage due to my mental health. I learned my spouse is a covert narcissist. My mother has very controlling ways and many traits of a maternal narcissist.

My mother sounds every bit like yours and Deb1658’s.

When telling my mother that my marriage was over, along with other shameful things in her eyes, not once did she ask me how I was. Not ONCE EVER. I made my choice one day in my counselors office that I had no choice but to go NO CONTACT with her. I’ve managed to do that to this day, but not without all the guilt I’ve gotten from her by way of cards and voice mails. I had to stop listening to them. I stopped opening the cards with the nasty handwritten letters enclosed. Each time I saw one in my mailbox I swear it was as if a snake was about to bite me. That’s the affect just a card gave me.

I’m not saying to you to stop seeing her. Although it sounds to me that she’s doing the exact things with your husband and yourself as she’s doing with my older brother, who is her sole visitor along with his wife who’s dealing with her own elderly mothers needs. A wonderful woman!

My mom’s facility is very nice I’m told and I’ve seen pictures of it. I’ve spoken to staff who are there to care for her. She’s still able to walk and doesn’t need full time care, however, she insists on my brother doing her shopping, bringing her lunch when it’s something she doesn’t care for that day. (They have more than one choice). Insists on him driving her to the cemetery where my dad was buried 21 years ago, when a woman recently died from the place and their own bus was taking residents who wanted to attend to the funeral mass, etc. My mother has not made friends there. She don’t want to nor does she try. Her door remains locked at all times my brother tells me.

She never would have wanted to go to this person’s funeral to begin with, BUt, she’s all about “looks”. What others will think. What others might think. All but who she really should concern herself with in her family vs strangers she’s not spoken to. My brother is recently retired but lives a full life. We’ve barely just reconnected over these past holidays. I’m grateful for that as I don’t speak to many people at all including my own grown daughter whom my now ex spouse brainwashed against me during our separation and long divorce. She and I were always very close and it’s the one thing I’ll never get over. Her own step dad turned her away from me in a complete 360 degrees. I suffer alone. I cry alone. I’ve few friends, and that relationship is the one I desperately want fixed if possible.

My mother knows nothing other than I’m a horrible uncaring unloving daughter to her and bad mother to my own daughter.

She’s never listened to anything I’ve ever said. There are no boundaries I can set with mine because she never accepted any before. I was wrong she was right. Period.

I know the hurt you feel. I know the torment. I know the ache you’ve got having wanted to be close to her one day, or at the very least “okay” with her. If like mine there will never be an ok between mine and myself. I feel bad for my brother as she asks him each time WHY and WHAT’S wrong with me to treat her so horribly?? No one can speak to her because she knows it all.

I agree with the others who said if your husband really doesn’t mind or seem bothered by it, to let him do the most, and I’d certainly try to do less for her as I’m sure they take care of most of her needs if not all. She doesn’t even have to know why you stop coming at all or as often. A simple “she couldn’t today”, or any excuse is better than how it’s had such an awful affect on you personally. In my opinion mine will never change. She’ll never hear why I don’t visit bevatsr I’ve tried. It’s nonsense in her eyes. She’s also been the one who told me and others that I chose depression over my family to avoid them all. No one corrects her. No one could. Not me, not my brother, nor her grandkids who are all grown with kids of their own. We all walked on egg shells forever around her, having thought better to just agree or say nothing at all.

I want to say again, that I feel all the things you’re feeling and have lived with your entire life. I never realized it was neglect in my being raised with no affection no praise, no hugs, no “I love you’s“. They didn’t beat me, (spankings), yes. Very infrequently, but I’ve learned that if we’re not nurtured in our earliest stages, they lay no foundation for our self esteem or confidence at all. Plus, I learned that I chose the men I’ve married, (2), who could not be worse for me. I needed the love and attention never gotten from them as a child or anytime, and that’s what I sought out. Those men who loved me so much they said, and showed me the affection I believed to be real which in fact was also the very toxic kind. I’ve spent these 6 + years alone with just my dog. Thank GOD for her unconditional love because I’ve not seen it or felt it from anyone my entire life now. What I believed was love, was not.

I’m still trying to recover and heal from a narcissistic abusive relationship that I was in real love with for 18 years.

Sounds like your husband is a good man and person, and I understand how this could cause problems between you both. You’ve been trying to please a mother that can’t be pleased no matter how hard you try. Mine always picked out the things I didn’t do right, mostly because I didn’t do things her way for her, and in knowing that I gave up trying. It was never going to be right in her mind with the most ridiculous things. I didn’t bag her groceries right, I didn’t do her laundry before when hospitalized years ago. I didn’t read her mind because I couldn’t. No mater how well I thought I did something she’d find fault and with everyone not just me.

I apologize for this being so long but reading it, I saw myself in you. Never having peace of mind like we should, knowing we’ve been the best we could be, and I do worry about her dying and I’ve nit seen her in years. Our society looks down on us. Our friends. Mine have said “but she’s your mother, & you only get one real one”. My answer to that has been the same now; that not everyone is meant to be a mother or should be one. I don’t feel any love for her. I feel an obligation that I was always guilted by those old beliefs. But LOVE? She’s not loved me or anyone in the way I believe love should be, but again, it’s useless thinking she ever could.

I wish you the very best and that you find a way to live and love yourself first as I’ve not done either. You deserve to be loved and if we don’t love ourselves it’s hard to love anyone because I think part of us maybe feels we don’t deserve love for whatever reason. It’s been hard for me but I’m trying to take care of me. I’m all I’ve got and if I can’t like or love myself first, I know I’ll never be ready to love fully someone else even though I’ve got both so much love yet so much pain in my heart too.

Do what’s best for you. Only you can ask and answer those questions, but always know there are so many like you and that you’re really not alone even though we’re likely thousands of miles apart.

It’s nearly midnight where I’m at but had to reply here I felt so strongly about it and you.

If anything at all just knowing so many of us care about you here, and I hope that brings you a little peace of mind.

helenb63 in reply to Nancy325

Thank you so much, Nancy. This means such a lot to me. I'm sorry about what you've had to go through and pray you will find peace too.

After nearly a year I am having to accept that my mum isn't going to have the kind of life here that we hoped she would (i.e. making her own friends, doing a few things independently), so if it is to work without my going nuts I will have to accept that she prefers my husband to do things for her, while finding alternative support for times when he can't. I wish he would say no to her, just a few times, but for some reason he won't. I don't know if I'll ever have the guts to tell her that we don't want to be solely responsible for her, because it's too much for us, but as she seems to be a person who is never fully happy or satisfied, maybe it wouldn't matter if I did.

Nancy325 in reply to helenb63

Helen, I understand all of those feelings. I really do. Even though I stopped all contact with her around 6 years ago, now, I still carry the guilt of an elderly parent who believes her daughter to be the most uncaring unloving person, that her and my father didn’t raise to be. (That’s an echo in my head constantly)

Even though my older brother is stuck with her and her ridiculous wants and needs, (she goes out of her way to make him feel extra guilty if he doesn’t oblige her. He and my own relationship just opened up slightly through these last set of holidays and I’m trying to keep communication open. What he and most anyone else who knew me should try to remember is that I’m disabled due to major depression, crippling anxiety at times and C-PTSD diagnosed during my separation/divorce/post divorce that no one is even aware of, and likely just link itv on as another choice I’ve made to stay away from my family’.

Could you try to let your husband do most of the errands, etc., for your mom since he seems to not mind at all? Is is guilt you feel there too? Questions in asking myself and as you are one in the same as me by ways of not being able to express your own feelings to her, (as mine never listened), or shrugged them off as if I never said a word, I DO UNDERSTAND!! And now at 93, I know my words are useless as they’ve always been. Could you maybe plan something for yourself a time or two while your husband is away and with her? Some kind of self care for yourself maybe? I know it’s hard. Believe me I do. My brother has also suggested to me that I write my mom a letter telling her WHY I don’t visit, answer her calls or respond to her cards she sends with nasty letters enclosed. Short and quick. It’s a good idea because that’s her main question constantly to him but I’m afraid the truth will hurt much more in a letter?? Like you I’m not able to speak what’s on my mind to her face or by phone. She never gives you an opportunity for one, for two, she thinks I’m ridiculous, bullheaded, (one of her words recently in a card), which angers me because if anyone is that it’s her.

Please try to let your hubby do more for her as he doesn’t mind or is bothered by her. (I know that feeling too), of how could he not? But maybe please try to think of you as top priority for a change iwheh it comes to your mother?

You’ve suffered many years like I have. One thing is for sure I believe and that’s that I don’t see mine ever changing her ways when this has been a lifetime of upset, hurt, anger, and wanting to be loved by a mother who believes she does in my case but has never had the first clue as to how to try to make me feel loved.

I’m thinking of you, as I know how hard this is, but please do try to put yourself first for a change and take care of you first, if you can try.

By the way, I’ve meant to comment on your photo. You’re a lovely woman. Beautiful smile, please try not to let your mom take that from you!

helenb63 in reply to Nancy325

You're so kind. I have trouble accepting compliments because my parents passed on the idea that feeling good about yourself was vain and wrong. We had our first grandchild three weeks ago and there's a picture of us with her, looking happy and relieved, as our daughter had a very tough labour. Everyone says what a nice picture of joy and happiness it is - except my mum, who said I 'looked awfully pleased with myself as if I'd done all the hard work myself'. A small thing, one might think, but typical of the way she pours cold water on any time I am very happy.

And even my husband is now getting fed up with being taken for granted and treated like a skivvy. We tried to get some volunteer help arranged for Mum for when we are visiting our granddaughter (when we went first time she sat there ill for several days but refused to ring her doctor, and was sharp with us when we didn't magically bring a prescription for her), and were accused of bullying. She now refuses to discuss it.

I am seeing a counsellor next week!

You sound like me. I have mum, still in her own house, refuses to go out (mixed blessing as she was buying litre bottles of whisky, hiding it round the house and falling doing damage ir breaking elbow, lots of cuts and bruises and causing issues like leaving oven on and burning food etc. 2sisters have walked away (a blessing as they were stealing from her (thousands). I also at 60 care for disabled daughter (17) and her younger brother who had sensory issues and eating problems. I'm totally overwhelmed and depression is setting in. I've always had issued with depressive bouts.

It's nice your husband is supporting you. I thought mine would as I cared for his mum till she passed away but he's had multiple affairs and I'm in the last stage of my divorce now. Feeling like someone has pulled the world out from under my feet.... Can't sleep, my health is getting bad so coping with daily pain, mentally I'm grinding to a stop and waiting fir referral to see counselling. I don't get a break from all of this.

I hope you can, before you are so trapped you feel there is no way out and no end.

I am going to see my gp again after the Christmas holidays.

This last few days have been bad and my disabled daughter punched me and I'm in pain and shock over it all.

Please, you have a husband who supports you, talk to him. So that he understands. I wish I had someone.

Goid luck

I'm so sorry to read all this, Daisy. Have you talked to your doctor? You can't possibly deal with all this on your own; it's not safe for you.

As it happens I did see my gp. I am now on antidepressants. Have had a difficult time with my mum who decided she wasn't getting out of bed, didn't eat and wouldn't wash or change from her night dress for 11 days, then, I missed one morning visit as I was done in with it all to find her up showered dressed and had eaten breakfast. If braced myself to either find her gone or the same and needing social services or gp for her.... I'm a lot more leveled emotionally since seeing gp and getting the anti d`'s. Thank you for replying

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