Kindness .... or enabling?

doonyaDecember 12, 2009

I am a 64-year-old widow with three grown sons who are on their own and doing well. My 91-year-old mother came to live with me 18 months ago in a very comfortable apartment over the garage. She is healthy and does not suffer from dementia. She strikes others as a lovely lady; generous, kind and often wise, if somewhat timid. She has had, since a teenager, serious fears regarding her ability to swallow without choking and fears about being alone, particularly after dark. After several physical examinations and tests there does not seem to be any physical evidence to support her fears of choking but I am not completely convinced that her episodes are without a physical basis. I am recently retired from a 40-year medical career. Because of her fears, mother makes it perfectly clear that she does not want me to leave the house after dark. She has an adequate income and a decent amount of money in stocks and other investments. There is, literally, no one else to care for her or take her in, my only sibling died many years ago. While she and my father were not in the least neglectful parents, they did leave me and my brother with a nanny for much of our childhood and were not attentive parents. I do not feel close to my mother at all but care for her because I believe it is the right thing to do. She is a devout Christian and I do not share her beliefs. After 18 months of not leaving the house after dark I am feeling increasingly angry and resentful. If she were not here I would most certainly come and go as I wished, day or night. Should the fact that she is 91 be taken into account? When I suggest that we hire someone to stay with her when I would like to leave, she bristles and says she does not need a babysitter. I have had her to her physician who has prescribed anti-anxiety medications. She resists taking them as prescribed but they do seem to help when I can talk her into it. My question is simple .... where is the line between enabling her fears and simply being kind to an elderly woman who is beset with anxiety?

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There is indeed a line between you being nice to her and her taking advantage of you! I'm not sure it's 'enabling' behavior, but you are being held hostage in your own home.

Living as close as you two are, your borders have begun to blur. And you need to reclaim your own life, because the road you're going down now has no good ending, just more resentment and anger. You are wise to recognize this problem now, and look to address it.

Of course, her being 91 and frail is important. But that doesn't give her license to tell you what to do. So, you've got to stand up and make your point and then follow thru, just as you would with a demanding child.

One of the hardest things for us Caregivers is to make the transition from Child to Parent in dealing with our own parents. Even tho they may be lucid and healthy, their behavior can become childish. I don't mean Parent as in the judgemental sense, but as the one in charge. Even if you sit down with her and explain your feelings and your needs, don't expect her to have with empathy or logic, as you've already seen. But you have to stand up for yourself, and this is the time.

Does she have Lifeline? It's a call button that works thru her telephone in emergency. My mother's was thru the local hospital's volunteer auxiliary. Other systems are purely commercial. Don't get one that merely calls 911, but one that allows her to talk to an operator who can call 911 or your cell phone depending on the situation.

Or just hire a 'sitter', let your mother fume, and go on out. You may find someone who she will enjoy for a few hours.

I want to point out a couple of things that I read between the lines of your post. One, you state that she does not have dementia. There's a thread here about dementia that you may want to read. In short, this isn't an easily identified condition, has many causes and hundreds of ways in which it manifests. Irrational behavior is one small manifestation, and it only gets worse. When my mother was 91, she was fine (or so I thought), but became more irrational as time passed.

Another thing--- you state that she's in an apartment over the garage? Are there steps to climb? I assume so, or you have an elevator. What are your plans when she cannot climb the stairs, or must use a walker? She may have to move out by then, at least into an apartment complex for 'active' seniors, one that supplies meals in a dining room, if she is healthy, or into an assisted living facility. What will happen when she needs help to bathe, dress, and take care of other personal hygiene?

She may be fine now, but that doesn't mean that you should assume that the future will be a continuation of the past. Unless she passes away suddenly, you will find that her personal needs and demands will grow steadily, and the situation that you now find uncomfortable will become impossibly difficult for you.

You sound much like me. I was far closer to my father all my life and always battled my mother. He died when she was 90, she stayed where she was (700 miles from me) for two and half years until she had kyphoplasty for osteoporosis spinal fractures, and my brother and his wife, who lived 2 miles from her, started asking for a cash payment to help her every month. I moved her up close to me, in a senior apartment, where she stayed for her remaining 3-1/2 years. I got to see her every day and take her to doctor appointments, but she wasn't here in my house. I'd have killed her for sure if we had to live together (you are a saint in my book!)

I learned a lot of patience in dealing with her, and I'm a better person for it. But it wasn't easy for me, because we never had a good relationship in the past.

In the years since she passed (4 years on the 28th), I have become a volunteer counselor for our county non-profit senior's assistance agency, and we have had caregiver's support groups. It might be a good idea if you looked for a similar group for yourself. You need some support, others to share your stories with, someone to call who will encourage you to let off some steam.

Take care of yourself---that's the first rule of caregiving! You are doing a great job helping your Mother, but it isn't a good job if it's eating away at you.

Let me know what you think. There are some great minds and hearts on this forum, and we all are supporting you, so keep in touch, please.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 11:17AM
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Sushipup said it all.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2009 at 2:23AM
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Yes she did. Great advice!

    Bookmark   December 14, 2009 at 9:06AM
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Ditto sushipup...well said.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2009 at 3:25PM
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Hire the babysitter.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2009 at 6:50PM
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As sushipup stated, only you can change. First make sure all the medical authorizations are in order, wills, medicare, insurance, bank accounts etc.
2nd. Start looking for a assisted living/adult foster care home. She then has people around and you can still control and protect her and her income. She apparently is controling you and you allow it. You need your space and time to spend time with your family, travel, etc. My mom would have been the same way if I allowed it. I did not, but did hire someone to live with her. There were other issues involve.
Sit down and make two list--what financial protection does she have/need and what do I do to protect her and myself. Are your adult children able to help?--that is not take her in but in other ways. What is the relationship between them, you and her?

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 2:47PM
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Hire the baby sitter now and reclaim your life. Also consider placing her in an assisted living facility nearby where you live. I am assuming she has the funds. Live your life as you wish, after all she did the same when you were a child and she will have to come to terms with that.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 2:40PM
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