My mother raised eight children. She is now in her 70s and lives alone. She recently received a cancer diagnosis and we take turns taking her to appointments and helping her with errands, household chores, meals, etc. We are happy to help you and tell you. My problem is that she gets very emotional and she is constantly apologizing to us, saying variations of her: Children should never take care of their mother and stating that she is a burden to us. Constant reassurance on our part doesn’t help. How can we help her understand that we want to help her and are happy to do so? She spent many years caring for her mother at the end of my grandmother’s life, so I’m not sure if this is part of her or not. What do you think?
Dear Feeling Helpless,
I suspect your mother’s long experience of caring for her mother is probably a factor informing her emotional response now. People rarely talk about it, but for some, caring for an aging parent can be a traumatic and ultimately heartbreaking experience. If this was the case with your mother, her current situation has triggered real heartache, and like the loving and concerned mother that she is, she is appalled at the prospect of any of you having a similar experience.
Your mom got a scary diagnosis too. This may have triggered extreme anxiety (who could blame her?!), and how she broods and resists comforting her should be of concern to her health care team. My first suggestion is to make sure her doctors know about her rumination and anxiety. This could be a cognitive problem exacerbated by lack of sleep, diet or medication.
For you and your siblings, I suggest that instead of jumping in with quick reassurances, you should make sure you’re listening and giving your mom plenty of room to express herself. You could then tell her, I know you have a lot to deal with right now, but can you tell what you are most concerned about right now? You may need to cry and express some universal and existential concerns. Having loved ones who are able to listen calmly and bear silent witness may help. And yes, you should all do your best to express (through actions and words): Mom, we are honored and happy to be with you no matter what. You had us, and now we have you.
I am a woman who is in a relationship with a younger man. In the beginning of this relationship, he was very interested in love, sex, romance and shared everything. I paid all rent and utilities for the first six months and we were both working. Well, about three months ago, that changed. No more sex or romance or anything. I talked to him about paying her portion of our living expenses and he immediately gets angry. She says he loves me, but I find it hard to believe him. Sometimes I feel like she’s getting a free ride. She never helps around the house and doesn’t keep her word. I’m so tired of wondering if she wants a lover or a mother. I hope you can help me figure it out.
I’m glad you turned to me. Wonder no more! Despite your generous attitude, according to your narrative, even in the early days of your relationship, this guy didn’t actually share everything. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have shared anything. You paid the full load and carried the full weight of this relationship. To clarify, his version of sharing is called taking. He doesn’t want a lover; does not want a mother; he wants an easy target, and he seems to have found one in you. You will feel so much better about yourself and this relationship if you cut your losses and show him the door.
Frustrated in NY wrote to you about his in-laws’ alcoholism. You really nailed it when you wrote, retire. This is exactly what I have done for the past 50 years with a brother who is an abusive alcoholic. In abandonment, we have no contact and no chance for arguments, hurt feelings, and drama. By surrendering, sanity can thrive.
Less familial pain in the MI
People can sometimes even withdraw without becoming completely estranged. This involves detaching from the drama surrounding this disease and accepting one’s powerlessness towards the addict.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @akinggamy or Facebook.)
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