My cold mother now needs me.

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I didn’t see this coming.

Mum’s always been distant, stoic, not having friends or social contact with my sister and I, nor our children, or anyone else. Mum’s doesn’t do emotional talk; our relationship is pragmatic and on her terms. She always been ‘busy’ looked after her home, never done coffee, lunch out, babysitting etc.

But in October my dad died. It quickly became evident that mum needs help with everything, apart from preparing a meal and she loves cleaning. After realising this isn’t ‘just’ shock it emerged she doesn’t drive, doesn’t go out at all, can’t deal with money/post etc. I am now doing her admin, banking and food shopping (the latter two both online) and pop at least once a week (she lives half an hour away). This I am OK with, not liking or enjoying, but OK. I realise I am doing this mostly out of duty as our relationship has been emotionally barren. I have a sister who lives some distance away, she visits and calls, she does her bit.

My local 23 year old niece helps out, thank goodness.

But it’s all the little extras that are overwhelming; the phone calls and the needs for lifts. Oh, the doctors appointments, or the radio needs retuning, the card needs posting, the TV won’t work. Initially I’ve taken time off, made allowances, answered the phone, but this is overwhelming me. Her constant medical appointments are now the biggest thing in my life – she is 75, fit and well, though reactive to pain or feeling off-par.

I’ve sat her down and talked honestly and openly about sustaining this, she waves me aside and talks over me. I can speak assertively; I do.. but she refuses to hear me. I guess she doesn’t realise the huge impact she is having on my life, or she doesn’t want to. And, of course, she has never helped me out - my husband/friends suggest I should say I am now too busy. Genuinely so. I don’t want to do this, but this care package I am providing needs boundaries. She insists she couldn’t possibly go to the doctors on her own in case she feels unwell…and hands the problem of getting her there straight back to me.

I’m ashamed to say I think dark thoughts at night, like how long is this going to last? what if she lives till she’s 95?! I’ll be dead first at this rate. I have two teenagers at home and work four days a week; I was hoping things were going to, at long last, slow down for me. I left my full time stressful job last year…but this has just replaced it.

I know she's lonely and grieving, although she won't admit it. How can it/she/guilt not take over my life?
I'll be blunt - she's trying to turn you into her late husband. You are to 'take his place' in her life, by doing all the things which, presumably, he did for her.

What was your dad like? Was he warm and loving, or self-contained and cold as well? What was their relationshiop like (tricky for children to tell - what does your sister think of their marriage?)

Why do you think your mum is so cold? Is it something 'neurological' do you think, eg, she has Aspergers and finds emotional communication either difficult or 'unnecessary'? Or does he have some kind of personality disorder (narcissim, etc?) I would suggest looking up those possibilities, and seeing if she fits any particular profile. That way, if you and your sister find one that 'fits' it will give you the clue as to how to proceed from now on.

One thing is for sure, you are NOT going to be 'turned into her late husband' and that is that. The question is how MUCH will you do for her, and what you will just have to say 'No' to.

I was widowed some years ago (younger than your mum, not retired), and it was devastating (how could it not be!). However, one of the things that struck me was that in a kind of dreadful, bizarre way, it was like my life was before I met my husband. I had become a 'singleton' again. Most of that was appalling - ie, no one to 'do anything with', but some of it was, in a way, weirdly 'liberating' as in, it was just up to me to decide what to do. The 'upside' (not really, but you know what I mean!) of being single again is that you can do what you want, when you want etc. The dreadful 'downside' is that you HAVE to do stuff you just never had to do before. That is why she is trying to turn you into her husband - to 'occupy that space' in her life.

I would say that would happen irrespective of her coldness etc. The coldness is almost 'irrelevant' as all it does it make it less 'rewarding' for you to do things for her, not that she is particularly needy in an objective way (ie, she could be just as needy of you even if she were warm and loving - that might make it harder to say 'no' in a way!).

The awful truth for her to face - and she won't want to - I didn't!! - is that her life HAS to change. She MUST adapt to widowhood. She has NO CHOICE. That's what widowing does to us - it's brutal and dreadful but it HAS to be done. Right now she's in denial of that. That has to end, as you have already said....
Hello, welcome to the forum. I was widowed suddenly at the age of 54, and life changes forever. It sounds like mum is avoiding the realities of the situation, but actually the struggle and survival is a nasty part of the process.

Mum DOES NOT need you, she needs anyone, "someone". If you don't want to be saddled with her for the rest of your life, the sooner you sort this out the better. If she's 75, basically fit and well then she has absolutely no excuse whatsoever for asking you to do the stuff you mention.

Let's deal with the phone calls first of all, I had the same problems with my mum. Solution is simple, you put the answerphone on, permanently. Then YOU decide what is important to do immediately, and what can wait.

Find the details of a taxi company you can trust, and leave the card by her phone. Do NOT take her to any medical appointments, that's what taxis are for. You are going to have to play hard ball over this, she will have tantrums, plead, cry, but she must learn to do things for herself. To develop a new network of trusted tradesmen. The only other alternatives are to pay a domestic help to do the running around, or move into residential care. If she didn't do any baby sitting for you, why should you baby sit her.
Finally, what is her financial situation? Is she paying you for all your mileage, your time, lost wages?!
Your question ' how long will this last'? is exactly the one that spooked me totally when I 'inherited' my MIL when she was 89. She was developing dementia (as I grimly discovered), and it dawned on me that the bottom line was that she would NEVER be able to 'not need someone' for the rest of her life.

She's still going strong four years later (physically)(mind has nearly completely gone).

When I inherited her I was nearly 60, and thinking that I might have to look after her for the next TEN YEARS (because she's bound to make 100) was absolutely TERRIFYING.

I'm afraid that is what made me 'crack' and 'put her in a home'. It boiled down to 'her or me'.

I chose me.

Conversely, had she been 'guarenteed' not to make it past, say, 91, I'd have knuckled under, had her to live with me, and cossetted her till the end of her life. I still regret that didn't happen. Her longevity has 'ensured' she will 'die in care'. Ghastly, but there it is.

With you, as you say, you could have a quarter of a century left to look after your mum.....

Yes, the time may come, when she is REALLY old (and extreme old age is calculated as kicking in after 85, when the facultires are most likely to start failing), that she DOES need your 'intense care'.....but right now she doesn't NEED it, she only WANTS it.

Because she is making (or at the moment, denying!) the grim transition back into singleton-status as a widow.

It isn't going to be a question of 'whether' she transitions, but only 'how' and over what time frame. It's a question of strategy, as BB is indicating, eg, letting all calls go to answerphone, maybe booking taxis for her initially for GP appointments etc, as a half way house between you taking her, and her booking the taxi herself, etc etc.

In a way, think of her as, say, a ten year old who is gradually feeling their way towards independence (unlike a ten year old, she'll fight you of course!), so things like 'the first time they go on a bus on their own,' , the 'first time they walk to the shops on their own' that sort of thing. You are gradually 'letting go' of your mum's hand, so that SHE can find new independence, though every time she does, it will be like a knife in her heart that she does not have her husband to do these things with her and for her any more. So, so painful. But it has to be done. no other option. Certainly not using you as a substitute.
Thank you so much for the helpful replies. They weren’t what I was expecting at all; not sure what I did expect…shut up and put up, perhaps.

My dad was a more compassionate man, but mum ruled the roost so we couldn’t get past her to have ‘access’ to dad. He had to stay in with her which he was very frustrated about (well, he complied) but we did text a lot.

Yes, I see that, to function as she did, she needs someone (me) to replace my father in many of the roles that he had. Yes, I do sense that she is resisting change, that this is what she wants, not what she needs.

I have thought about my mum’s social behaviour for decades. I’ve come to the confusing conclusion that she is very anxious and has major trust issues (her father left when she was 3 - no contact ever) so she married a kind, safe man and lead a very small life within her very small comfort zone where she felt safe - her home environment, or if out of it, with my dad. Now suddenly he’s gone, she’s helpless. I’ve suggested to her that she’s anxious when she’s refused to go out (venomously denied); before dad died she’d claim she was busy with her housework routine and couldn’t let it slip, now it’s continuous minor ailments that ensures she says indoors.

My niece is willing and helpful to offer lifts when available as she works shifts; perhaps this is not helping me feel justified in not wanting to be mums ‘driver’. I work 9-5 and don’t have the type of job I can slip out of for a few hours, nor do I want to be, if I’m honest.

I called a local community transport company this morning who can help; they’d pick her up even walk her into the doctor’s surgery, not charge for waiting time, are DBS checked etc. Sounds great. Mum won’t buy into this though. This is going to be a battle which is very much not what I want. I’m not sure, as an adult, I’ve ever felt like her daughter. Now she wants our lives entwined in order for me to replace my dad as her carer; so this does need to be, for the first time ever, on my terms.
Thank you ladies.
Gosh, my mum was just like that. I'm afraid you are going to have to make yourself not available. So mum either uses the transport offered, or a taxi, or misses her appointment. Expect toddler tantrums, but don't give in!
Yes, this is going to be hardball. She won't make it easy and she will 'kick back' but you must stand firm, or else she will take over your life.

She does sound like she has significant pscynological issues, but your poor father is proof that by not standing up to her (and her issues)! but giving in to thm, that he only made things worse. Poor man, what a wretched life he must have led. be warned by him! He, I'm sure, would hate to see his daughter end up his controlling wife's 'prisoner', as he ended up being himself.

'Pandering' to other people's obsessions just reinforces those obsessions. Think of it this way - it isn't good for your mother to be 'pandered to' in that way. It stops her being able to 'break free' of what controls HER (ie, her fears or whatever).

Teaching her to be independent is GOOD for her - hold that thought when you say 'No, mum, I can't drive you to the GP, the transport service will take you, and that's that - or you'll have to miss your appointment, but it's YOUR choice and NOT my responsibility!'.....and then your mum kicks off!

Remember, her anger, anxiety, displeasure etc CANNOT harm you unless you LET it. Your father took the easy way out - and sadly it was the WRONG thing to do. It really 'doesn't matter' if she gets angry - SHE is responsible for her emotions, NOT YOU.


PS on this site we seldom, if ever, advise carers to 'put up and shut up'!!!!!!! We know the toll that caring can take, and how it is best to try and mitigate that toll, and, even if not mitigatable because of particular circumstances, we always have a 'free venting!' space to unload our frustrations in a sympathetic and understanding atmosphere!
Rather than "put up and shut up" if mum starts moaning or playing up in any way "put down" i.e. the phone, is much better. If she has a go at you when you see her, just stop what you are doing, say "I don't have to listen to this" and head home.
Please do set boundaries - right now.

I wish I had - because your story reminds me so much of my relationship with my own 91 yr old mother. Dad died in 1992 and from word go I became his replacement. I ended up feeling like a worn down old man, not a woman in my early 30's.

I am now in my late 50's. I still live at home with her but with a carer backup as she has almost non existent mobility. Looking back, my mother controlled my relationships/work/life. I do work from home but her emotional needs now impinge on that to such an extent that I am lucky if I can squeeze three days out of 7 even on a part time basis. I never got married or had a family.

Its a harsh thing to say - but I have now resigned myself to mother living a very ripe old age - she certainly looks better than I do! Plus she has handed all the financial worry over to me and I lie awake at night worrying how to pay for all the care and her bills while she dreams of the next blow it all shopping spree on clothes that she then hates or don't fit.

I'm stuck in my realm but please do all you can to retain your own life - its so much more precious than we ever realise when we start on this long road. xxx
Wise, sobering, and heartfelt words from Diane - she's had the most appalling journey even to this level of relative 'peace' in in her life, so do heed her warning!