“Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning… Anyone can start over and make a new ending.”― Chico Xavier
Vital Self-Care Steps for Caretakers of Complicated Mothers
Many women have taken care of their difficult parents. So did I. Maybe now it is your turn, and I won’t say it’s easy. All you can do is do your best. Your best at being your mother’s guardian — if not for her, then for you. And your best at being good to yourself by taking care of your wellbeing.
Here are a few ideas that helped me on my journey.
#1 Keep your boundaries firm.
For the sake of your wellbeing, don’t cancel your boundaries because your mom is ill. You need them now, too — both of you.
“Healthy boundaries are also about having a good relationship with yourself.”― Nedra Glover Tawwab
For example, your mother has dementia, and she wants you to visit tomorrow because she can’t remember you were already with her today. More than anything, she wants you to be with her all the time — to dedicate your life to her.
That won’t work, so decide how often you will visit, on what days, and make a schedule. Having the same visiting days and forming a routine is often the best approach because it will help your mother remember. If she has a calendar, mark these days for her in a particular color. Or make a note and mount it to her fridge. Now and then, she will still forget and blame you for not coming. Don’t take it personally — it’s about her, not you. Remind yourself that she’s ill and you’re doing your best; then, take a deep breath and remind your mother of the schedule you both have agreed to.
Setting boundaries with an ill, elderly parent may feel like starting all over again, and in a way, it is. You may need to soften your voice and repeat your statements plenty of times to get the result you want.
What your mom needs the most is reassurance that she hasn’t been forgotten, that you will come. Give her that. What you need is peace to live your own life. Remembering that will help you stay in touch with your patience and kindness towards your mother and yourself.
#2 Understand your parent’s motives.
Elderly people often feel fearful and insecure. They may fear further health deterioration and the unknown of their approaching death. These fears alone can make anyone lie sleepless at night or lose their temper. Many people show emotions like anger and aggression when they are scared and fear for their lives, and your mother is not an exception.
Elderly people often feel fearful and insecure. Understanding what lies behind your mother’s angry outbursts will help you to respond from a place of kindness, not hate.
Understanding what may lie behind your mother’s angry outbursts will help you to respond from a place of kindness, not hate. You may say, “Mom, I can see you are scared. I’m here for you. How can I help?” You may ask your mother if she wants to talk about it, but don’t be taken aback or hurt if she says no, because she probably will. She doesn’t know how to talk about her feelings, especially the tough ones. She may be ready to share later, though, so you can try again another time.
And if she loses it and keeps screaming at you, tell her, “OK, Mom, we will talk later when you are calm.” Say no more and leave. Don’t worry. Your mom needs this pause, too, to break out of her negativity, calm down, and recover. Come back later, and she will be happy to see you.
#3 Leave responsibility where it belongs — with your mother.
Elderly people can be stubborn and mistrustful, even paranoid. Sometimes they refuse their treatment, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Meds have plenty of side effects that could make you wonder if they are good for you, don’t you agree? And many elderly people get prescribed dozens of different drugs.
But your ill, complicated mother may also manipulate you into getting what she wants by refusing her treatment. Don’t fall for it. Another possibility is — she’s not ready yet.
If your mother is still able to make her own decisions, the responsibility is hers. Remember, she is an adult; don’t take her free will from her. However, you may want to tell your mom how her decision makes you feel — sad, angry, helpless. Or share your feelings with a trusted friend instead, but let your mother decide what to do — whether that means to take her meds or not, or move to a nursing home or stay home.
My mom wouldn’t accept any assistance from anyone other than me, and at first, I tried to push her. It didn’t work. So, I told her, “Mom, I understand that it’s a difficult decision, and you are not ready yet. You know that I worry about you, but there’s only so much I can do to help. I don’t want to push you; therefore, let’s make a deal. I’m not going to ask you again, but you will tell me when you are ready, then I’ll help you with the arrangements. What do you say?” She said yes.
If your mother dies as a result of her choices, remember that it was her decision, and you couldn’t do anything other than respect it, even if you disagreed.
#4 Make sure your priorities are right.
Remember that your primary responsibility is you — your health and wellbeing.
How come? Because it’s your responsibility, and because it makes it possible for you to help others. Self-centered as it may sound, your energy resources are not unlimited, and they need regular upgrades for you to take care of others and thrive. Therefore, always remember to take care of your health — mental, physical, and spiritual alike. Denying yourself self-care can destroy your life and the lives of people you care about.
If your mother keeps abusing you, no matter what you do, take a break. It’s OK to keep a distance for as long as you need to. It’s OK to say, “I’m going now. We will talk again when you are calm.”
You can do it.
#5 Keep your social life alive.
Focus on your relationships with people who are good for you: your husband, kids, and friends. Maybe the other parent or an uncle, too. You need them as much as they need you. Spend regular time together, call them as often as you can, and don’t be afraid to hug them anytime they are near. Laugh and enjoy each other’s company on any possible occasion — they are your lifeline.
#6 Accept all the help you can get.
Don’t try to be a hero managing everything on your own. Taking care of an elderly, sick person is not a task for just one person, unless you want to sacrifice your own health and life. It gets particularly tough when the person you’re taking care of is your parent with a personality disorder or mental health issues, on top of other problems.
When people offer you help, say thank you and accept it. Don’t be shy to ask them yourself when you start feeling overwhelmed — don’t wait till the job tears you apart.
People will always do things a little differently from you. That’s normal, and that’s OK. Let them, and show gratitude — they did their best. Most importantly, things got done, and you could focus on yourself for a while.
Make sure that you have an open line to a doctor and/or nurse you trust. Let them check your parent’s health, both physical and mental — many elderly people develop depression that may show in extra irritability, lack of quality sleep, loss of appetite, and other symptoms.
#7 Choose your battles.
You can’t always win, and that’s not your goal. What you want is peace and for things to be done. If your mother is difficult and disagreeable most of the time, you need to save your energy by choosing the most important tasks and letting the rest go. It may be vital that your father stops driving or your mother goes to a hospital — these are worthy of your full effort.
On the other hand, if your mom wants to keep stuff that you would rather throw in the garbage, let her. She may separate herself from it eventually, or not, but neither her survival nor yours depends on it. So, don’t waste your energy on something unworthy.
#8 Don’t let anger consume you.
You know that your mother can bring out the worst in people, as she does in you. But she is still your mom, and now she needs your help and protection.
You may think, “She gets what she deserves.” Believe me, the thought visited me, too. But even though payback may give you a moment of satisfaction, this fleeting feeling of success soon evaporates, giving way to guilt and regret. Because it’s not who you are or who you want to become — someone who abuses her power over another person. What you want is to be the best version of yourself — kind, compassionate, and empathic. Please, remember that, and you will be fine.
#9 Find a way to pop the bubble.
Even when you remember to take time off and let other people help, emotional (and physical) overwhelm may start building up over time. Therefore, it’s vital to find an outlet for your emotions, to pop the bubble of negative energy. Don’t worry; it’s easier than you might think.
There are many ways of restoring your inner balance — find what fits your personality best. It may be a massage or yoga class, long walks in nature or reading, spending a day with a friend, or attending a support group or Sunday mass. But whatever you do, do it mindfully and be present. Pay attention to your bodily sensations, emotions, and the outside world.
Find inspiration here.
#10 Provide support while encouraging independence.
Don’t take everything away from your mother. Let her do the things she still can, even if it’s far from perfect. If she lifts a cup and her hand is unsteady, don’t rush to help her right away — just keep an eye on her, and be ready to jump in. If your mother wants to clean her apartment, let her without commenting on the result. She needs something to fill her time, to feel useful and needed. Help your mother focus on the things she can do, and she will be grateful.
#11 Seek and find joy.
Even in the worst possible circumstances, there are moments of joy. Grab them, and don’t let your mind tell you otherwise. You will find joy in your personal life and in being with your mom if you simply pay attention. It may be a brief moment of clarity, a gentle look, a sign of recognition, or a shared memory of fun moments, like a day in Disneyland or a vacation at the seaside. Whatever it is, enjoy those times together — you’re making new memories with your mom.
#12 Find your way to tackle disagreements.
Seniors don’t always accept help easily – you just know what to do, but your mom refuses your offer. It is unreasonable, even silly, from your point of view, and you feel frustrated, helpless, and stuck. But here’s the thing – your mother is still a person who has a long life behind her with habits so deeply rooted that they cannot be eradicated. She does not want to change anything because change overwhelms her, but following her way calms her down. Although most importantly, she still wants to be in charge of her life (do you blame her?). She wants to be considered the capable person she used to be. Not anymore? Maybe, but that person is still there, deep inside your sick mom, and she is easily hurt.
So, if possible, let your mother do things her way. Avoid lengthy discussions about your way and hers – it’s boring and unproductive. Compromise when possible: if we do X my way, we do Y your way. Promise your mom to do things as she wants and do whatever works best for you, like when she wants you to pay her bills at the post office while you do it online. There is nothing wrong with a bit of lie that saves your mom and your energy.
Honesty for the sake of honesty that hurts another person is selfish and self-serving.
In some cases, you can drop an idea and let your mother believe it is hers. As long as you get the desired result, it doesn’t matter whose idea it was, right?
And if you realize that your mother’s way is ok, smile when she says, “I told you so.” Just smile and let her feel superior for a while.
If you are flexible and try to understand why your mother insists on doing things her own way, you will prevent lots of emotional turmoil, frustration, and stress.
Don’t Put Your Life on Hold
Taking care of an elderly parent will change your day-to-day life big-time. Nonetheless, don’t put your life on hold. It is difficult but not impossible if you set your priorities right. There will be days, weeks, or even months when you may feel trapped, but it will pass, too. Remember, there is always an exit waiting to be found.
Besides all the trouble and pain, being around your elderly mother during her last days on earth is an opportunity to experience good moments, make new memories, and grow.
On bad days, remind yourself that you are doing your best. You are doing what’s humanly possible, juggling your personal life and career while caring for your parent.
In case it’s too much, and you can’t be your abusive parent’s caretaker, don’t beat yourself up. Let other people care for her and enjoy peace. They have no previous history with your mother, but they have experience dealing with demanding, ill parents.
Take care of yourself.
Let me know how it’s going.
Do you have experience taking care of your difficult parent? Please, share what you learned in the comments below — we can help each other to be better at helping others and ourselves alike. Thanks!
Feel free to share this article with people who might need it.
Related reading:Share what you find most helpful in the comments below or send me a private message. Visit my Facebook page. Join me on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. And if you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends. Thank you!