Letters from Readers: Daughter Worried About Exhausted Caregiving Mom
Today I am introducing a new feature on Tender Loving Eldercare — a readers’ mailbag. Family caregivers ask me for suggestions and insights into their caregiving challenges. If a question arises for you on your caregiving journey, please feel free to use the contact form above to send me an email. From time to time I will publish a reader’s question and my response here, so we can all learn from each other. Please know you are not alone!
A reader recently sent in this question:
I am asking this question in regards to my mother who is caring for her mother..my grandmother. My grandmother has always treated my mother very mean and has always said very hurtful things to make her cry. Now that she is requiring care my mother is the one that is always there. My mother has a brother who will not have anything to do with his mother. My grandmother has put my mothers brother in her will but left my mother out completely and all insurance policies are also in her brothers name. My mother has taken full responsibility (with help from my sister and I) for her knowing how she feels about her and how it will all end. It hurts her so badly and my mothers health seems to have taken its own toll. My grandmother fights her on everything, then when my mother walks away to gather herself my grandmother will repeatedly call her until she comes back. When she is there she follows her around just to call her names when all she is trying to do is make it possible to help her and keep her in her own home. I want so much for my mother who is 66 to be able to enjoy herself once in a while..i don’t see her smile much. My grandmother isn’t able to do a lot for herself but I would love to make things easier on my mother. My grandmother wont allow anyone in her house or do anything for her but my mother, so what little bit my sister and I can do doesn’t seem to be enough to help my mother. Any suggestions please.
I asked a few follow up questions and this additional info was sent:
Thank you for your response to my message. My grandmothers physical condition is not that bad. She broke her hip a few years ago and has used that as an excuse to have people waiting on her. I believe that since my grandfathers death 10 years ago that she does get lonely from time to time but at the same note doesn’t want anyone in her home..confusing. I thought she might have Alzheimer’s but there has never been anything that would suggest that so her doctor says. She, in my opinion cannot care for herself. My family is not in a position to pay for her to have outside care and so that’s why it is tried to do within the family despite her disposition. Yes you may use my question in your blog I hope that if anyone is going through this that things work out for them. It is is hard. Thank you.
First I want to thank you for writing and for caring so very much about your mom and grandmother! They are very lucky to have you in their lives! You’re wise to realize the impact caregiving is having on your mom and to try to help in any way you can.
From your description, it sounds like your mom either is (or is close to) having caregiver burnout. Please call the ElderCare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 and they can refer you to your local Area Agency on Aging. The agency will tell your mom about programs and services to help her immediately, such as respite programs (so she can get regular breaks), support groups and other community resources (such as adult day centers). Even if your grandmother won’t allow anyone into the house now to help her, at least your mom will get other types of support to help her in her role as a family caregiver.
If you and your sister continue to help your mom, your grandmother may come to accept over time the routine of you doing more for her. There are usually special bonds between grandparents and grandchildren, and that may work to your advantage here. Perhaps if your grandmother allows you to help her more, that will then eventually lead to her willingness to accept other friends, neighbors or relatives willing to help in her home, thus providing more respite for your mom. This process could take months, beginning with the baby steps of you and your sister pitching in more. First alongside your mom, and then one day you would show up without your mom because she “has an appointment she couldn’t reschedule” or some reason that allows you and/or your sister to help your grandmother without your mom being there. Again, think in baby steps — it won’t happen overnight. It takes a village to be family caregivers, and you can start building that village today.
Your grandmother’s personality sounds very intimidating and difficult to be around, but you write it is not a recent change. Has your mother spoken privately with your grandmother’s doctor(s) to make sure they have examined her in-depth to rule out any physical reasons for her argumentative nature? If she hasn’t been to a doctor recently for a checkup, I would definitely start there. I’ve written about the importance of your mom being both an advocate for your grandmother as well as an “interpreter” at these appointments — for her sake as well as your grandmother’s. While you don’t think your grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other physical ailments could be making her extremely difficult. It is important your family explore those medical possibilities as well, keeping everyone in the loop on the process and progress made through the doctors appointments.
I’m sure your grandmother is indeed feeling lonely, afraid, resentful, and overly dependent on others for help — just to name a few emotions that go along with aging, especially since her husband is no longer there to be her companion and soul mate. She may also be grieving the loss of friends at this stage of life. This is not offered as an excuse for her mean behavior, but it may be useful for your family to remind themselves of her perspective. Aging is not an easy process; in fact, it sucks in many cases! Hopefully, your family’s love and caring will help her have a somewhat more positive outlook over time. Again, think in baby steps.
Your mom may also have to “bite the bullet” and speak kindly but frankly with her mother about the stress and sheer exhaustion your mom is experiencing. Hopefully your grandmother still has enough patience and compassion to listen to her daughter as your mother explains she needs some time for herself because she is physically and mentally drained. Your mom could point out to your grandmother that if she wants to continue to live in her own home, your mom’s assistance is vital in accomplishing this goal. And therefore, your mom’s own health and well-being must come first. You, as her daughter, sense this yourself and I hope your grandmother can understand this, too. If you and your sister are close with your grandmother, maybe you two can also have one-on-one discussions with her about this, approaching your grandmother with your own valid concerns about your mom’s state of health.
Last but not least, you mention your mom’s brother who “will not have anything to do with his mother.” It is something I hear all the time from siblings. It seems there are usually one or two siblings in a family who are very “hands on” as caregivers, and then there are those siblings who are either in denial over the parents’ care needs or just don’t want to be involved. I’m sure the disappointment your mom feels about her brother’s attitude is upsetting and may be adding to her stress.
Since your uncle has made it clear he doesn’t want to help, at this point I suggest your mom move on and look for other sources of help as given above. Moving on isn’t easy, but it may be the best step for your mother emotionally. If she can stop hoping for help from her brother, then she won’t keep being disappointed by his lack of action. It’s hard to fathom why a child won’t help their aging parents, but unfortunately, it’s common in my experience.
I wish I had a magic wand and could make everything better in just one giant wave. But since I don’t, I truly hope these suggestions help ease the caregiving situation for your family. Clicking on the blue text links above will take you to other articles on the TLeC blog that may also be of help. Take care and let me know how it’s going.
If you have any resources or suggestions for this reader, please feel free to write them in the Comments section below. We welcome your input.
If you or your care recipient are in a crisis, I urge you to call a health care professional immediately for assistance. TenderLovingEldercare.com and Linda Abbit only provide general insights about general situations. You should always consult your own lawyer, financial planner, health care professional and other professional advisors for advice specific to your situation.
Mail bag Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary under a Creative Commons License