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Posted: March 15, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Mending Fences Through Caregiving

Is it possible for a caregiver to mend fences after a lifetime of being emotionally ignored by her mother? That is a question I pose to Jeanine, who says her life with her mother has always been lacking.

Also, Jennifer would like a test to determine when a mother should stop living alone. While there isn?t any specific test, there are questions you can ask to help you decide this particularly difficult issue.

These are just two of the issues dropped into my e-mailbag recently. I?m happy to share my advice with you as well as the inquiring caregivers.


Dear Jean:

My mother and I have never been close. We have always been water and oil and could only tolerate each other for short times. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to be here taking care of my mother. The last thing in the world she wanted is for me to be here taking care of her. So here I am, irritated at her that she was never emotionally there for me as a child. While she was alone she ruined her health, but now it is ME who is paying the price. Jeanine, Huntington Beach, California

Dear Jeanine:

First of all, even if you would have had the mother you wanted as a child, your feelings now about taking care of her would be normal. Most of us would rather live our own lives without the burden of taking care of someone else.

Why don't you try talking to your mother about mending some fences? Let her know that you are both in this situation and perhaps you can become close through it. You have always wanted your mother's love and approval. Deep down, a mother wants her daughter?s love and approval also, whether she admits it or not. Why not try to get that now? I know it sounds like a fantasy to finally get what you always wanted, but sometimes it really works.

Try to look at things through her eyes. It probably will help you resolve some of the feelings you have about her lack of attention toward you. Do you know much about your mother? That may seem like an odd question, but many people only know the surface information about a parent. What about her childhood? She might not want to talk about her past -- but on the other hand, she might. Perhaps she always wanted her own mother's love and approval but didn't have it. It's possible she was just doing what she was taught and gave what she received because she didn?t know anything else.

You are the parent now - to you mother. As a parent to my kids, I found I was always the one to take the first step toward resolving any problem. Please try to resolve the problems between your mother and yourself. If you can come to some sort of ?truce? now, your mother?s last days can be rewarding for both of you. If you can't, at least you will know you did everything you could to resolve the problems.

Good luck. I hope you?re able to build a relationship with your mother that?s closer to what you always wanted.


Dear Jean:

My mother is widowed, 85, and living alone. She lives in a condo where they maintain the exterior and she employs a housecleaner. Her physical health is good, but mentally she is becoming more dependent upon my brother and me.

We maintain her financial accounts, though she writes the check when we explain the bills. We also are on her accounts. She frequently forgets what happened just minutes before or why we went to the store, for example. She still drives occasionally, but I?m not sure that she should. And there are other things.

Can you help me to know when she should not live alone any longer? Barb, Evansville, Indiana

Dear Barb:

It would be nice if there was a test to tell you when your mother shouldn?t live alone, but there isn?t one. Quite often something happens ? a trigger -- to let you know you need to step in, but not always.

There are questions you can ask to help you determine if she?s safe living alone. How is her health? When she walks out the front door of the house does she know where she is? When she walks out the door and turns left or right is she lost? Is she eating regularly? When you check her medicines at various times of the day, are the correct number there? Is she getting angry now when she didn?t previously? Ask yourself these and any other questions that might tell you if her ability to do things and reason have changed so much that it is time for you to take over.

The main criteria to use in assessing your mother is whether she is doing things that will hurt her or hurt others. You don?t want her getting lost or over medicating herself.

Another thing to be aware of is that it is very frustrating to realize you don?t understand things as well as you once did. This may be happening with your mother. Quite often a person in that situation tries to hide their ?mistakes? and lack of correct thinking. It?s embarrassing and it scares them. They don?t know how to handle it, and they don?t want other people to know about it.

I am concerned about your mother?s driving. You said, ?She frequently forgets what happened just minutes before or why we went to the store.? I question if she should be driving at all. There is a point where you must protect your mother from herself. You might want to read my Practical Caregiving column on this topic How to Reasonably Take Away the Car Keys.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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