Question: I am fortunate to be part of a large family that generally speaking does the right thing. I give credit to my parents for that. Like others our age, we are now attempting to help mom to live safely. It’s a bit of a challenge given that she has alienated many people over the years, including family members. She is creating dissension among the siblings, as she promised me she would. What can I say to myself and others to help mother get what's needed while not letting her divert our attention and create guilt, blame and anger? I want her to be remembered for the wonderful family she helped create—and not its undoing.
Dr. Amy: I love the fact that you want to help your mom leave behind a legacy that is positive, and that you are grateful for her raising you to do the right thing. Your mom is lucky--and so are your siblings. There is tremendous power in the fact that you have such awareness. The fact that you understand your mom’s weaknesses is also a definite advantage. In terms of self-care, I encourage you to continue to be mindful of your intentions and your goals. The more you are able to do this, the better you will feel.
I also encourage you to get together as a family, without your mother, to see if you can come to an agreement about how best to:
You may need outside help with this family meeting. If you feel you do, a geriatric care manager is an excellent resource, both for facilitating a meeting and for helping you assess your mom’s needs. If you are a member of a faith community, your pastor may be able to help, or to refer to you to a professional in the community. Sometimes these family meetings need a delicate touch, so if there is any doubt, I encourage you to get help.
At the same time, here are some suggestions for you and your brothers and sisters:
Fix what can be fixed. Sometimes, complaining is a sign that something else is bothering a person. Is your mom in pain? Is something uncomfortable? Does something in her environment need to be adjusted? If something needs to be fixed, do your best to fix it.
Consider whether there is an underlying health problem or a mental health issue. It is quite common for people with chronic health conditions to suffer from depression. When we are no longer able to take part in fun activities and no longer able to live independently, a deep sadness and depression can set in. I encourage you to talk to the doctor if you think this is a possibility with your mom.
Listen with compassion. Being full of fear and negativity is a terrible burden. I think it shows kindness to let your mom express his fears and irritations. To a point. You don't have to agree.
Maintain your own positive energy. Do not engage in argument. Rather than trying to argue or change your mom, focus on making your positive energy bigger. By focusing on positive things in your life—and hers —your positive energy and gratitude can overpower her negativity. You might share this strategy with your mom. Talk to her about the good things she has taught you. While it may help her see things differently, I caution you not to have high expectations.
Help her experience beauty. Whenever I get the chance to get out of the city and enjoy a walk in the forest, I am deeply nourished by the beauty of nature. I do not know how mobile your mom is but I encourage you to think of the ways that you can help her enjoy something inspiring.
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