Seeking wisdom for mother coping with demanding grandmother

(4 Posts)
VoilaAnotherGimlet Wed 19-May-10 17:49:59

Hello all - hope someone will be able to offer some words of wisdom, I've come to love the MN community over the past year so would very much appreciate your views.

My Mum (62) is an only child. Her mother (Nan)(88) lives about 250 miles away int he town where she has always lived. She's been widowed for 20 years and all that time has lived in a warden-controlled flat. Two of her sisters live within streets of her.

Nan calls my Mum several times a day. Mum went on holiday for ten days last month (not been for 2 years, not a common occurrence) but called Nan every day and wrote to her every day so she'd have a stream of letters. Mum got back to a torrent of abuse from Nan and her sisters asking where she'd been, why she wasn't immediately going to see Nan on her return.

Nan is old. But she isn't unwell otherwise. She's a "frequent flyer" with medical depts nearby though they continually fail to find anything wrong with her. She wants Mum to be there to bring her cups of tea and basically run around after her, she doesn't seem remotely interested in actually seeing her for herself, and has no concept of Mum deserving a life for herself. Mum's still working (as a supply teacher, but income is needed) and also wants to see her grandchildren (my sister's, and mine-to-be in September). Mum ends up feeling that she can do nothing right for Nan, that nothing will be good enough but that the pressure she is under to do something is becoming unbearable.

Nan has lived in Swansea all her life. Although she claims to have no friends, there are various people (that she calls Mrs...) popping in and out in the day. Her sisters are nearby, though they tend to wind her up by telling her constantly how their families are close by and how they get to see them daily. (Nan has also been awful and demanding to them so the fault is on both sides that this relationship isn't more supportive).

Is there anything I can do/say/suggest to stop my Mum sinking under the weight of this pressure? I don't think there's a way she can escape it, I just wish I could help her handle it better and not let the guilt rot her away until she's old and bitter and just like Nan.

(We have a family joke that Nan will outlive us all - her mother lived until she was 96 so it isn't that much of a joke any more.)

Sorry for waffling & hope I haven't missed anything key.

clothhanky Wed 19-May-10 18:48:15

HI Voila, didnt want you to go unanswered, this story echo's my dads mum, who died 2 yrs ago aged 102, while my dad had 2 sisters my nanna saw fit to lay all her problems and grumbles on his door step. For my mum and to some respects, us his children, his mother was at the centre of our lives, all decisions were made around how she would react to things. e.g could we go away on holiday or would she take to her bed and then phone a doctor/ambulance/ anyone to stop us going away. All I can suggest is she chooses between her children and her Mother, hard I know but I so wish my Dad had grown a back bone, it's great now to see him free in his life and without the worry of when his mam was next going to have" one of her turns" but he had to wait till he was 63 for that to happen, even now my mum is very bitter about this. Life is very short , hope this helps

VoilaAnotherGimlet Thu 20-May-10 08:58:49

Thanks clothhanky. What you describe is exactly how Nan's Mum ruled the family when she was alive. I think Nan has seen this model and tried to apply it to Mum. Mum's been sheltering us to an extent (she always knew this behaviour was coming) and by moving away has acheived what the rest of the family never did - a separate life. (Moving away was with work not for this, but was a huge turning point for us as a family).

Mum knows life is short - a close friend died a few months back - she is just so eaten up with guilt at not being able to do anything to make Nan happy and worn down by the constant barrage of criticism. Nan has no concept of Mum having her own life and friends or being entitled to any of that. Mum keeps saying to me that she and Dad don't know how much longer they have left, which is absolutely true, but I think she feels it is easier to cave in to demands than to constantly battle them.

I can't seem to get through to her that she has a choice, that she holds all the cards and could withdraw from Nan if she needed to. I think if she understood that she did have a choice, the pressure would ease, but as I'm not in that situation perhaps I am over-simplifying it.

Thanks for replying - sad to say that a death can be such a relief sometimes but I am glad that your Dad is now able to live his life. Hope you Mum can overcome her bitterness and enjoy each day.

frgr Tue 14-Sep-10 14:51:38

Right this topic was posted months ago, but I have such a helpful recommendation to make I figure it might help someone out in future with the same problem.

There is a book called "The Dance of Anger" by Harrier Lerner which deals with this EXACT issue, with some very practical and hands on tips to help your Mum cope (because it's your Mum that needs to change her perception, she cannot make your Nan happy - the chapter where Ms Lener speaks about pressure from parents also highlights examples of what she calls "change back" behaviour when we try and fix something in our lives to the disappointment of another... think about when a woman loses weight and her husband feels threatened, his "change back" behaviour is to get posessive because he is insecure... or when a child's parent goes back to work the kid's "change back" behaviour is to refuse to show affection or speak to the parent at daycare in the evening).

Seriously, go to the library and get that book, i am making a right mess of trying to explain her advice, but it's one of the few advice books I've purchased. It has helped me immensely when it comes to things like passive aggressive behaviour and constantly feeling taken advantage of by family members (who also showed "change back" signals when I put a stop to being taken advantage of, guild trips, but when I stuck through the initial painful bit, after a couple of months of seeing this New Me, I wonder why I put up with so much crap for so many years. And it's thanks to that book! (Also recommended to me by a forum poster, when I was planning my wedding and feeling the extra pressure).

p.s. I've looked on Amazon, the chapters you need is "Up And Down The Generations: An Aging Father" and "Old moves, New Moves, and Countermoves". Read those and it will help.

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