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Toxic, manipulative but frail elderly mother

(86 Posts)
TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 15:39:07

I tried to write a post, but it's so long that nobody would ever be able to read it. I've had to split it into two massive, unreadable posts, and it doesn't get across even a quarter of it. My MH is shot to pieces. Please don't feel obliged to read it. I've also changed my name, so please don't say if you recognise me.

Mum is 86, with minor cognitive impairment (lifelong, not age-related). I live nearby and help her, along with my sister. Mum can be loving, but is also self-centred, childish and manipulative. When we were children she was generally neglectful, and enabled/excused physical and sexual abuse by family members. Until now, I’ve found helping her to be a healing experience, but lately I’m struggling. I think I’m losing a fiction I’d built of a happy family, being a good girl, looking after Mum ‘as she looked after me’, when really she didn’t.

After an illness last year, Social Services helped us arrange a supported housing place, as even before this she’d only been coping with lots of support from us, and she’s now very unsteady on her feet. She doesn’t like it and wants to live alone, or with one of us. The supported place provides meals, housekeeping and an emergency warden. She has carers for washing and dressing, after many episodes of turning them away and calling us to wash her instead. Dsis and I do the rest (e.g. replenishing toiletries, changing sheets, admin), and visit her daily.

But her demands for transport are breaking us. She can’t drive, or walk outside unsupported, and refuses a frame or stick so it must be a person. She relies on us to take her places. Under normal circumstances this would be fine. But for Mum’s whole life she’s operated entirely on her own terms, with no consideration of others. She doesn’t make arrangements or agree convenient times like other people. Everything is spur of the moment. She won’t make appointments, even with the doctor: just turns up, expecting to be seen. (This works for her, as people usually cave after she’s been there a while.) Now that she’s old, she still wants this spontaneity – but expects us to facilitate it, and gets us to do it by bullying, manipulating, guilt-tripping and outright lying.

When she wants to be taken somewhere she never asks in advance. She just rings, wanting me to come now. Or I might arrive for a different reason, and find her all ready to be taken to the optician’s or wherever. Simple enough with advance notice and an appointment: hours of awkwardness and embarrassment with Mum. Often I have to refuse, because it doesn’t work with something else I have to do. I’ve tried explaining that I’m happy to take her anywhere, as long as she lets me make an appointment, or asks me earlier to be sure that it works for me. I’ve tried ringing or arriving at a regular time each day, asking if there’s anywhere she wants to go. She says there isn’t – and then rings later on, expecting me to arrive. And often I just can’t.

But if I don’t come, she very often sets off walking by herself. She’s been hurt many times after falling in the street. She then displays her injuries and tells everyone she fell when going to buy the paper (or whatever) by herself, ‘because I wouldn’t come’. The supported complex doesn’t provide care and she is free to come and go, so the staff can’t stop her and have no responsibility to watch her. They tell me that one day she’ll be seriously injured.

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 15:39:26

There’s another huge issue. She has a friend, in his 90s, who still drives a bit, but isn’t always well. If I can’t come instantly she often summons him instead. She also likes to visit him. Tells him I’ll bring her at a certain time and collect her afterwards, or that I’ll stay with her to give her a lift home. As this is all arranged without telling me, I sometimes can’t do it. I tell her this, but she doesn’t tell him. So I arrive with her and find him expecting me to come back and collect her, when I can’t. He insists it’s fine and she can stay: but afterwards tells his friends and family that he drove her home despite being ill, ‘because I wouldn’t do it’.

Other times she tricks me into taking her there, pretending he invited her when he’s actually asked her not to come as he’s ill. We have furious calls from his daughter about the stress she’s causing him. But he himself is inconsistent. Some days he wants to see her – even when she’s too tired to see him, she says – and happily drives them both out to the coast. We don’t know how it’ll be from one day to the next, so we can’t make a regular arrangement. He can’t/won’t hear me if I ring to check in advance, so that’s out as well. I had to give up trying when he misheard, thought there was an emergency and turned up at her house in a panic. (He is also manipulative and enjoys drama.) I’ve tried going to see him (despite his wandering hands) to explain that he doesn’t have to obey her demands. He agrees, but nothing changes. I also think he gives a different story to his daughter, who lives abroad and says we ‘force her Dad to look after our mother because we can’t be bothered’.

I’ve offered to set up taxi accounts, but she says she just won’t come out when they arrive. We’ve asked for her to be assessed by social services, who remind her that she can’t walk outside on her own. She just agrees: says everything they want to hear, then continues her own sweet way. Passes all cognitive tests, so officially has mental competence.
I find myself constantly on edge, waiting for the next call, not feeling free to do anything else. It is paralysing. Always explaining myself, giving lists of excuses about why I can’t drive her this time. It’s always genuine, but I have to refuse so much that it sounds even to me like I’m lying. Then there’s the worry about what she’ll do today ‘because I wouldn’t come’. I’m trying to work, and have teenage dds, one with additional needs. She actually seems jealous of them, interrupting me every time I mention them with something about herself.

I can see no way out. I’m a nervous wreck. Everything I’ve described also happens to my sister. She’s 16 years older than me so her dc are adults, but she also has a job and a chronic illness. If I step back, dsis gets sucked in further. She is even less assertive with Mum than I am.

Don’t even know what I want to achieve by posting all that. Perhaps just to get it out, or have a bit of detachment. Sorry for taking up all that space.

pocketsaviour Wed 24-Feb-16 16:52:59

Why on earth are you and your sister enabling this cowardly, bullying abuser? You surely to god don't think you OWE her something for your miserable childhood experiences?

Jan45 Wed 24-Feb-16 16:58:57

Really feel for you, even at her age she still pulls your strings. I understand you want to help and you do a hell of a lot more than most children do, I'd not put myself in a state of mental anxiety over it, you need to pull back, do what you feel you can and concentrate on your own family - tough if she doesn't like it, she sounds unbelievably selfish and self centred.

velvety55 Wed 24-Feb-16 17:09:03

Sorry to hear you're going through this. I had a father who behaved in a similar controlling fashion. I suggest you refuse to be guilt tripped any longer and go easy on yourself - especially if you work full time and have other family members to care for. Visit her a couple of times a week for an hour or so to check she's ok and let whatever is going to happen just happen. You have to care of yourself too.

MoreGilmoreGirls Wed 24-Feb-16 17:23:25

Sorry but I would not put up with it either. She's got you right where she wants you. How can you go every day do you work? What about your life? I would hate to be such a burden to my kids when I am old. Is there no way you can move her to a more secure facility where she can't just leave? If the doctors have said she should not be put walking on her own won't they support this? You need to be more firm with her. Agree times you are going and stick to it. No in arranged outings. Be strong op. You deserve your own life you know.

Lulioli Wed 24-Feb-16 17:30:52

I have a mother like this but I am virtually non contact so don t have to deal with the sort of crap she dishes out. I say to you BOUNDARIES. You set them to protect yourself and you ensure you keep to them despite her best efforts to step over them. It's so difficult to do this but therapy helped me enormously. Relate were brilliant in helping me establish what my boundaries could be and how to reinforce them with such a manipulative mother. It doesn't matter that your mum is elderly or infirm or dependent. She is abusing you and your sister. Just as she always has. She will not change. You must change how you respond to her.You still need to maintain these boundaries with all your might. Get support. I feel for you. It's shit xxxx

trappedinsuburbia Wed 24-Feb-16 17:36:43

I would just stop answering her calls for say at least a week.
Tell your sister to do the same.

CooPie10 Wed 24-Feb-16 17:58:57

I agree with the others op. It's about time you put yourself first. She's 80something nothing's going to change. You deserve to live a peaceful, no obligation life.

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 18:10:24

Thank you so much for your replies - I didn't think anyone would be able to face reading it! I could have gone on for ten more posts but you get the picture.

I work freelance from home, so I'm 'sort of' flexible, but it should only really be for emergencies. I set it up that way when the girls were younger, and because of dd1's issues it's been best to keep it that way.

I agree with everything you've said about boundaries and ignoring the pressure. She knows she can get me to do what she wants through love (believe it or not), guilt and manipulation. I've tried at times to pull away, but she apologises, shows me affection and takes an interest in my life. I've recently realised that this is to get me to toe the line again.

I left at 18 in a cloud of dust, but came back 15 years ago when my father died, because I didn't want dsis alone dealing with Mum. Like I said, I thought that by looking after Mum I could somehow heal the past. Dsis also has a strong sense of duty, and says that if I left again she would look after Mum alone, even though I've told her I wouldn't expect that. I can't move away anyway as my dds are settled in schools and it would be a bad idea to disrupt dd1.

The reason I'm posting now (after all this time) is I got home from a meal out with dh and dds to find angry messages from a cousin who looks after her own (lovely) mother, had visited Mum and seen cut knees from her latest fall (I hadn't taken her to the shop because I had a hospital appointment). And another from a much older cousin in Australia, berating me for not giving her weekly updates. I've only met this woman once. I had a complete breakdown and told dsis I was taking a break from Mum. I haven't been in touch for four days and my head is in turmoil, worrying about what she's doing, wondering what mayhem she'll create while I'm not taking her anywhere, worrying about dsis, who's in her 60s and currently on heavy medication for her own condition. She has an infusion of a chemotherapy drug this coming Tuesday. I'm healthy and only in my mid-40s. I explained to Mum that I was doing this as I needed a rest. She said this was a good idea (!) but then rang and rang and rang that evening until dh answered and told her I'm gone away on holiday!

But the distance is helping me see the patterns she's created, and I'm understanding her motives better. In the thick of it, when she shows me affection I think she really is interested. She rings asking to hear all about what I'm doing, and I stupidly still think she's interested, until she starts asking 'and what time will you be back?' 'and when are you going?' and I realise she's just gauging my availability to work out whether to call me or her friend.

Ideally I'd like to pull right back, but in practice I need to dramatically reduce my visits - maybe just a couple of times a week. I've tried in the past but seem to get sucked in again. It's a mess, but I know boundaries are the only answer.

MoominPie22 Wed 24-Feb-16 18:22:52

This could go on for 10 more yrs potentially!shock I agree with others. Boundaries, stop allowing yourself to b manipulated and put yourself and kids first. If your sis wants to carry on until she has a breakdown then so be it. Your responsibility is to u, not your mother. You're like unpaid staff!angry
U owe nothing to this awful woman. What happens if u go on holiday? Is your sis on full time call? And vice versa when she goes on hol? What does your partner think of all this?
Don't b guilt tripped into being her lacky. Does she ever even say thankyou?? I'll put money on the fact there's zero appreciation for all your efforts too. It's totally bonkers.
But nobody's forcing u so pls assert yourself and tell her enough already.

CMOTDibbler Wed 24-Feb-16 18:26:16

Boundaries are the answer, because she has none. And there is nothing wrong with the odd lie either 'mum, work have told me that I now need to be at my desk between 9-5, so I am not available in the day now.' 'I will be able to visit at 6, and take you out on Saturday afternoons at 2'. Whatever you are comfortable with - and stick to it, even if you have to put post it notes up reminding yourself.

If people give you grief, tell them the truth 'yes, she likes to tell people that' 'if you would like a weekly update, why don't you phone her' 'I'm not getting involved in discussions between an 86 and 90 something year old'.

She does sound like a nightmare though - my sympathies

twinjocks Wed 24-Feb-16 18:27:23

I'm so sorry, OP, you are in an awful situation. Reminds me of my MiL - she and her sister are caught in a toxic triangle with their 96 year old mother - who plays one off against the other constantly. They do the same dance over and over and nothing ever changes. Granny is remarkably fit and well, despite her age. I could write pages describing her manipulations but really it's all the same sort of thing as you have. The most recent thing was when she chose to spend last Christmas week in a respite home - had herself a simply wonderful time being waited on hand and foot, whilst telling all and sundry that her daughters put her there and "wouldn't have me for Christmas". MiL was devastated as she thought everyone was talking about her and judging her. Had she asked for my advice it would have been the same as to you (and your sister): Stop doing the dance, who cares what anyone else thinks. Granny didn't come to my children's baptisms (because I and they are a different religion to her and she wanted to make a drama out of it). She expected DH and me to beg and do the dance to ask her to come. Guess what? We shrugged and said "Oh, sorry you can't come, what a shame". She didn't come, we didn't miss her, we had lovely ceremonies and parties and she hasn't tried to manipulate us again.

As other posters have said - put up boundaries and stick to them whatever happens. I know it's easy to say, but really nothing will change otherwise. If she falls, if she is injured, if her friend is distressed - well so be it. You simply cannot continue to live like this. I wish you and your sister well - if you can unite over this it will be easier - but from the sounds of things, she's even more enmeshed in FOG (fear, obligation and guilt) than you are. flowers and chocolate and cake

MoominPie22 Wed 24-Feb-16 18:34:00

You and your sis are deep in the FOG.sad have u read the Toxic Parents book often recommended on here?

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 19:26:00

Thank you - I've heard the expression FOG before, but never really looked into it. Fear, Obligation, Guilt does pretty much sum it up, though sad.

Dsis and I go on holiday in relay. I've tried to tell her that by rights we should both be able to go away at the same time, especially now she's in the supported housing, but dsis is very resistant to that idea and yes, even more caught up than I am in the obligation. A part of me still does think that anything at all we do is very nice of us, but dsis sees it all as our duty (in fact, 'her' duty as the eldest - she says I can decide for myself). I do feel for her because of her health, and also want to help her as when I was growing up she was really the only person who kept me half-way sane. Her children are only a couple of years older than me so she's more like an aunt than a sister. But she is completely enmeshed. Never mind going on holiday - a couple of weeks ago she had to go away to the city for a day, and Mum told her to make sure she rang me to make sure I knew she'd be away. Dsis obediently did so, and I told her never to do it again.

CMOT, 'she likes to say that' is an excellent response, which I will use. It's interesting, although not exactly a good thing, to hear that other people have relatives who behave similarly. I'd kind of thought we were unique. If it's a pattern of behaviour, then there will be ways to deal with it, which is a comfort.

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 19:31:01

I've thought of things like pretending to be working in an office instead of at home. The trouble is that Dsis would know that I wasn't. She'd know that really I was skulking away from Mum, while she picked up the slack.

QuiteLikely5 Wed 24-Feb-16 19:38:04

the woman allowed you to be sexually abused? Say no more, that's very abnormal.

She falls yet refuses a walking aid? That is her own fault!

She has got a very tight grip on you.

I just couldn't do what you do.

You are enabling her bad behaviour too. So is your sister.

I'm not much help! I'm flabbergasted at her demands tbh

CMOTDibbler Wed 24-Feb-16 19:38:56

Your sisters choices are not yours to make. I understand that you feel a 'debt' to her, but shes a big girl and has to decide for herself what her boundaries are. You wouldn't be slacking off, you'd be still doing a lot for your mum, just in a more sensible way.

My grandad loved pulling stunts like your mum, and if I lived closer my dad would try it too I think. Its really not uncommon, as those who hang out in the Elderly Parents section on here can attest.

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 19:45:00

<sorry - Dsis's children are only a couple of years younger than me. She had them young, but not that young!>

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 19:49:02

I might visit the Elderly Parents section, under this name. I've lurked before, but really didn't know where to begin when introducing myself.

QuiteLikely, it was mostly physical abuse by my Dad, but yes, I was sexually abused by a teenage cousin when I was 10. I went to my mother, who first of all explained how I 'led him on' by the way I was dressed and sitting (I was 10, wearing a summer skirt). Secondly she explained how I must keep it quiet and do nothing about it. The boy's father was a friend of my Dad's and they went fishing together. If Dad found out, he would have to have a fight with the boy's father, and then he wouldn't have him to go fishing with any more. As going fishing was just about the only thing that kept Dad out of the pub, this was enough to keep me quiet.

MoominPie22 Wed 24-Feb-16 19:57:14

I´m actually still shock that she just rocks up to the GP´s and gets seen without a flipping appt!! When every bugger else has to wait a week or more to get seen angry So this must really fuel her ego that she can even exert power over the bloody Drs!

But you said earlier your sis would leave it up to you what you do even tho she feels duty bound. So who cares if your sis knows your at your desk at home and not in the office?

To me though, lying is a bit pointless. Just be truthful and straight down the line with getting those boundaries set and I would def go low contact. If your sis wants to play the martyr and run herself into the ground then that´s out of your control. If I were you I´d order 2 copies of Toxic Parents so you can both become enlightened simultaneously.

Sorry if you already said but have you and your sis ever had therapy/counselling re the abuse growing up, which has lasted up until this present day. I think talking about the sexual abuse and primarily your mothers´ malign influence over you both would be worth a shot? You´re both like her slaves. sad But why does your sis see it as her duty tho? Surely that´s what social services are for? I mean, how would she manage if she didn´t have you and your sis at her beck and call every single day?

It´s like she´s the puppeteer and you both are her puppets, but at least you´re acknowledging that you´re unhappy and this isn´t right. If I were your partner or daughter I´d be really flipping pissed off and resentful watching my mother be remotely controlled and run ragged like this. angry

Imagine if you and sis both lived too far away to be of any assistence? I´m just thinking hypothetically what would actually happen if neither of you could physically do it for whatever reason....

Next on the cards she´ll fall and break her hip, you watch. Cos she´s too stupid and bloody minded to use a frame, it´s bound to happen eventually. Honestly, the arrogance of the woman has me incredulous!

Corygal1 Wed 24-Feb-16 20:03:30

In the old days people could get away with being difficult in old age because it didn't last very long. Nowadays that is not the case - your 'D'M has another decade of making your life hell - at least.

It's a good problem to have. But it still needs fixing - stand up to her. I know that sounds like an irritatingly easy thing to say but honestly, you'll be amazed and delighted how fast a bully crumples when you put your foot down.

Recruit your sister. Acting as a team, don't answer the phone, don't fall in her with mad plans and don't see her more than once a week for six months. Game over.

I have a feeling you'll like her a lot more if you do this. Which would be saintly of you, but also good for you both. Oh, and I bet the care home staff are wise to her already.

Good luck.

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 20:18:43

Imagine if you and sis both lived too far away to be of any assistence? I'm just thinking hypothetically what would actually happen if neither of you could physically do it for whatever reason....

Moomin, that's in fact dsis's argument for why we (she) must be around. Because there'd be nobody else to do it. We do in fact have a third sister, a year younger than Dsis, who is low-contact with Mum and lives in the Far East. I see that as a liberating thing - it shows me that there are other ways to do it. But Dsis sees Dsis2 has having 'left us in a hole' and resents her terribly, talks all the time about how it's very well for Dsis2, swanning off to her great life abroad while we are 'stuck here'. I don't want to think of us as being stuck, but that's how she sees it. I'm pretty sure that's what she'd say about me as well, if I weren't around. When I left for uni she talked about being left here to look after our parents, and I always felt guilty about that.

I konw that in fact Social Services would have to step in. There are people in the world who don't have children, for a start. We live in a very traditional and rural place (hence, probably, the doctor agreeing to see her), and there's a much greater tradition here of looking after your elderly parents, usually by having them to live with you. We already appear remiss around here by having her in the sheltered place.

MoominPie22 Wed 24-Feb-16 20:19:55

Corygal1 I could never like a nasty witch who enabled sexual abuse of her child, protected the abuser and who then perpetrated her own kind of abuse for the entirety of the adult child´s life. I could never like a spiteful bitch who never loved her kids, made their lives a misery, screwed them up mentally and who basically failed in her most fundamental duties as a mother!

And now she´s doing her best to be the biggest burden to both her daughters and torment them til the day she dies. This is premeditated, it´s malicious and it´s unforgivable. She should be held accountable for her mistreatment but I bet the woman has never been challanged by anyone in her life! That´s why her arrogance knows no bounds.

The 2 daughters are nothing to her. Mere minions and servants. A means to an ends. As pliable and easily manipulated as putty. They have a role to play in this dynamic and they are playing it, compliant and passive.

That´s why I keep banging on about informing yourself with reading the relevant literature. Knowledge is power and the OP certainly needs empowering as opposed to being enslaved.

TheIncongruousPheasant Wed 24-Feb-16 20:20:55

(Before anyone asks why I don't discuss this with Dsis2, I'm not in much contact with her. She's an alcoholic and also very demanding. We get on OK at a distance, but we aren't close.)

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