Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.
How to set boundaries with demanding elderly relative?(49 Posts)
By default (my father moving away with his wife and my young half siblings) I have ended up being the only family member my great aunt, who is in her 80s has locally, and have ended up taking care of her. She is independent and capable in terms of taking care of herself but walks with a stick and has medical issues so can't go out alone without my help, and also needs me to do errands for her, shopping, taking for medical appointments etc, which is fine and I don't mind.
However, she has got more and more demanding over time, and I feel totally takes me for granted. I have two primary school aged DC, a job, a home, DH and I have a business, and although I ring her every day I simply cannot go over to her house every day and do things for her; I usually try to see her/take her out/do errands for her every other day. However this isn't good enough and she seemingly will pull any trick now to get me over there, such as pretend she's had a fall then when I get there she's fine, and this weekend as I had a day out planned she phoned me first thing on the day crying and saying her hot water wasn't working. We got there and she'd turned off the switch that operates the hot water. Or she will ring and say she's run out of milk and can I get her some if it's a day I'm not going over, so I'll get her some, drive to hers (she lives 10 miles away from me), and she'll have loads!
She has loads of friends in her village but doesn't like people in the house so won't have them over for coffee even though people are always phoning her. She won't have home helps, won't consider moving into sheltered housing, had a cleaner once a week but decided not to have a cleaner anymore. She won't go to any of the groups for older people in her village.
She completely takes me for granted and always asks after DH and the kids and says how wonderful other family members are but never shows me any appreciation, and moans the whole time I'm with her. Everything is also a drama with her; she will book a doctors appointment then purposely tell me the wrong time so I get there and she'll say 'Oh no we've got two hours yet, lets go for coffee'. It takes up my whole day! If I ever phone her and say I can't go that day as I'm ill (I'm getting a lot of migraines lately) she'll start crying and saying 'It's my fault, I've made you ill', so I feel obliged to go over still.
Worst of all is the constant comments on my appearance. As soon as I get to her house she looks me up and down and comments on everything about my appearance, ranging from pointing out my flaky scalp to pointing out any new spots I've got, asking if all my clothes are new and how do I afford all these new things, commenting on root regrowth on my hair, that my big toe is 'fat'. Everything!!
She doesn't have dementia as she has always been like this, and I understand that she is old and lonely (her husband died 3 years ago), but equally my life and kids matter too and I feel she is so demanding and it's making me stressed constantly.
My dad is mediocre with his support; he'll tell her he's coming up for the day to take her out then be too tired or busy and just won't come, and I've told him all this but he says he'll talk to her about perhaps moving into sheltered housing, but he never does!
How can I set boundaries or has anyone got any other useful advice to help the situation as it's just making me so stressed.
You sound lovely and my heart goes out to you.
But you have to learn to say no to her. It's the only way.
Have agreed times when you go over and stick to them.
She will not change - so you have to change how you interact with her.
But I suspect you know all this.
You can call the doctors to confirm the appointment time in advance.
She could live without hot water for 24 hours - it won't hurt her.
Put milk in the freezer - or she can also live without any milk for a day.
I wanted to extend a big hug to you. I have the same situation with my elderly mother, and like yourself have two young children, a business to run and a husband working long, anti-social hours. When my father died, I moved into the same street as her. I worried as she wouldn't let people help her, and she makes the same demands on my time as you describe. Other relatives won't help out at all, leaving me doing everything and being constantly criticised. I feel trapped but also in a tricky battle with my conscience.
I haven't got a solution for you. However, I think it is time to start thinking about yourself a bit more. I have realised that boundaries are the key to survival because you are in real danger of becoming a burn out case like I am. My health has declined because I have juggled too much for too long and I am facing major surgery this month as a result. Don't be a martyr like me, please change for your sake and your children.
Why don't you start being 'creative' about your work hours...it makes you less available to her if you have work commitments. In making yourself less available, then she is forced to address her real support needs and not the made-up one's that she uses to lure you to her home.
She is being very naughty. You need to tell your other family members about this and you must no longer give in to everyone expecting to look after your great aunt.
As one of two sisters that have elderly parents to take care of you have my sympathy:
We laid it on the line with ours:
1) we have children and are both single mums with jobs and can't make the commitment daily
2) you need daily care which a health worker is better trained to provide
3) you need to move into a flat where we can get to you easier and not have to worry about property maintenance
4) we will see you at weekends or x and y the rest is carers
5) we will do an online shop once a week and arrange for the cleaner to unload this and do your washing
Your list maybe different but you need to lay it out. I have POA which helps them execute on financial or legal matters too.
These situations can morph into a real burden if you don't provide boundaries.
Yes you are available for emergencies but you have your own life and other commitments
Thank you so much everyone for the replies and great advice! Much appreciated!
NeoTrad, the problem is that other family members simply won't do things for her, or they will say they will and then just won't, which then leaves me to pick up the slack.
I think you're going to need to be very firm unfortunately, even if she doesn't like it.
Reiterate that you are available on X days at X hours.
Does she phone your landline or mobile? Can you see who is calling? Perhaps have DH pick up the phone and tell her you are unavailable and can he pass on a message, if she is less likely to try to manipulate him than you.
Sounds harsh but you may have to just stop answering the phone to her. For a genuine emergency would she call someone else?
When you go round there for a fake reason do you confront her about it? When you saw she had lots of milk?
She just starts crying if I confront her. I said, very gently 'Oh, I thought you said you had no milk but you've got loads, look' and she started crying
OP, re things like the telling you she's fallen etc, I can understand why you would not be able to ignore things like that, even though she has 'form' for making it up. Could you get one of those buttons from Age Concern, as well as the alarm that she could wear round her neck, that way if she falls, she can press the button, they will try to call her and if they can't get through on the phone, will send someone round, and will also inform whoever is on her contact list, which could be you.
She is manipulating you. When she cries it works. So she continues doing it.
I would find it very hard, but I think I would have to sit down and explain that you are not able to come over at the drop of a hat. You are very happy to help her at the times stated, but she CAN NOT lie to you about needing you to come when she doesn't.
Then give her a hug, tell her you will see her tomorrow at whatever pre-arranged time, and turn around and leave. No discussion.
She has a button which she wears around her neck for a local helpline service for elderly people but refuses to press the button.....
Just say no
if she says she's fallen and you get there and she is fine - say "I don't appreciate being lied to" and walk out
tell her you can come over once a week maximum and she will have to sort herself out the rest of the time
I don't mean to be nasty, but you are being a doormat to a manipulative old woman who sounds like she is much more capable than she lets on
Does that give you any comfort knowing that you can say no to helping her and she does have an alternative if there is a genuine issue.
I'm not saying you should feel guilty at all, for wanting to reign this in, just that I understand you might not feel able to walk away from someone in case something did happen to them.
Some suggestions that may help you
Go to pharmacy and set up all all regular medication to be delivered free
To reorder in future takes one phone call
Need to phone approx a week in advance to order
Appointments to doctors start mentioning bus, taxi or some towns have a volunteer free ride to doctors or hospital eg dial a ride
Investigate online shopping or "Milk and More" that delivers food
Buy some long life milk that remains in cupboard
Get a Care Line in place (bleeper worn round neck) that can be pressed if have fall in house
Get some night lights that plug into the wall that provide light at night and can be used as a torch during a power cut, helps with visibility eg AVANTEK 2-Pack LED Night Light Plug-and-Play Automatic Wall Lights with Dusk to Dawn Sensor [Energy Class A+]
Ask the cleaner if they will do other household tasks, although may need to pay extra
Investigate if some charities could provide some help or befriending eg Red Cross, Age Concern
I know you feel that you would like to help
Elderly people can be inflexible and afraid of change
To protect your own family and health, you need to make it clear what help you will provide and there is no harm in saying NO
What would your Aunt do if you lived 100+ miles away ?
Also, if she has always been like this, then she is a manipulative person, who happens to be old and lonely, not manipulative because she is old and lonely, so I think you would be justified in setting some firmer boundaries without feeling like you are being harsh.
I'm afraid you are going to have to sit her down and tell her what you told us. That you have a job, husband, children and a very busy life so you will be calling over to her whatever number of times a week you decide, will bring her to doctor's appointments and will call her every evening at 6 and that is all you can commit to.
And that is a lot.
The second conversation needs to be about her accessing other help. If she chooses to not have other available help, that is fine - her choice as an adult but then she lives with it - she can't decide to make you do all the roles her friends/home help/cleaner could do.
I'm sorry about her being upset and crying but we all get upset and want to cry at times. Being old doesn't mean you get to steamroll over everyone else's needs.
I think that you need to call ss and have her needs assessed.
We went through a similar situation with DM. Looking back it was the start of a major and rapid mental decline into dementia where she went from independent living/driving to unable to cope at all alone over a 12 month period. She would call day and night about all sorts of spurious (and sometimes imaginary) things. However I think deep down it was a fear of being alone and an inability to remember things.
We tried different things - it escalated to 5 visits a day (3 paid carers and 2 family visits) - but still it was not enough and got to the stage where she refused to be alone at all and if left she started ringing 999 - for example to say that she hadn't had lunch even though it was clear that the carer had been there and given her lunch. In the end she could not be left at all
She was assessed by ss and went into residential care. She was not happy at all but at least everyone knew she was safe and were not bombarded with "emergencies" while at work and all through the night.
And I would suggest that whenever she cries you leave. It's manipulative
"sorry you're feeling upset great-aunt, we clearly can't have a proper discussion when you're in tears. I'll come back in a few days and we'll pick it up then"
I guarantee the tears will switch off like a light switch
She is definitely manipulating her.
Tell her, kindly but clearly, that you have your children to look after and your business to run, and while you're happy to help her too you cannot give her the level of care it seems she needs. Let her know what you can and can't do (for example, say you can visit her once a week, and do her shopping on the way if she gives you a list) but that if she needs more support than that she's going to have to work out how to find it elsewhere, or perhaps go into a care home, because you can't be everywhere and you'd hate to imagine her struggling.
You sound like a really lovely person, by the way. She's very lucky to have you, and is really taking the mickey. I hope she appreciates all you do for her.
Sorry. Manipulating YOU, not manipulating HER.
wickerlampshade is spot on.
So the message from everyone is that this is not normal or reasonable behaviour.
The MN support squad has formally given you permission to change the way you manage this WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY.
Hard as it is, you are going to have to get over the "guilt" and realise that there are other options for her. She won't help herself because you are being, in the nicest possible way, a total push-over for her and it's far easier for her to get on the phone, you drop everything and rush over, and she gets her milk or whatever.
Ask yourself - suppose you were laid up for several weeks with a broken bone? Would she wither away and perish? Would she hell!
There are care agencies, there are cleaners, she has friends locally, there is Age Concern, Help the Aged, pharmacies that collect and drop off medication, hospital transport to and from hospital appointments - the list goes on.
Decide exactly how much you are prepared to do, and find it in yourself to tell her you can't continue as things are. You don't have to justify why you don't want to be at her beck and call. If you agree to visit and shop twice a week, then stick to this. Rigidly. if she calls on one of your "off days" either don't answer the phone to her or tell her you are in the middle of something you can't drop (a shopping trip 30 miles in the other direction, a hospital appointment that is going to take all afternoon, a business meeting - whatever) and keep repeating until she gets the message.
Don't worry about her falling - she has a helpline button. That's what they're for!
It will be hard, especially when she turns on the tears. But these sound like the tears of an arch-manipulator rather than genuine tears! Harden your heart. It's lovely to care for elderly vulnerable family members, but not at the expense of your own family, your livelihood and your own health and well-being.
I think you do need to address this otherwise you will get to the point where you start to really resent doing anything at all for her. I think you have to have an adult conversation with her where you explain that it's all too much for you and that this (x y and z) is what you are able to do in the future. It is a huge commitment. I also think that you need to stop trying to make up for what others are not doing.
I thought the earlier posters suggestions like UHT milk, taxis to 'simpler' appointments, etc. were good ideas. I also echo that manipulative behaviour at any age is unfair - if she isn't careful, she's going to put you off helping!
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.