Thursday, November 12, 2009

When the parent becomes the child

More of the personal stuff...

I've been absent from blogland for a good part of the last few weeks. We're going through some serious issues with my mom. First off, She's 71. Not terribly old, but you know the saying that you're only as young as you feel or act? Yeah. She acts the 71 of my grandmother's time, not the 71 of today. For the last several years, she hasn't taken good physical care of herself. As a result, she has a lot of health issues, I'm shocked by her sudden lack of good hygiene, and her mental health has taken some hits as well. She's suffered some memory issues over the last 5-6 years that has me and my siblings very concerned. She refuses to see or acknowledge these issues, however. Add to that, she's a typical Jewish mother. There's an old joke: "How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. I'll just sit here in the dark, dear. Don't worry about me." That describes my mom to a T. She's the perfect martyr.

So about 6 weeks ago, my mom called my siblings and me to let us know that she decided to buy a condo. Since she and my dad sold their home in Arizona and moved back to California in 2003, they (and now she) have been living in an apartment about a mile from both my sister and myself. My brother lives about 15 minutes away. The problem? She didn't let any of us know about this proposed purchase beforehand. She decided to do it, and kept it secret because she knew none of us would approve. She arranged to pull approx $300,000 out of her retirement funds to buy it. Even though she's constantly complaining she can barely make ends meet. She put several offers in at once on short-sales, out of sheer desperation to be a homeowner once again. The reason she finally let us know? It looked like one was going to actually accept her offer and close.

We came to find out that she had kept this secret from her children, but had told my in-laws and my sister's MIL. And sworn them to secrecy. And that her loan officer was my sister's BIL, also sworn to secrecy. Unbelievable.

AND, she won't be saving any money at all on a monthly basis, which was her rationale to us in the first place. Besides the "I miss owning my own home" argument. And the "My apartment is too small" argument. (The condo that she closed on is actually smaller than her apartment, but she saw it without furniture, so she thinks it's larger - square footage means nothing to her.)

My mom doesn't handle stress well. When something goes wrong at her apt right now, she calls maintenance. If they aren't there to fix it ASAP, she gets pretty pissy with them. I can only imagine how it will be as a homeowner. I don't have the time to maintain two homes. Nor does my husband. As it is, we spend an inordinate amount of time over there fixing little things for her. I don't have a problem with that, but now I anticipate it will be expanded to plumbing and other maintenance issues. My brother and BIL are pretty useless when it comes to maintenance (and I say that with love, truly), so their help is out.

Really, truly, the issue is that she needs to keep making changes every couple years because she still hasn't come to terms with my dad's death 5 years ago. She's still making comments like "This isn't how it was supposed to be," or "I can't believe your dad left me to deal with this on my own." And I truly understand her feelings. Even moreso after the last couple weeks. I know that my folks were supposed to grow old together. Nobody anticipated my dad passing away at 70. But buying a home isn't something that she can just change her mind on 2 years from now when she decides she doesn't like it. She's moved apartments twice in the 5 years since my dad passed, trying to find a place that works for her. And each time, she buys a ton of new stuff. That a month earlier she says she can't afford. At some point, I really hope that she will realize that she needs to move on. Spend time with friends. DO something every day. Find joy in life. Because, I imagine that she has a lot of years ahead of her, and I really don't want her to be unhappy all those years.

So, we've been struggling with the big question that's been sitting on the back burner for the past few years. How to handle it when the parent is becoming the child, but isn't ready to acknowledge any diminished capacity? She thinks we're all just treating her like a baby.

Honestly, this is so stressful - I want to treat my mom with the respect that she needs and deserves, but I don't know how far to take my disapproval and concerns. My siblings and I have pretty much sucked it up at this point and are letting her make her own decisions, including this one. But we're asking ourselves more and more often, given her lack of physical care for herself (which isn't yet to the point where we feel she can't live alone) and her lack of stable emotional decision-making, how do we manage a woman whom my dad let have everything in life she wanted? Who almost never heard the word no? And who hasn't a clue, or refuses to see, that she isn't in the best position to be purchasing a home at 71 and in poor physical, financial, and emotional health?

Been a little stressed out lately. Hopefully will get back to bloghopping and writing reviews soon. Thanks for letting me vent.


  1. Oh, my heart really goes out to you. How frustrating for you to have to sit by and be unable to prevent it. And being put into a position where you will want and need to help make it okay down the line, but with limited time and resources.

    My dad passed a year and a half ago, and my mother, who is the same age as yours, is starting to make big decisions on her own, and it's going well so far, but there have been a few times where she refuses to listen to reason, like she makes big decisions emotionally or reactively, and I often think, what is going to happen as this intensifies?

    My mom (and likely your mom) need grief counseling, but my mom won't hear of it. OH, good luck with all this!!

  2. Oh Lori. I know what you're going through and wish I had answers or the perfect advice to offer, but all I can do is offer a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to your worries. My husband and I have experienced very, very similar issues with his parents (and now just his dad) over the last decade at least. My MIL passed away three years ago and we are now my 84 year old FIL's sole caregivers. He lives with us now. He had a stroke in 2000 when my youngest was barely one and has not been able to take care of himself (can't even work the microwave or find a snack in the pantry) since then. Please call on me to vent, complain, whatever... I think I can be a good listener and we can commiserate together.

    All I can think of to maybe make your mom reconsider buying a condo is that money talks. If you get her to go with you to a lawyer who knows elder law very well, you may be able to convince her that being a homeowner at this point may end up costing her more in the long run when she needs to fund full time care for herself. I don't know... sometimes the money is enough to scare them to do what we know is a better choice for them.


  3. Awww, Lori. I'm so sorry to hear about your mother... and I don't know what to say to help.

    I can't help but think the in-laws should have told someone in the family. Seriously. To me, there's absolutely no sense for a 71 y.o. woman to buy a home :(

    Is the condo at least close to your place?

    I'm glad you vent, I hoped it helped.

  4. I'm sorry for all you're dealing with. What a difficult situation. I'm glad you can vent here and please know that many good thoughts are being sent your way. Good luck!

  5. Lori, my dad passed away almost 9 years ago. My mom has done well, she's 83, but she definitely reached out to family, friends, church and a support group after dad died. I really think that made a world of difference. My aunt, my mom's sister, was also widowed a few days after my dad died. My aunt isn't doing as well as mom. Aunt is 85 and depends on my mom for most of her social life. If mom doesn't go to a gathering my aunt won't go. Then she complains about being lonely and bored. Financially they are both doing well but my aunt does have problems with giving away money but she's always been like that.

    Anyway, it sounds like your mom knew that you and your siblings would question her decision to buy a house, hence the secrecy. While she is an adult as our parents get older more of what they do affects us if we are the primary support for them when problems arise. IMO, try to get her into counseling for grief and some type of financial counseling/help for someone in her position. Sometimes it helps when an outside opinion is giving rather than from a family member.

    Good luck and feel free to vent anytime. :)

  6. I saw what my own mother went through with my grandmother and every so often I tell her, "I hope you took notes Ma!"

    You nailed the problem when you mentioned that your mother isn't really "doing" anything - hence the need to undergo some sort of radical change (oh like buying a condo - gah!) every so often. She hasn't really dealt with your father's passing. Not that she should get over his loss overnight (hardly!) - but like you said, she needs to find the joy in life. And there is a lot of joy out there to be found - she just need to put forth the effort.

    I vote for grief counseling - but yeah, good luck with that. Also, keep a very close eye on her hygiene and mental issues. These tend to be early signs of larger problems. Because if those take root and get worse? You and your siblings will have some tough decisions to make.

    Hugs to you and Bob.

  7. I'm so sorry you're going through this. I don't have the exact same situation but my father is pretty inactive which drives me insane and then he complains about how old he is (66--not old at all). Get out of the house, dude. And my mom (divorced) seems to be losing touch with reality. Gets on these tangents and acts inappropriately in public. At a cousin's wedding about something that happened 20 years ago. Sigh.

    I'd love for both of them to be in counseling but I have to settle for me going instead! ;-) Hang in there.

  8. Lori,

    My heart goes out to you and your mother and family are in my prayers.

  9. It's so hard isn't it? God bless you Lori, because when a person gets to the point they are talking about the stress in their lives it usually means it's pretty intense. No words of wisdom here, just sending you lots of love. Would a SoCal gathering help or be the last straw?

  10. Thank you all so much for your support. Several of you mentioned grief counseling. My mom did go to a support group initially when my dad died, but decided all those ladies wallowing in their self pity wasn't for her. Ironic, no? My sister and I laugh about it now. And although we made the suggestion again, my mom has decided that she is totally over it.

    I think a big part of what's happening also is that she's the only one of her friends who is widowed and also the only one not still living in the house that they've lived in for years and years. So she's feeling a bit left out and has a bit of the keeping up with the Jones syndrome.

    It helps so much just knowing that there's a wonderful community of friends out there willing to let me whine and moan and who are so supportive. You guys really are the absolute best.

  11. Hang in there, Lori!

    I'm going through something similar with my mom (she's 80), in that we're quickly seeing her capacity to care for herself diminish. My dad (who's 83) now has to bring her over for me to watch when he has classes or meetings. She can no longer be alone in the house. There's a part of her that's aware of it, and accepts it, but at times, she's also resentful and ornery about being "babysat". When I tell her that my dad just doesn't want her to fall down when she's alone in the house, she responds, "But, I fall all the time. It's no big deal." ::headdesk::

    I know what helped my parents as they got older (and when my mom was a little more with it) was joining a Senior Citizen's group. They actually were involved in 2 or 3 groups run by their and neighboring cities. It gave them a social outlet, as well as an opportunity to volunteer.

  12. Oh Lori, hugs to you and your family. It's hard enough to balance the needs of your children, your spouse and yourself--with both you and Bob working as you do and your boys so active. Taking care of a parent who refuses to see the impact of her decisions on herself and you, doubly hard. Praying for you my friend.

    Paul and I went through the secretive stuff with his Dad in his last years. Very hard, extremely frustrating as it denied all sense. By the time we knew all of it, it was too late. Echoing what others have said, shame on your in-laws for keeping her secret. That was irresponsible and only adds to the pressures on Bob and the other spouses. Unfair and a layer of feelings nobody wants I'm sure.

    Hugs, prayers for you guys. I only wish I had more for you.


Have you read it? What do you think?

Related Posts with Thumbnails