Q My mum is 71 years old and is turning into a complete monster. She’s got arthritis and seems to think that she’s the only lady in the world that has a disease and doesn’t care about anyone else’s problems. Both my wife and I are at her beck and call and we live over an hour away. We go to stay with her a few days a week to do her shopping, rubbish, maintenance, take her to medical appointments and anything else that needs doing, including mowing her acre of lawns. Lately she’s become very rude and ignorant towards my wife and won’t make eye contact with her and she’s speaking to me like I’m her slave. It’s causing my marriage a whole lot of problems. She has no one else to help her. She has no filter. I’ve tried talking to her but she is such a narcissist she won’t admit she’s being like this. My wife wants me to choose, which I think is unfair, too. Please help.
A This is such a distressing situation you are all in. It sounds like you are all experiencing a lot of pain.
Has there been a change in your mum’s demeanour or behaviour of late, or is this how she has always been? Or has she changed since her diagnosis? Do you have any cognitive decline concerns or have there been any personality changes?
When you are in the middle, in the dual role as carer and son, it can be more difficult to see and another professional opinion or assessment may be helpful at this point.
Pain isn’t only physical, it has a major impact upon mood and the person’s quality of life. I know you are fully aware of this, and it can feel hard to put boundaries in place when you know that it is impacting her ability to do the things, I imagine, that she would like to do.
Pain robs you of freedom and independence. Do you ever talk about this together? I am not excusing her behaviour, as pain doesn’t excuse being mean.
You comment ‘she’s never happy’ is probably right; chronic illness doesn’t just rob the person of their life as they knew it, it impacts and impinges on all the relationships around.
It sounds like your mum is lashing out and I know this is so hard to stomach, but can you see what is driving that anger?
Your mum may feel uncomfortable at the dutiful relationship that has been created due to her illness and the change in dynamic that no one wanted. What was your relationship like when you were growing up? It can be a bitter pill to have to depend upon others and sometimes this can be shown through attacking rather than being open and vulnerable.
Sometimes this can be the crux of the breakdown in relationships. This is where professional help within the home can create cleaner boundaries as someone else wouldn’t put up with that level of rudeness. By the very fact that she feels safe with you, it is eroding the relationships as her lack of an appropriate filter is deeply destructive, and if left unchecked can cause irrevocable damage within the relationships.
What support does she get? Is there any home help she is availing of? Have you considered a carers’ programme with Arthritis Ireland? Who is supporting you and your wife? What would be helpful for you both as a couple?
Resentment from you mother and wife is really placing you in a very difficult position, notwithstanding how difficult it is for you.
Here is a meditation from self-compassion.org called ‘noting your emotions’ (https://bit.ly/2uRqRI3), it might be helpful for everyone to try it. The frustration of no one expressing how they really feel will only fester and get worse. Another excellent five-minute self-compassion break meditation is really helpful when time and tempers are short, see https://bit.ly/2HseqVX.
Giving yourself permission to say things as they are, even to yourself or with your wife, can be supportive and cathartic. ‘This is so hard, upsetting and stressful, I miss my mum, I feel like a slave and I really don’t like how she is treating my wife and the impact it is having on our relationship.’ By acknowledging it as it is, it soothes the pain.
It is about meeting your own needs and creating new ways of expressing what’s OK and what’s not. Coming from a place of compassion, it is about having empathy for all involved, and noticing and learning how to soothe your emotions as they arise. Even though this doesn’t change what is happening, it changes how you react to this incredibly difficult problem.
Getting professional support to protect your marriage may be a good place to start. Where you can work out in a safe space your feelings of hurt and anger. Possibly speaking with someone yourself where your needs could be emphatically heard and understood would be really helpful for you as well.
Finding your baseline of what is unacceptable behaviour and calling your mum out on this when she is being rude, defensive or hostile needs to start and to be consistently reinforced.
The problem with defensiveness is that she isn’t taking any responsibility for how hurtful her words and actions are. It sounds like a really toxic experience.
Asking yourself ‘what one thing would make this easier’ will help you focus upon the changes you can bring about. I am so sorry for how incredibly hard this is for you and hope these few steps will help you cultivate a new plan that will help you going forward.
If you have a query for this page email firstname.lastname@example.org
Health & Living