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I am in my 50s, partially disabled, single, and the second youngest of four children. Two years ago, after my father’s death, my mother started falling frequently, so, at her request, I quickly moved in with her and later sold my home. About three months ago, Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Helping Mom is getting increasingly difficult, although she is still in the mild stage. I am coping with feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, not knowing what to do, and being overwhelmed.
I have two brothers and a sister. My younger brother lives on the other side of the country, has a demanding career and a young family, which makes it hard for him to get away. My sister lives within an hour and her children are all grown. My older brother lives out of state. At first, my sister agreed to come up twice a month for half a day or so to give me a break, but now she finds it difficult to get away. My older brother came a few times in the past to help with home maintenance. He will be retired this year, and he and his wife plan to spend the rest of their lives serving missions. They have no plans to move closer to Mom.
I have always tried to avoid conflict and have tried to earn their love and approval by not needing anything. Now, however, I am struggling greatly and need their help. I have waited until I don’t think I can handle it anymore before reaching out to them. Both of those close to me geographically have declined. They feel that because I’m living with Mom, it is my job to care for her. They tend to take offense easily, and I don’t want to use guilt or cause conflict in the family. However, I do need their help. I’m much younger than they are and the least respected in the family. How do I ask for help? How do I get them to take part in making plans for Mom’s future? Or do I just try to get by and not bother them? It has been very disappointing to Mom as well, as she has talked to them and been turned down.
Your willingness to drop everything to care for your aging mother is, no doubt, a beautiful act of service and sacrifice. Even though you start out with energy and good intentions, the reality of long-term care can eventually deplete your resources. Let’s talk about how to help support you as you support your mom.
It’s normal for intentions to misalign with reality, especially when dealing with a difficult and long-term caregiving situation. It’s likely your siblings feel reassured that mom is in good hands because you’re there. So, they probably don’t feel the urgency to rearrange their lives to care for her. They most likely don’t see themselves as her caregivers.
Even though your siblings aren’t able or willing to give their time to help mom, perhaps you can ask them to give their financial support so you can outsource some of her care to others. You could hire a handyman to help with home repairs. There are adult respite services that allow you to get away for hours or days for some well-deserved rest. You can also enlist the help of home and visiting teachers and other ward resources. Compassionate care for your mother can come from multiple sources beyond you and your siblings.
Please recognize that if you hadn’t been in a position to sell your home and move in with your mother, you and your siblings would have figured out another way to care for and visit with her. You don’t have to keep doing it the same way you’ve always done it. It doesn’t diminish your love or concern for her.
Even though you could use more emotional and physical support from your siblings, they clearly aren’t making this a priority in their lives. This doesn’t mean that you have to carry the entire load by yourself. Decide what you can do and honor your limits. This is long-term care so you have to protect your physical and emotional health. Your siblings might respond better if they know that they can still care for their mother in a variety of ways. Physical proximity, though nurturing and comforting to your mother, may not always be a reliable option for everyone. Brainstorm with them about other ways to support and invite them to continue seeking ways to help.
Remember that she’s not the only one who needs care. The caregivers also need support through social activities, counseling, support groups, ongoing education, and physical rest. The more clear you are about your own limits, the less resentful and powerless you will feel in your current situation.
You acknowledged that you’ve tried to be self-sufficient out of your desire to be accepted by your siblings. Even though you may have some struggles with feeling loved and accepted by your siblings, this is not the time to get your emotional needs met through caring for your mother. Your siblings might be more likely to help if you are more direct and straightforward about the needs that need to be met. Don’t set them up to care for both you and mom at the same time. They will likely sense that this is more loaded than simply caring for mom and might pull away.
You are doing a great service and you will feel lonely and overwhelmed much of the time, especially if you aren’t asking directly for what you need. Your mother’s quality of care can’t rise or fall based on how secure you feel with your siblings. As you identify her needs, assess what you can realistically do for her, make clear petitions for help, and outsource the rest, you will find the right balance of caring for mom and caring for yourself.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.