ARTICLES & ANSWERS
Senior Life and Jennifer Meagher RN are featured on the WHEC News 10 website: www.WHEC.com. Jennifer answers
questions from people like you and writes an article as well. She’s been writing for News 10 since 2007.
The most common questions asked of Senior Life are about life planning; options, costs and decisions. These letters and
articles outline some of the considerations. Need more information? Book a consultation for complete information for
CRITICAL MOTHERS AND LAZY SIBLINGS
I’m very interested in your topic this month. My mother doesn’t think anything I do for her is good enough. Nothing. When I buy her groceries for her (she can’t do it herself anymore) she complains I didn’t get something right – wrong brand or size or….something. When I clean her house, I’m a wreck about putting the feet of each chair and table exactly right or she is all over me. It’s always been like this. My friends all tell me I’m crazy to keep trying to help her. I can’t “not” do it. I’m the adult child who is always feeling guilty that I’m not doing enough. I don’t know how to change what I’m doing and I’d appreciate your help. I know I need to do something different, but how?
Change is not easy and it doesn’t come quickly. The first step, as always, is understanding change IN YOURSELF is necessary. The next step is to label your mother’s behavior: she’s being critical. Now spend some time on the internet researching “critical mothers.” You will find excellent articles and something in one or more of them will ring true and explain a lot. She likely had a critical or overbearing parent herself. She is obsessive about every detail, which stems from being highly anxious. She doesn’t mean to verbally beat you up, rather, she obsesses about the small things. Let’s use a fictitious woman named Mary who is very critical. (Another word that comes with criticism is “irritable.”) Mary’s daughter Jane asks for a grocery list. Mary is already anxious that Jane won’t get the right things. Mary’s anxiety disorder has left her feeling an unreasonable pressure to get just the right items (whether she is doing the shopping or someone else.) As soon as she recites the list with all the minute instructions, Mary is already anxious that something won’t be right. She is obsessing or ruminating; the worry is going around and around in her head. Her anxiety heightens as the time draws near that Jane is going to bring the groceries. Her anxiety is reaching its peak when Jane comes through the door. (At this point, Mary’s anxiety may be equal to someone waiting to hear whether a loved one has cancer.) Mary feels pressured and the only relief will be if Jane has everything exactly right. If something isn’t exact, Mary’s irritability is uncontrollable for her and she lets loose with verbal abuse. For Mary, her barrage seems appropriate – after all, Mary has been anxious for days. Jane, on the other hand can’t imagine why buying the right item, but the wrong size, should cause her mother to treat her as an imbecile. The problem is extreme anxiety. Mary needs help. Once Jane understands the situation, it is easier for her to consider her mother’s condition.
Samantha, I recommend you get your mother in to the doctor and discuss the situation. Talk to your mother first. Share this letter with her. Let your mom know how much you want to please her and how hard it is to do a favor only to get condemned for a small infraction. And on your part, Samantha, as difficult as it may seem, try to understand this is a disorder. I recommend you change your response to your mother with firm kindness. Example: “Mom, I am happy to do your shopping, but I am asking you to accept whatever I buy. If it isn’t exactly correct, let me know and I’ll make sure I get the right one next time. It is hard for me to do you a favor and then have you angry with me.
THE “LAZY” SIBLING
If you feel as though you are doing all the care for your parents and your sibling/s are not, you are likely angry. (Note: Samantha did not bring up this concern.) In this case, anger is counter-productive; it saps your energy, and interferes with motivating your siblings to help. Oh I know, they see what you’re doing. They know your parents need help. They should know you have your own life issues beyond parent care. And yet they either let you do it all or expect you to do it all. And I can hear some of you arguing with me that you should be good and angry because your siblings are louses.
You’re right: your sibs “should” help you, but they aren’t, and I’m guessing they aren’t showing any signs of starting either. Set your feelings aside for a moment. Is this a life-long pattern? Have you always been the one who takes care of everyone? If the answer is yes, then your life pattern has caused them to expect this from you. I hear you: if it weren’t for you, things wouldn’t get done. You “had” to step up, right?
Wrong. You didn’t “have to.” You wanted to. You felt if you didn’t do it, no one would do it and you didn’t like that. Understood. That means that you are responsible, caring and dependable.
Now, how do we “make” them start doing the right thing? The sad truth is you can’t make them do anything. You can ask. You can explain. You can plead. In the end, your sibling isn’t helping your parents and isn’t helping you either. It hurts and this turns to anger.
Ask yourself this: do you want to keep your ties with your siblings? If you do, then you must accept him or her as is. However, you may want to build in consequences. Perhaps you let your siblings know that if they aren’t helping you now, you aren’t going to help them when they need help. The bottom line to changing how we interact with others is to change something we are doing. We have to be firm. We have to build guidelines for ourselves and how we respond. And we have to stick to it. In these cases it is fair to say: “I love you, but I don’t like what you are doing, or how you are treating me.”