The Ageing or Unwell Mother
The emotional and physical health of your mother may fluctuate as you both go through life. Recognising this as inevitable and being prepared for these changes as she ages, will serve you at least in being able to set boundaries or to become more flexible with those already set. You may be able to work out a routine for making contact and supporting her which suits you both.
If your mother is still in your life, this will be an opportunity for you to discuss openly and honestly what you can realistically provide for each other. There may be circumstances beyond your control which do not allow for this conversation to take place, if this is the case it’s about stepping back and doing the best you can and finding out what other sources of help are available to you and your mother if you wish to be involved in her well-being. Chapter Five in Mothers and Daughters my second book on relationships, gives you 10 steps to set healthy personal boundaries, which will offer you the opportunity to speak assertively with your mother and let her know the limitations of what you can and can’t provide for her.
Your mother will have her own unmet childhood needs and she may voice these for the first time when she finds herself immobile, helpless and afraid. Physical and mental health usually decline as a natural part of the aging process. As a result, your mother’s demands upon you may well increase. Your mother might gradually lose the ability to care for herself. Doing basic things such as washing and dressing, preparing meals and even walking if she becomes infirm or disabled, are things to take into account. These changes will influence your mother’s outlook on life.
As your mother ages, her clarity and speed of thought may not be so sharp or quick and she may find her life changing rapidly as she loses her independence. She may require more help from you such as shopping, lifts to medical appointments and help around the home. How much you can do or are willing to do, will depend on your free time and how much you actually want to do things for her. Setting boundaries at such a time might be difficult, though if you aren’t clear about how much you can or can’t do, you may find your own life slipping by as you care for your mother.
I have known daughters who have cared for their mothers for more than forty years. They have been the dutiful daughter for so long that they have no other sense of identity or life of their own.
Stacey Case Study - Stacey came to me for support to manage stress and ill-health
Stacey’s mother Ann had never been a well woman, she’d had several health complaints since childhood. As a single parent, Ann relied heavily on Stacey to be her carer. From an early age, Stacey would help her mother to cook, clean their home, run errands and also attend her mother’s medical appointments as there was no additional family support in place to help Ann with her needs. It seemed natural to Stacey to care for her mother; it’s all she ever knew. She didn’t complain and simply accepted her duty without questioning it.
Ann’s biggest fear was dying; Stacey too would worry about her mother’s health and longevity. With no one to talk to about her mother’s predicament, Stacey carried on with her silent role of carer - passive, loyal, giving, and feeling her mother’s distress as if it were her own.
Stacey came to me in her 40’s, suffering from stress and ill-health. Working full-time on top of caring for her mother, she was depressed, overweight, suffered anxiety and panic attacks and generally felt as though she was losing the plot. Stacey very much wanted to have a relationship but it felt wrong for her to leave her mother and begin building a life for herself. Stacey had never had a boyfriend or even left her home for a holiday or weekend break. She was running on empty and desperately needed some help.
After discussing Stacey’s upbringing and how it was that she felt totally responsible for her mother, including her health, well-being and living circumstances, Stacey knew something had to change. I taught Stacey EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique - check out the free resources at the end of the blog for information about this technique) to manage her emotions, panic attacks and emotional overwhelm, as well as encouraging her to seek outside support in caring for her mother. This was not something Stacey had ever considered. We worked on guilt, fear and uncertainty using EFT and I also helped her to compose a letter to her mother in order to set some new boundaries.
Through finding out what care and support was available in the community, a care package was arranged for Ann. Stacey was not only able to enjoy time to herself, her mother formed new friends amongst her care team and joined local groups being picked up from her home by the various charities and returned again. Stacey and her mother also had a holiday as well as individual breaks organised by a carer’s charity. Their relationship has become healthier as they had new experiences to share. If you find yourself in a similar situation to Stacey or Ann, please do consider what external support beyond the family unit is available.
After joining a walking group, swimming regularly and using EFT, Stacey’s low mood improved and she now enjoys rather than resents the time spent with her mother. Checking in recently, Stacey and Ann are both doing well, Stacey is now dating for the first time in her life and mother and daughter are happier as a result of making some changes and seeking the help and support of others.
If your mother is not able to meet her own needs, it is unlikely that she will be able to meet yours. It is unfair to expect her to do so if her health and emotional stability are in decline. This in itself may bring up unresolved anger from the past of those other times when your mother hasn’t been there for you. Inner work is important and if your mother can’t be there for you in the way you wish her to be, you can learn how to parent yourself and find love from other sources while giving your mother as much love as you can willingly give in her in her later years.
Holding each other accountable to meet each other’s needs, has to stop at some point, as it isn’t always healthy to place demands on each other which can never be met. Clear communication needs to take place to clarify what each of you can give to the other. Whether it be financial support, housing, your physical energy, time or care, setting clear boundaries with each other leaves no room for vagueness or trying to read each other’s minds. Making time to check out local services, care provision, outside agencies and applying for funding for care (such as attendance allowance) are considerations which you may wish to discuss with your mother.
Grieving the loss of your mother’s youth and vibrancy, as well as acknowledging she may no longer have the ability to care for you as much as she did is also something to be aware of. She may well still be alive, but if you feel she is gradually slipping away, your hopes of what you wanted her to be also need to be mourned.
Many daughters whose mothers have lost the ability to communicate have shared with me how difficult this is. They have lost communication with their mothers and they are in limbo, having a mother physically present in body but with her mind somewhere else. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when you see your mother changing before your very eyes. Roles are reversed; care giving roles are exchanged. There is a sense of despair in knowing you can never claw back the relationship you had or find the one you hoped for.
Where possible, before it gets to this point, having open communication and asking your mother what she needs and letting her know what you can provide or organise, will make choices easier to make later on. Looking at your mother through new eyes, crossing the bridge to meet her where she is at this stage of her life, contributes to your own healing as well as hers. Holding grudges doesn’t serve any positive purpose and simply gets in the way of closing the distance between you.
It is possible that your mother has not come to terms with losing her independence. You may find her getting very frustrated. Having empathy rather than anger towards her as she grapples with her changing situation is far better than arguing or making demands which she cannot fulfil. I have known daughters spend some beautiful quality time with their ageing or un-well mothers, while seeking additional support from family, friends, extended family and care agencies. If this has been discussed during the earlier stages of deterioration, mothers and daughters say it has been easier to plan ahead and embrace changes as they come. By being flexible and embracing change, you will find a deep inner strength and a level of compassion you never knew you had.
If you have experienced difficult relationships with your mother, as she comes towards her life's end she may well want to make peace with you at this stage. For the sake of both of you moving on from past pain, if she offers you the olive branch, please do consider taking it and making your peace with her. You are not condoning her past behaviour, actions or inactions, you are simply recognising that as her health declines and her life comes to an end, it is time for the resentment you feel towards her to end too. By choosing to let go of the past, your relationship can flourish in new ways and you will be able to remember your mother with a touch of love and experience the end of emotional pain for yourself by doing so.
For more insights into the mother-daughter relationship Mothers and Daughters: The guide to understanding the relationship with your mother will support you in finding inner peace and new ways to experience your mother, even if she's no longer in this world. I also have a couple of openings if you'd like to work with me in person.
Here's an outline of some of the freebies available to you at www.mothersanddaughters.solutions simply subscribe to receive these lovely bonuses over the next 60 days * Free chapter - Welcome to the Journey of You * EFT Quick Start Guide (Emotional Freedom Technique) * Mothers and Daughters Q&A * Love and Relationship Inventory * Guided Relaxation - Negative Memory Release * The Spotlight Process * Power Questions * Who Am I? Exercise * 10 Steps to Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries * A Time for Healing
It’s being here now that’s important. There is no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. - George Harrison