Please help me to deal with the mental pressure my mother is putting me under.
She is 91 and I am 53, her only child. We live 60 miles away from each other - she on her own in the house she has lived in for 67 years, me with my partner, 62, in a flat, in a city near our three of our adult sons. Mum (and I)) benefit from the support of lovely carers four times a day, every day. My partner and I both work full time and stay with Mum for the weekend, at least every fortnight. Often we stay longer now, due to being able to work remotely part-time. We shop for her, he cooks for her, I clean for her and I also look after her large garden - something I love to do. In addition, with POA I look after all her financial affairs, plus any repairs to the house etc and take her to endless medical appointments. So far, so good.
The problem is mum’s attitude towards me. When we talk on the phone we can often have a decent conversation, which is great, and she is interested in my life and says she is proud of me. But when we are together, often I feel immense pressure from her to move in with her - or me have her live with us. She will do all she can to guilt-trip me to the max, and, to me, it feels like she wants me to choose between living with her, and being with my partner and close to our children. She will also endlessly repeat that when she dies I will inherit the house, plus all in it, and it’s all paid for. This is wonderful, of course, and I am very grateful. But having it continually rammed down my throat feels to me like I have to be more grateful than I am currently being, somehow. The love - and the gift - can feel very conditional.
During the 2021 Covid lockdown, my partner and I lived with Mum for nine months - and, while it had some good points, overall it was incredibly challenging. We had to lock our bedroom door to stop her wandering in at will, and even then she would bang on the door or rattle the handle for several minutes each morning while we were trying to sleep. To help her to remember we were there, I put a sign on the door only for her to rip it down in disgust.
She obsesses about the fact that she ‘lives alone’ - my dad died eight years ago - despite all the care she gets. She has decent neighbours, many of whom she has known for years, but after he died she refused their kind offers of afternoon tea or Sunday lunch and now the invitations have dried up. She still has a few friends of her generation, but she never calls them let alone invites them around. I and her support worker from Age UK, who also comes once week, have tried our utmost to encourage mum to join in weekly social events for older people in her home town. But she simply will not go.
It either has to be me with her, or she sits alone at home and does nothing other than watch TV.
She also has a Jekyll and Hyde personality, something she has always had and not a recent development. While there is much about her that I love, respect and enjoy, she has always had a tendency to be controlling. When she is happy she is a delight to be with. But when things are not going her way, then she can be absolutely vile to me although she remains sweetness and light to everyone else. This takes various forms including name calling (‘big head’ is her current favourite), slamming doors, storming around the house shouting at me, having the volume on the TV to the max, and, worst of all, when I am sitting with her, talking loudly and critically about me as if I was not in the room, and ignoring any attempts I make to interject. She will only behave like this when we are alone, or she thinks we are alone. My late father, my partner and my sons have all witnessed this to varying degrees.
Very sadly, she has always been like this with me, right from when I was a tiny child. Naturally vivacious and gregarious, this resulted in me growing up an anxious and lonely people-pleaser with very low-self esteem. It has taken decades of the school of hard knocks, self-reflection, learning and conscious personal growth to get to where I am now, finally knowing myself, finally at ease with myself, properly valuing myself and with a loving family and friends.
Fundamentally, it is because mum has never really respected my personal boundaries, that I will not have mum live with me and my partner.
I do appreciate that life is not easy for mum, and in some ways, never has been.
She had a very rough start to life, losing her mother and younger brothers to illness when she was young, and then her father in WW2 when mum was in her early teens. She was fostered by a lovely family in the West Country and I have subsequently discovered that relatives from London visited her, and she them. But once Mum married she cut them all off, for reasons unknown.
I grew up being told by her that her entire extended family was dead. Thanks to the internet and some basic detective work, some years ago I found that this was not the case and made contact with a first cousin. She and I are still in touch, but Mum has made no attempt to have a meaningful relationship with her.
As a child, I grew up with Mum telling me that she ‘idolized me’ and I was the only thing keeping her alive. My father was a lovely, gentle, clever man, who did his best to help her and me. But she was often horribly abusive to him at times, putting him down and ridiculing him. I think I was probably clinically depressed by the age of seven.
Now mum has osteoporosis in her spine, high blood pressure and was diagnosed with vascular dementia just after my dad died. She is very deaf and has hearing aids, but refuses to wear them. Despite all this, she has a will of iron and thankfully, is still remarkably cognitively, and physically, able.
Last year, Mum was diagnosed with heart failure and I know that she will not last forever. I would like our last years (hopefully) together to be as happy as they can be. But it is so hard when she is often so very awful to me - her only child and the one closest to her.
I am practising detached love and I seek out and utilise as much help as I can to care for her. I have a fulfilling job which I enjoy, I look after myself by swimming regularly, and, being used to her tantrums and her attempts to control me, I, mostly don’t allow myself to get sucked into the emotional drama of it all. My partner is hugely supportive, as are my sons.
But. It is still so draining and all so very sad. She is my mother and I love her and respect her and want to enjoy as much time as i can with her, yet it sometimes feels like I am dealing with an angry polecat, beautiful, but ready to tear out my throat in an instant.
What can I / should I do?