Newbie would welcome support

My name is Helen and I’m 56, married and self-employed. My mother is 84, in pretty good health apart from the usual aches and pains of age and vertigo, which has made her refuse to walk anywhere, and she lives nearby in sheltered accommodation, but won’t use many of the facilities provided or make friends with other residents; she prefers to rely on my husband and me for almost all her shopping, transport, medical appointments and visits and any social contact she does feel like having. I have never had a close relationship with my mum and find her sudden dependence on us very hard to deal with. From what I have researched she seems to have some degree of narcissistic personality disorder, which might explain why I have always had a difficult time with her, as I grew up trying to please her but never feeling good enough and have suffered from anxiety and depression on and off for years.

She takes advantage of my husband’s good nature and tendency to avoid conflict and expects him to do more and more for her, even things she did for herself until she moved here and could still do now. He doesn’t understand why I get so stressed by this, and it causes tension between us, especially as she is far more positive to him than she ever has been to me. My brother, who also gets on with her better than I do, lives just 25 miles away but because of work and family commitments is rarely available to share the load. Yesterday he did come over and offered to do some shopping for her, but she said no - and then asked my husband to do it instead. He of course meekly agreed.

I feel guilty about my attitude towards my mum and also trapped, as I can’t see any way to improve the situation. I’ve tried counselling but they just suggest you ‘set boundaries’ by telling your mum you won’t do such and such, which isn’t really practical with narcissists, and wouldn’t work anyway as my husband wouldn’t go along with it. His parents are dead, so maybe he’s doing for mine what he couldn’t for his. Some say I should just let him get on with it, but I hate seeing him treated like a taxi driver/personal assistant at her beck and call any time. He is retired but has a lot of community responsibilities, and several genetic conditions that could cause him severe health problems at any minute, but my mum doesn’t seem to take this into account.

Hi Helen and welcome,

time to set boundaries of what you and your husband are and aren’t prepared to do for her.

Others will be along with suggestions on how to tackle this.

Sorry this is a short reply, but supposed to be on my way to bed!


Hi Helen
I totally understand where you’re coming from and agree with the previous poster that if you can it’s time to set boundaries.

Your mum may not respond well to it, but in the long term the situation must change in order for you to live your life.

Force your brother to make a regular commitment and try to be open with your mum as to how her dependence is affecting you.
Let us know how you get on Amy

Hi Helen

Between us, my family could have written almost all of your post. What happens when you and your husband go on holiday? (Please don’t tell me you never get to go away - if you don’t, could you start right now?) The reason I am asking is that it might give you something to build on. For example, you could explain to your husband that he needs to help by not taking on a job that someone else offered to do and was refused, so that your mother learns to cope while you are away. Just thinking round it, could/would your husband go to counselling with you so that you can agree together how he can help you manage your mother?

We never came up with any perfect, permanent solutions, but we managed some adequate fixes that saved our sanity.

How difficult dealing with a husband brother and mother. I am afraid tackling your mother is a little late. Where she lives is there a warden/manager. I think you need help/assistance from them. To encourage you mother into taking part in the scheme activities etc.

I think you need to tackle your husband. Who should be supporting you!! He needs to not only understand your point of view but needs to demonstrate. This commitment to your mother.

As to you brother …
Get the scheme where she lives to make him first contact in emergencies etc.

We went away for over two weeks in September and arranged visits form the paid care staff in my mother’s accommodation to help her with chores and shopping. Even my long-suffering husband was getting tired of being at her beck and call any day of the week. We have tried to establish a routine of regular visits by one of us and the carers, but all we are getting are complaints and recriminations about her being a prisoner because no one will take her out (she has three lounges and a garden she could go to for a change of scene) and how she is just sitting there waiting to die now we have abandoned her. Which we haven’t. I am getting so stressed I don’t know what to do - give up work (a job I love and am good at) but I am too young for a pension. My husband is the one she wants anyway, not me.

I’ve tried counselling and they just said ‘set boundaries’. But how you do that with a narcissist who refuses to join in with social activities not involving family, I don’t know. The manager won’t do anything; the carers try but she criticizes whatever they do. We have asked my brother to do more but he is reluctant to do so, as his own family life is difficult. We have tried so hard to strike a balance that means she gets adequate care and attention and we can live reasonable lives too, but it isn’t working. I fear I’ll have a heart attack from the constant worry and frustration and die before her.

Don’t give up your job, what good would that do? She would still be complaining. Continue your visits when you can, but as soon as she starts moaning/ criticising, say goodbye and leave. Don’t engage with this nor listen to it. You can’t be responsible for your mum’s happiness nor the fact that she refuses to take advantage of the other lounges etc


Learn to be firm. She has no right to you or your husband. She CAN go out and do things with others. It is her responsibility to be happy or sad, her choice to stay in and have a pity party. Let her get on with it, don’t listen to her moans. Tell her that if that’s all she is going to do, you might as well leave.

I think the ‘boundaries’ thing only really works if you all stick to it, so you need your husband on board.

I can only tell you how we did it - I hope you might find an idea in there somewhere. The family agreed and then announced which days who was going in (eg I’d get her shopping on x day, brother would take her to the Drs but the carers were doing the cleaning on z day) and stick to it. But we all had to stick to it. If she demanded we did something sooner, it was a swap; no-one was going in twice. I found repeating briskly when I left Mum “so I’ll 'phone you tomorrow and see you on x day” got me out of the door and let me ignore the final recriminations about her not seeing anyone for weeks. My husband was better at handling the complaints than I was. He seemed to listen once and then every time she started again he changed the subject.

Can you find a way to wind down from all the whinging? I used to listen to audio books on the way home, but it could be go out for a walk after a 'phone call (or chocolate as a reward - anything, really)?

I am so glad you went away. Your mother survived. Now you have to find a way for you to survive.

Do you or he have any chance of me time? I love me time. Tell your dad that it needs to change, do some exercise, sleep, get out to meet old friends, learn a new skill, take up a hobby etc. Caring shouldn’t control your or his life.
Get a carer assessment done pronto as well.

Hi Helen,
It’s really got to stop, don’t you think?
Look at it from the point of view –if this was an elderly neighbour, no relation, who was demanding all of your time and attention and refusing to make any effort, what would you do about it?
Just because this lady is your mother doesn’t mean that she has any excuse to bully you like this. (Yes, bully!)
Pleased to hear that hubby is beginning to see what’s happening. That’s a good start.
First of all, you and hubby sit down with a nice cuppa (or glass of something), a pen and paper and thrash out between you what you would be happy and comfortable to do in the way of caring for Mum.
At the same time make a list of what Mum NEEDS. Not what she wants or demands, but what she needs. Identify which of those needs you are prepared to cater for, and which could be taken care of another way.
List three is what you want life to be like together or individually in the way of hobbies or seeing friends.
Now make a plan of how you can achieve your aims.
The following is based on the assumption that you don’t think Mum has any MH issues like dementia and are just my thoughts.
Mum is treating you like this because you are letting her. You are going to have to ‘grow up’ Helen. Sorry, that sounds cruel and insulting and I really don’t mean it that way. However you, a grown up, married woman, are still behaving like a small girl trying to please Mummy. Try a bit of temper. Snap back. Walk away. ‘I’m not listening to your nonsense. If you can’t be nice then I’m not staying any longer.’ And DO IT. Walk away. It could be for 15 minutes or if that doesn’t work then go out of the house for an hour. Not working? Go away until the next day. Just like a small child Mum needs to learn that her nastiness has consequences. By doing as she says all the time you are allowing her to control you, but she isn’t in charge any more –you are.
Call her bluff.
‘I’m just waiting here to die’.
‘OK where do you want your funeral?’
Show mum that there are strings she usually pulls that don’t work any more because you have cut them.
You must learn to say ‘NO’ to Mum. She wants something done, right now and by your husband? ‘Sorry Mum, he’s busy today.’ Flooding toilet? Call a plumber. Urgent shopping? Do without, wait for tomorrow or order a delivery. Want a trip out? Next week. Go to the garden.
My mum had a powerchair. Very handy for getting around her home and could also go out into the garden or down the road. Not as far ranging as a scooter but excellent indoors. Could Mum afford one of those?
Perhaps your brother could be persuaded to commit to one day a week/fortnight/month? If so grab that day and don’t go near her. His problem for the day.
Be aware that if your firmness in standing up to Mum and saying no, or not now, to a lot of her demands begins to sink in, then you might find she resorts to tears and ‘poor little me’. Brace yourself and don’t reverse strategy.
BE calm and kind but VERY firm.
You have to be to save yourself and to get Mum to be more independent.

This. All of it.