I Need Some Advise | In-Home Caregiver for My Elderly Mom
Hello. I need some advise on a situation that's causing a lot of frustration for my husband and me. I'm sure it's not easy for my mom either. She's 87.
My husband and I moved my mom halfway across the country about four years ago because she wasn't able to take care of herself and the house after my dad passed away. She rented a senior apartment a mile away from us and was fairly independent. She drove, did her own shopping, cooked, and ran her own errands. Then about 2.5 years ago, she fell and broke her hip. She's used a walker ever since.
Since my mom's fall, she hasn't driven. I started to take care of all her grocery shopping and the cleaning around her apartment. I also drove her to her appointments.
About a year ago my mom said it was becoming too difficult for her to live on her own. Because our home was too small for her to move in with us, my mom purchased a house last summer that my husband and I moved into with her. My husband and I take care of everything around the house, I do the cooking, and I help my mom with her needs.
I own a shop, so I've become accustomed to flipping the closed sign whenever I need to take care of something for my mom or drive her to an appointment. I can't work evenings to catch up on things that couldn't be done during the day. As a self-employed person, this has caused a significant financial strain because my time investiment directly affects my earnings.
I have a sister who lives several states away. She and her spouse visit once a year for a few days before they go home and return to their lives. While my husband and I struggle (gladly, of course, because we want to take care of my mom), they email and text photos of places they go most every weekend. We don't even have the luxury of taking off for an evening together.
I recently asked my mom if she would consider paying me something each month for the help I provide. (She can afford it.) I thought a fair price was $500. To say the very least, my mom wasn't happy. She was angry and offended. She couldn't believe I would charge my own mother for taking care of her... yet she has a daughter who does absolutely nothing for her.
My husband and I are going to schedule an appointment to meet with a nurse who specializes in elder care. (She works through a local church.) We hope she can provide us with some help. In the meantime, I'd greatly appreciate some advise.
@SusanE807929 It sounds like you've got a lot going on! So many issues to deal with at once - your business, your house, your husband, your mom...and of course your sister who isn't helping. Does she contribute financially? My guess is no.
I can understand your frustration as you try to juggle it all! I've been in similar situations and I know how frustrating it can be. I cared for both of my parents for more than a decade, and my parents lived with me (I took over payment for their house and moved moved across the country and into their house, they moved into a sr community 2 miles away for 3 yrs, then they moved back in with me...my Mom passed on a year later. My Dad lived with me for five more years - he just passed on last June at age 94 and I miss him terribly). Like you - I did this because I wanted to - I've loved caring for my parents and it was my choice and I never felt like a victim. But it has been financially crippling for me. One of my sisters helped, and moved in with us for a year with her two sons and then moved into a house next door. She was a paid caregiver for my parents. I, too, am self-employed and as you say - you gotta work to make money and you can't do it all! I worked full time and also spent about 80 hrs a week caring for my parents. I had to pay someone to help so I'd rather pay my sister. In the end Daddy needed a great deal of care - he had Alzheimer's disease, and we also had other paid help as well as help from the VA. It took a village! But I also have another sister who chose not to participate as much in my parents' care as their needs increased. It's a touchy position you're in and I do understand your frustration.
In past times, it was traditional for adult daughters to care for their elders, who generally didn't have funds to pay for care (or in many cases even for everyday living expenses). In fact, before SS and Medicare many older adults had very little and it was common to live with your adult children and their families. That history may be why some of our elders still feel like it's a given that we take care of them without getting paid. It's just what you do. It may be what she saw her parents and grandparents doing. Did she care for her parents? But it's different now. People are living longer (in 1900 the life expectancy was just 47 - now it's almost 79 yrs old, and many people live much longer) but with chronic health conditions. The caregiving years are stretching out much longer and we are caring for people who are older. Older adults now have SS, Medicare, pensions...and the WWII generation had more ability to save - they are actually more likely to have disposable income. In addition, more women of the caregiving age are working outside the home and many families need two incomes to stay afloat. The cost of living these days is so much higher. Health insurance alone is a huge cost. It's just a very different world now.
Even so, your mother may not be thinking of all of those changes. She may just feel like it doesn't seem "right" for a family member to get paid to care for their loved ones, even if the money is available. That may be where her anger and hurt feelings came from. She needs to understand that you are happy to be there for her - you want to be there. And if you had higher income yourself you'd be happy to do it without financial assistance. But in reality, you need to contribute to the household.
Every situation is unique, but a few thoughts that may help as you think this situation through:
If your mother bought the house, does she also contribute monthly for home expenses, food etc? Do you split the expenses? Is that a way she may feel more comfortable contributing?
Most parents don't want to be a "burden" to their children, and at the same time there are many who don't want anyone else to care for them. It's a conundrum. Have you gone over your budget with your mother so she understands why your finances are suffering? Does she understand the income you aren't getting as you care for her, and how that affects your long-term financial security? Would she rather pay someone else to help out a few hours a week while you work?
Have you tried having a heart to heart with your sister, telling her she needs to come and stay with/take care of your mother more frequently (3-4-6...however many times a year you want her to come) to give you and your husband a break and a chance to go somewhere together. Explain that you are more than happy to do the bulk of care for your mother, but you can't do it all (see one of my other posts about respite care - I learned I can do anything - but I can't do everything! and neither can you!) It's time for her to step up to the plate. And as your mother's needs increase and she needs more care, your sister will need to do more. You will likely have to ask for specifics (i.e. I need you to come the week of...) and you'll need to show your sister how to do things when you aren't there. If your sister declines, you can try having a conversation with an objective third party to facilitate or mediate - you can find a mediator who specializes in family and/or eldercare by visiting mediate.com. Or perhaps the person from your church you are meeting with can sit down with you and your sister and help you put together a plan for this next season of caregiving as your mother's needs increase.
Always make sure your mother knows you are on the same team - she and your husband and you (and your sister) are a team. In fact your sister should also be seen as being on the team even if she doesn't play the same role you play. You all have the same goal - for your mother to be happy and healthy and as independent as possible for as long as possible. And your goal is also for you and your husband to stay afloat and have a secure future. So how can you work together to ensure all of these things are accomplished?
Always reassure your mother that you love her, you will always be there for her and you are just trying to figure out how to make your finances work. Does she maybe have another suggestion?
I'd love to hear how things move forward and please let me know if you have any further specific questions! You'll see our threads on respite care, caregiver stress etc going on right now here in the caregiving forum - hope you'll check them out! You need a break and you need to manage your emotional and financial stress! Here's my post about recognizing the signs of caregiver stress - hope it is helpful for you!
One more thing - here is my video with some tips about making Difficult Family Conversations more effective and less painful - hope that will be helpful both with conversations with your mother and your sister.
Thank you for taking the time to write such a helpful response, Amy.
My mom pays 1/3 utilities, as well as for her groceries and supplies. My husband and I take care of the house - repairs, upkeep, landscaping, insurance, property taxes. The idea was for us to cover all the expenses related to the house itself. This is hard when we're still paying a mortgage and utilities on our old house until we list it for sale and find a buyer.
Finances are a strage subject. I hate to tell my mom we're struggling because of the time I spend away from work. I don't want her to feel as though she's a burden because she's not - she's my mom. I've mentioned the hardship to her, though. I've told her I need to try to do more in the evening after work. Short of hiring someone, I'm it. My husband has a job, so he can't drop everything to rush home whenever she needs something (cleaning up spills in the kitchen, fixing her something to eat). That falls onto me because I have the flexibility to close my store. Doing this comes at a price, though.
I haven't discussed this my sister in detail because I only see her once a year. We mostly communicate by text. When my mom fell and broke her hip, I asked her if she would fly out to help when my mom left nursing home care and came home. She said she couldn't. I spent several nights at my mom's apartment and my shop was closed for days.
My husband and I have wanted to ask if my sister and her husband would fly out for a week so we could actually take a vacation, something we haven't done for more than 10 years. We know what the answer will be. We don't need to bother asking.
I had a conversation with my mom earlier tonight about changes I need to make to help me balance work and home. I also need to work with her to put together a list of tasks she needs help with so things aren't overlooked and forgotten. It's a work in progress. In time, I'm sure everything will turn out fine.
If I could find my way past the bitterness I feel towards my sister for not doing anything to help, and rarely taking the time to visit our mom, that would be half the battle.
I'm sure it wasn't easy to have the conversation with your mom, but sounds like a great step forward to involve her in the process of making some changes - the list is a great way to start!
In my experience, after awhile we realize that the resentment and bitterness are hurting us more than the people with whom we are angry - either they just don't get it or they just don't care - or their own issues outweigh ours in their estimation. It's exhausting, and you need your energy for doing what you choose to do for your mom, maintain your business and your relationship with your husband. In the end, energy is better spent on accepting and capitalizing on what they will do (even if it's that one visit per year) and focusing on filling the gaps in other ways - as well as taking care of ourselves as best we can. Easier said than done though, I know. It's a process...be patient and gentle with yourself.
I totally identify with your feeling that your mom is not your burden - she's your mom! I feel that way too about caring for my family. AND at the same time caring for her poses some financial and time challenges for you. Both are true.
That's a great idea to involve your mom in the process of making some changes - involving her in making the list is a great start!
You may need to start slow and have your mom use her resources to pay for a couple hours of care per week when you have to work. It's not that you don't want to care for her - it's that you cannot do it 100% of the time and maintain the finances you need. Have you asked her how she feels about the fact that your sister isn't helping? It must be hurtful to her on some level, but she may not be able to let that hurt come to the surface very much - it might be too painful. So instead she focuses on you. She can't lose you. If you look at it as everything comes from fear or love - her reaction to your initial request for her to pay you for her care must come from some state of fear - what is she afraid of? At the same time she loves you, so if you can help her not feel afraid, and understand that loving you also means taking care of you - perhaps that could help!
Hope you get the support you need - please keep us posted. How else can I help?!