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Periodic Contributor

Taking care of my extremely difficult elderly mom

My name is Danny, and I just turned 71 years old.  My mom, Sylvia, who is 94, lives a relatively short distance away from me, and my wife Monica, but too far to walk, and it is difficult to get to her, even though I have a car, because it is impossible to find parking near her, I need two buses, if I go by public transportation, which leaves my only option, to take care service.  My wife and I live on Shore Road, near 94th Street, in Bay Ridge, and she lives on 65th Street, near 4th Avenue, in Sunset Park.

I am my mom's only child.  I have a son, who lives in Arizona, with his family.  I had a daughter, who died in 1996, at the age of 26.

My dad passed away, on June 3, 2009, and my mom has been living alone, since then, in the Towers of Bay Ridge.  My mom goes out each week day, to the Ovington Senior Center, a few blocks away, usually using a public bus, or walking, with a walker, for some socialization, and for their meal.  On Saturday, she takes care of odds and ends, usually going out, and on Sunday she usually goes to the Lutheran Church, a couple of blocks away.  Mind you, she is Jewish, but enjoys socializing, with the members of the church, as well as having their colation.

My wife, and I have tried to assist her, in everyway we could.  We had been bringing meals to her.  I have taken her to doctor appointments, and we have tried to socialize with her.  All of these things have never been appreciated, and she has consistantly found fault, with everything we did.

When I would call her, I would be annoying her, and checking up on her.  When I went to her house, she never had anything for me to do, so we would just sit and talk, often getting into an argument, and I'd leave her.

She is extremely negative, and critical of everyone, and everything, especially me, and my wife, and has been, as long as I can remember.  My first wife, Anne, who I'm divorced from since 1990, could not bare to be with her, and my dad, nor could our kids.  They never wanted to be with my parents, because they were constantly picking on them, for everything, as well as me.  My son is married, with three daughters, and is living in Arizona.  My 2nd wife, Monica, married since 2007, can't stand to be with my mom, either, because of her always finding fault with her, as well.  It never stops.

My son, and I have tried to work with her, to get her to accept having some professional help take care of her, which she would have to pay for, but she refuses, not only because of the cost, but because she doesn't trust anyone, including me. 

My mom, unfortunately can, and often has gotten physically violent towards me.  In my car, when going to, or returning from Doctor appointments, she has grabbed me, while I was driving, and almost caused an accident.  In her apartment, she has a tendancy to throw things, or look to hurt me, usually, any way she can.  In short, I don't, and can't trust her.  She looks to have a disagreement with me, and no matter how I try, I just can't get along with her, and I have tried to keep peace with her.  We had an argument, about a month ago, on the phone, when I was sick, with Vertigo, since she was insisting, that I come over, and take care of her.  Mind you, I couldn't even take care of myself, and my wife was doing everything, and had her hands full, since she has health problems, as well.  My mom didn't want to hear, or understand any of this. 

She has pushed everyone away from her, with her negative, critical, nasty, sometimes abusive behavior, and has no friends.

I can't say it's dementia, or alcheimers, because she has been this way as long as I know her.

I am tormented, because, she does need help, desperately.  The kind my wife, and I can't provide.  She needs someone with her, on a regular basis.  Her doctor recommended she have home care, and agencies have been trying to reach out to her, and they have been calling me, since she hasn't responded to any of them.  With her Emblem HIP VIP medical service, she can get someone for possibly 2 to 4 weeks, which they will cover, just to try it, but she won't do it.

Last year, my wife & I bought a very sophistcated monitor, for her to wear, with automatic fall detection, that was waterproof, as well, that she could go anywhere with, and she would have a person accessible 24 hours a day, for assistance, when needed, for a year, but she refused it, claiming she wasn't ready for something like that.  My wife and I had paid, for a year, for it, but we had to return it, fortunately for a full refund, after 30 days.  This was costly, but we tried, and it would have given us some peace of mind, by monitoring her, so she would never really be alone.  I have talked to so many professional people, trying to find a solution to this mess, and still have none. 

She looks to inconvenience us, anyway she can, just to make herself feel important.  It is very frustrating, and I am tormented by it.  No matter what I do, it is wrong.  I feel this is a lose, lose situation, and I am definitely open to suggestions. 

AARP Expert

@kanterd358 - one more resource - I thought this article from our AARP Family Caregiving website might have something that could be helpful for you! 


When Aging Parents Won't Receive Help Graciously 


Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert 

AARP Expert

@kanterd358 Hi Danny - you've recieved a lot of great comments and thoughts here so I won't duplicate them, except to say that it's clear you have tried so hard and that does indeed make you a kind and compassionate human being! You've chosen to care and deserve appreciation for that. 


I often say that as we age we just get moreso. More who we are. Our personalities get more entrenched. That's not to say people can't adapt and learn and change - we absolutely do! But, for example, if your mom was always independent, she doesn't get less so as she ages. She's trying to hang on to that and as things change in her life, her health, her body, her relationships, her community, her peer group...she (and all of us) struggle to hang on to some sense of control. 


For my Mom, she was wonderful, sweet, kind and grateful for every ounce of care she received. I have been blessed and lucky. But, there were certain things that were SO important her - her nails had to be perfect, for example, and that could sometimes be annoying to people who cared for her  (and her manicurist!). But I always knew that's what it was - it was something she could control, so I empathized and understood. That's very different than your mom, but maybe you can find a shred of something there to identify with.


I fully acknowledge that I don't know your mother or you, the ins and outs of her relationships and how she does life. But that said, I have one suggestion you might consider. As you struggle to ensure her basic safety and well-being without putting yourself in jeopardy in situations that are negative and hurtful to you, you might consider hiring a geriatric care manager (or aging life care expert/specialist) who could do some of the legwork, care management (when the time comes) and interaction with your mom for you. Removing yourself from the direct care and coordination aspect might help ease the stress and possibly (possibly - it might or it might not depending on whom you hire, their personality, how your mom interacts with them etc) help your mom be less resistant to care and support. Then, if your purpose in seeing her every time isn't to try to convince her to do things but instead just to listen and be there, maybe your relationship and interactions could improve. 


If you want to look into this option, the Aging Life Care Association has a directory HERE to help you find someone in your area. 


Best of luck to you - please come back and tell us how you are doing! 


Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert 

AARP Expert

Hi there, Danny. What a marvelous collection of responses you received! So much wisdom here!  I have just a little bit to add.


My mother was also a narcissistic, AND a Christian Scientist with both mental and physical illnesses. She refused anything but prayer, but had a lot of problems, and needless to say, she died at age 55 of preventable causes. I had a therapist/coach who helped me to try to help her, and then helped me to back away when she refused. i did my duty, then i let her choose her own path. Each of us have the right to make bad choices.


Unless we are demented and can't make fully informed choices. And then the state steps in. Adult Protective Services has many a client who has burned all bridges and needs someone who is PAID to see to their best interest. You can always call APD, especially if she does dramatically decline. Frankly she sounds pretty darn social and active, even if she is usually (or always) Mrs CrankyPants. 


I'm glad you're taking a break. You certainly deserve the time to nurture your ten year marriage, and your relationship with your son and his family. Do whatever it is you've been neglecting. I hate to be a nag, but when was your last medical physical? Have you had a colonoscopy?  Might as well see to your own health. And a counselor/therapist might be helpful too. After decades of her abuse, what new chapter in your life would you like to write? What's on your bucket list? Time for you and your wife to build in some joy and adventure.


Just a thought.


I'm sorry your mother has been such a negative person. Perhaps her parents were highly critical. Perhaps she was abused or neglected. No excuse, just a reason. She IS a survivor as you point out. I hope there is some gift or two that you can claim from her. She gave you life. Are there any other characteristics that you got from her that are good? Some thinking along these lines might help you appreciate her, and soften the pain of her abuse. While you're taking a break. Maybe a permanent break.


So glad you wrote. Doing the right thing for horrible parents is more common than any of us think.


May 2018 hold more joy for you,



Periodic Contributor


My name is Jean and my mother is in the nursing home but I go to see her often.  She is very self centered and seems I can never do enough for her.  I don't come to see her often enough (3 to 4 times a week).  She only wants to talk about herself and changes the subject back to herself if I try to tell her something going on in my life.  When growing up, she spent all her time with my stepfather so I just grew up "by myself" so to speak.  I try to take her things to cheer her up, cookies, a donut, game books, new clothes, items she may find helpful to her in the nursing home.  I pray to God everyday to give me strength and patience and love to visit her and help her.  I am in my 70's and not in the best health myself.  She is 93.


AARP Expert

@snop1010 wrote:


My name is Jean and my mother is in the nursing home but I go to see her often.  She is very self centered and seems I can never do enough for her.  I don't come to see her often enough (3 to 4 times a week).  She only wants to talk about herself and changes the subject back to herself if I try to tell her something going on in my life.  When growing up, she spent all her time with my stepfather so I just grew up "by myself" so to speak.  I try to take her things to cheer her up, cookies, a donut, game books, new clothes, items she may find helpful to her in the nursing home.  I pray to God everyday to give me strength and patience and love to visit her and help her.  I am in my 70's and not in the best health myself.  She is 93.


Hi Jean!  It's very good of you to visit her so often. Perhaps you could drop your visits down to once or twice a week. Especially if the visits are really wearing on you. I think you are doing a great good deed; i also think there's no need to hurt yourself in the process. You are a generous soul. Time to be generous with yourself, too?



Hi Jean,

I lost my mother a few years ago and I know what you are going thru. I agree with the other person who posted back to you. You have a life of your own, and I know Mom is still part of your life, but it isn't worth stressing about it. Most likely she doesn't even remember how often you visit. If you could take her things that jog her memory about things she liked in the past, it might help. With my mom it was music, she loved the entertainment at her home and it ment more to her if I joined in and shared that moment. That limits your time to stay and gives her a new memory( maybe). I noticed most people in the home were much better on past memories than making new ones. It almost seemed like they were afraid the new might cover up the old ones. Anyway, my heart goes out to you. Be patient. If she is trying to hurt you, doing things with her in the home setting (apartment house?) might be more pleasant and safe for you. Good Luck!

Regular Contributor

@kanterd358, I'd like to offer/suggest a slightly different approach. Hopefully my words will offer some validation, hope and commiseration!


My mother and I had what could only be called a tortured relationship. I was the first born of 4 girls.


I think personality has a lot to do with it--how much alike or how different you are. My mother and I were oil and vinegar! I was logically concrete and she was very emotionally loosey-goosey.


My mother passed early at 66 from a rare bile duct cancer, about 5 years after my dad passed from non-small cell lung cancer. (Yep. Bad Genes; I've got them! Fortitude and obstinate optimism also got planted in my gene pool tho', thankfully.)


I know how horrible it is to know your parents need help, but won't let you help them.


I think it is a generational thing too....a passing of the torch, a surrender the parent has to make to let the child become the adult. The responsibility of leadership and compassion required from the adult child to accept the new power dynamic. I imagine it's very hard...for everybody involved.


I am not condoning your mother's unkind or even narcissistic treatment of you! But it doesn't truly matter: whatever she does, you will always remain her son. And as her son, your love for her makes it messy, charged, guilty, and perhaps failure or shame-oriented? I don't know; you will have to decide how to name what emotions you are feeling.


But if any of it is some of those types of emotions, and if those emotions aren't identified and can't be appropriatedly/healthily-without-harming-others channelled, they can turn into anger or illness in your own body. This was my own experience.


Eventually with my own mother, I had to chose to let my mother be herself, and me to be matter how different, annoying or contra-indicated. If she wanted to die alone without knowing what her options were, I was going to have to accept that, which I eventually, after considerable struggle and personal sacrifice, managed to do.


My mother refused help; she refused some treatment options. She cloistered herself away for 2 weeks without answering the phone, returning phone calls, answering knocks on the door, or making contact with anyone. When I finally forced my way in by driving down to check on her, it was the beginning of the end, without any hope to turn the tide. 


About three weeks after that, she passed alone in a convalescence/rehab facility. (Later I did some research, because the doctors are not always forthcoming, and discovered there was a usual, predictable brain chemistry complication from the disease, that might explain her 2-week cloister. That would have been a timely thing to know and prepare for!)


There was virtually nothing I didn't try to make her passing more comfortable. I did visit, and when I did, I knew I was visiting because she was my Mother, and I wanted to see her for myself, not because she had required it, or the morals of society required it.


Some days I didn't want to see her; so I didn't.


I limited the amount of time I spent with her, and I had key phrases or topics or exit points prepared, so I could exit when our usual, familiar trigger points popped up. I tried to be as companionately conscious as possible with her, while also remembering to take care of myself, and not require her to be any different than I had always known her to be.


It was so's taken YEARS to process all that and get to the place where I could actually, authentically recognize and speak aloud that I miss her. (so sad to say, but so ultimately true.)


I can also say and honestly feel good that while I did not do everything possible for her, what I did do was super nice and made her last year of life better in many ways, most of which did not include me having her be the Mother I thought she should be. I just experienced her as the Mother I had always known, with an occasional bright spot or two I hadn't previously slowed down enough to witness.


It's just a tough row to hoe. But you are not alone in that row; I was there until 2013. I am only beginning to feel a little more neutral about it in 2017!


And I agree that you have been an OUTSTANDING human and SON. It may be time to take a break, separate from your Mother's needs and honor yourself, not to punish or condemn your mother for her actions.


I had to do that too with my Mother. I actually had the system that if I had to go with my Mother to a oncology appointment (requiring 6hours of round trip car travel on my part), the next two days I had to let myself recover and rest. 


Finding a personal, authentic, true spot of peace around it is the only thing that worked for me.


Allowing myself to rest and only requiring myself to see her at doctor appts helped alot. I would even see her number on the Caller ID and BEFORE I picked up I would assess if I had enough mental/emotional strength to have and leave the conversation without yeling at her, or wrecking my whole day. If I did not have that much peace of mind, GASP! I let the call go to voicemail, and might wait a full day or more to retrieve the message.


Children are biologically wired to love their parents! And in some form or another, it pains us not to meet the need of the person or persons that gave us life and brought us into the world. There is no shame or failure in that. Just drawing a line in the sand where your needs become greater than their needs.


Sometimes that line is very hard to find, and even harder to walk. I hope you find some small form of ease in this relationship very soon!


(I'd tell you it'll all be over soon, but my 11 years of recovery tells me time can be a little variable. So I will just wish you a more speedy exit than what I experienced!)


Good luck! And remember to be kind to yourself in this very troubling relationship.


PS: I got a lot of professional help to get me through it myself, and I cussed a lot, yelled a lot, and broke a lot of inanimate things to "healthily channel" my emotions that were difficult to name. Smiley FrustratedSmiley LOL

Periodic Contributor

I greatly appreciate what you wrote to me.  I really feel for you, since you have gone through an awful lot, and can finallly be able to deal with it.  

I am backing away, from my mom, for now, completely.  You could say, I am charging up my batteries, in order that I have all the strength I need to deal with my mom, when I finally decide to do so.  

There was one question, that came to my mind, while reading all about what you dealt, and how, and that was.  Where were your 4 sisters, during all of this?  I would think that they could have, and should have, assisted you, with your mom.  I hope I am not treading on dangerous, delicate ground.  If you would rather not say, that is fine with me.

Regular Contributor

@kanterd358, all I can say is you are right; there could have been more of a sharing of the load. One sister passed young; the other two were on two different coasts of the US, so that made it hard.


I also had the misfortune of being born the eldest in a gi-normous family that puts it in your blood from birth that the eldest does everything. Unfortunate...and perhaps all I can authentically, "consciously companionately" say. Smiley Surprised


I have done some family constellation studies and workshops. It's very interesting what we "learn" from our larger family patterns of relating. Anyway, I'm glad you caught the spirit of what I wrote, and I wish you more and more ease around this topic/relationship with each passing day!


Danny ,  reading your story hit home for me. I'm wondering if our mothers could be related ? So I'm 55 and my mother is 75, I to am the ONLY child. Now I can tell you this there is no solution, no fix, no karma, no redemption, no trophey not even a ata boy! I can give you a possible diagnosis on your mother though and if you look into this and understand what your dealing with should at minimum give you peace of mind and know this there are a lot of people out there that their parents were the Cleavers but yet do nothing at all to take care of them.

Sounds like Mom lacks empathy in all shapes and forms of which is caused by not caring which is due to the innability to love. Just a few years ago I found out that narsassistic women which are very rare do excist. Heres a definition and a few interesting traits and outcomes.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which there is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others' feelings.

When you grow up with a narcissistic mother, you grow up thinking you are never good enough. You can't put your finger on why you always want to be perfect, yet you do. And you try tirelessly. You are studious, happy, cuddly, and kind.

A woman can have several narcissistic traits and not fit the personality disorder. Mothers with only a few traits listed can negatively affect their children.

I felt badly for this little girl, not because her mom said no to her candy request, but because her mom was so blinded by her own feelings that she could not have empathy for her daughter.

A narcissistic parent will trample all over their family to address their own desires without giving much thought to what anyone else needs. Because of this, some adult children of narcissists will actually overcorrect and bend over backwards to make sure no one could ever possibly perceive them this way.

You ask what causes narcissism? As with other mental disorders, the cause is likely complex. Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to: Mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive pampering or excessive criticism. Genetics or psychobiology — the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking.

Anyways Danny I could be completely wrong here but for me I found a lot of answers to my mothers behavior and complete disconnect from empathy. There are different degrees of this disorder and one can exhibit only a few traits and not be considered narcissistic but the effect these traits have on their children are just as devistating.

I don't know if this will help you, hell I don't know if you will even read this !! Regardless you are trying to care for someone whom doesn't deserve it and that makes you ONE HELL OF A HUMAN BEING..

Take care,


Periodic Contributor

Dear Robert,

I did read your response, very slowly, and carefully, and thank you so much for it.

I want to thank you, very much, for identifying what I am dealing with.  I have known, for some time, there had to be some kind of mental disorder, and now I know what it is, thanks to you.

I greatly appreciate your wisdom, intelligence, and most of all, for your passing this on to me.

It has taken me a very long time to realize, that I have really tried everything, I could think of, to have a better relationship, with my mom, and nothing has ever worked, because I was not dealing with normal, and having even a decent relationship with her, just isn't possible.  

She has been using me as her punching bag, for as long as I can remember, and enough is enough. 

It is finally time to let Devine Destiny take over.  I have to let her live her own life.  I can't let her drag me down anymore.  Doing so, seems to give her some kind of perverted satisfaction, at my expense.

She is a survivor, as am I, and I feel, in desperation, she will ultimately seek outside professional help, to take care of herself, realizing that I can't, or won't help her.

Only time will tell.  

Bless you Robert, and I hope you have a more peaceful, better life, with this knowledge, about your parents, as I anticipate, I will have.

Have a Very Happy, and Better New Year.




Danny I am glad that you were able to get something from my post. I suggest you do some research of your own on narcissistic people there is a lot of imformation out there and how to detach from them and change your learned behavior. Take care Danny!

If you like you can drop me a message here I think.


Recognized Social Butterfly

I gave you a kudo for writing all this down!!  I am in a very difficult situation too but it is difficult for me to talk about it.  Your mom sounds really really difficult and you must have had a hard time reaching adulthood if she has always been like this.  Hopefully someone here can give you some useful advice.  Actually your mother sounds like she is in pretty good physical shape for 94.  However, if something bad happens to her, such as a fall, the doctor will probably recommend placement in a nursing home.


I have come to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.  I am only speaking of my own situation here, not yours.  You are doing a good thing, asking advice here.  I have recently had thoughts regarding a difficult elder, especially when they begin to lose touch with reality, which can happen a little at a time.  They try to control their situation and hold on to their power by controlling those people they have the most access to, usually their caregiver.  This is what is happening to me. 

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