News, Culture & Society

BEL MOONEY: Can I live with my selfish, possessive mother?

Dear Bel,

I’m 59, an only child and sadly lost my dear father in 2006. Since 2007 my mother has lived with my husband and me. We have one son — he’s expecting a baby with his girlfriend at the end of June.

My problem is my mother. We’ve always been close, but she’s possessive. When Dad was alive she allowed me a life, but my husband and I have only had one holiday alone in 32 years.

After 2006 Mum became more and more demanding. Now 88, she has carers four times a day (I work full-time in a demanding job) and recently social services arranged for us to have two weeks’ respite while she went into a care home.

The first few days were awful because she screamed and cried on the phone, but after a few days she settled and for the first time in years I felt free and we visited our son in his new home. Mum can’t be left on her own. Or won’t be left.

Her dependence on opiate medication is the problem. She asks for extra tablets daily and will wake us in the night by banging on the pipes if she can’t sleep. It’s caused terrible arguments.

I’ve not always been nice to her and she and my husband have awful rows. We thought things would be different after respite. We decorated her room and she said she’d done a lot of thinking.

After a week things went back to normal. I’m torn between time with her and with my husband, my son and his partner. I’m constantly trying to keep her happy and mediate between her and my husband. He seems to hate her now, after everything.

I’m constantly stressed even when just with my husband in another room, wondering if she’ll berate me for leaving her alone. She went to bed early last night and I was to watch my favourite programme before settling her.

Then she greeted me with ‘You even put the TV before me … ’ and demanded I stay for an hour while she ate and drank. This makes me angry but also guilty, as if I’m a bad daughter. Maybe I’m selfish, but I’m worried I won’t get time with our granddaughter when she’s born. They’re going to need help, as his girlfriend has no parents.

I love Mum dearly and would be devastated if anything happened to her. But the thought of living like this for years terrifies me. She makes me feel so inadequate and I just want us to be a happy family.

FREDA

This week Bel advises a reader who is struggling to live with her selfish, possessive mother

This letter made me gasp as some of it reminded me of my last complicated year with my own mother. So I’m glad you have raised a very important and painful issue — one which affects so many people.

We see headlines about the tsunami of problems this country faces with an increasingly elderly population.

Much of the time the debate is framed in ‘political’ terms, specifically the need for adequate social care. You also hear politicians and pundits pontificate about the duty of families to look for their elderly loved ones.

What they don’t address is just how hard that can be.

I have another email here from Susan, whose knotty family problem involves her sister and ‘my father, 89, physically frail and very stubborn … and my mother, 84, with dementia’ who have ‘needed more and more care over the last few years’.

The strain on Susan is considerable; so it is with you, and so was it with me. You do your best but there are times when it’s almost impossible to avoid feeling exhausted, frustrated and cross.

You say, ‘Maybe I’m selfish’ but the painful truth must be told: old people can themselves become extraordinarily selfish — and sometimes unpleasant with it. A mother who was once light-hearted, loving and generous is transformed by frailty, ill-health and her own frustration, into somebody who thinks of nothing but her own problems and complains about almost everything.

Angry about being old, perhaps afraid of death, the old will often take it out on those nearest to them. We can be understanding and say that our elderly loved ones find life hard; on the other hand, so do we — and we expect and need them to understand us, too.

Thought of the day 

Sweet May hath come to love us,

Flowers, trees, their blossoms don;

And through the blue heavens above us 

The very clouds move on.

Heinrich Heine (German lyric poet, 1797–1856)

Truly your life with your mother sounds intolerable — ruining your relationship with your husband and potentially damaging your health. The mother you love has, I’m afraid, become a toxic presence in your life and it’s clear from your longer letter that the situation can’t be allowed to continue.

Unfortunately, there’s been a pattern of capitulation for years — so that you and your husband never took holidays without your parents. He must have been a patient man in those days. But no longer. You should make an appointment to take your mother to the GP and start the serious discussion about her medication.

But I would first write the GP a proper, confidential letter, setting out all your problems and asking him/her to address them face-to-face.

If you have a breakdown, you will be unable to care for your mother, so it sounds as if you need respite care (say) once a month, and that this should be set up urgently. No excuses. Your mother will gradually become accustomed to the care home and its staff — and in time it may be a necessary, full-time solution.

You will soon be an excited grandmother. You have the right to enjoy this wonderful new stage in life, and (tough talking here) your demanding mother cannot be allowed to spoil it.

Between you and the GP that conversation with her needs to be had, whether she likes it or not.

I’m being left out of wedding plans

Dear Bel,

My granddaughter, who lives near me, is getting married in another county in June — a small wedding at a country venue.

The ‘main’ family — her parents, his parents and three siblings with their partners and children — are staying in the house and there’s not enough room for any other attendees to stay.

So I have booked a single room in a hotel, since my husband, her grandfather, cannot travel.

I should add that six weeks later there will be a big general party in a hall near us.

I’m upset because there is a meal in the country house the night before the wedding but I am not invited. Originally I was included as they could ‘fit one more in’ but now it’s just for those staying. So I’m told I will have to do my own thing! This means the afternoon and evening in a hotel on my own, and dining alone. This is my pain.

Am I unreasonable to expect a bit of special thought as her Nan? We were close, or so I thought, until the wedding plans became more detailed. I can understand that my daughter-in-law is making all the plans. My granddaughter is a gentle girl like her father (my son) who likes an easy life, so opts out.

I feel a physical pain when I think of this hotel stay but I’m determined not to make a fuss. It’s my granddaughter’s wedding, her choices … but it does hurt. I’ve tried to see another side to this hotel time I’m dreading, but aside from getting blotto I can’t. Any advice?

RUTH

Wedding season is almost upon us: the time of hurt tears falling as thick as confetti and arguments as threatening as summer lightning.

Do I sound cynical? I can’t help it, because people make so much fuss around and about what should be simple, solemn vows and, in doing so, make many mistakes, too.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

On the surface here it sounds mad to me that they can’t include such a hugely important family member in that dinner.

Yes, I would say that, because I’m a granny too and think we matter! But honestly, it does seem rather rude and unloving that you should be left out. I don’t think it unreasonable at all that you should feel upset.

It’s quite usual for the bride’s mother to be in charge of arrangements, but sometimes being ‘in charge’ can go too far. I’m wondering if your busy daughter-in-law has considered how lonely you will feel in the hotel — or is she is just so fixated on everything being perfect throughout the whole event, it has just slipped her mind to think about your feelings?

If so, that’s a pity — and something your son should step up and remedy. Have you told him you are upset? If not, beware of becoming the ‘silent’ martyr who nurtures a hurt grudge.

It’s no use nobly keeping quiet to the family but telling me you are upset. Your son is the one you should be telling — quietly and calmly.

It’s hardly a big thing for a loving grandmother to say she’d love to attend the pre-wedding dinner. He should arrange taxis for you and not be feeble.

Of course, there may be history here I know nothing about — perhaps with your daughter-in-law. No matter; I think you should make your request to be included and then, if they say the venue’s table isn’t big enough, or whatever — then you have to be strong. To ‘get blotto’ because you feel down would be a catastrophic idea, as you well know.

You’ll feel hungover and gloomy and your face will be puffy. So no! Have a drink at the hotel bar and see if you can order room service with a glass of wine. After eating, put on a face pack, and watch a movie.

It won’t be the end of the world. Then you must promise me you’ll leave your (perfectly understandable) hurt behind when you go to watch the girl getting married. That can be done, too.

And finally… Celebrate the lives of loved ones

For years I’ve written much about death, made speeches for bereavement charities — but I’m still learning.

This week we celebrated my mother’s life and mourned her death at a beautiful small funeral in Bath, and now I feel relieved and released.

I’ve understood how important it is to view a death in somebody else’s family as one that affects us all — in the sense that the great poet John Donne meant with, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind . . .’

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

Names are changed to protect identities.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

That lesson began with all the cards, letters and emails, expressing sympathy and love — reinforcing my awareness that any death must be acknowledged. So yes, do send that card — it will be treasured.

Because I dreaded the chapel being almost empty, I invited friends, even though they might only have met Mum once. How comforting I found their dear faces — reminding me that even though you might dread the thought of a funeral, you go along to support the living as well as honour the dead. So yes, do make an effort and turn up — it matters.

But I wouldn’t have wished a sad event on them. No, my mother’s funeral was joyful — all themed around the dancing (ballroom and tap) she loved all her life. In her heyday she was a brilliant little mover!

So the unique coffin I designed was made of bright white cardboard, with dancers in black silhouette all the way around, and a mound of dazzling orange and pink flowers on top.

Her two grandchildren and I recalled loving memories, of course, and my niece, brilliant jazz singer Kate Dimbleby, gave a medley of Fred Astaire songs I’d chosen: ‘I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me . . . Let’s Face The Music And Dance’ etc.

How joyful it all was, evoking Mum’s lifelong spirit of fun, not her recent frailty. It’s a fine last gift for elderly loved ones — to create an event which recalls life, not death. To pray and give thanks for a merry soul.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk