She’s caring for their mother–and they’re angry about it

03.07-cijty-elderly-3be923281aac69321cd863e04846366a518f43c6-s6-c30Got this in:

Hello John,

I don’t know how I found your page, but I am glad I did. You are the only one who hit it on the money.

I am taking care of my mother, and trying to let things roll. I also have siblings who want to compete with me about her. It is very trying. They are older; I am younger. How do I make it clear I am not in it for competition? If you have no answer to that then I understand. But thank you so much for being totally honest about the aging parent. (My worry is about her weight loss. She has done that too much. I hope to get her weight back up though. She will be 79 years young in October.) Thanks again John.

Dear Person Who Wrote Me This:

What can you do to prove to your siblings that you’re not trying to compete with them for your mother’s affections (or money), beyond telling and showing them that you’re not competing with them for your mother’s affections or money?

What can any of us ever do to convince people who think we’re mean or crazy that we’re neither?

You state your case; you state it as patiently, kindly, carefully, and in as many different ways as is reasonable; you do it a few thousand times more, because you want to live the rest of your life knowing that you did everything possible to make peace and promote harmony; you lovingly let everyone know that your door is always open if ever they’d like to talk; you feel sad that things came to such a sorry state; you suck it up, essentially kiss them good-bye, and continue on with leading the most honorable life you know how.

That’s it. That’s what you do when people you care about insist that you are … well, someone not worth caring about. That’s all you can do.

Explain; show love; move on. Those are the three big stones you walk on to cross that particular sort of raging river.

People have to be who they have to be. And a lot of times that means them insisting that you are a person they need you to be in order for them to keep being who they need to be. For their own (unhealthy) emotional purposes, they choose their Bizzaro version of you over the reality of you.

People cling to few things like they do their crazy. And few people are crazier about anything than they are about the whole emotional miasma that’s forever churning around the Bermuda Triangle of the relationship between themselves, their sibling(s) and their parents. The whole parent / childhood / “You’re Dad’s [or Mom's] favorite!” thing is just … ground zero for human kazoinkerness.

So you’re suffering from the Eternal Family Knot we all get tied into. Bummer for you.

If she’s capable of doing it, ask your mom to talk to your siblings; perhaps she can assuage their concerns. By all means, invite your siblings to help you care for their mother in whatever way they’d like. (It’s been my experience that people bitching about one of their siblings taking care of their mom or dad stop bitching—or at least stop directly bitching—the moment it’s time for them to actually give up any time, money, or effort. What they’re usually really reacting against is their own deep-seated guilt for not doing what they think they should do relative to the care of their parent.) Always let them know that you’re willing to share the work of taking care of their mother.

Hang in there, friend. You’re doing the right thing taking care of your mom. Life’s a long time; it’s likely that at some point down the road one or all of your siblings will appreciate what you’ve done. If not, then it’s their loss. And a terrible loss it is, for it means them choosing resentment and animosity over love. Hopefully, the love you show will guide them to the place of remembering just how much they love you, their mother, and each other.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Christine McQueen

    As I told my middle son when he started complaining about his older brother living in my home – it was *I* who decided I needed him here, not so much as his wanting to be here. Middle son decided a long time ago that he preferred to live in Florida, rather than coming here to Las Vegas. Youngest son decided he’d have better luck looking for employment here than he was having back in Michigan, where we are from. The thing neither of them sees (or at least notices) are the many “small things” eldest son does for me on a daily basis. Over the last 15 years there have been many things each of my sons have done that increases my love for them, as well as the many small things each has done that p*ssed me off! Now if all of them could only learn to look for those small things instead of constantly focusing on the things they each don’t like about the others!

    • Christine McQueen

      Another quick mention of those ‘small things’ – eldest son just brought me some breakfast while I was typing that last! Saves me the trouble of taking my aching back downstairs to fix it myself. ;)

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        You have a lovely son. :)

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

          I was thinking the same thing.

  • Hth

    I don’t know if this helps or not, but your siblings’ behavior strikes me as an attempt to displace their own guilt. If you are doing a lot more work in your mother’s care than they are, they probably feel like they should be doing more. And it’s just so common for people to deal with guilt by deflecting it onto someone else: well, if they feel guilty, *you* must be trying to *make* them feel guilty, *you* must be enjoying the way they don’t feel good enough next to you. It’s sadly easier for some people to manufacture anger than just to sit in the discomfort of knowing they’re not living up to their own ideals. But that discomfort is what humility is all about, and it’s a virtue and a blessing. Sometimes once you see how little someone’s anger at you is really about you at all, it’s easier not to feel dragged down by it. I hope that’s the case for you.

  • Matt

    This is exactly what I needed to hear right now, John. Especially about, “people you care about insist that you are … well, someone not worth caring about.” Sorry for sucking you into my Triangle so much.

    But on a lighter note, you’re missing a period in the first sentence of the last paragraph. Either that, or attempted a haiku only to think better of it at the last second. I think it would have worked, for the record :) .

    • Elizabeth

      “You state your case; you state it as patiently, kindly, carefully, and in as many different ways as is reasonable; you do it a few thousand times more, because you want to live the rest of your life knowing that you did everything possible to make peace and promote harmony; you lovingly let everyone know that your door is always open if ever they’d like to talk; you feel sad that things came to such a sorry state; you suck it up, essentially kiss them good-bye, and continue on with leading the most honorable life you know how,” is the one that hit me like a ton of bricks. Bermuda, right?

  • Brenda in La.

    Having experienced it myself by choosing to fully participate in caring for my mother, I can say that John (and anyone else who said it) hit the bull’s eye when saying it is misplaced guilt with the siblings. Since my sister didn’t think certain things called for close observation or concern, I wasn’t supposed to, either. Funny how we agree on almost everything, but we sure had our differences then. Can’t wait for round two when it is our father’s turn. The roles will be exactly the same, but I can’t sit idly by. She has even said in so many words that she now has regrets, but it won’t change her behavior or involvement next time.

    Letter Writer, I send many prayers and hopes for an easier time your way. Keep on doing what you’re doing. They resent you have the ability to see -or maybe even care about – what they don’t. I know with my sister she enjoyed the game that if she didn’t acknowledge the worsening and the changes, surely they weren’t true. Eventually the truth will out, and though you may not think about it now, it means more than anyone can tell you to be the child who paid attention. Much more.

  • Jill Joiner

    No matter what you do you can not please or convince these people otherwise. All you can do is know in your heart the deep truth. Hold your head up and stand strong.

  • Jason Haddox

    Wonderful words, John. Thank you

  • Deanna Larson

    This is a fantastic column, except I’m not a fan of over-explaining. At some point, you’re doing the dance with them, instead of sitting it out, which is the only way to handle these attempts at needling in a healthy way. Send them loving vibes, wish them well on their journey, pray for their awakening

  • Tara

    I’m not caring for a parent, but I’ve been estranged/scapegoated by my family for recently setting boundaries and no longer tolerating emotional abuse from my mother. The words were just as powerful when thinking of my own situation. Thank you.

  • Patsy-Anne

    I had problems with my younger brother when my mother started to decline. I relayed my concerns about what I was seeing and suggested that we start looking for trained professionals to help out, but he became very angry and accused me of wanting to do something bad to Mom. My older brother and my Dad fluffed me off. It was entirely bizarre. Once she had a diagnosis, everything settled down, but she could have had the diagnosis sooner and a lot more good health if anyone had listened to me. It was very frustrating.

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