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Wisdom Circle

Should I Help My Mean Mom?

A woman refuses to visit her mother even though her sister insists

The Dilemma

My mother was never a nice person, and she hasn't gotten sweeter with age. At 88 she's in the early stages of dementia and recently moved to assisted care. My sister, Anita*, is handling our mother's affairs — from paying the bills to getting the mail — and complaining about the stress. She thinks my brothers and I don't help enough and that we should visit more. I live 1,500 miles away and have a limited income. I don't think Anita has the right to tell me how often I should visit. If she feels guilty about paying someone to help (which I've advised, since Mom can afford it), that's not my problem. I know this sounds horrid, but my mother is a mean, spiteful person — and if I never see her again, so be it. My own children and grandchildren are my priority. Am I wrong to feel this way? — Tired of Family Ties

See also: Advice on finding friends from the wisdom circle.

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Caring for a difficult parent can be hard. — Photo by age fotostock/Getty Images

The Circle Says

Response 1
I was drawn to your post as if I had written it. My mother also wasn't a nice person, but I wasn't as strong as you. I cared for her for 10 years; she had a way of making me feel it was my obligation. She's gone now, and I'm still trying to forgive myself for feeling such relief. You're doing the right thing. Don't let anyone make you question yourself. Stick with your decision.

Response 2
Maybe the one who needs extra attention is your sister, not your mother. You could send Anita things to make her smile, like a gift certificate for a massage, and hire help for your mom so your sister can take a break without feeling guilty. And maybe your brothers could help with the expense.

Response 3
Caring for an elderly parent is demanding and emotionally draining, and this is compounded when a parent has neglected us. Your sister seems overwhelmed, so my advice is to tell her that you appreciate her hard work and concerns about your mother. But you shouldn't feel obligated to visit.

The Resolution

I realized I was angry at my sister because her behavior reminded me of our mother's behavior, and I felt manipulated. But you are very right: I was so busy feeling angry that I didn't pay attention to the fact that my sister is doing a lot! She and I have different ideas about our mother, but now I feel clear about how I'm going to handle this. I won't let my anger and guilt color my decision about visiting, but I will thank my sister. It won't hurt, and, in the end, it might help.

Adapted by Karen Westerberg Reyes

*Names and identifying details have been changed.

You may also like: The legal documents you need.

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