'My Mother Acts Like A Toddler'

Reader Enabling Daughter writes,

I am 41, married, with no children.  Only it feels like I have a toddler. I call her Mom, she is 63. Four years ago I answered a call for help from my mother's therapist.  Mom was 88lbs and her husband refused to buy the nutritional supplement (Ensure) she needed.  I began making visits every other weekend to take her to breakfast (to make sure she was eating a good meal) and buy her Ensure.

Four years and a heart attack later, she has left her husband and living in her own apartment.  However, my role and responsibility has increased exponentially.  I now visit her weekly.  We still do breakfast but now I buy her groceries, pick up her medications (some of which I pay for), pay for her storage unit, her cell phone, provide quarters for her laundry, and pay the medical bills she can't afford.  Her car repairs, pet vet expenses and basically anything she needs I also pay for because she is on disability income only.

Her medical issues are too numerous to keep track of.   She is on 18 medications, soon to add more to the diagnosis of yet another health issue.  Recently, I prepared a cleaning schedule because cleaning her apartment is overwhelming to her and usually means I'm cleaning her apartment every weekend as well to ensure her living environment is safe.

I know that she needs the help and she says that she is appreciative, but when I visit her, she acts like a spoiled brat.  She pouts, sticks her bottom lip out, tries to give me sad eyes to get me to give her what she wants.  She throws tantrums.  An example...a waitress didn't bring her an iced tea fast enough.  She made a comment that it doesn't take that long to pour ice tea into a glass.  I told her she had to be patient. She said "NO. I don't have to be patient."

She often talks in a childlike voice.  I asked her why she does it.  She said "because it's fun."  When she had a medical procedure, she was demanding and impossible to the nurses.  They told me they were avoiding her room because she was being a pain in their...you know.  I asked why she was being difficult and she said "I thought I was hilarious."  Her hilarity is usually at my expense.

She is constantly asking for mani/pedis (luxuries I don't even do for myself), new "toys" like her phone, and whining about how we never do anything different.  She wants me to take her to museums, the county fair, the zoo, aquarium, and her favorite pastime, shopping. She spends her money on her hobbies and has nothing left to pay for things like some of her medication or medical bills.  Then it's left to me to make sure she gets what she needs and has food in her belly.  1/3 of my monthly income pays her expenses.

Every time I think I've got everything under hand, something else happens and then she needs even more.  She's in her 60s.  I simply can't do this for the next 15-20 years.  But I also don't want to look back with regret that I didn't do what I could to help her.  I don't want to abandon her.  There has to be a middle ground.  It would not be as bad if she acted like an adult and genuinely showed her gratitude.

Is there anything I can do to relieve some of this overwhelming feeling of doom?  How do I get through to her that I am not a bank? Had I known four years ago that just helping to buy Ensure would turn into me having my mother nearly completely dependent on me I'm not sure I would have answered the call.  I fear the end result will be me no longer caring about her and just doing my daughterly duty until she passes and resenting her long after she is gone.  I want to do the right thing, but I don't feel like I should have to give up my  life and happiness to make hers easier.

Dear ED,

Your mother is extremely narcissistic, and possibly has Borderline Personality Disorder.  Read these posts to see if any resonate with you.  You need to stop enabling her before you throw your entire life away, as well as financially ruin yourself.  Your mother is not asking you for money for food. She is asking you for trips, manicures, treats... as you pointed out, this is like the behavior of a child who gets anything they want.  You are not to blame for your mother's personality disordered behavior, but your continued support of her ensures that she will never stop and you will never be free.

You are correct that there is a middle ground.  You need to recognize your mother's limitations and set boundaries with her.  She doesn't respect you, your money, or your help.  Read this for more, but here are some possible ways to change this situation.

First, you have the option of only seeing her once a week or less, and take the money you're now spending on special treats and meals out, and pay for an assistant to do what you currently do.  Get a home health aide, or an organizer, or someone to just hang out with her a few hours a day.  If you don't want to outsource in this way, then at least tell your mother you are on a budget now and when she pouts or complains, no matter what, do not give in and spend more money.  To address the rudeness, you will need to be firm and consistent just as you would with a toddler.  If she acts obnoxious or pushes boundaries, terminate the activity immediately.  Give one warning.  Example:

Mom:  I don't like the waitress here.  She's mean and ugly.

You: Please do not say that again.  She can hear you and it's rude.  If you say that again, we will have to leave.

Mom: I can say what I want!

You: Check please [get up to leave, leave with Mom].

Much like my advice to this parent whose 9 year old son won't take no for an answer, you need to ignore some of her less aversive behaviors, but once you use the warning voice/explicitly state the warning, then you always need to follow through.

I know it will be extremely difficult to set boundaries in this way. Many people in your situation would just cut ties completely.  But I respect that you don't want to do this, and that you want to be kind and not regret anything later on.  Your mother was likely raised in a difficult environment, and she is extremely dependent and insecure because she never learned how to be a fully functional person.

However, you still need to live your own life. I can only imagine what your mother was like when you were a child, and how difficult it may have been to live with her.  I believe you need to process both your childhood experiences and your current experiences with a therapist.  Also, read the book Children of the Self-Absorbed, as it is essential to realize that your experiences with a self-absorbed mother likely had and continue to have far reaching effects on the way you view and deal with the world.

Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Cut Out The Mani/Pedis Yesterday.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.