Dear Suzie,i am writing to you in the hope that you will help me to cope and understand my relationship with my mother.i left home at an early age beause she was very demanding of me,both physically in the fact that she always wanted me with her,and mentally with her always asking advice and talking to me, in total role reversal.i am 35 years old and she is sixty.she has been diagnosed with deppression and anxiety and will not take the proffesional help,but insists on calling me up to 30 times a day to go over her feelings and ask me for answers.altough i do try to regulate the phone calls she calls other people and my mother in law to find me.the problem seems to have got worse since i got married and even though she has a good relationship with my husband obviously it is taking its toll on our relationship.please help me to deal with my feelings of guilt and frustration.
You’ve already made some progress, in both realizing you can and should and in actually beginning to regulate calls. So how can you take this a few more steps, to help both you and yr husband and indeed yr mother?
Of course you care for her as well as feeling baffled anger, and would like the poor old soul to have a better time of it. But I think you need to consider this; people can only demand of you what you are prepared to give. She acts like a child to your adult – she calls you, she pursues you. But it is yr guilt that means you respond, not her demands.
When she plays the dependant, demanding, querulous child, this only becomes a difficulty if you take up the role of adult/parent her game seems to require. If you were to stand back, laugh and refuse to slip into the role, the game collapses.
If you were to tell her you’ll speak with her once a day for 5 minutes with a longer call on Sunday mornings, and if she calls outside these times either refuse to pick up (get a phone that has caller display) or simply say firmly “Not now, Mum, we’ll talk tomorrow” she would stop. If you were to say to her “I’m yr daughter not a therapist and I can’t help you. Go to counselling.” and repeat that very time she dumped on you, she’d soon do it. If you were to tell anyone she chases for you that you were not playing this game anymore and that they have yr permission to cut her off, she’d soon stop that too.
Stop responding to her demand you come up with answers – it’s not your responsibility nor in your ability. Simply say “I’m sorry to hear that Mum. Your doctor or therapist could help you, not me.” And keep repeating it like a broken record until she gets the message! It’s NOT down to you to heal her life – it’s down to her. Encourage her to seek help but make it clear you are not there to do that, and refuse to take it on. Make an agreement with yr husband how often you will speak with her and for how long, tell her clearly …AND KEEP TO IT! It is actually the best thing you can do for her, as well as for you. If you’d like to talk this over with someone, make an appointment with a counsellor through yr GP or your local Relate to discuss the skills and get yr head round them. Good Luck!