Read an Excerpt
When Your Parent Clings To You
When your parent:
- cannot tolerate being alone; wants you all the time.
- becomes physically ill or overtly hostile when confronted with separation.
- makes unreasonable and irrational demands upon their grownchildren and others.
- attaches himself or herself to another person (e.g., a daughter), leaning on that person for help with everything.
- is unable to make decisions or take responsiblity for decision, looking to their grownchildren and others for event trivial decisions.
- cannot allow himself or herself to depend on others even when you know he or she needs help
A DEPENDENT MOTHER
Al dialed the phone with trepidation. He was at a public phone in the theater lobby. The curtain was to go up in just a few minutes. He and his wife had just rushed into the theater after grabbing a quick dinner at a restaurant a few steps away. But before taking their seats for an evening of relaxation, Al knew if he did not call his mother, there would be hell to pay. He always called on the nights be did not visit her. The problem this evening was that his call was about one-half hour after the customary time.
He was not sure how she would react. Sometimes she would not notice if the call was a little later than expected. There were even those rare occasions on which she noticed but did not rub it in. But this was not to be one of those nights. As soon as he answered her hello with a cheery "Hello, Mother," he was greeted by a cold, angry voice saying,"Where were you? I have beentrying to get you all night."
"I'm at the theater, Mom. Miriam and I both had to work late this evening and we barely had enough time for supper. I have to be in my seat in just a couple of minutes and I wanted to call first to see bow you are today."
"I'm just fine," came the hard and steely reply. These words were followed by a sharp click. "Can you beat that? She hung up on me," he said to Miriam as he came out of the telephone booth. "I hope you're not surprised," she said as they were taking their seats. He was indeed not surprised. Things like this had happened often enough for him not to take it so personally. Yet, no matter bow often it happened and how much he tried to accept it nonchalantly, be still felt the pain. All during the evening his mind would wander from the stage before him to that telephone call. He kept wondering what he could have said or done differently to avoid this upsetting exchange. At bad learned by bitter experience to try to call each evening early enough to avoid these unpleasant interactions. Moreover, he also had learned to visit in person two to three times a week to appease his guilt and try to keep his mother happy.
Of course, the word "happy" is a relative one. The fact was that Bea, At's eighty-eight-year-old mother, was cbronically unhappy. She had been a complainer as long as Al could remember, and the complaints had only worsened as she grew older and began to suffer some of the physical impairments of older age. Despite this, she had gotten by reasonably well during most of her married life with a devoted husband, good children, and financial security. Now with her husband gone and her health not what it used to be, she had all the more reason to feel unhappy.
The basic problem, as Al saw it, was that his mother was such a dependent person. All her life, she had leaned upon her husband. She had no friends of her own. She didn't belong to a bridge club or play mah-jongg, as did other women in the neighborhood. One of Al's earliest recollections was the way in which she would wait anxiously for his father to come home at night. Night after night, year after year, he would come through the door at seven o'clock sharp, and night after night, year after year, Bea would greet him with, "Where were you? Why can't you come me earlier?"
And this dependence only increased as the years passed. And now that her husband was dead, she expected her son to be at her beck and call. It's not that Al minded taking care of things for her. But it was unreasonable, he thought, to be unable to go to the theater without feeling her watchful eye. What could he do to cope better?
A Professional Can Help Get You out of a Rut
with Your Difficult Parent
Sometimes they would lose their tempers and argue with her when she took out her venom on her housekeeper or on someone else in the family. Then she would get even angrier with them for taking "their side." But she would get over it after a few days, and things would return to their usual state. Al was becoming increasingly angry at having to walk on eggshells all the time. Would she behave better if he gave her hell the next day, told her that he was insulted, and made her apologize? Maybe she needed to be held to account.Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent. Copyright © by Grace Lebow. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.