Dear Wendi –
My mother has been living with me, my husband, and my son for three years now. My mom is an alcoholic who won’t admit she has a problem. After a recent incident in which she was drunk, started calling me names, and then pushed and tried to hit my husband when he defended me, we’ve decided we’ve had enough and are giving her one more year to get herself together and get out on her own. She has only been permitted to drink one night a week while living with us (to help her preserve some independence while ensuring she doesn’t drink when she is with my son) but it is no longer permitted under any circumstances.
The real problem is, she hasn’t worked in nearly 10 years and she has pretty much decided she is going to be dependent on us forever. Once her drinking finally became too much for my step dad, he left her. She was taking care of my grandmother (nominally) so she wasn’t working- my grandmother paid for everything. When my grandmother went into care, she moved in with my aunt for a year and then in with us just before my son was born. I never wanted her to move in, as I know how our relationship tends to be and that I would be fully responsible for a capable adult who refuses to help herself. But I allowed it since we would make a mutually beneficial arrangement where we would give her a place to live and she would care for my son during the day. I don’t want to be unfair—when my husband lost his job for a while, having her to help with my son was beneficial financially. But she doesn’t even do simple things I ask her to do for my son. She won’t help with his potty training, she doesn’t give him the meals I ask her to, and she mostly just lets him entertain himself. She has made it clear that she thinks my husband is lazy and worthless, simply because he makes less money than me though he works just as hard and just as many hours.
After the incident I mentioned and the deadline, I have opinions coming at me from all sides trying to make me feel guilty and ungrateful. She feels hard done by because of a whole host of excuses: she has debt, she isn’t officially divorced from my step-dad, she doesn’t have a car or drivers’ license, she’s done “so much” for us (she keeps a mental list that she pulls out every time she’s mad). I told her we would help her in everything- getting her license, getting a car, getting help through whatever services we can use but she CANNOT LIVE HERE FOREVER. I shouldn’t have to be responsible for a 51-year-old adult who is perfectly capable but unwilling to take care of herself and yet who also feels she somehow has the right to tell me how to pay my bills, how to run my house, how to raise my son and pretty much everything else in my life. I don’t think it’s unfair to put my marriage and my son first and also expect her to mind her own business. She isn’t elderly, she isn’t sick and if she doesn’t start thinking about the future now, she never will. I don’t want to force her out but I don’t feel like she is giving me much of a choice. I already resent her and it’s obvious that she resents us as well. How do I make it clear that this isn’t just about wanting her out, but wanting to see her actually give a crap about her own life? I can’t sit by and watch someone give up and just pick up the slack myself. I can’t make her care about her own future but I care about mine and this situation is untenable for much longer. Any advice would be appreciated. (I also have very little hope of getting her to seek counseling or treatment for depression, alcoholism, or anything. She is profoundly anti-psychology.)
Dear Desperate Daughter –
This is a tough, tough situation. It probably feels like you lose no matter what you do. The truth is that she has put you in a classic parental role reversal. You have to be the grown-up because she has decided not to be. Being the grown-up is hard work and she may not be willing now, or ever, to do that tough work. However, if she can simply live with you or anyone else, who will assume the adult role for her, then why change or grow? So she moves from one co-dependent person to another. Unfortunately, it sounds like you are the one she plans to stay with forever. So guess who has to be the adult again? You.
I assume you know this already. You can not change her, get her help or fix this. Yes, she needs therapy, and intervention, and 30 days of de-tox at least. But she is the only one that can do it. You can’t. No matter how “adult and mature” you are. You can’t beat another person’s demons, brain chemistry and choices. However, you can do the work you need to heal, change and grow yourself. You are responsible for you, your marriage and your own mothering choices. Those are the things you need to take care of. Never forget that. One of the reasons alcoholism destroys families and impacts generations is because the co-dependency that must be involved to keep the family together has rippling effects.
I suggest you start with reading this book. “Co-dependent No More” by Melodie Beattie. Then attend a few Al-Anon groups and the “what do you need to do next” answers will come to you. It will never be easy, because being the grown-up, who considers everyone’s feelings and needs, is the hardest job in the world. Your mom gave up on that when she abused alcohol to the extent that she is now “helpless” and asking you essentially to be the mom in the relationship.
Hang in there and be good to yourself.
p.s. I know a few good wilderness therapy programs for adults that would rock her world if your interested in dropping her off. 🙂