Reading: When A Good Daughter Hates Caring for Her Aging Mother

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When A Good Daughter Hates Caring for Her Aging Mother

She thought she hated being run around by a demanding mother. Then she discovered what she really hated

By Anonymous

“My first resolution for 2019 is to stop complaining so much about my fucking mother,” I said to my significant other on New Year’s Day this year.   

She’s 92, and bravely facing her twilight, a widow just doing her best to get by in the familiar comfort of her home of 40 years. From my point of view, she’s self-absorbed and inexcusably dependent; has been her whole life.

I’m obviously a hideous person. Who could say such things about her own mother?

It’s just that she gets me so angry.

I’m not talking garden-variety annoyance, though I experience that, too. I’m talking bomb cyclone. This dramatic meteorological phrase perfectly characterizes my category-five internal weather at times. When it blows over, I feel enormous shame about my anger. The kind of shame that wakes me at three in the morning to beat me up. To echo Nora Ephron, I feel so bad about my feelings!

I was at the grocery store the other day in line behind two lovely teenage boys. “They were so polite and nice,” the cashier said to me. I complimented her on how nice she sounded with them and she replied, “I like young people. I used to do elder-care, but I came to hate it because old people complain too much. Especially aged baby-boomers who feel entitled. It wore me down.”

I wanted to kiss her for her honesty.

Here’s my  list of what I call  the Four Stages of Hating Caring for an Aging Parent:

1. Annoyance. Mom “forgets” to bring her wallet to restaurants, so I’m obliged to pay. Mom “forgets” her cane when I take her out in the world (she doesn’t want people to think she’s old, she once confessed) so she makes like an albatross on my elbow. Also, she eats only the gooey inside of a wedge of Camembert and leaves the rind for others.

2. Frustration. I recently went to some effort at her request to find her a new orthopedist because she disliked how her original one rushed through appointments. But then she decided it wasn’t her shoulder that hurt, it was her groin. “Okay, Mom, we’ll look into it,” I said and I cancelled the doctor I’d just found.

3. Resentment. Caused by #1 and #2 above. My mother didn’t work for a living and so has always prioritized spontaneity. To survive juggling a staff-job for 30 years while parenting three children as a single mother — I had to kiss spontaneity goodbye in favor of planning, organizing, scheduling. She doesn’t get this, and blithely calls at the last minute for help getting to long-standing appointments.

4. Anger. An ugly sludge builds in me during my days when I have to give half my work day over to caregiving. While I love my mother, there are times when I have to face the grim fact that I don’t enjoy her company. Rather than have a real conversation in which being honest would involve disagreeing with her, I go into my fake, submissive, yes-woman persona to get through these visits.

Mom lived alone self-sufficiently until recent years, when things around the house — like stairs — started to get dangerous. The turning point for me, however, came after a couple of shrill calls about the smoke alarms just as I was sitting down to dinner in my home 40 minutes away.

“Mom, stop yelling,” I’d say. “At least it’s not you burned to a crisp!”

We children decided it was time for scheduled caregivers. Even she agrees that more “company” will be good. “But not live-ins.”

The agencies cost too much so we’re using word-of-mouth to hire part-time helpers. But it’s like herding cats to get them to show up on time. Inevitably, there are last-minute cancellations. And then come the hysterical emails from Mom with the subject line: Damn! Damn! Damn!

I’m pressing the point that it’d be better to institute a more organized, full time caregiver set-up. Alas, Mom has shot down all the candidates we’ve come up with like so many ducks at a carnival shooting gallery. “Too mousy.” “Too gossipy; I don’t want my business spread all over town.” I think the veto-power helps her to feel in-control and alive.

Then, Mom says, “I don’t want to be a burden to any of you.” Translation: I wish one of you would come live with me.

I’ve grown weary of the constant complaining and the expectation that my siblings and I will step in to solve every problem. (Not all ninety-somethings are this dependent, I recently learned. My best friend has a mother nearly the same age who is way more independent and competent; she just sold her house, packed up and moved into the city from the burbs without a peep to her children.)

My mother is, fortunately for you, not your mother. Surely I’ll be infuriating my children in my unique ways a few short decades from now (if I’m lucky). But what is shared among many of us adult children seems to be a distaste for this task. I thought I was prepared for this stage, but it has blindsided me.

I’ve learned I’m not alone in my reactions.

I asked myself why this mother-care is so disturbing and came up with a couple of reasons. One: it just feels crummy to see myself begrudging, withholding, patronizing, spiteful. That’s not me.

Two: isn’t it a violation of the natural order to be parenting the parent as he or she becomes the toddler, especially at a time in our lives when we’ve just finished raising our actual toddlers into adolescence or twentysomething-hood? Why, just when we get to reclaim a life for ourselves — are we dragged right back into servitude? And who wants to see their parent’s naked, wrinkly old whatevers when the hospital gown falls away?

For help with this monstrous swamp of emotions, I turned to Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, a Los Angeles psychologist and Certified Bereavement Facilitator.  I asked her 1) what are the origins of such unwieldy feelings and 2) WTF can I — or someone in my same predicament — do to get back to some semblance of yogic balance?

Dr. Kubacky refers to herself on her website as Dr. Gretchen, so I’ll call her that. She says the various feelings we adult-children experience may be connected to the natural order being upended, “but really, it’s just a hope that we won’t all need care like this in the end. Fear of loss, or anticipatory grief, can produce intense feelings of grief, sadness, and longing or yearning — for what will be missed, for things to be the way they were.”

But what triggers that extra dollop of negative feeling?

“I think the rage about the helplessness or incompetence ties into frustration and fear about one’s own decline or demise. It’s right in your face, this person who probably looks something like you, decaying, and that’s scary. Also, depending upon the person’s diagnosis (for example, some dementias), they may be undergoing a significant personality transformation or loss of memory that is also scary, confusing, and fear-inducing. We expect children to be ‘incompetent,’ but we don’t expect that of adults.”

When I rant a bit about my mother’s assumption that her children will jump through hoops to help her stay at home despite the time-suck her insistence on jerry-rigging imposes, Dr. Gretchen answers mildly, “And don’t you get that, viscerally? The idea of being institutionalized with a bunch of mind-numbingly dull attendants probably sounds like the worst imaginable fate to your mother, who has been independent for so long.” Point taken. “But at the same time, you’re right, it’s incredibly selfish to demand in-home care forever — unless she can afford to hire the best, 24/7.”

I share with her this platitude that seems to rise above the din of unsolicited advice from friends: “You’re lucky that your mother is still above ground to complain about.” I’ve tried to let that inspire me, with only minor success. Dr. Gretchen rejects attitude-adjustment.

“You are not required to be grateful, and you are not a bad person if you’re not only not grateful, but also a little angry, bitter, and resentful. Sometimes there is great beauty in caregiving, but it’s hard to focus on that when you’re overwhelmed with duties.”

Or in my case, overwhelmed with anger.

“Anger is often the cover emotion for sadness,” she says.

Oh, did I leave out sadness? I guess I did. Add that to the list. “And, there’s a great deal to be angry about in a caregiving position. You miss out on fun or interesting or important things to do menial work, have repetitive conversations, deal with supervising people, anticipate needs that the patient can’t articulate, share (or not share) the burden with siblings or other family members. Old family dynamics flare up during a caregiving period, which can go on for years.”

Dr. Gretchen distinguishes between the current back-burnering of our own priorities and needs, and past back-burnering: “We have a saying, ‘If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.’ In other words, when you’re having a strong visceral emotional response to something, it’s probably not just about what’s happening in the moment. It probably has its roots in old family dynamics.”

Bingo, that’s me. (And I thought this interview with Dr. Gretchen was going to help you.)

Now I know where my missing compassion has been all this time: buried deep beneath unfinished business. Being raised by a self-absorbed mother takes its toll. Mine taught me not to speak up about my needs or insist upon my wants. She told me that was selfish, and I learned I was a selfish, bad girl. I’ve been mindful of that for years, but only now — when the tables have turned and I’m begrudging my mother her needs because she didn’t let me have mine — do I really see that the anger I’ve carried with me through the decades isn’t helpful.

Dr. Gretchen brings it back to sadness: “Maybe you have always been longing to be cared for fully by her, and now that she is on the tail-end of life, it is inescapably clear that she will never care for you the way you wanted her to.” 

Does that mean that to properly grieve childhood hurts, you have to let the anger ferment into sadness? 

“No,” replies Dr. Gretchen, “I say have the sadness AND the anger. Grief is non-linear. That old Elisabeth Kubler-Ross thing (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) sounds all neat and tidy and linear, and it’s just not. You can have all of the emotions, only one or two, skip through a couple, find one arising in five years, and so on. Don’t manage your emotions; let them come to the surface, air them out, and release or integrate them as needed. Repeat until you feel better.”


I do occasionally find it rewarding when I inadvertently make my mother happy by offering her an extra hug at the door, inputting contacts into the speed dial area of her phone so she thinks I’m a genius, telling her her hair looks beautiful, or showing up unexpectedly with dinner on a cold, dark winter night. Then she gives me a bright smile of relief. Maybe instead of thinking “she’ll be dead soon, so be nice now,” I will try pulling the curtain back on my anger to encourage the more delicate, shy feelings to step forward out of my past. If that clears the way for some “great beauty” moments, it’s worth it. I’m betting those will nourish us both.

What’s a grown child to do? Whether you’re experiencing mild annoyance or gigantic resentment, current back-burnering or past sadness in disguise, here are Dr. Gretchen’s steps for moving yourself forward:

Start a conversation in public “No shame in acknowledging the feelings. Like with this article. Also, have individual conversations with people who are in the same position, quite possibly any of your similarly aged friends. You will soon find an abundance of similar feelings.”

Seek out regular support  “Friends first, then therapy, and perhaps some sort of online support group (because when you’re busy caregiving, you don’t have a lot of time to get out to a meeting).”

Set boundaries I’d already set my own Mom boundaries: roughly two half-days a week for FaceTime, and the inevitable emails, phone calls, and administrative work on top of that. (My two siblings handle plenty of other matters.) I’m continually trying to clue in the team of helpers and random friends and neighbors to the fact that I have a day job, because they seem to assume that I can just drop everything. Dr. Gretchen says: “Boundaries are everything. Enlist friends or neighbors to check in on the parent while you’re at work… Sign up for a meal-delivery service for them… And take time out for what feels like self-care for you.”

Meditate  “Self-care isn’t just about the spas-and-bubble baths type of thing that populates the media. Meditate — now! Download the free Insight Timer Meditation app and pick something. Don’t tell me you don’t have time! One of my favorite meditations is less than two minutes long. Have compassion for yourself and the complexity of feelings you have surrounding this person’s process of aging and dying. Deal with your anger; you don’t want to carry that forward with you past your parent’s death if you don’t have to.”

A note about Anonymous: I only have about ten friends, but if one of them saw my name attached to this, and chose to pass it along to Mom, well, I’d be left with nine friends and a needlessly hurt mother. It’s compassion more than shame, I’m fairly certain, that has led me to write anonymously here. While my mother has a remarkable new capacity for openness and honesty as she approaches the edge of the cliff and looks backward to take stock, I see no reason to drag her through the parts of our shared past that would only ignite her sense of failure.

  1. Deborah Burns

    Assignment: Read two books … Motherland by the great Elissa Altman and Saturday’s Child, by … me! Both these stories speak to this theme in different ways and, unexpectedly, seem to be helping readers. All best, Deborah

  2. Christina Reale

    Thank you! So well written and accurate for our generation. Any advice on online groups to join?

  3. Katie

    EVERYTHING in this is me, and the revelation about her mother telling that her needs didn’t count being the basis for her feelings blew my mind- spot on. Wow.

  4. Anon. 2

    Thank you for this! Such a relief when I read again and again that I am not the only “perfect” daughter that has had her cover blown by feelings of anger toward aging mother.

  5. W

    Thank you so much for this essay. I relate so powerfully to the upsurge of blind anger. My mother controlled and manipulated me as a child as if I was clay for her to mould into a device that would make up for her unrealized self. I parented her emotionally from a very early age and had to, later in life, learn – very deliberately – that my existence was not meant to be shaped by the needs of others.

    Now that she is 80 and her husband, my stepfather, has dementia, the old pattern of me being her bottomless emotional and physical resource has returned. I am an only child in my late 50s. I have no children of my own and I live on a very low income. I have no pension coming when I reach retirement age. All of the stress of carrying them as well as the fear that I will not be able to care for myself now and in the future (if my 2005 Toyota breaks down, I can’t afford to fix it, for example), leaves me triggered into searing resentment every time my mother repeats the same story that she told me yesterday and the day before, each time as if I have never heard it, as I am trying to get back to my pay-per-service work.

    Anyway, reading this blog post has helped me feel less guilty about my resentment. I am still trying to figure out some practical strategies to get through this period of my life and still have some health and energy left when it is finally over.

  6. Rosa

    Thank you so much for sharing! I feel exactly the same way (extreme anger, resentment and sadness for the time my 95-year-old and disabled mother steals from me; time I could be spending with my 10-year-old daughter and my husband. My mother live with us so every single day of my life, for the last 2 years and 3 months, start with me taking care of her. I have amazing help (caregivers who have become friends) and lucky to have a full time job who keeps me away from my mother, but having her in my house means I don’t have a place to come and simply relax with my family. I’m so angry and I hate her so much that I don’t even feel guilty about these feelings anymore! I wish I knew how much longer I will have to do this. Knowing for sure when the nightmare will be over would help me go through it. But there’s no way to know. I feel I’m in hell. I feel my free will has been taken away from me. God help me!

  7. m

    So glad I found this article and totally appreciate all the comments. It feels good to know I am not alone. I feel like I raised my mother and I missed out on a “normal” childhood. My mom struggles with a plethora of mental health issues including depression and anxiety and possible bi-polar disorder.
    I literally have PTSD because of her anxiety attacks and her own PTSD. She had horrible nightmares when I was a child and she would wake up screaming, often times she would experience paranoia as well and be convinced someone was in our hour or outside and she would call the police and they would walk through our house at 3 a.m. with flashlights and check all the closets.
    Anyway, she moved in with us 5 years ago and I feel like it was the worse decision of my life and feel trapped. To confusing to try and write about here….but ever since she moved in with me I have slowly felt like I am dying. I allow her to suck the life out of me.

  8. Deborah P Higgins

    God Bless You !!! I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life caring for Senior Citizens and People with Memory Issues and Society doesn’t give a
    DAMN! I’m an Administrator of an Assisted Living Community of 150 People and all day all I hear are complaints! No Complements! Just Fucking Complaints! Food is to Saltly !, Why can’t I have 6 pieces of bacon at breakfast? My Kids are stealing from me! The staff didn’t knock on my door before entering! A caregiver stole my pull up! Why can’t we go to Walmart during the Corona Virus? Why did you sit her with me at my dinner table? Please tell my mother Happy Birthday ! on her 100 Birthday I can’t talk to her I’m busy please tell her I love her! I’m going to call State because you served Peanut butter cookies instead of Oatmeal cookies !!!!

    Please note I have spent my last 15 years helping Senior Citizens, I’m Advocate for them! I go to court for them! I shop for them when their family abandoning them! I spend my own $$$$ Money Clothing them even buying Medication for them! AND MOST IMPORTANT WHEN I FIND OUT THAT they’re ACTIVELY PASSING I SIT IN THEIR ROOM UNTIL THE END COMFORTING! STROKING THEIR HAIR, GIVING THEM APPLE SAUCE!, SINGING TO THEM! MESSAGING THEIR HANDS! AND WHAT TO I GET IN THE END NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!NO THANK YOU FOR THE FAMILY ONLY THIS ” HEY CAN WE DUMP MOM’S OR DAD FURNITURE HERE!

  9. Gillian

    Thank you so much, what a perfectly timed find to read. I’m so angry..I’ve opened up and said things but I don’t regret any of it. Now I’m left to pick up the peices and move forward.

  10. Bev

    Thank you so much. My brother just flew back home.
    He gives me a break twice a year. I feel like I have just been plunged back into the abyss. What a relief to know I am not alone. Thank you for some help and direction. Despite the rage I love her dearly. I so don’t want to fail at this. There are times when it seems as if it would be easier to “go”first. This is the first article that addresses the real misery the anger causes everyone involved. If you are a caregiver, that had to stumble through your own childhood/adolescence, while no one could muster any energy or interest, then this is finally, a helpful read. Bless you writer.

  11. Kate

    Very poignant. It hit all the feels. So much internal rage, resentment, and the weight that I will endlessly be trapped in this reality of obligation to support her over my own needs, wants and desires of living my own life.

    • lesley

      That was our point Kate. Everyone is feeling the same thing but everyone is too ashamed to discuss it. Thanks for the comment.

  12. daughter

    I could have written this, minus the help from siblings as my only one lives abroad so conveniently can’t do anything (including being unable to even phone our mother for a chat). I care for my mother 8 hours a day>Every single day. To the detriment of my own teenage daughter. And as my mother gets more dependent, forgetful, negative and demanding, my rage just grows and grows. There is tony bit of consolation to know that I am not alone in dealing with such feelings.

  13. Sadya

    I don’t like my parents but I love them for giving me a stable peaceful home. Too peaceful and too stable, at the cost of ones sanity. They overprotected us and then threw us out into a world so different from what we grew up in, to the point we now can’t function normally. I can’t stand my mom, she has totally negative vibes and is a religious nutcase. My parents raised failures , and I’m one of them. Not looking forward to taking care of them in their now old age.

  14. Fiona

    Omg-Ithought it was just me!! I thought I was an awful person. I don’t like my Mum,she can be very demanding,self centred and cruel . I have three siblings but she lives nearest me and I dread needing to care for her. The others won’t. I constantly feel like a fourteen year old rushing to do her bidding. But I feel so very guilty . I’m 52 and still daren’t tell her I have a tattoo!!

  15. L

    This article expresses so much honesty about the obligation to care for an uncaring parent. It really resonated because that white-hot anger bubbles just beneath the surface every hour of every day.
    I’m an only child caregiver to my single mother. She lives with my family because she never made any financial or long term plan for herself. I moved years earlier across the country so I could become whole and put distance between us. She has no real friends and she doesn’t care to make any. She is passive-aggressive, incredibly tactless and she tried to live her existence through me. I finally had my own family and I had counseling for years to become who I wanted to be. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, almost died several times, only to bounce right back. However, I had to fly home to care for her and leave my family several times because there isn’t anyone else.
    I finally made the single biggest mistake that I regret every day of my life in bringing her to live with us. It is miserable. She is functional enough to retain some independence but she has no friends. She sits all day in her room and complains about literally everything any of us do. She points out everything, every tiny thing that we do wrong and is never, ever wrong. I had to stop having my craft group friends over because she would make fun of them or say horribly offensive things to them. My teenage sons have just ignored her because she isn’t kind to them. My husband doesn’t tolerate any of her bs. And I’m left feeling angry at myself for bringing her here. Angry because she can’t afford her own place. Angry because there isn’t another option. It’s like being backed into a corner.
    To say that I hate your mother or feel resentful and angry usually makes me look heartless and cruel. Her church “friends” call her but they don’t want to spend time with her. But she outlived her prognosis and she continues to get chemo even though eventually she will be out of options. But that day never seems to arrive, even though I selfishly wish for it and then feel horror at my very ugly feelings.
    Whoever this author is, I am grateful for her honest account and I wish I could have a cup of coffee and hear more. Thank you for choosing to post this.

  16. Brenda Snell

    My mom has dementia. I’m exhausted and my brothers (who live in distant cities) don’t get it at all. I am just done. I am so much better at expression, but today, as stated, I am done. I’m just becoming a horrible person and I feel like I don’t care. When the day comes, I don’t even want to deal with the funeral or even go. I just don’t care. Oh, and let’s just heap COVID on top of all this bullshit, shall we? Thank you for this post. It helps me realize that I am not alone. SIGH….

  17. Bbb

    These comments are a lifesaver for me tonight! It’s so refreshing to hear I’m not alone! I go to support groups because my mother has dementia and I sit there as everyone is sad and upset about there parents decline.,as I am saying to myself I wish she didn’t remember me!!!! She had turned into someone I can’t stand. Worse she thinks nothings wrong with her. She’s embarrassing ,rude ,unkept , demanding…it’s awful! I never had any children by choice now I have a 82 year old one. Oh and she lives in a memory care facility which is comforting she can’t burn down her home but has a phone and pushed one bottom to call me with demands…..with therapy I know now alot of my boiling anger comes from the past….she wasn’t a good mother never taking care of my sister or me and now I’m expected or stuck taking care of her! May add because she has outlived her past 5 husbands,! God I feel better bitching!

  18. paul neri

    Anon you’re doing a terrific job (two half days a week!). I don’t think most people realise what’s in store for them. They think that when the kids are off their hands they can enjoy retirement little realising that they could have an elderly parent wanting, if not demanding, to be the centrepiece of their lives. Even if it’s a cherished parent, they can be a huge imposition. We are living too long.

  19. RRussell

    I came across this site after googling “ resenting having to take care of my mean Mother”. I feel like I have had to take care of her my entire life. When I was younger, she was depressed all the time and was so wrapped up in herself, she hardly noticed she had three kids.
    Now that she is 84 and I’m 56, I’m still trying so hard to make her happy. Intellectually, I know I am wasting time, money and energy, but I still find myself trying to cook for her exactly like she thinks I should cook, dropping everything and running to the pharmacy because she MUST have her medication tonight, but the store closes in 15 minutes. I’m never told in advance about a doctor’s appointment so I can make plans to be off work, no one I find who can sit with her or run errands or clean for her is good enough. She always runs them off or refuses to answer the phone or door for them. I know it is just manipulation so that I will be the one who does everything for her because I do everything like she likes it.
    Don’t even get me started on my brother who visits her 3-4 times a year but lives only 20 minutes away and has cut her grass ONE time in the FOUR years she has lived in the house next to me. I have a sister who tries to help but she has enough problems of her own and lives an hour away- but my Mom stays mad at her all the time for some stupid nitpicking reason, which leaves me alone to look after her and run myself in the ground for her. My Mom has has zero friends. No social support. Won’t speak to her other sisters – because of some silly reason or other that happened 20 years ago. Just me. I’m her entire life support and she is perfectly happy with it being that way.
    I made a personal choice to not have children of my own, but here I am with an 84 year old child who insists on telling me what to do! She got mad at me the other day because I suggested she see another doctor because every doctor she sees is “the devil” and hung up on me when I tried to call her to tell her that her groceries would be delivered. (The one thing I stopped doing for her was grocery shopping because I was constantly panicking in the stores if they didn’t have EXACTLY what she wanted me to buy because I knew I would get hell for not buying the right thing- even though I was freaking paying for it!) now I have her groceries delivered but still hear constant complaints about the people who buy and deliver the groceries for her.
    I could go on and on. Really just need to vent. I’m sure tomorrow, I will cook for her and bring her food, take out her garbage, run her errands, etc. and I will just bite my tongue while she complains and gripes about everything in her tiny little sell centered world. And I will figure out how to calm myself down from the anger and anxiety until next time.

    I can’t imagine what it is like to get old and have to depend on other. I’m sure it is very hard, but as God is my witness, I will NOT be a selfish, mean and manipulative old person to those who come around me. Life is too short to bring such misery to others!

    • lesley

      We’re glad this piece hit a nerve. Many women are asked to do this impossible task. Thank you for your comment. And hang in there.

  20. Becky

    I was so glad to find this article! I am at the end of my rope with being the sole caregiver of my 90 year old mother. I have caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue from the overwhelming litany of ailments. Her health has declined over the last 5-6 years and I am it! I live with her, which means there is no relief until I leave for my full time job on the days I work. My saving grace was Monday mornings – until COVID – then my weekends turned into 2 1/2 months. I am so resentful as I can’t go to visit my sons, who both live away. It’s just SO consuming. When I work, I have a lady come in to take care of her, because things are really slipping and she should not be alone. She is so stubborn and continues to do things that her doctor and I advise her not to do. Falls on deaf ears. Just so very emotionally frustrating and draining. So good to hear that my feelings are felt by others who are in the same position. Thank you for letting me vent.

    • lesley

      Becky: you are not alone! Many of us are left to deal with this. You mention Mondays might be free. You might want to check out our free Positive Mornings coaching calls which go on Mondays 9-10 Am EST. Really gets you set for the week and helps you meet a group of intelligent people dealing with similar issues. You can find sign up here:

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