DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: My dad left when our mom was diagnosed with clinical depression and social anxiety. He could not hack taking care of her. When he left, I was 12, my brother was 7, and our sister was 5. It put even more strain on my mom, and I started being the one taking care of her and the rest of the family during her really bad times.
After they finished school, both my brother and sister left the area to start new jobs, and now my brother has a baby and my sister is engaged and doing really well in her career. Neither of them has any plans to come back to our part of the country.
Lately, Mom’s mental illness has gotten worse. She sees a therapist and takes meds, but going to see the therapist and occasionally trips to the supermarket are about the only times she leaves the house, at least alone. When I am with her, I can get her out more to more different places, including having meals with my family, which includes her oldest grandchildren.
I have gotten used to taking care of Mom, but because I worry about her all the time, it is hard for me to do more in my own life, like take vacations with my husband and our kids. Even before the pandemic, we rarely left town for more than a week.
I have told my brother and sister that my family needs a break from watching over Mom. Neither of them has offered to come and stay with her for even a few days so we can get away. Even when they do come to town for their rare visits, they only drop in on Mom and me and spend the rest of their time catching up with friends.
I am okay with being mom’s caregiver, but doesn’t it seem that her other children should pitch in, even a little bit? --- NEED A BREAK
DEAR NEED A BREAK: Every caregiver does indeed need a respite from that critical job, both mentally and physically.
Perhaps it’s time to be completely up-front with your brother and sister, and make it unmistakably clear that you and your family are being seriously stretched by never having a real break.
If they’re still unable or unwilling to cover for you so you can have a vacation with your family, perhaps you should ask your mother if there’s anyone else in the area who she would feel comfortable having check in with her while you’re not in town. If she thinks there may be someone she’d be alright with, this becomes a topic to discuss with her therapist in order to get professional guidance on how to reintroduce people into her life.
You’ve been shouldering the brunt of your mother’s care for so long, you’re possibly missing potential help closer at hand than your distant siblings. Old friends of your mom’s or yours, who your mom knows, might be an option to explore, not just so you could occasionally get out of town, but for support on a more ongoing basis.