When Is It Enough?

I love my mother and I have been working on improving our relationship for quite some time now. It’s been hard work, but very rewarding as our relationship has turned into something pretty nice and vastly different from where it was in the past. As she’s getting older I’m very happy that I am able to be there for her. But sometimes I wonder when is what I do for her actually enough? And what part does guilt play when it seems to her that I have fallen short?

My mother seems to want everyone in her life to want to do whatever they do for her. Is that really realistic? How many times do we all do things to help someone else out because they need us to, but not necessarily because we want to. We may want to help them but not actually want to do the things that we do for them. But we do these things because we love and care about them.

Over the past few years especially, since my dad died, I have tried to be there for my mom. Certainly through the big things like pacemaker and cataract eye surgeries, and emergency calls to go to the hospital, but also for smaller things like computer problems, doctor appointments, light bulbs that need changing and even evenings out for dinner and/or a movie. I also call my mom everyday to check on her and make sure she’s ok. In many ways, our roles have reversed.

Recently my mom had some day surgery. It wasn’t major surgery and didn’t require general anesthesia. We were told she would be sleepy, need to take it easy and be a bit sore, but that was it. I had specifically asked the doctor what her recovery would be like from this surgery and if someone (me) should stay with her overnight. He said that it was not medically necessary but he also didn’t want to get involved in any family issues.

Based on this information, I had planned to stay with my mom as long as was necessary after taking her home from the surgical center. Once she seemed ok, I would make sure she was all set, and then head home. After all, I lived just the next town over so I would be available if she needed anything.

Everything seemed fine. I took her early in the a.m. for her appointment, stayed with her through pre-op, waited in the waiting area until she was in recovery, helped her get dressed, took her home, stayed with her to make sure she was ok, took care of getting the prescription she needed, all happily. She seemed groggy but ok. She said she didn’t need anything and was just going to go to sleep.

When I called her a bit later to check on her she seemed upset that I hadn’t stayed with her. I offered to go back if she needed me. But she insisted that I had obviously been in a rush to leave so she wouldn’t ask me to come back. I was not in a rush to leave. She made it sound like I had one foot out the door and was chomping at the bit to get out of there! I was just going by what the doctor had said and had stayed until I was sure she was ok. She said that I obviously didn’t “want” to go back. Isn’t it ok if I didn’t want to? But I would have if she needed me. Is that so bad? She said she’d “manage.” I said that I was only a phone call away and would check up on her throughout the evening to make sure she was ok.

By the end of the phone call, though, I felt horribly guilty that I had left her (even though she seemed fine…tired and worn out but fine), and I ended up feeling like everything I had already done for her was completely erased. I felt like a “bad” daughter and was torn as to what to do. What was enough to be a “good” and caring daughter? Should I have gone back? How much influence should this guilt she placed on me have?

The bottom line is that I spoke to her a few hours later and all was well. But I still continue to feel badly that I “left” my mother. Sigh…

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11 responses on “When Is It Enough?

  1. AvatarPatti

    This could be the story of my life. And some of what I do for my mother, I do because I KNOW my dad would have wanted me to do it. I do more than anyone else in her life, but it still isn’t enough. When my dad died, I stayed with her every night for three weeks – leaving my own teenagers on their own. (Thank GOD they are responsible.) I’ve missed work and juggled to take her wherever she wants/needs to go. And still it isn’t enough.

    I just hope I never do this to my own children. I am so incredibly tired. I’ve always been a high energy person but I’m zapped.

    Barb, I’m sorry you’re going through this but I understand exactly where you are coming from. Just tell yourself that you are definitely doing enough and probably TOO much.

  2. AvatarMel

    From what you wrote, I could only see one “glaring mistake” with which your mother could have possibly run. That mistake was that you did not negotiate what you were willing to do against what your mother expected ahead of the event. The doctor seemed to “sense” that there was an underlying issue, and unfortunately did not take the opportunity to assist in working out “need” versus “want”. That was a missed opportunity not only for you, but also for your mother, as independence seems to have some effect on health and happiness in later years.

    My own mother is what my sisters and I refer to as a psychic vampire as she sucks and sucks and sucks and never gives back. Yet she not only sucks us dry, she demands that we happily and enthusiastically participate in her parasitism. The hardest part for me is that after giving her my college years, my marriage, my home, my wisdom, my relationship with my father, and everything else I had to give, when she deemed it all insufficient, she discarded me for another of my sisters. I had to end the relationship, but still wanted to have a close relationship with one of her sisters. Even with that, I had to “go from one of my aunts to another” until finally I aligned myself with one of my mother’s sisters for whom she doesn’t much care. And then, when I finally had a good relationship foundation started with my aunt, my mother, all of a sudden, discovered that perhaps my aunt was not so bad.

    She reminds me of a toddler who doesn’t want anything until she sees that someone else has it, and then she wants it all. Many years ago there was one issue on which my mother and I were diametrically opposed. I became actively involved on my “side” of the issue, confident that my mother would leave me alone to do my own thing. No such luck. She completely jumped ship and changed her VALUES of all things to be involved in the cause with me. After a while I told her that daughters could do what their mothers are doing, but there is something sick about a mother demanding to be let into her daughter’s club.

    I am saddened that we even have to articulate such rules of progression from parent to child outside of an academic setting.

  3. adminadmin Post author

    Patti, Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It’s certainly difficult as our mothers grow older and need us more and more. I do have to say, though, that I’m happy I can be there for her even when it can prove to be both emotionally and physically challenging. I hope you tell yourself, too, that you are definitely doing enough!

    Mel, You are so right about not discussing my mom’s expectations of me (and even my expectations of myself) ahead of time. That was definitely where this situation went wrong. But we can only try to learn from our mistakes. I would certainly do things differently next time (and there will be a next time, I’m sure). I’m sorry that your own mother is a “psychic vampire.” Not easy to deal with for sure!

  4. AvatarJanet

    I can relate to the guilt and demands! My mother recently told me that she is not going to go in for a much needed surgery because I did not visit her enough when she was hospitalized back in 1995! She acknowledged that I moved mountains at the hospital to get her a room, but did not visit daily, forgetting that I was running her private practice, keeping the business afloat as well as going to weekend graduate school! Not to mention that my dad was there 24/7. She also is not speaking to me now and refuses to babysit my children since she doesn’t like my wonderful boyfriend because he is not interested in getting married, although he wants a long term relationship without the license. P.S. I am not even divorced yet!!! She is sooo controlling and makes me feel so guilty. She told me I am going to hell !
    I am 44, successful in my career and have 2 wonderful boys. She is so meddling. HELP!

  5. AvatarJudy

    Your last sentence really hit a note with me. Your mother had been given “drugs” for her surgery. You stated that a few hours later all was well. Perhaps the drug’s effects had worned off. Please give yourself the gift of forgiveness in this case. I sense it wasn’t really your mother, but the drugs that caused this conflict. It wasn’t personal, though it felt that way for sure. You never “left” her. I feel somethings we take things so personal, when it isn’t us that is the stressor. I hope this helps.

  6. BarbBarb Post author

    Janet, It’s a shame that your mom says such hurtful things and that you end up feeling so guilty when you are obviously doing so much for her. Remind yourself (often) of how much you do for your mom and what a great daughter and mom to your own boys you are. It’s tough for sure. That’s why Laurie and I created this blog and website to begin with. It’s all a work in progress. If you haven’t already, spend some time on http://www.Motherrr.com and read some of the articles and watch some of the videos that may be helpful to you. Also, you might want to read my blog entry on guilt since that is an issue you deal with yourself. Best to you.


  7. BarbBarb Post author

    Judy, Thanks for your words of encouragement. I wish I could blame the situation all on the “drugs.” That would certainly make things so much easier sometimes! In all seriousness, I appreciate the reminder not to take things so personally.


  8. AvatarJanet

    Thanks Barb and Judy! It feels sooo good to have someone (plural!) understand what I feel! My mom has been on meds since the surgery, but, like Barb says, I can’t excuse that. She thrives on guilt and manipulation. I have tried to pull back and honestly am feeling like, at 44, I am, for the first time, even though I am at the top of my career, finally taking some control over my life. I swear, inside, I feel like a teenager. She lives very close to me and spies on me and insists on knowing my every move. I am seriously considering moving. I definitely plan on reading the articles on guilt Barb. Thank you both for your input and advice.

  9. Avatarlisa

    My mother has got to be the spown if just pure evil I am the oldst and only girl and she treats me like crap every time I try all she does is hurt me then she gets my grown boys involed alon with all the other family I even moved and changed my number just to get away from it all hell life should not be like this at 48

  10. BarbBarb Post author

    Lisa, That really stinks! So sorry you have to go through this. Hopefully with the distance you have put between you and this situation, you can find some healing. Best to you.

  11. AvatarJanet

    Things have gone from bad to worse! Now that I am not relying on her as much to care for my kids….she has accused me from keeping them from her- NOT TRUE!! They spent a week on vacation with her, have slept over her house sever times and see her several times a week- she lives on my block!! She had them sleep over also during the week of Sept 1-3 when I had to go to work! She does not approve of my three year relationship with the love of my life because I told her I doubt we will get married–I AM STILL GOING THRU A MESSY DIVORCE! And, she swears that if I “continue” to keep the children from her she will destroy me by ruining my reputation at my job and in the neighborhood and to my children. SHe would hurt my kids if I don’t do what she wants because I am risking my soul. She is nuts. I can’t take much more of this.

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