As I write this article, I find myself in a phase of life where I am 61 years old and very suddenly having to supervise care for my mom who just turned 85. This situation is further complicated by the fact that our relationship has not been the most fabulous. She was an active alcoholic for a large part of my life, and I raised myself for the most part.
The feelings that I’m currently immersed in are everything from resentment (because I’ve taken care of her since I was 5 years old) to realizing that I’m doing the right thing to anxiety and worry in general about what the future might hold because there is a limit to what I can or am willing to do in this situation.
But I’m her only child. I’m all she’s got right now.
In my community, Life Balance After 50, I often hear from women who struggle with complicated or toxic relationships in their lives.
These relationships can occur with parents, adult children, spouses, siblings, and friends.
Managing them can be difficult and take a physical and emotional toll on us at this stage of the game. Following are my three top ways to stay healthy and balanced as we move through these situations.
Your friends and family truly want to help, so let them! Cry, vent, or grab someone to join you for a movie or a cup of coffee. I always think my husband is sick of hearing me complain, and then I do again, and he gives me accolades because I’m doing what I’m doing. We should complain! It’s OKAY to complain!
Take people up on their offers to help if it’s something that would be helpful for you. I had a good friend who offered to go with me on a visit to my mom’s, and I loved that idea. If there’s a day I feel l need it, I will definitely ask her to go with me! And I know that she’ll be happy to!
Lean into your people. It’s validating for you as well as physically and emotionally healthy.
We read it and hear it over and over, but many in this community don’t apply it to ourselves and our own situations: If we aren’t taking care of ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy and happy, we are no good to our loved ones or others that we might be caring for!
It is so important to carve out time for ourselves each day to do something that brings us joy and gives us purpose. Whether it’s getting ice cream with a grandchild, curling up with a great book, taking a walk outside, or volunteering, take the time and do it!
I had planned a weekend with my husband, children, and grandchildren at our beach home before all of this happened with my mom. As the date for the weekend came closer, I considered postponing it. After thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and go, and I was so glad I did. I had four days with my husband and two days with all of the kids and grands filled with laughter, ocean, sand, and fun. It was a great respite and one that was well deserved, if I’m being honest.
My going changed nothing of my situation with my mother. But it gave me days of joy, family, and love. It filled my cup.
This can be very difficult to consider, particularly if your toxic relationship is with an adult child. But there are times when it just has to be done. Being afraid of another person is a sure signal. If your relationship with that person is negatively affecting other healthier relationships, that can be a signal, as well.
And, of course, if you are feeling sick, anxious, stressed, not sleeping, or not eating because of the complicated relationship, it may be time to step back and/or set some boundaries.
If I think about cutting off ties with my mom, there’s all kinds of guilt that I feel followed by anger that I feel that way. The emotions and feelings when we think about cutting a relationship out of our lives are often intensely strong.
Although I will likely never cut things off with my mother because she’s 85, and I’m the only person there to take care of her, I will and have started to set boundaries in terms of my time as well as what I’m comfortable or not comfortable doing.
I’ve become more able to say “no” to certain requests without feeling guilt. I have put my behavioral background to use and am actively not attending to things that are said in an effort to rile me up.
Sometimes these tools work and other times they don’t. On the days they don’t, I try to give myself the grace that I need. I take extra breaks or don’t visit that day.
Most importantly, I tell myself that that’s okay. And I mean it!
Do you have a complicated or toxic relationship in your life that you are managing? What are the biggest challenges? What small step can you take today to carve out a bit of time for you?