Taking care of Mom

One my Facebook contacts posted this Atlantic link today and it made me think about everything sister and I are doing to take care of Mom.

At 75, Mom now has a lot of health issues (diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension, among others) but the one condition that truly concerns us is her dementia. Because her short term memory is not very good she can’t remember to take her medications, refill prescriptions, and keep track of healthcare appointments.

The neurologist she’s been seeing has said there isn’t much that can be done about the dementia, although she did have Mom try some medications to halt its progression. Neither one agreed with her. One caused severe nausea, and the other made her “spaced out” according to stepfather, so it was stopped, too.

Mom’s husband is functionally illiterate. He runs a small business with the help of his son, and it is their main source of income. His business is offsite, so he has to leave their house at least five days a week to keep things running.

Stepfather told sister and I he could not deal with Mom by himself, so we stepped in to help. Sister and I had to deal with the following problems for my Mom.

  • Stepfather can’t keep up with her prescriptions, either, because he can’t read the bottles.
  • Stepfather admitted he can’t understand what Mom’s health care professionals tell him.
  • The income from stepfather’s business is keeping them ahead of their bill payments, but not by much. In past years he would routinely use credit card cash advances and home equity to get capital, and he is likely still doing that.
  • Mom’s social security income is minimal; she didn’t have a lot contributed to start with, plus she took an early distribution at 62.
  • About 10 years ago they moved to a rural property in the far corner of their county because stepfather wanted to move. Mom moved far away from her friends and social network, and since they are more remote she wasn’t able to build new ones. Social services are very scarce in their area.

Between the two of us, sister and I organized Mom’s meds and health care records. Now that doctor’s offices have to provide patient portals online, it’s easier for us to keep track of her appointments, medication changes, and tests, too. Sister and I also share notes and information through a shared Evernote notebook.

We did some research and found a private day program at a senior care community 10 miles from her house. Mom loves it, and she gets social interaction, meals and snacks, and also medication supervision while she’s there. We also researched transportation options, since Mom can no longer drive herself anywhere.

For the past six months my budget has included an average of $300 a month for “Mom care,” which is my half of the expense to send Mom to the senior day program twice a week. Yes, I said “half” the expense, since sister and I are splitting this expense between the two of us. Stepfather — her husband — doesn’t seem able to help out with this expense at all. Honestly, neither sister nor I have asked him to kick in any money, although I have thought about it and mentioned it to sister.

I know that sister thinks I would be an ungrateful child if I didn’t continue to kick in 50% of the cost of this senior day care for Mom. Maybe I am being ungrateful, but I think about how that money could go to my savings for buying a house, taking a vacation, or getting back into horseback riding. I don’t think that’s horrible or selfish, either. Mom is married, after all, and it would seem to make sense to me that her husband pay something towards her expenses.

And if you don’t read that Atlantic article in full, at least reflect on the title: The Crisis Facing America’s Working Daughters. Not sons, daughters. ‘Cause women are always expected to step up and do the care-taking in families. We’re supposed to set aside personal ambitions and desires so we can nurture children and elderly relatives, no matter what. Stepfather said “You girls need to help your Ma,” and that’s how this all started.

I’m not trying to make this a rant against stepfather. Nor am I trying to rant against sister, who turned to stone when I mentioned to her a few weeks ago that I may just need to stop kicking in so much money every month so I can save a bit more towards my personal goals.

There’s no question that sister is on the hook for more direct care of Mom these days since I now live 2,000+ miles away. Sister takes time off work to shuttle Mom to healthcare appointments most of the time. Having someone who can ask questions and advocate for Mom with her healthcare professionals is critical for her care, and stepfather made it clear he could not do so.

It just really, really sucks that as women we are expected to compromise our lives, to our potential detriment.

This is why I save so diligently in my retirement accounts. This is why I have Long Term Care Insurance. This is why I am trying to put together enough money to buy a little cottage where I can live until I’m carried out feet first.

I’m not going to rely on anyone else. I can’t.

10 thoughts on “Taking care of Mom

  1. Please forgive me for saying this, but watching my MIL in your sister’s situation, your sister’s sanity is more important than buying a house in Napa/vacation/horseback riding. What she’s doing is worth more than $300/mo (especially if she’s also paying her own $300/mo). It sucks that your stepfather is incompetent, but with everything falling on your sister, don’t add more to her stress.


    • I’ve heard similar stuff from a friend who didn’t want to put her thoughts in a comment. The thing is, sister will move away from that in a heartbeat. Then stepfather will need to deal with all the details.

      This all may sound heartless, but the fact is that neither of my parents instill warm, fuzzy feelings. Yes, I was birthed and raised by mom and have had a successful life so far. But, well, she also manipulated and schemed and messed with our heads a lot. It’s a constant struggle to not just ignore her and my father. The money part isn’t the biggest issue at all.


  2. I think it horribly sucks that women are the ones expected to take care of our parents, not men. Though, I forget, is it just you and your sister?

    I can empathize on both sides of the aisle. You do deserve to be saving more toward your own life, you know that you can’t expect someone else to take care of you down the road. And it is important to make sure to preserve yourself. I have and continue to fight similar pulls of priority.

    At the same time, your sister, by virtue of proximity, is paying a human price over and above her half of the cost if she’s the primary taking your mom to appointments and being the brains of that operation there.

    As much as supporting your mom’s expenses, I suspect that $300 is also viewed a tangible way of showing your sister that you’re supporting her. That you’re there with her in spirit, even if not in person. For me, that’s what it would mean, anyway. Of course I don’t know what her circumstances are – she may have a great financial foundation and not even need your contribution, so she may feel totally differently.

    If anything, not knowing much more than you’ve mentioned here, I’d encourage you to get your stepfather to contribute since that is his role as much as yours (both of you as kids), as part of the family, before withdrawing any part of your money half.

    A family member recently recognized that human cost in a huge way that I truly admired. Their brother and SIL were doing all the hands on labor for their mother’s home while she was taken ill and the rest of the family was pitching in on weekends when they could get into town, but that wasn’t often enough to make a significant different to the brother and SIL’s lives. She quietly passed them a big check, over and above her portion of splitting the costs, saying “The work you two are doing, that we can’t do, is very much appreciated and I know this can’t cover it, but I want you to KNOW that it’s noticed and appreciated.” And that was just an amazing gesture of acknowledgement of the work we (primarily women) do when we’re the ones at Ground Zero.


    • Sister was here last weekend and we had a nice visit. She is ready to move as soon as her soon-to-be husband gets a job here and she wraps up some final details. I asked her who would be the one running mom to the doctor when she moves away and she just shrugged and said someone else would have to do it.

      So, yeah, she’s doing a lot now, but not indefinitely.


      • Ah, that information puts a different light on things, I didn’t realize that she wasn’t there indefinitely. I think it’s very much your stepdad’s responsibility first to take care of your mom’s immediate needs in some way :/


        • The question is, though, is he even capable of doing so? From what Linda says, the guy doesn’t have the world’s greatest resources: barely literate, still working into his 70s, and living in a rural area (i.e., an area with limited social and medical resources).


  3. Can she manipulate a computer at all? Can he? If either one of them can, possibly you can set up Google Mail to send daily reminders for her: Take blue pill this morning! Take pink pill before bed. Remember to take a shower. Brush teeth! You or Sister might be able to get Google to forward its notices to their phone or email.

    I’m not that far gone yet, but at 70 I forget the dammdest things. So I’ve set iCal to send reminders of all the little chores and events I need to think about. This has helped a great deal: I no longer miss activities and appointments out of sheer forgetfulness. Also, at Amazon you can get a key-finder gadget that helps to locate misplaced keys — a godsend. This comes with a set of four beepers, so you could in theory attach them to a number of objects an elderly person tends to “lose” in the house, such as phones.

    As for the support issue… Well, one of America’s less attractive cultural features is that we feel an adult child has no responsibility to support an aging parent. As a practical matter, whatever assistance we give our parents, whether it’s monetary, emotional, or physical care, is given out of the goodness of our hearts, not out of a sense of obligation. Thus in fact you are not obliged to support them in your old age.

    Whatever resentment your sister feels is reasonable, from her point of view, if in fact she is doing the heavy lifting involved in their care. Siblings often feel that if Sister A is taking on the onerous job of caring for a senile parent, Sister B and Brother C should be chipping in financially. But that feeling is subjective. Subjectively, in return you might feel guilty; but objectively you should not feel obliged. There’s a difference: you are not obliged to care for your parents.

    By the way, have you and Sister checked with the state’s area agency on aging? They often can point you toward resources you never thought about. Also, it’s possible that, if they’re barely paying their bills, they may be eligible for monetary support or food stamps, or they may qualify for rate reductions in utility bills, property taxes, and the like.


  4. Pingback: Slogging along – Windycitygal

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