Family issues (advice)

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Family issues (advice)

Post by Andrew Corvero on Thu Oct 08, 2015 1:49 pm

So here's a problem I have, and I might use some advice.

What has happened: My grandmother is 85 years old. She's been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for the last three years and she recently broke her leg and had to be hospitalized for a few days. My mother didn't take this well. Even though this time I was able to help her (financially and otherwise) and luckily my grandmother eventually recovered to deal with this problem she's terrified by the idea of the death of her mother (my grandma).

Seeing what my grandmother is going through was a huge shock for my mother. The combination of her disease and some other health complications stemming from the operation had their huge toll on my grandmother's health. At times I and my mother were seriously afraid that she wouldn't make it, and my mother seemed about to break down at this idea.

My mother has had a lot to deal with in her life: my father's cheated and humiliated her, her father died when she was very young and her brother died a few years ago after struggling with AIDS for years. Needless to say all of this has affected her, and sadly it also has led run to lash out at my sisters at times.

Two of my sisters have a very strained relationship with her (one of them refuses to interact with her). My youngest sister still lives with my mother and they have a pretty tense relationship. They all have their reasons and I can't blame them for having a hard time dealing with my mother because she's not an easy person to deal with, especially when she's stressed. However sometimes I think my sisters could be a little more empathetic to her, considering what she's been through (even though it's not easy, so again, I don't blame them).

Truth to be told my mother can be very intrusive and demanding. She hates my elder sister's SO and my middle sister' lifestyle and told them many times that she wants them to change. She also gets angry at them for many reasons and lashes out in many irrational ways. However she's doing that because she's worried about my sisters' well-being, since she's convinced that that they're suffering because of their choices.

I'm not writing this to justify what my mother is saying and thinking. I don't think that my sisters are suffering and anyway they're both adults who deserve to make their own choices and can't simply be expected to do what my mother wants. However while I don't agree with my mother's authoritarian and sometimes irrational attitude I can see why she's come to think that everyone in her life is suffering or going to die soon and that she has to save them at any cost.

I've noticed that my mother frequently looks like she's on the verge of a mental breakdown, and I really can't blame her. I'm helping her as much as I can, but I'm afraid that when my grandmother is going to pass away it will be too much for her. Hopefully my grandma will live for many other years, but sadly I can't know that. And I really don't know what would happen to my mother if my grandmother died.

My mother, for all her flaws. wants to reconcile with my sisters, and I think that she will soon need their support (and mine too). I want to get my family to stick together and get past our differences. However I sometimes get the feeling that both my mother and my sisters want me to be on their "side".

I really don't want to be on anyone's "side". I want everyone in my family to try and understand each other, to sort out our issues, to support each other when we need it. What I'm asking is: should I try to help her and my sisters to mend their relationship? If yes, how?

I've already proposed some family therapy to my mother and my sisters but my mother doesn't seem to like this idea too much.

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Re: Family issues (advice)

Post by Dan_Brodribb on Thu Oct 08, 2015 2:36 pm

Geez, I'm sorry to hear that. About your grandmother specifically, and about the situation in general.

That's a lot for anyone to deal with.

Andrew Corvero wrote:
I really don't want to be on anyone's "side". I want everyone in my family to try and understand each other, to sort out our issues, to support each other when we need it. What I'm asking is: should I try to help her and my sisters to mend their relationship? If yes, how?

I guess I would start be asking questions. How much of this is in your power to accomplish? How responsible are you for how your mother and sisters choose to conduct their relationships?

You didn't talk much about how this is affecting you and I'm curious about that: How has all of this impacted you? What do you feel the expectations there are of you (either from your mothers, siblings, etc. or from yourself) in this situation? What do you think the consequences will be for you if this doesn't get 'fixed?' What do you see as the worst and best case scenarios that could result from any actions you might take?

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Re: Family issues (advice)

Post by Andrew Corvero on Thu Oct 08, 2015 5:39 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:Geez, I'm sorry to hear that. About your grandmother specifically, and about the situation in general.
That's a lot for anyone to deal with.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

I guess I would start be asking questions. How much of this is in your power to accomplish? How responsible are you for how your mother and sisters choose to conduct their relationships?

I guess that in both cases the answer is "not much". I can tell them what I think and try to explain them what the others told me in a diplomatic way. Ultimately, though, I can't change their minds and I don't want to force them to do anything. I'd just like them to talk without getting mad at each other.

You didn't talk much about how this is affecting you and I'm curious about that: How has all of this impacted you? What do you feel the expectations there are of you (either from your mothers, siblings, etc. or from yourself) in this situation? What do you think the consequences will be for you if this doesn't get 'fixed?' What do you see as the worst and best case scenarios that could result from any actions you might take?

I'm just really worried about what could happen if my mother needed help, especially since a) I'm not always around and b) my younger sister still lives with her and she would need help, too. I'm afraid that while my sisters will surely at least try to help my mother they'd end up lashing out at each other and eventually things would get even worse.

I guess I expect a lot from myself, because I'd really much like to "fix" my family issues and I feel guilty that I can't do more. I also noticed that both my sisters and my mother would like me to "take a stand" and side with them. Usually they don't do this directly but they complain to me about how awful my mother (or my sisters) are.  

That's a huge source of stress for me and I've told all of them that they should talk to each other, not complain to me and expect me to agree with them, because I don't want to pick sides. I've come to realize that if they ended up fighting they'd all expect me to support them, and I wouldn't be able to do it.

The best case scenario, in case I actually get them to sit down and have a chat, is that they at least agree to a "truce" of sorts in order to help each other in the time of need, even if they have issues. The worst case scenario is that my mother and my younger sister need support but I can't do it on my own and my sisters won't help me. I also think that my mother would get even worse if she realized that her daughters weren't going to help her.

She told me that her biggest fear is to be abandoned by the people she loves and I have no idea how she would cope if she needed help and her daughters weren't there to help her.

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Re: Family issues (advice)

Post by bomaye on Thu Oct 08, 2015 5:45 pm

If it's ultimately un-fixable, it's not your fault.

There needs to be a little bit of humbling on both sides, especially from your mother if she wants to get back in touch with your sisters. She'll have to control her tendencies and likewise your sisters will have to control their tendencies to go back at her.
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Re: Family issues (advice)

Post by eselle28 on Thu Oct 08, 2015 6:00 pm

I think it might be best for you to abandon the idealistic here and focus on the possible. Asking someone who doesn't want a closer relationship with your mother to be to her isn't likely to do anything unless the sister in question already wants that. But...here are some other approaches to the question of how to handle all this, some of which might work for you and some which might not:

1. Are there any resources, either current or future, that could help your mother besides immediate family support? Does she have friends or extended family? Might, in the future, some sort of counseling be helpful? Would your sisters be up for considering helping secure these sorts of support if it didn't mean additional contact with your mother?

2. How do your sisters get along with each other - especially the older two with the youngest? Perhaps they might not be able to help directly, but could help support her. Of course, sometimes relationships between siblings are difficult, but they are also sometimes less tense than parental ones.

3. Can any of your sisters help support you? It sounds like you might be the center point who gets along well with most family members? If so, some might be self aware enoug to recognize that it's hard to have that role and be willing to support you when you need it.

4. Do you have anyone outside the family who can support you? Does your youngest sister have anyone like that? Sometimes, if you can't have everyone in the family align for the same purpose, you can at least make sure you have someone to lean on, even if it isn't a relative.
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Re: Family issues (advice)

Post by Enail on Thu Oct 08, 2015 6:14 pm

That sounds like a rough situation, many sympathies and good wishes for your grandmother and the rest of your family. I second Bomaye that it's not your fault if it can't be fixed, and ultimately, it's not you who can do the fixing (as you know already, but it sounds like you could use an extra reminder or two).

I think one big thing you could do would be to think about ways you are and aren't willing to support them if they're fighting, and set firm boundaries about that. Be repetitive if you need to: "that sounds like something you should talk about with Sister, Mom." "that must be very stressful, but it's something you and Sister need to work out." "Since I care about both of you, I'm not comfortable being your sounding board on this."

I realize that sounds more like something for your benefit than to help them, but if they are talking to you about it so much, they're using up your 'helping family' energy on something where you can't actually be much help. It will be better for your relationship with them and better for them if you protect your own emotional reserves from this kind of drain.

Another thing, since you think your sisters would be willing to try to help, to have a talk with all your sisters about the practical side of the situation in terms of supporting your mom, and try to find a plan to share out some responsibilities in advance so that the sisters with the more strained relationships take on more of the less interpersonally fraught tasks (bringing food, making phone calls, other practical things, as well as being an emotional support for those of you who will be handling more of the emotional support for your mom, if that's realistic to your relationships with each other), thus taking more off the plate of those who are going to be spending the most time being there for your mom.

It sounds like your mom might be asking you for advice on the situation with the sisters? Or at least be opening the door to it? If so, maybe once,you could gently remind her that she has raised them to be adults who can make their own decisions in life, and that it might help things if she could give them more trust that they can handle their own lives, as she raised them to. But I think it's important not to let yourself get sucked into an ongoing advice-and-venting role, so after the first time, it'd probably be better to just say she knows what you think, and it's something she and sister need to work out themselves.

If you haven't, you might want to check out some of the Captain Awkward archives under the family tag; she's got a lot of advice on disengaging with family conflicts.
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