Ask Amy: How do we get our elderly mom to accept our help?

Dear Amy: My mother raised eight children. She is now in her late-70s, and lives alone.

Recently she received a cancer diagnosis and we have been taking turns getting her to appointments and helping with errands, chores, meals, etc.

We are happy to help, and tell her so.

My problem is that she gets very emotional and constantly apologizes to us, saying variations of: “Children should never have to care for their mother” and stating that she is “a burden” to us.

Constant reassurance from us is not helping.

How can we help her to understand that we want to help, and are happy to do so?

She spent many years caring for her own mother at the end of my grandmother’s life, so I’m not sure if that is part of it or not.


What do you think?

– Feeling Helpless

Dear Helpless: I suspect that your mother’s lengthy experience taking care of her own mother probably is a factor informing her emotional response now.

People seldom talk about this, but for some, caregiving for an elder parent can be a traumatic and ultimately heartbreaking experience.

If that was the case with your mother, her current situation has triggered some very real distress, and – like the loving and concerned mother she is – she is upset by the prospect of any of you having a similar experience.

Your mother has also received a frightening diagnosis. This may have triggered extreme anxiety (who could blame her?!), and the way she is ruminating and resistant to comfort should be a cause for concern for her health care team.

My first suggestion is to make sure that her physicians know about her rumination and anxiety. This might be a cognitive issue exacerbated by lack of sleep, diet, or medications.

For you and your siblings, I suggest that instead of leaping in with quick reassurances, you should make sure to listen and give your mother plenty of space to express herself. You might then say to her, “I know you have a lot to deal with right now, but can you say what you are most worried about in this moment?” She may need to cry and to express some universal and existential worries. Having loved ones able to listen calmly and bear quiet witness might help her.

And yes, you should all do your best to express (through your deeds and words): “Mom, we are honored and happy to be with you, no matter what. You had us, and now we’ve got you.”

• • •

Dear Amy: I am a woman in a relationship with a younger man.

At the beginning of this relationship, he was very into love, sex, romance and sharing everything.

I paid all of our rent and utilities for the first six months, and we were both working.

Well, around three months ago, he changed. No more sex, romance or anything.

I’ve spoken to him about paying his share of our living expenses, and he gets upset immediately.

He says he loves me, but I have trouble believing him.

I feel at times that he is getting a free ride.

He never helps around the house, and doesn’t keep his word.


I’m so tired wondering if he wants a lover or a mother.

I’m hoping you can help me figure this out.

– Wondering

Dear Wondering: I’m glad you turned to me.

Wonder no longer!

Despite your generous attitude, according to your narrative, even in the early days of your relationship, this dude did not actually share everything. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have shared anything. You’ve been paying full freight and carrying the full weight of this relationship.

To clarify, his version of “sharing” is called “taking.”

He doesn’t want a lover; he doesn’t want a mother; he wants an easy mark, and he seems to have found one in you.


You’ll feel much better about yourself and this relationship if you cut your losses and show him the door.

• • •

Dear Amy: “Frustrated in NY” wrote to you about an in-law’s alcoholism.

You really nailed it when you wrote, “Stand down.”

That’s exactly what I have done for the past 50 years with a sibling who is an abusive alcoholic.

By standing down we have no contact and no chances for arguments, hurt feelings and drama. By standing down, sanity can flourish.

– Less Family Pain in MI

Dear Less: People can also sometimes “stand down” without becoming completely estranged. This involves detaching from the drama surrounding this disease and accepting one’s own powerlessness over the addict.

Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated advice column, “Ask Amy,” which is carried in over 150 newspapers and read by an estimated 22 million readers daily. Email