BEL MOONEY: How can I cope with my rude, grasping parents?

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Dear Bel,

My elderly parents (late 70s) make me so angry I’m not sure I can continue. Despite my parents’ shortcomings in my childhood, I’ve had therapy and embraced my duty towards them in their old age.

I’ve been a good and dutiful daughter: behaved well, achieved goals they expected of me, worked hard and raised my own family. I’ve always been involved in their lives.

But nothing I do is good enough. As they’ve grown older, their rapacious demands on my time, money, attention, and spiritual and emotional resources leave me physically and emotionally exhausted.

My sister lives in America, but we share this issue. Now our father is dying of cancer so makes even more demands for money, legal advice, attention and care.

They’re in a permanent financial crisis we have repeatedly attempted to fix for them but they refuse to seek other help because that’s what my sister and I ‘are there for’.

We are so broken by their lies we hardly care any more. They turn the rest of the family against us.

My mother says she is lonely but I, my cousin, my aunt and my mother’s dear friend all visit her weekly. At least twice a month a family event takes them out of their home and into a social setting. Mother complains she has ‘lost her grandchildren’, but this is entirely her own fault. Now my children are in their 20s, I no longer have the will or power to compel them to visit unpleasant grandparents.

When they were younger, they were expected to treat Granny and Grandpa well. They did and still do. They just prefer not to visit because of all the moaning and criticism. All four grandchildren are nice, decent young people who object to my parents’ behaviour towards their mothers and now themselves.

I’m so tired, I don’t want to go there any more. They lie, fight with each other over money and try to manipulate my sister and me into giving them even more.

Lately, our mother has returned to a theme from our childhood, where if she doesn’t get her way, she threatens to kill herself.

Is it bad that I wish she would stop talking and just get it done?

It could be at least another ten years of this and after my father dies she will be even more dependent on me. The thought fills me with horror and she cannot come and live with me. Am I a horrible daughter? What should I do?

ALEXANDRA

This week, Bel advises someone who struggles to handle her difficult parents 

As is so often the case, it’s worth informing readers that this edited version of your email is less than one third of the whole.

You gave chapter and verse of your entire, very busy routine of service to your parents, as well as details of their unacceptable behaviour, including terrible lies and borrowing £2,000 from your student son who was working two jobs to help him through university.

Thought of the day

And yet people often managed to overcome the things that held them down because they refused to believe that they could not do anything about it, and acted as if they could do something.

From The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Whatever happened in their individual pasts to form their characters, and whatever the negative chemistry between them, it is no surprise that you have reached the limits of your endurance. They do sound awful.

So I don’t consider you to be ‘a horrible daughter’ — just a person tired out by her duty towards selfish, difficult parents and unusually honest about it.

You will not be the first put-upon offspring to reflect bitterly that it would be a merciful release never to see those parents again.

Your letter is a painful reminder that taking care of the elderly (and your parents aren’t even very old) can be a truly thankless, stressful and relentless task. I admit a tendency to sugar-coat such matters (once for self-preservation, maybe), which is why your words provide balance many readers will welcome.

I do have some knowledge of how demanding and angry the old can be, and how desperate it makes you feel — so, believe me, I understand. Your uncut letter makes the point that you have friends enduring ‘similarly toxic relationships’ who have suggested that you cut all contact.

You ask if your only choice is between total estrangement and acceptance. But is there not a middle way? Is it possible to restrict what you do, set boundaries in place, and get outside help?

I realise if you were to find a carer (private or local authority) to visit them twice a week they would scream in protest. But people can’t scream for ever.

You start work at 7.30am, so all the extra activity is taking a major toll on your mental health. Before deciding that this parent-child relationship is so toxic you must leave them to their own devices, I suggest you take a careful look at the rod your sense of duty has created for your own back.

Reading your routines in your longer letter, I’m frankly amazed that you have allowed your parents to dominate your life so much — for example, why ‘bake them their favourite cakes’? Buy the darn cakes! You say you buy and deliver a monthly pile of books. No! Use Amazon and get them sent.

Sometimes it seems easier to let a bad situation continue, rather than making the changes which will temporarily make it worse. But it’s time for you to be firm and even stronger than before, to save your own life.

Should I forgive my pervy husband? 

Dear Bel,

I’m 59 and recently discovered my husband had been sending pictures of his erect penis to random women, getting intimate pictures back.

I don’t know how long it’s been going on. A similar thing happened nine years ago when he joined a dating site for married men.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

As he deletes all messages, texts, emails etc, he must have either been in a rush or left the evidence on purpose for me to find.

He spends a great deal of time, without me, at the local pub and could quite easily meet a woman and I would be non the wiser.

I am not a jealous or possessive person, but I am hurt by his behaviour.

We don’t have sex very often, perhaps once or twice a year. His sex drive is very low or he just doesn’t want sex with me.

I’ve known him since I was 14. We have been together for 20 years, married for 14 years. My friends think I have lost the plot staying with a man who treats me with such little respect, but I believe in my marriage vows and he is a good man and stepfather.

He says he loves me but I irritate him. He’s so withdrawn — no longer interested in family visits (apart from the grandkids). When I go away, he no longer wants to come with me.

When we are together, things are good. He is my best friend and I love him.

My head is telling me the signs say our marriage is dead, but my heart tells me give it a chance. It’s not that I’m afraid of being on my own — I’m virtually on my own anyway — but he does come home, eventually. Should I forgive his behaviour and carry on?

JENNY

Why is it that men believe that sending a snap of their aroused manhood is appealing? It might be to some women, but not to most of us.

I was shown such a picture two years ago by the 39-year-old woman who’d received it and confess to thinking about . . . er, shears. Yuk.

In some ways your sad letter is as bizarre as those pictures. Your husband has hurt you deeply more than once and you admit he treats you ‘with such little respect’. You suspect he might have left the horrible sex pictures for you to find. Cruel. He goes out alone and has ‘withdrawn’ from your family. Yet you describe him as a ‘good man’ and your ‘best friend’ and say that you ‘love him’.

Most readers will, like me, be incredulous. Yet ‘love’ itself is so mysterious we must accept anything is possible.

I suspect you developed a crush on him 35 years ago and have never, in your heart, strayed from that first infatuation, turning you (I’m sorry to say this) into his willing, lifelong victim.

He can behave as he wishes, display no love or loyalty, be unfaithful in word and deed, yet you will always be there, waiting for him to come home. What can I say? The truth is, you don’t really mean your final question, do you?

You have already forgiven his ‘bad behaviour’ and seem locked into carrying on, whatever happens.

Honestly, I admire loyalty and really like it when someone believes that marriage vows (‘for better, for worse’) must be taken seriously.

But what about the vows he made? Your down-at-heel acceptance of his treatment is surely the sign of a woman trying to hide the depth of her unhappiness by writing brave platitudes (‘. . . he does come home, eventually’) to convince herself that she is right to stay.

In one way you are brave, yet that statement poses the question of whether true courage would mean accepting change and making a new start.

The easiest option is to advise you to leave. But I know how hard that is, when you are 59, looking ahead to your 60s and 70s, and hoping that he changes.

In the past I have encouraged women to stand up for themselves by reminding them that we have just one life and so owe it to ourselves to use it well. But would that fall on deaf ears in this case?

All I can do is wish you the strength to cope with what you have already decided to do, and hope your children and friends are always there for support.

 And finally… We don’t have it so bad after all

Last Sunday, I went to our village church for the monthly ‘Family Cafe’ event, which is very informal, child-friendly, welcoming and light-hearted, with breakfast thrown in.

It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I attend once in a while, and when I witness the trouble taken and the enjoyment and listen to the music, I reflect that in a world of stress and trouble, Family Cafe church is all about goodness in action. Believe me, there’s lots of that about — everywhere.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

Names are changed to protect identities. 

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Sitting at a small table at the rear of the church, I glanced down to see I was sitting right on top of the worn grave slab of a married woman (name illegible), who died on May 17, 1721, 301 years ago. It was strange to realise that her skeleton was down there beneath me.

What was she like? The once-ornate carved slab indicated a prosperous family …

Hers was a troublesome time — but aren’t they all? George I was king. Ridiculed as an uncouth German, he had German mistresses and became estranged from his wife, who took her own lover.

Even though Scotland and England had been united by the Treaty of Union, by 1721 the Scots, Welsh and Irish were all causing problems, while conspiracies undermined stability and wars raged in Europe.

So what’s new?

Parliament became more liberal (or ‘Whiggish’), yet it was more or less a one-party state, with elections easily rigged. Few privileged men could vote and hustings were raucous and violent.

A third of children died before 15 and poverty rates were high, with families struggling to pay for bread, and living in abject conditions or in workhouses.

The other day my son, gloomy at the headlines, opined, ‘We’re all finished’ (only his language was more direct). I said that when you grow older you’ve lived though many cycles of problems — and it just takes history and the communing with the long-dead to suggest we don’t have it so bad after all.

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