My Mother Has Issues. Need advice

My Dilemma: My Mother depends on me for financial support that I cannot afford. This is causing stress in my life and putting a strain on my marriage.

My Mom is now 57. She has been struggling since 1985 when my Dad left her for another woman. Throughout their 16 years of marriage, she was addicted to prescription pills and incurred a criminal record for obtaining prescription drugs illegally by lying to pharmacists about her identity and also for shoplifting. My dad was a musician on the weekends and a truck driver during the week. Some would consider him an alcoholic since he drinks beer daily, sometimes putting back a 12 pack in one night (and still does). He cheated on my Mom several times, two of which was with 2 of her sisters. She forgave him and most of the time they got along and had a somewhat normal marriage, or so it seemed.
My Dad had 2 kids from his first marriage that she raised. Their biological mother had nothing to do with them. They had 3 kids together; myself, then my sister Amy who died suddenly at age 2 ½. She had asthma but died of a stress ulcer during a stay at the hospital. After Amy passed away she found out she was pregnant with my other sister Lisa. Lisa was born with a disability of the eyes called nystagmus. She is considered legally blind but can still see enough to function although she can never drive. She did not have a good relationship with my half brother & sister. My brother was always grounded and my sister was made to clean a lot. I was spoiled while they were punished a lot. My brother, who is religious, still calls her Mom and treats her with respect but my sister has nothing to do with her. I believe My Mom has a lot of regret for the way she treated them, but blames a lot of it on the drugs.

My mom comes from a decent, hard working family. Her Dad was a truck driver who owned his homes and cars and her Mother was a house wife. She had 4 bothers and 3 sisters. She had 2 sisters commit suicide by overdosing on prescription pills and 2 brothers commit suicide by breathing in car exhaust fumes. Her Mom died at age 63 of cancer. So during her marriage, she lost a daughter, 4 siblings to suicide and her Mother. Then my Dad left her. A few months later, her Dad died of cancer at age 73. Then another brother died of drug and alcohol abuse. Her only living brother has nothing to do with her. She has attempted to have a relationship with him but that’s the way it is. Her only sister left has been on drugs since she was 16 and they do not speak.

Right after my Dad left, she overdosed and almost died of liver failure. She quit taking pills after that. She started seeing a much younger man named Bob. He was about 12 to 15 years younger than her. He was an alcoholic and was very abusive. He moved in and would beat her up a lot. His ex girlfriend also beat her up and broke her nose. I was about 15 at this time. Once he tried breaking down my bedroom door and was threatening me. I was lucky enough to have a close friend’s family take me in to live with them.

She stayed with him and struggled for the next 15 years often taking physical abuse. She began drinking a lot and smoking dope with Bob. She was on welfare for as long as the law allowed and would also work from time to time. Some of the jobs included a pizza shop and working at an animal clinic but she always ended up quitting or getting fired.

During this time her & Bob got pulled over while they were drinking. He was the driver but my Mom wanted to protect him and swapped seats to take the blame. In her car was a $500 check that was accidentally mailed to her house that belonged to a neighbor. My sister had opened it by mistake, and then it got mixed up with other stuff and ended up in her visor for a few months. She never intended or attempted to cash it. The police charged her with receiving stolen property, probably since she already had a criminal record. She had a court date but no showed and was later arrested. This happened in 1987 and is a felony.

Around 1999, Bob finally left the picture. She started doing better and got a job as a dental assistant, something she did before marrying my Dad. She worked there for a couple years and was able to take care of herself & my Sister. She got fired because someone in the office accused her of stealing something from her purse. She denies stealing anything and there was no proof. Things have gone back downhill ever since.

My sister got pregnant by a guy who was living with his pregnant girlfriend at the time and then had nothing to do with her or his son. My Mom helps raise him as they both live with her. My sister has always lived with my Mom and although she is now 27, she has a mind of a young teenager. She has lived a very sheltered life and has no friends. She never broke her childhood habit of talking to imaginary friends.

My Mom, sister and nephew all live together in a small 2 bedroom house they rent. My sister gets about $600 per month in SSI disability benefits and also gets food stamps and medicate for her and her son. My Mom has no income most of the time and has no medical coverage. She has a knee injury that prevents her from being on it any length of time. She also has false teeth that are extremely out dated and are wearing away at her gum line. She is always in pain and can’t afford to get new ones or get them fixed.

She mostly lives off my sister’s small income. She has a hard time finding a decent paying job with any benefits since she has a felony on her record. She has had many little low paying jobs that for one reason or another, didn’t work out. She is currently in a temp agency that placed her at a red cross temporarily. The program she is in is supposed to help her find other work.

She is about to lose her current job and employment opportunity due to a car problem. Which leads to the latest jam she is in. her break line is busted and her car is unsafe to drive. It will cost $260 to repair. She has no money and now has no way to get to her job at the Red Cross. I have always bailed her out of financial jams. I have helped many times over the years with utility bills, food, car repairs and just recently she let her rent go unpaid for 2 months and was about to be evicted. My wife borrowed $1100 from her parents (who live on a retirement budget) and I worked about 60 hours of overtime to pay them back. My wife and I both work full time and have good credit. We do not have a savings other than 401k. We do have a credit card that we are trying hard to pay off. My wife has been somewhat ok with helping them out in the past but she is getting sick of the continuous cycle and this has caused us to fight.

One thing I have a hard time doing is defending their behavior. When my Mom is working, she gets a good tax refund since she is low income. Sometimes she has got back between 4 and 5 thousand dollars. Instead of saving it for when they need it, they go out to dinner and blow it on clothes and other stuff fast. Not offering any back to the ones that have helped them. She has no checking or savings account and is banned from banks due to her owing money for past accounts that were messed up. She says she cannot manage money or a checking account. If she did have one, she would float checks and end up bouncing them.

My Dad & his current wife of about 15 years have also helped them out with food and clothing for my nephew and sister. Since her divorce, she has moved about 15 times. Usually she doesn’t pay her last months rent and goes somewhere else with the money to start over. So she has to lie on rental applications about previous residents to get accepted. Also on job applications since she has had so many jobs where she was fired.

I feel bad that she has struggled so much and fear for her well being. I know she has brought a lot of this on herself with poor choices she’s made and now that she is getting older, she has a lot of regrets. But her past is not letting her get ahead by any means. Especially the felony which is something she actually didn’t do. It has prevented her from finding a decent job. A few months ago I went to the courthouse and filed paperwork to get her felony expunged but it was denied.

She lives about an hour away from me and moved to her current residence to be near her niece. My cousin is married with 5 small kids. She has lived there for about 2 years and has had many fights with my cousin over money and needing help. A recent fight has left my cousin completely disgusted at her and now they are not speaking.

So just to recap:

She was married for 16 years. Although she was addicted to prescription drugs and had been cheated on, she loved my Dad very much and has never gotten over him.

She lost 4 siblings to suicide all in their 20’s & 30’s, one brother to alcohol and drug abuse (he was 42) her daughter at age 2 ½, her mother at 63 and father at 73. My Dad left her for another woman (he was only married to that one for 1 year and had 1 kid who is now 21)

Her only brother has nothing to do with her. Her Sister’s life is a mess and they do not speak. Her niece which was the only family contact near her is now not speaking to her.

My wife and I have helped her over and over in our 9 years of marriage. My wife is fed up and does not like my mother because of all this. It has caused us to fight.

My Dad & his wife have helped out but also cannot afford to keep helping.

She no longer drinks or takes drugs. Although her and my sister have smoked dope on occasion but are not currently that I know of. She does spend money she doesn’t have on cigarettes.

Her brakes need fixed or she cannot drive. She is about to lose her only small income.

The only way I could help would be to charge it on my credit card and fight with my wife. We have a 5 year old and a 15 year old to also take care of.

She often says she is tired of living and trying to survive. She says she is only here because of my sister and her grandson. She says she is worried about what will happen to them if she is not here. I believe she has the potential to commit suicide as it runs in her family.

I am the only family member that can bail her out. If I don’t she may crash and burn. Should I let the guilt make me keep on helping her financially? Is it right for me to expect my wife to be ok with it over and over again?

My mom always tells me that family should help each other and that her Father would never turn his back on a family member in need. She is good at laying down the guilt trips. I just don’t know what to do. If you read all this, I truly thank you and appreciate any feedback anyone has.

My advice would be help her with the brakes (if you can at all afford it) on the understanding she pays you back when she can (doesn’t have to be all at once). Otherwise she’ll be in a worse condition financially and will be really putting the guilt on you. However, let it be with the understanding that you can’t afford, emotionally or financially, to continue helping and that if she does not at least make an attempt to pay you back you can’t be bothered in the future.

Your mother sounds like she’s had more than her share of suffering, but that’s not your fault. Numerous studies have also attested to the fact that suicidal tendencies are extremely hereditary (the Hemingway family is almost always mentioned), though it sounds like you were spared it. If she’s going to kill herself she’s going to kill herself and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it any more than she could have stopped her brother and sister. (I’m the son of a suicidal mother myself- mine never did commit suicide [she attempted it a couple of times] but I know the terrorism; you can’t let the fear of something you ultimately can’t control dominate you or ruin your marriage, for having heard nothing of her I’ll say that your relationship with your wife is many times healthier and that she’s a better influence.

I’ve never been through anything as extreme as you are describing. So I have a gut reaction, and I admit in advance it’s just a reaction to the facts you’ve described, without any of the relationship-type strings that are binding you. But there comes a time when you have to think about yourself and your immediate family (wife and children, if any). Very unfortunately for all of you, your mother is incompetent and irresponsible (to put it mildly), and no amount of your bailing her out will solve that. It’s inevitable that she will crash and burn. You shouldn’t sacrifice yourself and your immediately family for a lost cause. It’s really tragic, because your mom has had a really, really tough life, and is clearly suffering. But there comes a time when she has to take responsibility for herself, or be institutionalized. I’m sorry, I’m sure this sounds really harsh. You could lose your wife over this.

Social Services.

Add a therapist for you and probably a family counselor.

You need to stop being responsible for other adults - you have children you need to be responsible for.

I agree, you could lose your wife. Every time you choose your mother, you do not choose your wife. Eventually, she could leave.

To expand on Bosda’s answer, what I would do is to see if there are any shelters and/or social programs for women (preferably women-only) in your mom’s city, and direct here there. They should be able to help her with job skills, transportation needs, medical insurance, low-cost housing, food stamps, etc. They will help her to set up a budget and learn to stick to it. Give mom a fish, and she’ll eat for today. Teach mom to fish, and she’ll eat for the rest of her life- that sort of thing.

It’s very easy for someone to read about the situation and tell you to let her sink or swim and not help her. Not so easy to do in real life. What you need to do is find her long-term help and not just meet her immediate needs.