I Can't Keep Helping My Elderly Neighbor Like This
"I’m the neighbor of an elderly lady whom I help out a little bit. Over the last year, though, it’s almost daily that I need to assist her with something. She has children who don’t seem to be aware how much I do for her, or that she’s becoming less capable. I get groceries, run errands, arrange lawn service, prepare some meals, and take her to appointments.
When I mention to my neighbor that she might want to call one of her children, she says they’re too busy with work and their families. I’m retired and truly do have more time on my hands than they do.
Still I can’t help but feel a bit used, and the feeling is getting worse. Dare I pull back now? I’m afraid that if I do, something awful will happen to her. I most definitely feel caught in a very awkward situation. Some advice would be appreciated."
You have most certainly become the caregiver for your neighbor. From what you report, your neighbor has come to rely more and more on you exclusively.
It’s unfortunate that she’s shielding her children from being associated with her care. Family dynamics are different in each family, and there is likely information that you don’t have.
Your neighbor may have a very good reason for leaning on you and asking little of her children. She might be afraid that they’ll force her to leave her home if she asks for too much assistance from them. It’s possible that discussions have already occurred surrounding this issue and she knows the outcome. The flipside is that her children could be blissfully unaware and relieved that mom requires very little of them.
Either way, you have clearly reached a point where your kind and generous nature has been taxed to its limit. It’s time for you to manage the situation and secure the support that you need. Simply pulling away might be a bit unfair as your neighbor depends on you, and you wouldn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize her safety. Saying no to new tasks is a way to prevent the list from growing.
I recommend that you start by sitting with her over coffee or tea and talk about your ability to assist her. Be honest and let her know that you care about her and are willing to assist. Mention that you are concerned that her needs are beginning to overwhelm your stamina and time. Ask her if you can help her problem solve to lighten the load for you both. After all, everything that you’re doing can be ordered or purchased. Groceries can be delivered, meals can be prepared, yards can be managed, and there is a service for about anything you can think of that she needs.
Try to find out more about the children and her reluctance to involve them. At some point the children will need to know how much help their mother needs and what you provide. Her care needs will only grow and you’ll not be able to handle it all. It’s clearly getting close to that already.
While resolving this isn’t easy, it’s time to seek a solution. Your neighbor may be resentful, or embarrassed. It’s possible that she will appreciate problem solving with you though. There are options, and not all of them need to be you.
I wish a positive outcome for you on this journey.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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