I don’t even know where to begin this letter. I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but guilt and confusion would always deter me. I guess my bottom line question to you would be: Where are my obligations religiously and morally to a parent who has made me completely miserable my entire life?
Just to give you some background, I am a middle-aged mother of three grown children, two of whom still live at home. My husband is a wonderful, loving, kind man and my children are either in school or working professionally. They are also kind and loving and eager to lend a hand whenever necessary. Anyone would be proud to claim them as a family – that is, anyone except my mother.
I grew up an only child. My father passed away some time ago, leaving a huge void in my mother’s life. This is not to say my mother was ever a social person. She kept pretty much to herself and her family. She never worked (or even drove) and relied on my father for everything.
When he passed away, I had to take on all the responsibilities of dealing with her paperwork and tending to my mother’s needs, although I was newly engaged and eager to begin my own life.
Rachel, in all honesty I have never resented any assistance I have given my mother. I have always tried to include her in everything – even taking her on vacations with us, calling her 2-3 times a day, taking her food shopping, attending to her medical needs and any issues of home repair that would come up.
On the surface you may say that of course this is my obligation and I shouldn’t be complaining. I have to reiterate that I have no issue being there at all times for my mother, except for the fact that she is, and pretty much always has been, a bitter, critical woman.
Even while my father was alive, she would always criticize him. If he would come home burdened by work-related events, she would taunt and criticize him instead of soothing him.
When I married soon after my father passed away, she would always find fault with my husband, and soon afterwards with my children. For the most part we would try to ignore it and I would chalk it up to her maybe feeling unhappy with herself and her own life, but now as she gets older and obviously needier, she has become much more critical and bitter.
She is very suspicious; she misunderstands what people say to her and therefore feels everyone is watching her and is out to get her.
She recently had surgery and has been staying with us for several months, so all of this has been magnified tremendously. It is much harder to ignore her behavior. She is constantly muttering nasty things under her breath against my husband that she thinks he doesn’t hear (or maybe she actually wants him to hear).
When my daughters have shidduch dates, she constantly finds fault with the young men and pries into the girls’ business, asking inappropriate questions that are hurtful.
She doesn’t want to hire outside help to stay with her in her home, even though she could afford it, and I must admit that she has become so frail that I am afraid to leave her alone for long periods of time.
I work outside the home for several hours a day, and frankly that’s my only refuge. I dread coming home every day in anticipation of a new battle to be fought or a criticism to be dealt with or ignored.
It’s funny, because if you would meet her outside my home, you would think she is the most gracious, loving person. Strangers, doctors, therapists, neighbors always tell me how lucky I am to have an elderly mother who is so cute and sweet, but nobody knows her behind closed doors.
I know I am not the only one with this type of dilemma; I’ve spoken to friends who allude to having similar issues, but I cannot believe they could be as bad as mine.
I’ve spoken to my mother in the past, begging her to please realize that everyone wants her around, that we want her in our lives, but that she is making it very difficult and is constantly hurting our feelings by this behavior.
My husband is patient and tries to look the other way, but I’m afraid he too will reach his breaking point eventually.
I not only ask for your reply, Rachel, but I think it would help if other people in my situation would share their experiences and hopefully any solutions they may have.
I thank you for the opportunity to vent a little.
Please forgive the delay in hearing from us. Here it is fall – almost winter – and for reasons unfathomable, your neatly handwritten letter postmarked in late August somehow took its time and first made it to this column’s writing table come November.
Of course things can change in the blink of an eye and may have somewhat, or even drastically, altered in the several weeks that have elapsed since you took the time to “vent.”
Nonetheless, we will do our best to address your concerns in next week’s column, G-d willing, and invite others in similar circumstances to share their own stories and strategies.
* * * * *
We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.