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Margo Howard


Mom Purloins the Diary Dear Margo: I found out last week that our 17-year-old high school junior is having sex with her boyfriend! First of all, I found out the wrong way: I snooped in her room and read her diary. Second, she would never admit to it, so my husband …Read more. The Bad Seed Dear Margo: I never thought I would write to an advice columnist, but here goes. I've been dating someone for about a year now, and we talk of marriage occasionally. He's ready for commitment and very gung-ho about us getting married, which is …Read more. Oh, and, Uh, By the Way... Dear Margo: I am soon to be 27 years old, and my only serious relationship ended a few years ago. In hopes of avoiding the standard meat market of dating, I'm considering registration with I've also had my share of casual relationships.…Read more. It Is in the Bible, but Not in the Stars Dear Margo: I have been dating a wonderful man for four months now. He is very kind and sweet in every way. We are much in love and happy together. There is only one problem: We are different religions. I am a Christian; he is agnostic. I have …Read more.
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A Not Uncommon Dilemma


Dear Margo: I am the only child of a 92-year-old mother. She's growing increasingly feeble, mentally and physically, and wants me to promise I'll never put her in a nursing home. I told her I would do everything humanly possible to keep her out of one, but I could not promise "never" because I don't know what will happen in the next few years. Mom came unglued. She told me I was a horrible daughter, selfish, ungrateful — you get the picture.

I still take care of her in her own home, but our relationship is now tense. What am I supposed to do? I am 50 and twice divorced with no children. I have to work to support myself, and I worry about having enough money for retirement. It's hard juggling everything as it is. I basically have no life outside of her and my job. I don't know how I would care for her 24 hours a day and still maintain my own physical and mental health.

I know what brought this on. Her 85-year-old brother recently developed full-blown Alzheimer's and was put in a nursing home. He's going downhill fast, and Mom attributes it to being in the home — not his age, not the Alzheimer's. She has decided they could have cared for him at home if they'd wanted to. Should I ignore my principles and promise Mom I will never put her in a home, and then renege if it's necessary? — Ramona

Dear Ram: My feelings about situations like this are that an aged person with the mental flag at half-mast is not in a position to extract promises of this nature. (I am also in favor of ignoring requests of the dying that the spouse never marry again, or that a daughter never sell the family home, etc.) I think when you're gone, you don't get a vote.

In your mother's situation, while I am sympathetic to the wish to remain at home, her thinking is not what you'd call clear, and her wishes should not be granted at the expense of your well-being.

You have no sibs to help, limited resources and half of your life ahead of you. You sound heroic as it is. I would tell her what she wants to hear to keep her calm, but hope you do not sacrifice your life at the altar of a woman who has already lived longer than most people. — Margo, protectively

Expressions of Sympathy

Dear Margo: I recently suffered a miscarriage and am finding it difficult to deal with the "support" from family and friends who call and text. I hear things like "It happened for the best" or "It's nature's way of saying the baby wasn't healthy" or "This must be like when I had a pill-induced abortion." And this really got my goat: "My arthritis feels much worse than your cramping." Some of these things I know are true, and yet hearing them doesn't make me feel better, because they just want me to be over it, and I'm not. All parties want the best for me, and I am probably overly sensitive now. I do know that my family and friends are not being malicious, but I could live without some of these comments. — Trying To Recover

Dear Try: It is a truism that people often say dumb things with the best of intentions. It is difficult to know what to say sometimes. Try to cut them some slack, and tell yourself they want to be sympathetic but are just incapable of knowing how to pull it off. (As for the self-involved arthritis sufferer, well, solipsists are hopeless — because everything is all about them — so let that one go.) Make an effort to filter out the non-helpful remarks, and tell yourself that everyone calling is wishing you well, if clumsily. — Margo, comprehendingly

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers' daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.




25 Comments | Post Comment
Here's what I do; tell Mom to contribute financially to the cost of caring for her. If she has savings, make her pay rent, food, etc. She doesn't need the money anymore, and you're not obliged to support her. If she has no cash, tell her to sign over her life insurance to you right now. If she refuses, make other living arrangements for her. You need to save as much money as you can for when you're too old to work. You should not ruin your prospects of a peaceful retirement just to make your mother happy.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Roger
Thu Mar 8, 2012 10:35 PM
LW1: You promised to do your best. That's all anyone can do. You cannot care for her 24/7 and hold down a day job. Start researching your options ASAP - in home caregivers, assisted living, etc. Good advice from Margo here - totally agree with all of it.

LW2: People do say the dumbest things when they all they really have to do is say "I'm so sorry" and then just listen.
Comment: #2
Posted by: PuaHone
Thu Mar 8, 2012 11:26 PM
LW1 -
50 is the age when people start getting unglued themselves and all kinds of physical problems start developing. You no longer have what it takes to be the sole cagegiver of a woman that age.

You "don't know how I would care for her 24 hours a day and still maintain my own physical and mental health"? That's right, you wouldn't. For your mother to expect you to literally kill yourself caring for soemone like her brother should the same happen to her is extremerly unfair and placing unreasonable demands on you.

Your mother is the one being selfish, Even if you have no husband and no children, you were not put on this Earth for the sole purpose of caring for her and you're allowed to have a life of your own.

You can do what Margo suggests and tell her what she wants to hear, but I get the feeling this would go deeply against your grain to then renege, even to save yourself. And then, there is the fact that some people with Alzheimer's go down slower than others and may spend a long time with occasional periods of lucidity, during which your mother would know full well that you reneged.

My own suggestion is that you keep being frank and honest. If she can't take it, you may want to suggest that she go in a home NOW if she thinks you're such a horrible daughter. But don't let yourself be bullied by her emotional blackmail, because this is exactly what her present sulking is.

What Roger and PuaHone said.

You are not overreacting at the moment. You are still in the process of grieving, and grieving a child you never got to hold has its own pitfalls. There are support groups you can find on the net where you will get the understanding and emotional support you need, because it will come from people who went through the same as you. Please investigate them.

As for your friends and family not being malicious, not they're not... except perhaps for the one about the arthritis being worse than your cramps. That was bitchy, catty, almost sadistic, and bringing everything back to his/her prescious self - me-me-me-me-me-me. Yrrrch. Ditch that one. You need friends like that like you need a brick wall on your feet.

Comment: #3
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Fri Mar 9, 2012 4:18 AM
looking at the first writer's dilemma, i am thinking of revising my advance care directive. i am opposed to going into any kind of 'facility' and as long as i am aware of my surroundings, you had better believe i will fight tooth and nail against going to one. i want to die at home. hospice at home care has many outstanding ways to make this happen. having said that, if i am so far around the bend that i don't recognize family members, then what difference does it make?
Comment: #4
Posted by: alien07110
Fri Mar 9, 2012 5:34 AM
Lise, sometimes I am not sure whether I enjoy the original column, or your responses, more. :)
Comment: #5
Posted by: Candice
Fri Mar 9, 2012 5:39 AM
My Granny and aunt (her daughter) both worked at an alzheimer's care facility for a good portion of their adult lives. When my Granny developed the disease herself they both knew what was coming and made an agreement to place Granny in a home when the point was reached that my aunt could no longer care for her. They picked out a wonderful place together and, after many years at home reached the point where she needed, for her own safety, to go into the home. She died there, happy and well cared for a few years later. Here's the thing: my aunt was/is a trained professional, and the LW is not. I know her mother doesn't have alzheimers, but elder care is not as simple as adult care, or even child care. There may come a point where LW needs to do this for both of their safety. My suggestion is to do what my aunt and Granny did: pick one out together now. There are some lovely places with fantastic staff. She may find that she likes it: my great grandma kicked and screamed (not literaly) about going in the home and now gushes about how great it is. Maybe letting LW's mom have a say instead of just shoving her in might make her more comfortable.
Comment: #6
Posted by: wyn667
Fri Mar 9, 2012 5:39 AM
LW1, I guess the only reason I would suggest something other than "frank and honest" -- and I'm basically agreeing with Lise mostly -- is that if 92-year-old mom is already becoming a bit "mentally unglued", then "frank and honest" won't really help. Only the LW and mom's doctors can know how "with it" she really is. If she's not fully mentally competent, than telling her what she wants to hear may be easier and kinder.

However, if she's still "sharp as a tack", then maybe having a frank talk about what you can and cannot do would be useful. It's a sad situation all around, though, and you really should review your resources and your mother's to see what kind of help you might be able to afford.

LW2: My sympathies; you're not wrong, but do try to understand that when faced with tragedy people often say the stupidest things, and yet are trying to be well-intentioned and well-meaning.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Mike H
Fri Mar 9, 2012 8:33 AM
Ramona, look at it this way: if your mother needed surgery, you would not operate on her yourself because you don't have the skills and training to perform surgery; you'd find her a surgeon. For the same reason, we have nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to provide care that untrained family members cannot.

If/When you are no longer able to provide your mother with the care she needs, turn her over to professionals and don't agonize over the decision. If you did your best, you need not berate yourself because you couldn't do the impossible.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Kimiko
Fri Mar 9, 2012 9:35 AM
@ LW! & Alien 07110, listen to Wyn 667 & Lise. Check out the facilities in your area; you are very likely to be pleasantly surprised. We've all heard the horror stories, so that's our image of nursing homes; but apparently the industry has been largely cleaned up since the alarm was raised. Talk to the folks at the facilities about financing options; you may be in a better situation than you dare hope.

And if so, and you find a nice place and move your mother there, sure, she'll wail at first--but in a week or few, she'll realize how fortunate she is. Knowing a professional staff is instantly available is such a comfort and a relief for anyone with physical impairments. Also, she doesn't have to do her own laundry or cleaning--and neither does her daughter.

You just have to wait out the acclimatization period. Grit your teeth, bite your tongue, zip your lip, and no matter what she says to you or about you, go ahead and do the healthful and safe thing for her, the sanity-preserving thing for you.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Khlovia
Fri Mar 9, 2012 9:37 AM
LW2: It's hard. I miscarried my first pregnancy at 6 weeks gestation. I imagined miscarriages would be like a more intense period. Wrong. Hormones, the loss of a promise, physical pain and add in well-intended comments and it's no wonder you need more time to heal your body and spirit.

One family member told me if I was meant to be a mother, it would happen. It was particularly painful coming from someone who never had a problem with getting pregnant. Another family member had had a pregnancy end at 6 months. "Your miscarriage is nothing compared to what I went through" was her attitude.

After a few weeks of physical pain, I was able to focus more on my heartbreak. After a few more weeks, I realized the people around me were over the loss. I resolved to go a few hours at first, purposely not thinking about the comments that upset me or the sadness, I pushed it away and focused on small things and big things that made my life better and happier. It helped having two dogs I could lavish maternal affection on.

I went days without thinking about it and then after a while, I stopped being angry about the comments and the disappointments. Faith in God, prayer for me was the true solution, but it might not be for you. Find what is the solution, and only you can do that. It is an exercise in futility to ask someone to grieve with you the way you want them to.

Arguing about whose pain is worse is like getting in a fist fight over whether or not it's raining. Moisture coming from the sky is still precipitation, whether it is snow, hail, misting, or dropping. A loss is still painful and terribly personal to the person going through it, no one person has the same experience as another.

Work hard and do your best to not hold it against the people whose comments don't help. But also realize there comes a time when you have to let the disappointment go and generally, it lingers for you a lot longer than the people around you.

I agree with Margo's advice and I believe it will help you hurt less. I wish you peace, happiness and acceptance.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Chelle
Fri Mar 9, 2012 10:02 AM
LW1: I'm finding with my own Grandmother that the battle over nursing homes is more about control than it is about the day to day life in a nursing home.

My Grandmother is 89 and lives in her own home. It's truly a miracle she hasn't blown up the house.

She wants my parents to move in with her the way they did with my father's parents. But not because she's sick and one step away from death like my father's parents were. She wants attention and to have simple control over others because she can't control herself. She's not an alcoholic or a nymphomaniac, she's lazy and has no hobbies other than counting the number of people who run the stop sign that is right outside her kitchen window. She refuses to take her medication, bathe, throw anything away, wash her clothes or learn anything new.

The world would have been a much better place for her if everyone else on earth was perpetually four and she was named Grand Poo-Bah.

It comes down to a simple desire to control others because she can't control that she's aging.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Chelle
Fri Mar 9, 2012 10:14 AM
Ramona, stick to your guns. It is a sad fact of life that when our health begins to decline, our circumstances often change. I knew a woman whose parents began to experience this. Their proposed solution was that their daughter (married, with two children still in grade school) move 220 miles away from her family to care for them. When she told them that wasn't going to happen, they pitched a fit. Now, I knew them also. They were very reasonable, gracious, unselfish, giving people when they were younger, but the combination of age, loss of control, and uncertainty made them go a little bonkers. Finally, they accepted the inevitable, and moved to a retirement community a few miles from my friend's house. Between the day the moved and the year they died within months of each other, I lost 4 friends who were caregivers and died before their charges. Don't let that happen to you; it helps no one.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Carla
Fri Mar 9, 2012 12:53 PM
LW3 - I'm so sorry for your loss. There's a new book out, JUST out, written by a friend of mine who suffered a miscarriage. It's called "All that is Seen and Unseen" by Elizabeth Petrucelli, and is available at the book title + .com, and Amazon, I think. I just got mine last night, haven't read it yet, but may well help you. I hope you find relief.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Nancy
Fri Mar 9, 2012 1:31 PM
There is only one person being selfish and ungrateful and that's your mom. She doesn't CARE what it costs you. You MUST give up your life, be it 1 or 30 years until she dies, because she MUST be the center of your universe. My mother is like this. I moved away because she wanted me to be at her beck and call 24/7, no matter what the problem. To this day, when I visit, she becomes practically helpless and treats me as an employee who just came back from vacation. A kleenex 6 feet away is just to "difficult" for her to reach (but she won't move it closer), so why can't I get up every 6-10 minutes to hand her one, no matter what I am doing? Or call me in from the other room to tell me something that wasn't the least bit urgent nor even important or relevant, but I must JUMP when she calls. This has been going on since I was a teenager and she was grooming me to be her little slave. Even my brothers agree but they still leave most of the work to me, who lives in another city. (Mom's in a wheelchair now and I am 51.)

I understand the fear of being warehoused in a nursing home but, unless the daughter is a trained nurse, she is not capable of handling everything herself. There were too many things I was grossed out by and my mother browbeat me because I couldn't automatically care for her as a trained nurse would. I was being lazy or being weak on purpose if I couldn't lift her 250 lbs. and move her on her bed, etc. Some people will never be satisfied no matter what you do. You MUST look out for yourself because no one else is nor do they care if you are overburdened. As long as THEY don't have to do it, too bad, so sad for you. Did she do this for HER parents? My mother expects me to do anything she asks even though she wouldn't do it for her own parents.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Julie
Fri Mar 9, 2012 1:37 PM
LW1--"Should I ignore my principles and promise Mom I will never put her in a home, and then renege if it's necessary?" Yes, if that's what it takes to give both you and mom peace of mind. It's really unfair when people force their loved ones to make such promises. It's like one spouse forcing another to promise that he or she won't re-marry if something should happen to them. Your mother is reaching the end of her life and in light of what her brother is going through she's terrified of living out her final days as a virtual prisoner in a nursing home. While your original response to your mother was perfectly reasonable and logical considering your situation, that wasn't the answer your mother wanted to hear. So, you tell her the answer she does want to hear (and keep your fingers firmly crossed behind your back when you do.)

LW2--When confronted with such intrusive and highly insensitive comments from strangers or family members alike, you simply put a dead pan expression on your face and ask in your most somber tone "why would you say something so completely insensitive?" Rinse and repeat. While some people's intentions are noble, others are merely busybodies who wish to make your situation all about them. Respond accordingly.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Chris
Fri Mar 9, 2012 3:46 PM
When my father needed more care than I could give him I found him a great nursing home. I had my sister, who lives out of town, come and tour the facility. We saw the lunch meal served, it looked yummy. The room he would have was spacious and the entertainment and activities were many. The cost was reasonable. My sister's response to my question, "Is this place okay for Daddy?"....she said, "I want to live here!" It sounds like you may have to lie just to make her happy in the short run but I hope you can find a place like the one It found for my dad (and my sis if she needs it in her future).
Comment: #16
Posted by: Claudia
Sat Mar 10, 2012 3:03 AM
Re: Candice
Thank you very much. I wish more people like you would post, as opposed to the trolls who are obsessed with running me off the Creators threads!

Comment: #17
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Sat Mar 10, 2012 10:11 AM
Re: LW2-I heard that a Catholic priest had this to about miscarriages being God's will: if it is God's will, that would make Him the biggest abortionist of all.

"It's for the best, it's God's will...." That makes me sick! Maybe people do say dumb things even with good intentions but I also know where the road that's paved with those intentions leads.

I wish some people keep their mouths shut. LW2 has my deepest sympathies.
Comment: #18
Posted by: LibraryKat
Sat Mar 10, 2012 4:25 PM
@ Cousin Julie: I assume we must be cousins, since obviously our mothers were identical twins accidentally separated at birth. We have a lot of other cousins in this group. See next paragraph. Also, your insightful remark about narcissistic people demanding a level of servitude from their children that they would never have dreamed of offering to their own one I wish somebody had repeatedly bashed me upside the head with several decades ago.

@ Chelle: You, your mom, your grandma, Cousin Julie, her mom, and Ramona the LW are all missing a bet: Living in a nursing home gives persons of a certain personality *more people* to control, manipulate, wheedle attention from, and bark orders at! My mom is happy as a clam.

@ Chelle again: Your post #10 was very moving, brave, and kind. Bless you, sweetie.
Comment: #19
Posted by: Khlovia
Sun Mar 11, 2012 7:47 AM
@ Mike H
"If she's not fully mentally competent, than telling her what she wants to hear may be easier and kinder."
For grandma, yes, but not for the LW, who may feel bound by her promises all the while being physically unable to meet them. I am thinking of her first, because if you keep anything by yourself, then you have nothing to give. Well-ordained charity starts at home.

Comment: #20
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Mon Mar 12, 2012 9:57 AM
"If you DON'T keep anything by yourself"
Sorry about that.
Comment: #21
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:01 AM
LW1: Your mom is a real gem. She's so busy sucking the life out of you she doesn't have time to hear your feelings about it. Put her in a home and get a life before it's too late.

LW2: Keep a log of each "support" and from whom it came and pay them back in kind when its time. Let's be clear here. When someone says crap like that they're not trying to comfort you - they are trying to warn you that they don't want to hear about your feelings. Times of hardship are really when you get to see people's true character and you've seen it now so what are you going to do about it?
Comment: #22
Posted by: Diana
Mon Mar 12, 2012 2:44 PM
Khlovia, it's so nice to hear that from you. And Lise Brouillette gave me some excellent advice a few months ago that made my Mom laugh so hard she nearly choked. One of the reasons my Mom won't force the issue of her mother going to an assisted living facility is that the people at the "home for the aged" (that's what their residents call it!) are all happy and full of life. My mother fears for these people because her Mother is so awful, she doesn't want to ruin the harmony and healthy spirit that is there. Lise suggested my Grandmother go to an assisted living where everyone is already miserable. My Mother laughed and laughed. It made her day. I will tell my Mom about your experience.

I don't think I will ever forget the example you gave about your Mother. You mentioned going on a walk and then meeting up with an aggressive dog and your Mom shoved you in front of her and then when the dog backed down, tried to entice the dog into biting you, no doubt so that she could cry to others about how her heart broke when you were viscously bitten. I think your Mother and my Grandma were sisters in a previous life.

And I wish you peace and happiness and a well-deserved pat-on-the-back for rising above your experience with your mother.
Comment: #23
Posted by: Chelle
Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:55 AM
OFF TOPIC. Tags: narcissism, emotionally abusive parents, nursing homes.
Ignore if you're not Chelle, or otherwise interested. You have been warned, so you don't get to complain. Nyaah.


Thanks, Chelle.

On my mom's behalf, I must correct a wrong impression; and I apologize for having given that impression.

I'm positive she was *not* "trying to entice" the dog to bite me; she was just so self-absorbed in her own little melodrama it didn't occur to her that at that moment under those circumstances it might have been slightly more important for me not to be facing a re-riled-up dog than it was for her to exhibit her emotional state, for the audience of herself, me, and the dog. The theme of the melodrama was, I'm fairly sure after much consideration, "Look how upset and frightened I am because I have to deal with an unleashed dog whose bad owners don't keep him fenced!" The appropriate audience for the melodrama would have been the bad owners who let the dog run loose. I agree with her that the owners were bad and should have put up a fence before they got a dog. But the owners were not present to be enlightened by her performance; I didn't need enlightening; and the dog was immune thereunto. Mostly she was just impressing and entertaining herself with her performance, and it simply didn't cross her mind that maybe that wasn't the top priority at the moment. Because, you know, it was *always* the top priority that she should be free to emote, demand attention, and exude self-pity. Self-control simply was not on her agenda, then or ever. My health being at risk because her scenery-chewing was freaking out the dog I was endeavoring to calm so she could escape safely? Didn't really cross her radar. At least not until afterwards, and only because I dared register a gripe.

If I *had* been bitten--yeah, she would have gotten a lot of tragedy-mileage out of it. But any suggestion that her behavior had contributed to it even inadvertently would have been met with virulent outrage at top volume, because she wasn't aiming for it.

"My mother fears for these people because her Mother is so awful, she doesn't want to ruin the harmony and healthy spirit that is there." Yeppers. Your mom is correct to have this ethical concern. Mom's only been there a month or so and is already gossiping and whispering and emoting and backstabbing. She just likes her little soap operas, is all, and the ones on TV don't suffice. I feel so horribly sorry for, and guilty about, her poor room-mate. That nice old lady is going to be forced to devote the last years of her life to dealing with my mother. If I could afford to put Mom in a private room, I would--not because she wants it, which she does, but out of mercy for her roomie.

In a few months, I'll give you the name and address of Mom's home, and you can ship your grandmother there. She'll be well-cared for and the atmosphere of the place will already have been ruined, so she won't be able to do any more harm. Your grandma and my mom can have turf wars and you and I can share a bag of popcorn and place our bets.
Comment: #24
Posted by: Khlovia
Sun Mar 18, 2012 4:19 PM
Re: Khlovia
"Your grandma and my mom can have turf wars and you and I can share a bag of popcorn and place our bets."

Comment: #25
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Mon Mar 19, 2012 3:17 PM
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