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Mom’s illness disrupts creative flow
Q: My partner “Barb” and I have been together for 22 years. Our relationship is good and always has been; that’s not the problem. The problem is: Five years ago, we bought a home that had a small apartment in it. We did this to accommodate Barb’s mom who was, at that time, starting to show signs of some kind of dementia. Up until almost a year ago, Mom has done quite well and has not been a problem.
Our situation, now, is that Mom’s condition is getting worse and she is needing more care and general looking after. And even though she’s on some medication that is supposed to keep further deterioration from happening as fast as it normally would, her doctor says that things won’t get better, just worse for her…and for us. Believe me, I love Barb’s mom as if she were mine. I want to keep her around as long as we can, not send her off somewhere unless we have no possible other choice.
Some important information here is: Barb works outside the home and makes eight times the money that I do. That has never been a problem for us as we combine our money and pay the bills. But it has a more subtle effect on our relationship in that I earn less and my job appears less important, so I’m the one whose job is more expendable. To add to that problem, I’m an artist and my studio is at home. So, OK, my job is at home and my financial contribution is less important to our financial stability. In fact, we could live completely on Barb’s income. But, my work is important to me and it’s important for me and my pride and sense of well-being that I contribute.
What’s happening, though, is that more and more of my time is being taken up caring for Mom. Sometimes, it’s not even so much the total time it takes to care for her – even though it’s quite a lot of my time, but the biggest problem for me is that it is a constant interruption of my work day. Once I get back to something I was working on, it’s hard to get back to where I was. My work is of a creative nature and it is hard to get back into that creative space that I had left. I end up most days just feeling so exasperated. I’m not getting my work done.
Barb doesn’t understand how all this is affecting me. She knows that I can’t produce the way I used to, but she thinks she is being sympathetic by saying that she understands that Mom is taking more of my time, and not to worry about it. It’s not even that I’m producing less that bothers me, though I don’t like that fact, but that I feel like my work isn’t respected and I don’t have time to do what I love.
I don’t want to upset Barb anymore than she is already upset by the deterioration of her mom. She is always so grateful for my care giving to her mother and she expresses that to me daily. I have not told her how I have been feeling because I know it would make her feel guilty, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep my feeling under wraps. Do you have any ideas as to how I can better deal with my feelings, so I won’t feel this way? Am I just being selfish?
Her Mother’s Keeper
A: No, you are not being selfish. You sound like a very kind, caring person; your feelings are very understandable. I see how it would be hard for you to tell Barb about your feeling as she is “so grateful” to you. Having said all that, it is imperative that you do talk to her about your feelings; otherwise, you will end up resenting both Barb and her mother, and that will surely show up in your daily dealings with them both. This kind of passive anger destroys relationships, and I’m sure you don’t want that to happen. (If the situation were reversed, how would you feel if Barb didn’t let you know about how she was feeling?)
When you talk to Barb, start out reminding her how much her mom means to you, and you do want to be part of her care. Let her know in advance that you want to talk about your increased responsibilities and how it’s affecting your work, and then you want to talk about some problem solving around how things could be arranged to give you more quality time for your work. (This way, she knows, upfront, that you don’t want to abandon care for Mom.) Then, let her know how the increased care for Mom has interrupted your work and how that feels to you. I’m guessing after that, you can move to some problem-solving around Mom’s caretaking needs.
Before talking to Barb, look up some local resources for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. (That way, you have some options to present to Barb at the time you talk to her.) Many communities have day-care programs for just this kind of thing -full- or part-time. It sounds like you could financially afford some time for Mom to participate in such a program, offering you time for your work. Or, maybe you could have a caretaker in the home for periods of time. To find out what your community offers, call your local hospital or senior center to get leads on what is available. Good luck and let me know how it goes.