By RuthAnn Hogue/ Whiptail Publishing
It’s a quiet Sunday evening, and I’m spending a little time with three dogs by my side and a computer on my lap. It’s a welcome respite from months of stress and harassment I could never have possibly anticipated, especially considering the source.
I never would have guessed, for example, that siblings becoming enemies over disagreements on how to care for an aging parent is not only an all-to-common phenomenon in America, but that it could happen to me.
But it has. And the potential for permanent, irreversible damage to all parties involved is immense. It breaks family bonds which were meant to be eternal. It grinds brotherly or sisterly trust into bleak nothingness darker than any hole in our grand universe.
Most importantly, it breaks the heart of their mothers.
And it’s all done in the name of “protecting” the very women these misguided adults wind up terrorizing, along with their caregivers.
In the words of my mother, Naomi Hesterman, who recognizes that her own children mean well when they intrude in her daily life to the point of making her feel “like a puppet being pulled in opposite directions,” it’s still hurtful and it’s still destructive.
Consider, for example, the position he’s putting his mother in when a trusted adult son works tirelessly to convince her that her caregiver, a trusted daughter, is mishandling her finances. Faced with stories of “dwindling” savings and general malfeasance, what mother wouldn’t sign papers revoking her caregiver’s legal ability to assist her, and turn it over to him?
But what if those accusations are based in supposition, with no basis in fact? What if this mom is horrified and surprised to discover that the only withdrawal from her savings account was $25,000 removed with her signature under the direction of that very son, in stark contrast to regular deposits her daughter had set up on her behalf?
True, he’d created a new bank account in his name with her money. But he did include her as a secondary owner of the account. And surely it was done with the best of intentions.
“People with good intentions ought to be shot,” she said, as we exited my car on a recent visit to our local bank to sort out what my oldest brother had done. “Everything is a mass of confusion.”
My job was to get her there. I briefly explained the situation and handed things over to a professional.
I chose to sit in the lobby to avoid influencing her in any way.
A while later, with the help of a kind personal banker, my mother was able to understand the paperwork she’d signed and its implications. From there, she was able to come up with a solution to correct the situation to her satisfaction. It was a relief from being expected to dance like a puppet to please a son who, by this and other actions, appears to desperately need to control her daily life.
“I hope Bryce doesn’t have a cow,” she said, worried that he might not respect her decision to close the account he’d opened with her money in his name. “I wonder if I should answer the phone if he calls.”
“You can’t please everyone, Mom,” I remember saying on the way to our next errand, to see her doctor. “You’ve got to please yourself.”
Just then, the chorus of “Garden Party,” an old familiar tune, came tumbling out.
“All right, now. I learned my lesson well,” I sang, turning to smile at my mom. “You see you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”
For a moment, just a small moment, I felt warm inside. It felt good empowering my mom to not only make her own decisions, but to stand tough.
No mother should feel so pressured that they are afraid to answer the phone for fear of being chastised by an adult child who thinks he knows better than she does regarding what’s in her best interest.
In stark contrast, my mother was in rare form that stressful day. On Most days, no pedestal is tall enough, no white bright enough to convey the perception of perfection she has always associated with her oldest offspring.
It’s always been that way. It’s something my fellow siblings and I have just learned to accept. She does love us. But it has always seemed as if she loved Bryce more. It explains why when he says things which do not match her personal knowledge of reality that she will often take them at face value, simply because “Bryce said.”
It’s why she was concerned about dwindling finances, she said. It’s why she believed she needed to be protected from the very daughter who has been protecting her from:
- A son who tried to put her in a nursing home or assisted living facility
- A daughter who unsuccessfully pressured her to move back into a 50-year-old house in disrepair rather than live with me in my nearly new home
- A daughter who stripped the home she once shared with her (rent free for three years, including paid utilities all on my mother’s dime for her and her six children) in an apparent attempt to prevent it from being sold
- A son who after weeks of unsuccessfully trying to extort thousands of dollars from her declared both her and me “dead to him”
- A son and daughter who spied on her long distance by calling on several church leaders and neighbors to check into supposed suspicious activity and poor living conditions
- Four children who took her to an attorney they wanted her to hire for her own protection, although she felt no such need for protection–then expected her to keep the entire experience a secret
- A son who called Arizona’s Adult Protective Services to investigate her living conditions, which she considers comfortable and desirable, needlessly subjecting her to an investigation she found to be humiliating and intrusive
- A son who tried to bribe me into moving my mother out of my home by promising to withdraw all financial assistance on her behalf as long as she lives with me
On that day, and on many others since then, my mother has found the courage to speak up about how she really feels.
“I love you dearly, RuthAnn,” my mother said. “I want to live with you. You always see to my needs.”
Gossip about the caregiver. Secret alliances between siblings ganging up on the caregiver. Distrust and vicious attacks on her caregiver, based on supposition, even when their mother reports being happy.
Sadly, these types of scenarios play out daily in families across the nation. It’s what the bankers told us. It’s what my mother’s doctor and nurses told us. It’s what social workers have told us, and it’s a sad tale other caregivers have confided in me as having happened to them, too.
“I lost my entire family over it,” a woman told me who happened upon my mother and I one afternoon when my mother and I were getting mani-pedis, courtesy of this year’s tax refund. Her mother had died almost a year ago to the day. She said she’d noticed the two of us having a girls day out and that it reminded her of when she and her late mom had done the same.
It eventually became too much to take care of both of their homes leading to the sale of the family home. In the process, she said, each of her siblings turned on her. Even a year after her death, she said those once-strong family ties remain severed.
A wise contemporary theologian advises those caught up in such mischief to “Stop it.”
I couldn’t agree more. I don’t need anything else. No apology or gift or any amount of cash would ever make things better. I just want the abuse to stop.
No, I’ll never have a white pedestal in my mother’s eyes, nor do I want one–even one pretty in pink. But I have the love and respect of my mother, along with the opportunity to continue to see to her needs.
In a perfect world, I would like to do so in peace. Sadly, siblings bent on whipping up one disaster after another, will never allow it. So, I will dutifully accept the great burdens they impose on us, regardless of whatever vitriolic bomb they plan to launch at us next.
Whatever they can dream up, I know that my mother and I will be able to endure, with a little help from the Lord above.
And in the end, that’s all I need.
RuthAnn Hogue is the owner and founder of Whiptail Publishing’s WebTechGirl.com and BookTrailerCentral.co. She is an award-winning author and journalist with an Internet Marketing Master of Science and a B.A. in Journalism/Political Science.