The Hook Up: 8-11-2010

My partner and I have been together for four-and-a-half years. We’ve never lived together because she has been her mother’s caregiver after a stroke for the past 11 years now. Her mother is very demanding of her time, and I’m lucky to get "date night" for four hours during the week and possibly one evening on the weekends. She can’t spend the night, because she must take care of her mother. Finding a sitter, though possible, is very expensive and we’re just not in that position.

I adore this woman and knew what I was in for when we first met — she was very honest and let me know the situation. In the past two months I’ve become very angry with her mother, for dominating her daughters’ life, expecting to be taken care of with no regard for her daughter. She refuses to go to a nursing home even after her daughter had a stroke.

Her mother knows about us, but puts her head in the sand. She likes me, because I do things for her, but she doesn’t ever want to hear about the two of us. In other words, I’m on egg shells when I’m around her. We’re both about to turn 50. Her mother is 77. This could go on for years.

I’m scared we’re going to be in this same situation in another five or 10 years and I feel selfish, but I feel her mother is taking the best years of our lives, just so she doesn’t have to go to a nursing home. I’m scared because I love her so much, and yet I don’t know how much longer I can continue down this road. I’m just not sure what to do or where to turn. Help!

Anna says: Dude, I feel for you. Being a caregiver is a sensitive and emotionally exhaustive situation. When caring for others, it’s crucial that your girlfriend take care of herself, too. It sounds like she’s not really doing that, as evidenced by her stroke. There’s a difference between making sure a loved one is properly cared for and sacrificing your own health and happiness to do so.

However, aside from making suggestions and compromises about the mom’s situation, there’s not a whole lot you can do if your girlfriend won’t start thinking of herself some of the time. That’s the rub; it’s ultimately her choice as to how she decides her mother needs to be cared for. This is clearly an issue of frustration for you though. Be as open and honest as you can with your girlfriend, and perhaps most importantly, remember that nothing is permanent. I swear. Not even Twinkies. Or diamonds. Or Forever 21.

In the meantime, if the mom is resistant to a long-term nursing home, there are other, less permanent options at your disposal. Some advice from the AARP: “Think about respite care by friends, relatives or volunteers. Or try for a weekend or longer vacation by turning to a home health agency, nursing home, assisted living residence or board-and-care home; these facilities sometimes accept short-term residents. Adult day centers, which usually operate five days a week, provide care in a group setting for older people who need supervision.” Sure, she might be resistant to any of these options, but even caregivers need help some of the time. If you can take baby steps with the mom to make her more comfortable, it might help ease her into the idea of her daughter not being around 24/7.

You can also think about joining a caregivers support group. In addition to providing outside emotional assistance, support groups also might have tips and tricks for overcoming some of the tough dilemmas you and your girlfriend are facing.

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Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a professional tweeter/blogger for Mother Jones and a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at and on Twitter @annapulley.

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