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Adult children from abusive families should make self-care a priority

Dear Carol: My dad left when I was in middle school and then my mother married a man who abused me, but she stuck by him anyway. Now she’s alone. I’ve had years of counseling and I feel that I’ve forgiven her, mostly because I needed to do that for myself.

Now, I’m not certain what role I can play in her future. She’s doing fine, but I expect that she will be seeing an increase in some ongoing health problems before long so she will eventually need help. What is my moral obligation? My mother gave me shelter and food, but she also enabled a situation that made me a child victim. Could you help me here? What do I owe my mother? — LS.

Dear LS: First, let me say that I’m deeply sorry that your childhood was so hard. You aren’t alone with this kind of pain, but that doesn’t make the fact that you never had the protection that a child deserves any easier.

My feeling about adult children from neglectful and/or abusive families and any obligation, if there is any, toward their parents is that they should approach the situation with caution.

I’m not trained medically, so I’m presenting my thoughts as a person who hears from readers regularly while they try to make sense of caregiving. I encourage you to continue counseling or go back to it if you’ve stopped. Ongoing support from a medical professional should help you stay focused on your own mental health.

Having said that, here are my thoughts: Most of us want to please our parents and make them happy, even if that feeling is buried deeply under memories of a painful childhood. That often means that people are drawn to help their parents as they age.

You’ve forgiven your mother, which is a good step toward solidifying your own mental health. As you already know, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten the harm done to you, but it can help you move forward.

If you feel drawn to help your mother, then try to begin as an administrator and advocate. You can tell her that you will help her by assisting in hiring others to provide hands-on care.

Assisted living may be a good option that would allow you to help your mother but also keep some emotional distance. In this setting, you could be her advocate yet maintain as much emotional distance as you feel you need. If she can’t or won’t do that, then hiring a care manager to supervise in-home care may work.

If you feel that you can handle going to medical appointments with your mom, then try that, but each step you take toward her care must be considered through the eyes of your own emotional health.

You want to do the right thing for your mother, LS, and I hope for continued healing as you move forward. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that in your circumstance, you need to make self-care a priority.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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