My Mother’s Habits Worry Me

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From S. Africa: So my mum was in a car accident a few years ago and has permanent damage to her back and neck. She struggles to sleep because she’s in pain and is often surrounded by technology. She only eats dinner and she only drinks soda or hot chocolate. I can see that she’s getting worse because of it and her doctors see it too.

The doctors say she must be on a high fat diet and she must try exercising every day even if it’s just swimming or walking around the house. When she’s asked why she has the soda and junk foods she says she needs them but I’m worried that she is slowly killing herself and becoming depressed.

How can I tactfully address her habits so she can get better? I really want her condition to improve, but it feels like she doesn’t even want to try and live a little longer. It’s not like I’m asking her to run a marathon or eat only fruits but I’d like to see her set a good example to my 14 year old sister and improve her quality of life.

I don’t want to hurt her feelings or get in trouble with her but she’s hurting herself and she’s setting a bad example to my sister who already has started following my mothers example. I’m going to university soon and I really worry about my mum.

A: I’m so sorry your family is going through this very difficult time. I don’t think your mother is becoming depressed. I think she’s already there. She’s given up on getting better and doesn’t see the point of going through the pain of exercises or of denying herself the food she prefers to eat. You are very correct to be worried.

I think the time for tact is over. It’s time to work with her doctors and to let her know that she is letting you and your sister down. Stress that you want her around for your successes, your weddings and babies and to give you motherly advice. Let her know that you are willing to help her in any way you can — from helping her exercise to making the foods she should eat. Ask her doctor to arrange to have her meet with a therapist to help her cope. See if you can arrange for sessions with a physical therapist several times a week. Don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes loving someone means caring more about what is happening to them than they do. It’s a lot to ask of an 18 year old, but apparently you are the one who is there. If your dad is in the picture, by all means enlist his help! If you have other relatives around, ask them if they can rotate visiting to put your mom through her exercises and to have a healthy meal with her. You shouldn’t have to go this alone.

Some fights are worth having. Your mom isn’t going to welcome the tough love. But her life depends on it.

Meanwhile, it might be helpful for you to see a therapist, not because you are showing signs of mental illness, but because you need some extra support and perhaps some advice along the way.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jul 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). My Mother’s Habits Worry Me. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/07/20/my-mothers-habits-worry-me/