Have you ever been with people you care for but, no matter how hard you try, you find yourself in the middle of no-win situations with them? Whose fault is it? Is it yours? Is it theirs? You might come to find, as I did, that the fault you bear is simply caring too much. And, I found to my great relief, there is something healthy and affirming I could do about it.

I am in a series of the saddest situations with my mother. Mom is 95 now, and in the middle of horrendous difficulties. She is in constant pain from having broken her leg in three places. The swelling hasn’t gone down since she fell eight months almost to the day; her ankle and knee look like she slipped in the kitchen just a day or two ago. She has been to doctors numerous times, and either gets mistrustful, or rejects any treatment option given to her. Surgery is an option, but she goes back and forth about whether to have it because of the time she would need to spend in rehab.

If she ultimately decides against surgery, she does have a knee brace she can wear as an alternative, but she hates the way it feels. She keeps thinking it isn’t on right. I’m convinced it fits as good as it can, but doesn’t feel right because of all the swelling. She keeps thinking the docs can fix her, and they probably can’t.
It’s a no-win situation; she wants to feel better, but is unwilling to take the measures to make it happen. And I am left helpless in the middle, wanting to fix something I can’t. Doctors have passed Mom from one to the other. I’m sure they don’t know what to do with her either, and they’re probably tired of her coming up with all the reasons not to do any of the alternatives they suggest.

Mom’s problems also exist in issues she can control: her natural way of being acerbic when things don’t go her way, and blaming the people around her. She frequently does this at mealtime. One day she discovered her hamburger didn’t have cheese, so she wanted to send it back. She wanted the cheese melted but she didn’t want it melted in the microwave because that would “make the meat hard.” The waitress looked at me, not knowing what to do. Melting it in the microwave was her only option. Mom puts doctors, servers, many others besides me in no-win situations.

Now, just a week and a half before closing on the sale of her house, with the papers prepared and ready for signing at the title company, Mother says she has found people who are available for in-home care, and that she would save so much more money by leaving assisted living and moving back home. All this in spite of the fact that I told her she couldn’t exist there with just the few hours help she insists is all she needs. She can’t stand up, and needs an electric chair to move around.

To quell the money-saving argument, I even created a spread sheet I spent hours preparing showing her that she would spend thousands more staying in her own home. Keeping her safe means doing the very thing she dreads. To be the daughter she wants me to be means to give her what she wants, and in the process forego being the daughter she needs me to be and forsake her welfare. So, I am forced to be the “bad daughter,” and take her out of the home she loves. I know she will blame me ‘til her dying day. What do you do with that?

Then Mom gives me the “look.” Do you know that look, the one of disapproval you remember from your childhood? It used to cut you to the core, right? Some people can grow out of its spell; I was apparently not one of those people. I used to argue with my husband that I still sought her approval. He was adamant. I protested, saying I was a big girl now, but over these last few months, I have come to realize he’s absolutely right.
When loved ones are involved, we often might find ourselves in situations where we want to “fix” things, put a verbal bandage on a situation and tell them everything is going to be all right. But sometimes it won’t be all right, either because of the impossible situations our loved ones create for themselves, or because of the untenable situations over which no one has control.

These types of situations have caused so many emotions within me, from anger to anxiety to anguish. The last few years since my father’s death, when I have been forced to become her husband and handyman, relinquishing the role of daughter in the process, I have come to realize that the thing I want most—her happiness–is something I can’t create for her. She has never been a positive thinker, and her recent situations have created an ever-darker cloud over her head. I can’t seem to blow it away, in spite of all the movies or lunches I take her to, or the wheelchair-accessible sink and cupboards and her motorized scooter I made sure she had. I’ve spent hundreds of hours making sure everything in her life works for her, but nothing, in her mind, will ever be okay again.

I am a fixer. I would love nothing more than to hear from her that she has finally achieved some degree of happiness. That would be most fulfilling for me. But I’ve learned I can’t create happiness in another. I’ve heard of people who choose to be happy in spite of their situations, which are much more horrendous than my mother’s. But she doesn’t have that kind of temperament, and all the articles and talks I can have with her will do, and have done, no good. I have already tried everything the last seven years since Dad has been gone.

I guess I’ve taken over Dad’s place, trying to make her happy. He couldn’t succeed, so it was a fool’s errand that I somehow I thought I could. I thought I had some spiritual insight I could share with her that would make everything okay. I learned a valuable lesson: Spiritual revelations come in their own time, and it is often not the timing that fits nicely into my plans.

So, in the end, the only person I have been able to enlighten in all this is myself. My only choice is to just love her, in spite of her negativity, in spite of her constant requests that are never quite fulfilled to her standards, and in spite of her dissatisfaction with my performance. And when it all becomes too much, I need to walk away for the sake of my own sanity, and let go of any feelings that I have somehow let her down. Just because Mom has decided she is in a no-win situation doesn’t mean I have to believe I am in one too. What I had forgotten is that I have a responsibility to lift myself up. That, at least, I am sure I can do.

Do you ever feel you are in a no-win situation? Leave me a message below. I’d love to hear from you.

8 Thoughts on “The Only Way Out of a No-Win Situation”

  • Sally,
    Hang in…you’re doing all the right things and with the appropriate attitude! I can (almost) guarantee no regrets!! We love our moms

  • What a tough situation Sal! I don’t know quite what to say . . . I remember it being a very difficult transition for me when my Mother & I switched places (I thought) she went into her second childhood & I had to be the adult/Mom figure.

    How wonderful that you can thank her for providing the situation for you to experience a very valuable revelation. And you can be so pleased with yourself (in my opinion) for all the successful past learnings that brought you to a place of being able to see the revelation.

  • You can do all things through Christ that strengthens you.
    Don’t know how you could walk through this without Him.
    Praying for your moms healing

  • Thank you for sharing your relationship trials–your mother is so blessed to have you as a daughter and caregiver. So happy for you that you were able to make lemonade out of the lemons! Have been dealing with the same issues with my mom -your perspective helps me put everything into a much more positive light-deepest gratitude!!

  • Thanks, everyone, for your kind support. Yes, prayers have strengthened me, and I am sure that these things are happening to make both of us better people. We are learning lessons in all of this! Love and detachment from the negative have become my mantras. Sending blessings and appreciation to all.

  • I’m sitting here, all sorts of feelings, and very few words. You know this hits home. Comforting, this kinship.

    Your realizations were hard won. Victorious you are. I bow to you Pigtailed One.

  • I feel for you in what you’re going through. I have only seen the positive side of your mom, always warm and mostly positive. It’s a fact of life that we often show strangers a different side than we show those nearest us, who somehow we know will love us even if we show the grumpy we’re feeling. It sounds like you have a great attitude toward all the difficulties, and are trying your hardest to make your mom’s life as easy as it can be. It’s a bitch growing old, but the alternative is a bit scarier. Keep hanging in there, give her all the love and support you can, but don’t expect the impossible of yourself.

    • Thanks Judy, Lori, and all, for your words of encouragement. This is a very complicated relationship. You wouldn’t believe some of the dialogue. I have a screenplay, if I ever get around to writing it.

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