Ask a counsellor: ‘My mother’s become so high maintenance since moving closer – what should I do?’

18th Jun 19 | Lifestyle

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance to a woman whose widowed mother’s behaviour is starting to take its toll.

Thoughtful woman sitting at table with cup of tea

The problem…

“When my father died, I encouraged my mother to move nearer to me so that I could keep an eye on her. She surprised me by agreeing immediately and found a small flat nearby. However, since moving she has spent nearly all her time at my house. I suppose she was and still is lonely, but I had no idea it would be so difficult.

She does little to help but criticises everything I do. She finds fault with my home, my family, the food I provide and how I prepare it. She expects me to run all sorts of errands for her, even though I have a family and a busy part-time job. She also moans constantly about how lonely she is.

When I suggested she should get out more, she accused me of trying to get rid of her. My husband has started to work longer days just to stay away from her, and my children do all they can to avoid her too. 
I do love her, but I can’t cope with this much longer. Why has she become so difficult?

Fiona says…

“If she wasn’t this way before the death of your father, the most likely cause is that she is missing him badly. It’s also possible that she may have received inadequate grief counselling at the time. Strangely, missing her husband may also explain why she seems to resent you and target you for criticism. You have a loving relationship, a happy family and a career, all things that she no longer has.

“Whatever the reasons, though, she can’t be allowed to carry on like this. It’s already placing pressure on your family and if it continues, it might affect your relationship with your husband. So please find a way to talk with her quietly and explain that her rudeness and constant criticism is unfair. Tell her that you love her and still want to see her, but that this behaviour must stop.

Side view of a happy senior woman smiling while drawing as a recreational activity or therapy outdoors together with the group of retired women.
Could a new hobby and socialising locally help? (iStock/PA)

“It’s not clear from your letter how long ago your father died but your mother is clearly still emotional and a bit brittle, so it’s important that you stay calm and don’t be confrontational. Hopefully, this will be enough to get her adjust her behaviour but if she carries on being critical, you must be prepared to simply walk away. Stop whatever you’re doing and go to another room. Keep doing this and the point should get home.

“Explain also that asking her to get out more was not to get rid of her, but to help her get over the loneliness that she admits to feeling. To this end, encourage her to look for ways to make new friends locally. This could be through joining a club or society, taking up a sport of other physical activity or starting a course to learn a new skill. You don’t mention how old she is but the University of the Third Age ( is a great way to continue learning and meet new people at the same time. If she wants a greater challenge, she might even consider a local part-time job or some kind of volunteering.

“Help her as much as you can through this process, perhaps even suggesting some counselling with Cruse Bereavement Care (, and I’m sure she’ll soon start to get back to old self.”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

© Press Association 2019