Dear Amy:

I think I must be the most selfish person in the world. I am in my late twenties and care for my mother, who is in her late sixties. We get along fine, but there are times when I feel trapped and frustrated.

I drop by her house daily and do her shopping for her. I also take her to doctors' appointments and help with her bills.

I have three other sisters, but none of them has ever offered any help or even asked my mother to visit them. (I'm not sure if she would go even if they did ask.) As a result, I feel that I can't go on vacation or travel for work because I hate to leave her.

We have relatives in the area, but she says she doesn't like to bother them.

She encourages me to go, though, saying that she'll be fine without me. Then she acts hurt if I don't call her several times a day, and she tells me constantly that she misses me, which makes me feel like a heel for leaving.

I've tried to encourage her to get out and do things, but she says she won't do things without me. For a while, she attended meetings at a senior center. I would take her, but my schedule changed and I am no longer able to do it. I arranged for a shuttle to pick her up, and she said she didn't want to ride it. Then she talks about how much she misses it. Am I a heel?

Lost

Surely you are being sardonic when you describe yourself as "selfish" and "a heel."

If you aren't joking, then you need more help than your mother does.

In case you really don't get it, I'll lay this out for you: You are not selfish. She is. You are not a heel. She is.

It is caring and laudable of you to help your mother, but you are forgetting that your most important job on this planet is to live your life. You should be able to be loyal and helpful to your mother AND live your life.

You aren't helping her so much by helping her so much, if you know what I mean.

You must set boundaries and limits -- physical and emotional. When she says that she misses her group meetings, perhaps you can ride the shuttle one time with her so she can get used to it. Do not call her several times a day. Instead, encourage her to develop interests that will take up her time and make her life more creative and interesting. You also need to find a way to get your sisters engaged.

You can contact your local senior center or Office on Aging to inquire about activities that your mother could enjoy without your participation. If she needs a home health aide, they can make some referrals.

Please back away from this over-involved relationship. It's not healthy for either of you.

Dear Amy:

More on grandparent nicknames.

When my daughter was little, my mother always carried chewing gum in her pocketbook and would give her a piece. My daughter started calling my mother Gum Gum, and all her other grandchildren started calling her that name until years later when she died. Even my father started calling her Gum Gum.

Jean from Washington, D.C.

My own daughter is lucky enough to have a Gum Gum in her life. Perhaps that's why I'm enjoying this ongoing dialogue about grandparent nicknames so much.

Dear Amy:

I am so tired of being mistaken for a man on the phone. People will call for my husband and think that I am he.

Or I will call somewhere and be referred to as "Sir."

It just burns me up. I was born with this voice.

I wish I had a great comeback for these people.

Low Voiced

You seem to think that it is other people's fault that they have made a simple mistake. It's not.

I don't think you need a comeback -- you need to be tolerant.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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