The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Mom is a little lost since Dad died; are siblings helping enough?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am the youngest of five siblings. We lost my dad almost a year ago. My parents were married for 60 years, and my mom is lost without my dad. She has never been alone.

I am close to my mom and talk to her every day, and now sometimes twice a day. I visit every week and usually spend the night. She lives two hours from me. I am heartbroken that none of my brothers or sisters has the time to call or visit.

I promised my dad that I would take care of my mom. I will happily fulfill that promise, but I cannot be the answer to her loneliness all by myself. I have a job and a family, just like my siblings. I do not want to have a showdown with my brothers and sisters over their lack of . . . caring? interest?, but how do I get them to wake up?


They could easily be writing in to me to say that it’s up to your mom, not her kids, to be the answer to her loneliness, but one sibling is pressuring them to be your mom’s entire social life.

Obviously, we all need to spend time with people we love, for their benefit as well as our own — and I’m not suggesting that everyone let Ma figure it out her own darn self.

But, it’s okay to give your mom some responsibility for her own happiness before you go blaming your sibs. It also would help, no doubt, if you looked at this not with a conviction that they’re wrong and you’re right, but instead that they have their way and you have yours. That makes your task a lot less presumptuous. Plus, if you work with their strengths, then you’ll likely be much more successful.

But, again, start with Mom herself. Talk to her about what she needs, what she craves, how her arrangements at home can be adjusted to make these things easier. Ask what her home town offers in the way of support and socialization. Ask if she wants you to look into it for her. Does she even want you doing all this?

Then, with her or on your own, figure out which sib has a strength or skill — who’s mobile, who’s organized, who’s plugged in, etc. — that can be leveraged to enrich your mom’s life. Then, if Mom won’t do it herself, you approach each sibling in a “Hey, I have an idea” way — or better, “Mom asked me to ask you if you’d be willing to ______,” which is going to be so much better received than “I’M TAKING CARE OF MOM ALL BY MYSELF, YOU INGRATES.”

As in: “Mom needs help with remembering appointments and coordinating rides. Are you willing to step in as schedule-keeper? It’s doable from home.” Or, “Mom said she wanted help sorting old photos. Do you have a free day sometime in the next month?” Specifics are easier for people to grab onto, especially if they’re expressed in a way that takes your family dynamics into account.

Don’t rule out professional guidance here, either. A geriatric social worker might yield useful ideas, and you can easily start the process of finding one at

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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