Breaking the cycle of abuse is what Nancy is doing on her own, as she is totally aware of her background and is determined not to make her children victims of such a childhood. So, that isn’t the issue here. The issue is what does she do when her mother needs help? How does she care for a parent who didn’t do the right thing for her? How does she “get over” her feelings, or around them or through them?
Counseling can only go so far and Nancy feels she’s done as much as she can, unless her mother is willing to join in the process. But she is frightened about the future. She feels that she won’t be able to give her mother hands-on care and she isn’t even sure she wants to be involved with her mother’s care at all. Nancy does have a sibling who, for whatever reason, wasn’t abused, and therefore Nancy knows this sibling will handle some of what the aging mother will need.
As a columnist, I receive many letters from adults who were raised by abusive, addicted and/or neglectful parents. They are in a quandary, because they know society thinks they should care for their parents. Some of them have religious issues about “honoring their parents,” no matter what. However, many feel that they just cannot give the emotional and physical care their aging parents need.
They want to know if they are terrible people. They want to know if there are options. Some, like Nancy, have had considerable counseling. Others haven’t tried outside help.
It’s especially hard for these people when they read stories of families gathering together to care for an elder. They imagine that these families have nothing but fond memories of their childhoods, and they see this perfect circle of care. This, of course, makes them feel left out, just like the abuse did when they were young. The perception that everyone else comes from an intact family is salt in the wound.
Of course, most families have never been totally “functional.” Most families have had their share of “secrets” and bad behavior. But most families don’t qualify for the pain these truly abusive environments like Nancy’s left, either.