“I Feel Guilty for Moving Out and Leaving My Mother Without a Caregiver”

My boyfriend of seven years and I have decided to move in together as a next step to marriage. I feel ready for this step, but my mother, whom I currently live with and help care for and I have a tense relationship with, is against living together before marriage. I had a hard time telling her, she reacted angrily as I expected, but later apologized and has been acting extra nice to me. However, she’s been making snide comments about it here and there, such as, when I tell her I’m going shopping for my new home, she says I’m playing house and it’s the wrong path.

I have a hard time dealing with that part, but the big issue is that she relies on my care and I’m worried about leaving her (she and my father are divorced and she’ll live alone when I move out). She doesn’t drive, so I usually drive her to work, twice a day, everyday. She also has type 1 diabetes and has a hard time keeping her blood sugar stable, especially at night time. (I keep telling her to test her blood before she sleeps because otherwise her blood sugar gets so low she’s close to a coma.)

I want to make this new chapter for myself and my boyfriend, but it’s difficult leaving behind my mother, who doesn’t support my decision but also needs help, because, if something happens to her, I will feel responsible for leaving her. I am NOT moving out because of her, but I need to make this change for my life, guilt-free. Should I be thinking in a way that it’s her life and she needs to figure it out? Or I should I be helping her the same as before? — Feeling Guilty

You’re inclination to let your mother “figure it out” is right to some degree. And your desire to live your life for yourself is 100% right. The challenge — and what you’ll need to do to feel some level of comfort in your decision to move out — is to help your mother “figure it out.” She has both immediate needs and longterm needs, some that you continue helping with even after you move out, and some that she will either need to take responsibility for or someone else will have to help with. Your job as her loving daughter is to sit down with her and decide what you will be able to continue doing — like driving her to and from work? — what she will need to do herself (check her blood sugar each night before bed), and what responsibilities might be better outsourced if there are resources to pay for it. Your mother may qualify for assistance that she has otherwise not been using because you have provided the assistance. Work with her as her advocate to see what she might be entitled to that would free you up both from some of the hands-on work of caring for your mother as well as the guilt of not being as available to her as you have been as a live-in caregiver.

As for your decision to move in with your boyfriend before getting married: You are an adult and it’s not your mother’s place to tell you how to live your life. That’s not to say that she won’t make snide comments or judge you or try to make you feel shitty. You can’t control how your mother reacts to your decisions. But you can control how you react to her. I would use these tactics: ignore; change the subject; remind her she’s not the boss of you.

Ultimately, I predict that having some space from your mother and creating a new chapter with your boyfriend will benefit your relationships with both of these people. As you deal with some of the challenges that are likely to come — in both relationships — with the transition, you’ll need to remind yourself that moving forward isn’t always without some hurdles. It isn’t the presence of hurdles that define whether you’ve made a good decision, but rather how well you handle them, what you learn in the process, and where the path forward takes you.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. LisforLeslie says:

    You, as the daughter, are not responsible for managing your mother’s illnesses. At least not while she is a competent and functioning adult. Helping her get to work is nice, but she may be able to afford other options like a carpool van. Check out options.

    If your mother is relying on you so heavily to manage her life, I’d worry about her creating crises so that you have to run to help. The not managing her diabetes and potentially falling into a coma is a huge red flag that your mother is both not taking her illness seriously and is relying on others too heavily. Is she the type that would actually risk her own health to drag you back home?

    1. zombeyonce says:

      While I didn’t see anything in the letter to indicate that LW’s mom would purposefully create a health crisis to get her daughter back home (or lie about one), I think that the LW needs to be aware that, as it currently stands, it’s incredibly likely that this will happen anyhow, at least for a while. If the mom is letting her blood sugar get so low because she won’t do something as simple as check her sugar before she sleeps, the LW moving out without a good plan (like Wendy suggests) is really dangerous.

      I think that more than just making plans about how the mom will get to work and get assistance with care, it would be really beneficial to the mom and helpful for LW’s guilt level if the move out happened over a period of time rather than all at once. If LW starts spending weekends at the boyfriend’s house to give the mom time to adjust to taking care of herself better or understanding if she needs an outside caregiver, this could make it go much more smoothly than just moving out in a day. Then LW can build up the amount of time until she’s living elsewhere full time. A slow transition is safer and more compassionate for LW’s mom and would minimize LW’s guilt.

      1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

        Mom could easily skip testing her blood sugar and letting it go too low the first weekend away just to prove that she isn’t capable of living alone to force the LW to stay. I think it needs to be stressed that if she can’t test her blood sugar she needs to go to a nursing home. I don’t think assisted living does nursing duty which is what blood sugar monitoring is. The LW shouldn’t have to teach her mom to be an adult.

      2. zombeyonce says:

        (Can’t seem to reply directly to your comment, @Skyblossom, so hopefully this shows up after your comment.)

        I definitely think what you say about the mom skipping testing her blood sugar is possible, though I really hesitate to think she’d do it on purpose. That’s a pretty serious thing to do to yourself purposefully, and the mom does it enough without seeming to want to hurt herself that I don’t’ think we need to attribute malice to her. I really don’t see anything in the letter to indicate that LW’s mom is manipulative, just irresponsible and doesn’t take her condition seriously.

        However, if it happens on purpose or not, this is a great reason that a slow transition would help everyone. If she gets too low the first weekend, LW will see her again soon to find out it happened. And if it does happen, LW will then know for sure how likely it is and be able to plan for that, whether by understanding and convincing her mom that a real caregiver is needed, that the mom may need to go to assisted living, or if the mom thinks she is willing/able to make changes to actually take care of herself. I don’t think that moving out slowly is to make it a trial run (mom messing up on blood sugar shouldn’t make LW move back in), it’s to get this to work without the LW being inconsolable for a long time if her mom goes into a coma and dies or has other serious medical complications and LW feels any guilt (even though it’s not her fault).

        It’s easy to say that the mom needs to take care of herself, of course she does! But that doesn’t magically make LW feel just fine if something happens. Making a big change like moving out in a thoughtful and deliberate way is good for everyone.

      3. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

        The problem is she could go into a coma the first weekend. The LW has that fear. If her blood sugar goes that low the first night having the LW come back two nights later won’t do any good, it will be too late.

      4. zombeyonce says:

        If the LW is worried, she can just spend one night away at first. The point isn’t to make sure nothing happens ever, it’s to ease into it so the mom can learn that the LW isn’t going to be there all the time but isn’t “abandoning” her to be with her boyfriend. I think she’s got to treat the mom a bit like a child in this situation. If the LW has been taking care of her mother like this for years, it doesn’t seem kind to just suddenly up and leave completely, no matter how fair that is to the LW. Give the mom a chance to adjust and keep herself healthy.

  2. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

    Great advice from Wendy.
    The only thing tho…I’m not a fan of any woman moving directly from her parents’ house in with a boyfriend/husband. I think that all women should live on their own before they live with a SO.
    LW, have you considered moving into a small apartment for a year or so before you live with your long-term boyfriend? I think that you would learn and grow so much being on your own.

  3. So your mother has made herself emotionally and physically dependent on you so you never leaver her, like your father did. She probably needs to see a therapist, because she is a functioning adult, and should be able to manage a way to work, and taking care of her diabetes. It’s really sad, and she is playing you.

    PS: don’t get caught in one of these 15 year relationships with promises of marriage, but it never happens. If you want to get married shit or get off the pot. If you are fine where you are, which a lot of people can be, then that’s great.

    1. Anon from LA says:

      This: “So your mother has made herself emotionally and physically dependent on you so you never leaver her, like your father did. ”

      Also, bagge makes a good point about promises of marriage. Just because you’re moving in with your boyfriend doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get married. Hopefully everything will turn out for the best, but you just never know–anything could happen. Maybe consider stashing away some money in an emergency fund in case you need to make it on your own one day.

      1. zombeyonce says:

        Even if LW is sure the relationship will work out, an emergency fund is needed. Also, a separate “fuck off fund” is highly recommended even if there is absolutely no reason the LW thinks this relationship won’t work out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paulette-perhach/a-story-of-a-fuck-off-fund_b_9065308.html. You can’t predict someone else’s future behavior, even if you know them incredibly well. People change and you should always protect yourself.

  4. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    What does your boyfriend think? When you are partners, especially life partners, you work together on big things like caring for parents. You haven’t mentioned him in any way when it comes to deciding what to do with/for your mom. This is something the two of you need to discuss because it directly affects you both if you are living together. If you drive your mom to work you will be at home less just because you will be going out of your way to pick her up and drop her off. If you are going by to check on your mom you again are taking time away from home. A demanding mother can harm your relationship so this is something that needs to work not only for you but also for your boyfriend.

    I agree with bagge, figure out if you’re getting married. Don’t spend fifteen years finding out he likes living together but doesn’t want marriage. You’ve already invested seven years. I wouldn’t give him more than one to two years to propose.

    I like Wendy’s suggestion to find out what services your mom might be eligible for but have no idea how to figure that out. Hopefully someone can give suggestions of where to look and what to ask.

    Unless your mom is suffering senility she is perfectly capable of checking her own blood sugar with no reminder from you. She’s acting like a baby to keep you tied around her little finger. If she goes into a coma it is all on her. She knows what to do and when to do it. If she refuses/chooses not to do something so simple then it’s all on her. If you are driving her to work she should be paying you something each week for gas. An occasional ride is one thing where you don’t worry about things like gas, every day is something else entirely. You are being used. As a parent of a grown son I can tell you that it was your mom’s responsibility to raise you and you don’t owe her years of your life to pay her back.

    1. zombeyonce says:

      “If she goes into a coma it is all on her.”

      While this is 100% true, that fact will not make the LW feel better about the situation if it happens. It’s easy to say it’s someone else’s fault and you shouldn’t feel guilty, but that rarely stop anyone from feeling that guilt. I think a compassionate transition plan will not only make this less likely to happen, but it is realistic about the LW’s future feelings.

  5. If your mom is really, truly not capable of remembering to check her own blood sugar or otherwise manage her diabetes, then she belongs in assisted living or at minimum, she needs a home health care aide.

    But, since she’s competent enough to hold down a job, I suspect that’s not the case, and like everyone else said, she’s being helpless on purpose to keep you around, and control you through guilt.

    Wendy’s got it. You sit down with her and help her figure out how she can do the things she depends on you to do. How she gets to and from work, how she remembers to check her blood sugar. For rides, she might carpool with a coworker, or maybe use Uber or Lyft. Or take driving lessons. For the blood sugar checks, she can set an alarm, or put a reminder on her smartphone, if she uses one.

    Be prepared for her to manufacture some sort of crisis after you move out, probably involving a midnight trip to the ER in an ambulance. If that becomes an ongoing problem, then I’d call her bluff. “Mom, if you really can’t handle day to day life on your own, maybe we do need to look into assisted living.”

  6. Also does anyone else think that this mom would intentionally hurt herself to get her daughter to move back in? Like not take her medicine, or something?

    1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I do. I’m thinking that she’ll have some huge episode where she has to be hospitalized to try to force the daughter to come back.

      LW it is completely on her if she decides to not check her blood sugar or if she decides to not take insulin properly or if she does anything else that causes her to be ill, even horribly ill. She is making choices and if she chooses to be sick you shouldn’t feel guilt about it. It is a form of emotional abuse and she will probably hit you with it hard.

    2. dinoceros says:

      It’s hard to tell how manipulative she is, but possibly! I hadn’t thought of it.

    3. Cheesecaker2911 says:

      I definately think this mom might pull something like that. My mother in law is sort of similar. She needs her kids around but refuses to let them be adults. She prefers me to her own daughter, but wouldn’t speak to me for a while after my husband and I moved out. We lived with her for about 3 years to help her, and well, it didn’t help. So now she has the occasional housing related crisis to get attention. We let my husbands siblings handle those issues at this point as her solution would be to move in with us, which for a number of reasons is not an option.

  7. artsygirl says:

    LW – I wish you had included some more details in your letter. For starters it would be helpful to know your age and your mother’s ages. If you are 20 or if you are 40 makes a bit of a nuanced difference in my advice. Also you state that your mother does not drive. Is this because she does not like to drive or because she is incapable? If you mother is in her 40s-50s, mentally fit, and capable of driving, then moving out would actually be helpful for your relationship. She depends far too much on you and in many ways your relationship with her has been reversed – you have taken on the parent role while she can be irresponsible knowing that you will pick up the slack such as not monitoring her blood sugar. If she is older, has memory issues, and unable to drive then you will need to set in place services which can assist her such as a companion who can check on her to make sure she is taking care of her diabetes and a car service to get her to and from work. I agree with Skyblossom that you need to talk to your BF about what level of care you will provide and what you will do in the future if she becomes incapacitated.

  8. dinoceros says:

    I’m not sure if there’s anything else going on with her than what you listed (like why doesn’t she drive?), but if there isn’t, she’s making choices about her life. She’s choosing not to drive. She’s choosing to not manage her own illness. As an adult, she should be able to do these things (barring any other sort of disability). Any competent person would realize that their child isn’t going to be their live-in caregiver forever. But it sounds like she thinks she can emotionally manipulate you into staying, so you’ve got to make a plan and stick with it.

  9. bittergaymark says:

    Everybody here — well, most everybody — is kinda sorta casually slagging on the mother. But maybe she really truly needs a lot of help? It’s hard with so few details –but can you look into getting your mother an actual caretaker? I mean, if she routinely allows herself to slip into a diabetic coma this isn’t JUST drama queen behavior… This sounds like untreated mental illness. Please get her help! You so won’t regret doing that…

  10. From the letter, the mother has never slipped into a diabetic coma. The daughter says “she comes close to…” We don’t know on what basis LW says her mother is ‘close to a diabetic coma’. It’s probably based on low morning blood sugar, but how low?

    Type I diabetes is very serious and life expectancy is poor, generally with serious problem such as blindness, amputation, problems with one or more major organs in the later years. A friend recently died from complications of Type I diabetes. This person took excellent care of self, still suffered serious complications, made it to late 60s, which is exceptional for a Type I diabetic.

  11. Hello everyone, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post, thank you especially to Wendy because I have tried to form a plan with my mother when it comes to drives and if something happens to her. My boyfriend and I already have the place but I’m not going to move in right away, just slowly every week I’ve been there a few nights for her to get used to it. Good news is she is on a new insulin that is long lasting and her benefits kicked in so she can afford strips and has been testing her blood every night and morning. As for driving, she was in a car accident years ago because her blood sugar was 1.6, so her license was taken away.
    As for our ages I am 25 and she is 51. And as for the marriage stuff we decided no longer then a year living together, unless obviously it doesn’t work out and if it doesn’t then I will live on my own. And we have worked together in figuring out what to do with her (to be frank he doesn’t like her very much because of the way she speaks to me) as for her having mental illnesses, it is quite clear she does suffer from a variaty of them but it is undiagnosed. And she can be manipulative but I can’t see her putting herself near death to make me stay but you never know I suppose.

    1. zombeyonce says:

      I love immediate updates!

      LW, I’m happy that you’re finding something that works for both you and your mom and helps you both be independent. Congratulations!

    2. Anon from LA says:

      Thanks for the update–it sounds as if you’ve put a lot of thought into this life change. It’s great that you and your boyfriend are communicating about your plans for living together, marriage, and dealing with your mom. Keep on talking about all those things!

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