Dear Carol: My mother is 83 and has been friends with a 65-year-old neighbor and fellow church member for many years. This neighbor is physically strong but not educated, while Mom has poor health but has a master’s level degree. Even with these differences, a friendship based on shared passions for knitting, bird-watching and church activities has flourished.
Several years ago, Mom had a knee replacement and this woman helped care for her afterward, even cleaning the house. Mom’s notoriously cheap, but since her friend lives on Social Security, I talked Mom into paying her for cleaning the house. Lately, her friend has been getting groceries and running other errands to keep Mom from being exposed to COVID-19. I feel that Mom should pay her more, but she says, “She likes to help.” Well, yes, but this is more than an occasional favor, and frankly, her friend’s running errands helps me too since I work full time. How can I get Mom to do the right thing? — CF.
Dear CF: Thank you for recognizing the contributions of this lovely neighbor, both for what she does for your mom in terms of their longtime friendship as well as for cleaning and errand running. I’m sure having her available to assist your mom is a relief for you, as well.
From what you’ve said in your email, I’m assuming that your mom has no known cognitive problems that would keep her from understanding that the right thing to do would be to pay this woman more for taking on added responsibility. Perhaps your mom is just clueless about how much time, energy and even car expenses this woman is contributing. It’s also possible that her judgment is becoming less reliable due to cognitive changes that aren’t evident in other ways. Whatever the reason, she's seeing these substantial contributions only as a gesture of friendship, when it is that, but this is also something that would be paid work under other circumstances.
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The fact that your mother is already paying her friend to clean provides the groundwork for your argument. Emphasize that while her friend values their relationship, asking her to take on these chores regularly falls outside of those boundaries. Remind your mom that while her friend probably doesn’t talk about it, if she’s trying to live on her Social Security alone, her finances are very tight.
If your mom still won’t budge, you could tell her that since she won’t pay her friend to shop, she could start ordering her groceries through a delivery service. Be firm that you don’t have the time to do her shopping. You can explain that a shopping service will charge fees and her friend wouldn’t benefit from the extra money spent, but it is an option.
I can’t imagine that your mother will hold out much longer if you present such a case, but if she continues to refuse either option maybe you can pay the woman separately. She absolutely deserves a raise.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.