Slipping Into Relational Dependency

My Mom-in-law is eighty nine years old. She does all her own banking: she can tell you down to the cent what she has spent over the last week, month, or even year. She buys her own groceries, pays her bills, and on her own, decided to give up driving without us having to influence her in any way. There’s so much more this remarkable woman does at her age, but she’d be embarrassed if I went on.

© Qstone | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Watching and relating to her has been an absolute lesson in life, especially in the whole area of dependency. And here I don’t mean things like smoking and alcohol etc., but relational kinds of dependency – just being too dependent on one another. It tends to start out small, often in an unconscious way, and then evolves in to a crippling habit. Relationships that foster dependency can become deeply debilitating and threatening.

I’ve found that a good inventory to make every now and again, is one where we take time to examine very carefully where we’re starting to become just a little too dependent on those around us, especially those closest to us. A real and honest appraisal of ourselves can reveal some surprising things, even though we may not want to see them at times.

These little examinations, I think, do two things. First, they help us to become aware of these dependencies, and second, having become aware of them, they enable us to put in place constructive ways of weaning ourselves off them, which by the way, is not only healthy for us, but also for those we’ve become too dependent on.

My Mom-in-law has done this for most of her life and has reaped the rewards of mature living right in to old age itself.

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
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28 Responses to Slipping Into Relational Dependency

  1. Theresa says:

    I know that special lady. She is an inspiration to us all. We can truly learn a lot from her. My dad would of been so proud of his “old” sister.

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  2. lyn Stephenson says:

    What is even more remarkable for me, is that your mom-in-law comes from a generation of women who were brought up to be dependent. Women from her era had no status unless they were married. They had no legal rights and couldn’t open an account without approval from their spouse. With all the years of suppression and the stereotypical images of women as weak, over emotional and shrinking violets, images that mom-in-law has lived with most of her life… just goes to show, you will never keep a strong woman down. .

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  3. ladyfi says:

    What a strong woman! I do think that relationships have to be mutual – and there’s a fine line between that and being too dependent on someone.

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  4. Don says:

    That “fine line” as you say, I think, is the issue Fiona. Mutuality is what its about. Thank you.

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  5. Terry says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing that Don, I never met her but I now have in insight into Janes upbringing. I like your suggestion of making an inventory of our dependencies. They might start of quaint, however being too dependent isn’t healthy for either party. I have homework.

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  6. Vince says:

    That is why I every so often take off into the blue horizon on my motor bike, not that I want to get away from Glor, but just to recharge my batteries.

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  7. Don says:

    I can understand that Vince. I can just see the blue horizon and hear the roar of the engine. Where do you go?

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    • Vince says:

      where ever our bikes take us, there is a bunch of around 10 old geriatics that ride together, average age around seventy… … sooo see there is still life after sixty.

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  8. Lyn says:

    Don I am often in trouble from Chris, saying I must let others do things for me, but I’m so stubborn in this regard even when invited by the family for a drink I carry over my oiwn wine as I feel I don’t want to take advantage. Maybe I’m just strange

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    • Don says:

      Lyn, I think there’s a difference between graciously allowing others to do things for you, and becoming dependent. Times arrive when we have no option but to be dependent in some ways. But I think we need to hold on to as much independence as possible.

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  9. Geraldien Coetzee says:

    Your mom in-law reallysounds like a special lady. I think that the women of her time were so strong and hard working. I know from my mom who had 10 children and raised some of her grand children. She always made time for everyone and there was always enough food incase we had unexpected visitors. I think in a family the biggest problem today is that there is no real respect for each other anymore.

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    • Don says:

      Imagine raising ten children. Hard to imagine in this day and age. I don’t think we can even begin to grasp the strength of character it must have taken to raise that amount of children. You’ve just got to take your hat off to her hey Geraldien. Tonight I’ll salute her with a glass of red wine. Here’s to your Mom! Hope all is well with Norman. How is he?

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  10. Geraldien Coetzee says:

    Jane I think takes after her mom also a strong lady. Bless you both.

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  11. Don says:

    You’re so right Geraldien. Very strong.

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  12. Mercia Venter says:

    And birthays and special occasions are never forgotten. Even where you stay, with who, and what you do for a living, Not to mention the creativity that is still generated. I have often been pleasently surprissed and become very emotional towards the simple life lessons that have been shown to me by my aunts normal lifestile! No matter what life has dealt her. My aunty has dealt with it. I might not be around her much, but often speak of her. She holds a very soft spot close to my heart. And we did go visit so far on a weekend!

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  13. Jeanette Krige says:

    Great to have that level of health and well-being that allows such independent living, but we have experienced the rather difficult task of having to convince our elderly parents that they really did need help. They masked their problems from us but we gradually became aware that they were simply not coping at all and had to step in and help. Three out of the four great parents we were blessed to have have now gone, but it was really hard for them to accept help when they needed it. There is another side to your story about independence.

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    • Don says:

      So true Jeanette. There is the other dimension and I agree it can be deeply problematic. Thanks for your reminder. I suppose it has to do with developing a sober perception of oneself when it comes to one’s independence and dependence. Great to hear from you.

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  14. Food for thought there indeed. I hope I manage to be as feisty as your MIL and as my own Mum as I grow old but as Jeannette says, it does so depend on your luck in the health draw. 🙂

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    • Don says:

      I think for me no matter how one ages, or the state of health, there is always the need to remain as independent as possible. I don’t mean an unrealistic kind of independence, but certainly the kind which is relative to the state we’re in. Even in the most dire difficulties, I think a degree of independence can always be held on to, however small and vulnerable.

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      • I completely agree. My Dad, who went blind, still lived alone and was proud to manage, albeit with lots of visits and help. To have lost his independence as well would have been even worse. It was cruel enough as it was as he was a writer and a reader but he maintained his independence until very near the end -a proud, a dignified and a wise man. 🙂

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      • Don says:

        Your Dad and memory of him is the kind of person and memory that inspires us. Thanks for sharing that. He must have been quite a man.

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  15. josna says:

    I love this post, Don, and wonder how I missed it. It is the work of a lifetime, learning to live up to the high standards set by our hardworking and fiercely independent parents, and–we can hope–blaze new trails in some small way for our own children. I too like the idea of taking a periodic inventory, because it is so easy to slip unthinkingly into habits of dependence rather than maintaining mutually supportive, reciprocal relationships. Warm wishes to you and your family for a happy and healthy new year.

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