Dear Thelma: My mum tells lies and doesn't care if she puts others at risk

The writer confides in Thelma about her mother's irresponsible behaviour during the pandemic, especially when the lockdown was in place.

I don't have a good relationship with my parents as they are of a different character and mindset from me in terms of religion/world politics, etc.

My siblings and I have learned to keep quiet when my dad has an opinion about something because we will incur his rage if we speak our opinions out loud. My mother has never really been a mediator. Sometimes she blames us for his behaviour. They are both retired.

My very elderly grandma also stays with my parents.

Whenever I go out to buy food and essentials, I buy in bulk – two weeks' worth – and I buy groceries online to supplement that. Before going out, I always ask my parents for their list of things to buy, thereby reducing their need to go out.

At the start of the MCO, my mother kept flouting the rules and went out very often, at times two or three days in a row. Every time, I had to beg her to consider our health before going out but she insisted she needed to live too and wanted her freedom and nobody could stop her.

Every day, I prayed for our health, especially for grandma who has heart issues and previously suffered from asthma as well.

Even when we had plenty of food at home, mum would still go out unnecessarily, even to hotspot areas, I don’t know why. She says I am imagining the virus. My dad never stops her, but screams at me for asking them to stay home.

This pandemic has changed the way I see them: They put their family and other people at risk just so they themselves can be happy. I can’t describe the amount of anxiety I went through during the lockdown.

The house help and I routinely wipe down the things that we buy from outside while my mother simply ignores my pleas to wash her hands after coming home and to keep things sanitised. She hides her car keys and lies about where she went or what she did. I feel that the things I do are in vain; sometimes I wonder why I should protect them when they are not protecting us.

In family group chats, she portrays herself differently, saying we should be careful, sharing news articles, etc, but she doesn’t heed her own advice.

When I reached out to a close relative to try and convince my mother to stay home, she lied and said she had to do a lot of shopping and I’m the one causing trouble. Just before the lockdown, she also tried to convince the house help to stay home whilst she herself still went out to the malls. I feel she has serious double standards and I cannot trust her anymore.

As the infection rate in Malaysia is slowing down, my anxiety has lessened but it doesn’t help when my mother still goes out every day.

How should I speak to my parents about this problem to make them understand and take precautions – if not for their own health, then for others like grandma? And how do I stop my mother from telling chronic lies?

Pandemic ponderer

Usually when we live with others, we negotiate our differences, offering a middle path when possible and focusing on giving and taking.

Your family does not follow this. Your father screams at you in order to shut down open discussion, and you try and force him and your mother into obeying you, including pulling outsiders into private disagreements. Neither approach is comfortable or sensible.

You do not mention your siblings' opinion or whether they live with you still. However, no matter who lives there, the main question here is whether your parents have broken the law and whether they are committing elder abuse.

As red zones were shut down, I don't see how your mum would be able to go in and out for weeks on end without being stopped. The police actively guard these areas, checking who is going in and out, who belongs, and who does not. You don't mention your mum being cautioned or charged, so it's unlikely she's broken the law.

Is your grandmother competent? If she is not, and you feel she is in danger, then that is elder abuse which means you have a duty to report. In that case, I'd suggest talking to her doctor. Or you can call Talihan Nur 15999.

If your grandmother is competent and she shares your concerns, you must report it or arrange for her to move immediately to live with another family member she feels safe with. If she's competent and in agreement with your parents, then you can disagree, but that's the limit of your influence.

Assuming that no laws are being broken, and there is no elder abuse going on, there is nothing more that you can do. As you point out, your parents know and understand the advice given by health officials. They understand the risks they take and have made it clear they intend to ignore sensible safety advice and go their own way. That is on them and you cannot change them.

But you must consider yourself. If it were just a fight about lifestyles, you might retreat to your room, disengaging with your parents, and following your own way. However, that kind of distancing may not be effective to keep you safe while new infections are still being reported.

As you don't share your parents' outlook, and their values and behaviour make you concerned for your own health, I would give serious consideration to becoming independent. I don't see the point of fighting with them; you're not happy, so it's better to live apart.

In your own home you can live as you like, and without the stress of being worried all the time.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name, address and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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