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Dear Harriette • I am 21 years old and have gone through hell and high water for my mother. We were homeless for nine years after she lost her big government job and, of course, her friends and family bailed on her. Since then, I have always stuck by her and bailed her out of whatever nonsense she got herself into.

I made sure she had everything she needed (food, clean clothes, a roof over her head, etc.), and I was basically her advocate at social services when they denied her help.

Her life is back to normal (she's now retired and disabled), but she is so used to me taking care of her now that she won't care for herself. I'm beyond frustrated, as you can probably tell, and I'm sick of playing Superman.

Frustrated Daughter, Alexandria, Va.

Dear Frustrated Daughter • Your mother needs to develop the skills to take care of herself, skills that she has not learned for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, she has insurance now.

With that, you can get her involved in therapy where she can talk about her life and the challenges she faces. Set up the sessions for her and, if it is allowed, attend some of the sessions with her so the therapist can see exactly how your mother looks at the world.

Meanwhile, see if you can get into college or find a job where you will be out of the house and on your own, at least for some of the time. Tell your mother your schedule and explain to her that you have to live your life.

Step by step, spend more time on your own. When you are with your mother, make it clear that you love her and that she has to be responsible for herself now. Check in on her to ensure that she is OK. The more consistent you can be in contacting her, the easier it will be for you to be apart from her, because she will not feel abandoned.

You need to do this now to establish any semblance of independence. But be prepared to take care of your mother again. The blessing and challenge of having older parents is that usually at some point, the adult children gain the privilege of caring for them into their old age. Unfortunately, you had to do it on the front end as well.

Harriette Cole's column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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