February 14, 2008,
L.S. asks from Saint Louis, MO on February 10, 2008
Help with 82 Year Old Mother in Law Who Lives with Us
I am looking for advice and opinions on my husband and my situation.... my mother in law
moved in with us five months ago when we built a new home. She contributed money toward
the purchase of the house (she could afford it) and now lives here free. No expenses
doesn't pay for food or alcohol( she likes to drink wine, beer, anything) and doesn't
contribute anything toward utilities or toilet paper, kleenex laundry soap , etc. I guess you get my point, she does not pay for ANYTHING! Now when we were setting this up
we didn't have any intention of asking for any utilities paid for but she doesn't offer
a dime toward anhything. When she goes to the grocery store with me she will remind me
that we are out of milk or parmesan cheese, etc. She will buy her own tylenol or lotions
or things like that when we go to walmart but that is it. I babysit three of my grandsons every day and I bring them to our home part of the day. When I make their lunch like grilled chees or noodles whe will ask me to make her one. To get to the
point she won't do ANYTHING. I clean the bathroom she uses because it is the one guests
use(but she has it decorated in DUCKS for her taste) in the beginning I was doing her
laundry but put a stop to that when she would come in OUR master bedroom to put her
dirty clothes in our hamper! Then I moved it into our bathroom and she would come in
there while I was drying my hair(and scare the living daylights out of me!) and put her
clothes in our hamper in there! She also will not get a phone line for her calls, so
when the phone rings and it is for her I have to run to her an give her the phone! When
I am gone she will get up and look at the ID to see who it is. She has a cell phone
but only turns it on when her daughter in Wyoming calls every Wed. at a certain time!
Needless to say I could go on and on but just wanted to get some outside view!
Thanks in advance for your help! L. S
A.D. answers from Kansas City on February 12, 2008
First I have to start by saying that I myself am only 28, but I feel a connection with your story because my Grandmother came to live with my family too. This was a while ago, I was still in High School and living with my parents. My Mom was always annoyed with my Grandmother (her Mom). It seemed like all the little things just added up to be a really big deal. Everything from criticisms and turning the heat up to covertly drinking alcohol. My Grandmother has passed now, but it wasn't until recently that my Mom started to feel horrible about being so annoyed with my Grandmother. Now that my Mom is getting older she sees how hard it is to age... how tired, sore and sometimes helpless she can be. She wishes she could take it all back. So, my advice would be to let it go. Be kind and gentle with her. Figure out the source of your anger... it may not even be your Mother in law. Work out to release stress and ask God for guidance. How would you like you kids to 'deal' with you when you are that age? I hope that helps. Good luck and God bless.
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D.D. answers from St. Louis on February 11, 2008
It sounds like you were willing to have her come live with you, but are now unhappy with the lack of boundaries in the relationship. I highly recommend the book "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It helps you to better understand why YOU need boundaries and why you may be having a hard time establishing them.
I would highly recommend having a separate discussion with your husband about your needs and what boundaries you would like to set with his mother. Then, you both need to sit down with her and communicate your needs to his mother and work out some arrangement.
Your mother-in-law may not think her requests are burdensome. It is up to you to communicate what you need from her and what she should and shouldn't expect from you.
This is always a challenging area and I know easier said than done. But, if you keep practicing understanding why you need the boundaries you need, it will be easier for you to gently but firmly enforce the maintaining of those boundaries.
Good Luck and go with God's peace and wisdom.
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D.E. answers from Springfield on February 14, 2008
How nice of you to let your mother-in-law live with you. It sounds like there weren't clear cut expectations in the beginning. The only way to solve the prob. is to talk to her in a positive way. I take it she is fully able to take care of herself. Doesn't she have her own part of the house? It doesn't sound like it. She has to know rules like everyone else. She has paid money for something, in her mind, part of the house is hers'. Just say, "mom, I really enjoy you here, I love you very much, I was wanting to talk to you about a few things that I feel need to be changed,I was wanting to talk to you about ect... now ask her what she thinks, include her in on the problem, give her choices?? This is kind of a tough one because of the money part, her age, and she's your husbands mom. You do have rights and so does she. Remember, keep your mind open and don't get defensive, be a listener, and keep focused, don't lose control or it could be bad. Does she get included in other things with the family. You know at 80's she is used to having things her own way. This is a big adjustment for her also, she might be clueless. Whatever you do, keep anger out, have your husband be with you, so she won't blame you, just in case. Life is short, but we want it to end a happy one. Expectations should be out in the open, on both sides. Remember, 80's are more bold, you know what I mean, since your 57, some thins just don't bother you as much anymore. You don have your hands full with the grandkids, you could tell her this si somewhat of a handful, and you'd love it if she could do some things on her own. Good luck on this one. Keep the peace.
L.P. answers from Wichita on February 11, 2008
This is definitely one of those situations that we all hate to deal with. Let me say this about the phone situation, we have lived with our daughter and their 4 kids while huband was in Iraq and the easy solution to 1 phone line is Distinct Calling, your mother-in-law would have her own ring on the phone, it is approximately $4 for this service, but it is nice to not have to answer the phone if it is for my daughter. You can set up mailboxes with voicemail offered by the phone company as well.
As far as her not helping pay for anything, you and your husband need to sit down and talk with her before your frustration gets to the point of resentment. Do not be hostile, just simply do your homework on what it would cost her to live in a senior apartment including food, laundry service and toiletries. Let he know that you appreciate her contribution when you purchased the house, however, the expenses did not stop then and if she could contribute some it would be very helpful to the budget. Also, if she needs you to do things for her that is one thing, but, the proof is out there that the more seniors stay active the better for them.
You didn't say if your mother-in-law has any friends of her own? If not get her involved in the local senior center where there are activities for the elderly and this will give you a break as well. Many senior centers offer lunch at a very minimal cost, so check into that for your sanity. It is definitely a hard situation because many times what we forget is that just because they live in our home, they feel many times that we are trying to control them, so they do what they can to make chaos for us! This is definitely not a healthy situation.
As far as the bathroom being decorated in ducks, let her have her own decorations in her bathroom and her bedroom. Ask her for advice on things! Sometimes when our parents reach this age they feel they are no longer needed. Include her in things that need done for the house. It doesn't mean you have to take all her advice, but get her input! You might find she feels less like the guest and more like a part of the household. That is not to say you don't make her a part, but sometimes when we think we are including them they feel left out! They no longer have their own home, they feel like a guest. Let her know she is not a guest, but a member of the household and her contribution to keeping things nice would be appreciated.
I have been down this road and it is hard to do for sure! We tried to have my mother-in-law live with us, but there was no way, she is a person who lives with stress in her life and thrives on it! I do not want to live in a home where I feel uncomfortable and refuse to fight with someone every day! This has been her entire life, she was married 9 times and each husband was in some way abusive! Her daughter who is my age has been abusive to her mom. I refuse to become this person! Look at your mother-in-laws life in the past, what was it like? It actually took me sitting down with one of her brothers and his wife before I truly figured out that this is how she likes to live and she is miserable if there isn't some type of stress in her life. My husband and I decided for the sake of our marriage that it was not going to work and when we told her so she was furious and hostile. Now she lives with her daughter and her husband, her daughter sadly is like her mom, so they fight a LOT! Oh and my mother-in-law is 85, she turns 86 in March. Some things we cannot change, even though we want to.
E.D. answers from Springfield on February 11, 2008
this is a hard place to be for sure , i think u need to set ground rules on your space and her space and do it in a nice way . and you must remember she will not be around for much longer , pray for help from god , he will anwser . at 82 how much help can she really give ? talk with her and she may just not relize how she is putting alot of work on you . good lucky
M.M. answers from St. Joseph on February 11, 2008
Have your husband talk with his mother and if that does not help ask her for her help like could she load the dish washer while u clean the bathroom. if that dosent work you could always leave old folks home pamplets laying around I bet she would get the hint also see if she will play bingo or volunteer somewhere to get her out of your hair. love to all and good luck
M.R. answers from Kansas City on February 11, 2008
It's hard to have anyone live with you. You have your routines & your expectations of how things should be/or not be. A lot of what you are experiencing is typical, no matter who it is that is living with you. It's hard to change all the rules now just 5 months later, but it sounds like there needs to be a little tweaking done to make it all work. Maybe if you sit down with your husband & go over the things that bother you, making a list of of your top 3 struggles that you two agree on. Then unitedly sit down with his mom & give her the opportunity to do the same with you. Likely there are things that you do that drive her crazy too. Maybe it will be that she pays for her alcohol - an extra in life, but not food. Maybe she needs to help with cooking by having days that she cooks, or if you could cook together & have that bonding time. I think it's important that she have her space & if she likes the ducks bathroom, so be it, but maybe one of your top 3 would be that she needs to clean it regularly instead of you. It sounds like she is probably struggling as well though & maybe she needs more activities that are focused on just her. Is she involved with any elderly groups? Do you give her time to share stories with you & those grandbabies? Are you giving her a time to shine, building her self esteem? She might very likely be feeling useless & tossed aside. Obviously she is not living on her own for a reason. The fact that she is 82 & sounds like she is doing as well as she is, thank your lucky stars that she is around. My husband & I don't have any parents left & we would LOVE to have ANY of them still alive & be able to take care of them. I always said that my mother in law took care of my husband when he was little & wiped his bum, as well as trained, loved & taught him. I wanted so badly to thank her in her old age by taking care of her, but I didn't get the opportunity to do that...not with any of our parents. I wanted that chance in life so badly. Be grateful & enjoy, looking for the positives in her. She won't be around forever. Remember too, your children are watching and still learning how to care for you when you are old as well.
P.P. answers from Kansas City on February 11, 2008
Good deals become bad deals without the details of the living arrangements secured in advance. You have your hands full because your mother in law, whom you love (or you would not have let her move in, in the first place) could be attempting to prove which woman in her son's life is really in control. She is winning. You need to have better boundaries - those bottom lines, or this will go on indefinitely. Eventually bitterness and anger will replace patience and courtesy. Without hearing both sides of the matter, it seems like you are being used, but you are allowing it. Here are some fair but simple solutions, however you have to determine to do them. It will get easier after the first few firm times. Stand your ground.
1. Go the grocery store alone, when you want to and don't announce you are going. You need to get out of the house alone anyway if you are a full time caregiver for kids during the day. Mix up the times you go out but take at least a half a day each week for yourself. Take your mother in law to Walmart. Leave her there for an hour and go to a bookstore. She can buy her toiletries, her groceries and her own liquor, while you are relaxing someplace else, then pick her up. This is being loving but also being in control of your own life. Be sweet, loving, but very firm. Don't put your husband between you two and expect him to choose between his mother and his wife. If he does not like what you want to do, then tell him to handle it and he can take her to the grocery store. You still need to go alone for yourself. However, do prepare your husband in advance for the new changes you are doing so he understands. Ask him to support you as you attempt to make it better for all three of you so you no longer resent your mother in law and want to love her.
2. When the phone rings, look at the caller ID. If it is not for you, don't answer it. Many people do that now for teens and for spouses. If you miss a call, pick it up off the messages. You are not the enemy by doing so. You could also buy a set of phones with seperate chargers at someplace like Costco. She could then have one for her area, so she could check the ID when it rings herself, if you want her to be able to use your phone. Quit catering to her. You are not helping her by allowing her to be so dependent instead of independent. If you don't want her on your line, turn the phone off but keep it near. Most phones will light up when they ring, even if off. You can answer it if you want to that way for your calls. The quiet will do you good.
3. If you are making meals for kids anyway, make one for her. But make her exactly what you do them. If she does not want it or what is being served, eat it yourself so it does not go to waste. Your house is not a restaurant. Also ask her to pick up a loaf of bread and a few other items for her meals you prepare for her. If she doesn't, don't fix one. If she gripes to your husband, have him take her to Walmart the next time and help her remember her food. He will encourage her in his own way to eliminate him doing the Walmart trip.
4. The ducks and the bathroom are another matter. If she contributed significantly to the house costs, she deserves her own bathroom, even if shared with guests. She is elderly. It would be hard for her to clean it. Offer this up as a good daughter-in-law, but ask her to buy the cleaning items like Windex and toilet scrub for you when she goes to Walmart, so you can clean her bathroom for her. Move the ducks around a bit when you clean it, so it is more pleasing to you, but don't get hung up on it if it causes a fuss. Your guests will understand that this is Grandma's bathroom. Pick your battles with her by making a list of the problems most upsetting to you. Prioritize fixing what is most important to you, changing those. Do all of this without emotions or arguing even if rebuffed by her. You allow your buttons to be pushed. You can control refusing to fuss and making these changes. Do it lovingly but firmly.
If you don't make the changes you need, it could eventually hurt your marriage and your relationship with your husband and with her.