Recipe for disaster

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

My husband and I have a “situation.”  His 80 year old mother lives in an assisted living facility. She’s fairly independent – her health is good, she  walks everywhere and reads everything in sight. But she’s miserable. (It seems like her own doing. She won’t do any of the activities they have.   People used to invite her to join them playing cards or quilting, things she used to love, but they stopped asking because she always said no.) Now she wants to come live with us.

We have a three bedroom house and two teenage sons; the boys would have to double-up. We’d have them do if we thought having her here would work. But, honestly, she’s very critical of “today’s kids” and is always telling them so. She thinks our house is messy and has told me so forever. She doesn’t like the way we cook, as she says, “too much brown rice and vegetables.” The list goes on and on.

My husband doesn’t think it’s a good idea either. We feel guilty but I don’t think any one of the five of us would be happy. What can we tell her?




Dear Reader

I understand why sharing your home with your mother-in-law would be a terrible idea. Even under the best of circumstances, bringing a parent into a home, especially one with children, can be a dicey proposition. Adding someone who clearly doesn’t agree with your lifestyle and can’t keep her negative opinions to herself, is a real recipe for disaster.

As for what you can tell her, how about the truth? I’m not suggesting you blast her out of the water with a laundry list of criticisms. But it would be worthwhile to identify the many pressure points the five of you would encounter if you were all under the same roof.

I strongly encourage your husband to take the lead by letting his mother know that you two  have given this careful consideration. Then, talk to her about all of your “differences,” from house keeping to diet. Be gentle but direct. This is not a “right or wrong” discussion. You are merely pointing out what makes her comfortable compared to what makes your family comfortable. Acknowledge that there  are too many significant differences to be able to make it a livable situation for any of you.

Don’t be surprised if she hurls negatives back at you. (Sadly, it sounds as though that’s how she’s learned to defend herself.) Stand firm and don’t take this “bait.” Reassure her that you love her. Stress that you want her to be comfortable but ask her to seriously consider just how content she would truly be living in a house that is so different from what she likes.

I’m concerned about what is actually going on in her life, the underlying issues that have prompted your mother-in-law to approach you about living together. After she has had time to recover a bit from not getting her way, have a real heart-to-heart talk about her current situation. Try to understand why she has withdrawn from the other residents and all of the activities.  Is there something else at play here – a bossy staff, a critical clique of residents?  Is this facility too large for her? Does she feel lost in the shuffle? Or, could your mother-in-law be suffering from depression? (Her withdrawal from activities she normally enjoyed might be a symptom. Depression among the elderly is not uncommon.)

It’s time for a frank discussion with the staff of the facility and perhaps an evaluation for depression from her physician. If you can resolve these other issues, it may make all of you feel better. With this information in hand, you may or may not need to  consider a different living situation.

But be aware. Some people need to play out their negativity simply for the attention it generates. If this is your mother-in-law’s  way in the world, do your very best to ignore the barbs. And, when guilt hits, remind yourselves that you have made the best decision for all five of members of your family.

(Click here to return to The Second Half online archives)