Carolyn Hax: How To Bring An Elderly Mom Into Your Home But Not Both

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: My mother-in-law has gotten to a point where she probably shouldn’t be living alone anymore, but doesn’t need or want to be in a nursing home. My spouse and I are planning to ask her to move in with us. The only thing holding me back is knowing that if that happens my mum, who is 10 years younger than my husband’s mum, will assume she can move in with us too if needed.

I don’t want that for various reasons: my mother-in-law gets along great with our children and my mother doesn’t, my mother-in-law respects our privacy and helps out around the house as far as she is able, my mother doesn’t, etc.

How could I explain this to my mother? Or do I just have to swallow it and let my mom move in when and when the time comes?

holding me back: Don’t explain it now because you don’t know what the future will bring. You don’t want her to have any false hopes, I get that. But to get ahead of that, you have to deliver a message that she might find hurtful — and if 10, 15 years go by and for some reason she has no reason to move in with you, then you’ve hurt her needlessly.

Sometimes it really is a good plan to wait out a difficult potential problem and hope that it will solve itself.

Plus: Your children may have grown and gone when your mom needs care. You or your spouse could be frail. You may have downsized your home by then. Your mother-in-law could still live with you. By then you might have the funds for an in-laws apartment. Your mother could be gentler. Or, or, or.

I also don’t think you have to suck it up and invite your mom to stay with you when the time comes just because you did that with your mother-in-law. You can have integrity and still take any situation as it comes and make decisions based on the facts. Look up Equality vs. Justice.

Just prepare to withstand any emotional fallout. “Right” does not mean “easy”.

Re: indentation: The mother may need help at some point, but she cannot define it as needing YOUR help on HER terms. “I want X done, and I’m sure it would be handy if you believed X was your responsibility.” Nope. This is transgression.

Dear Caroline: Do I have to wear the cheesy and silly “I’m 70” tiara my college friends sent me for our weekly Zoom, which coincides with my birthday?

But don’t be where all the fun dies either. Be a good sport about refusing to be a good sport. Happy Birthday!

To update: I ended up wearing it and trying to be a good sport. The dear friend who sent it died months later of a long illness. I would wear that plastic tiara all day, every day, if it would only bring her and her mischievous sense of humor back.

Moral of the story: Appreciate and love your friends because we never know when we will break up forever. (But don’t start me with the gift of the Christmas pattern soup tureen for the childless woman isolating alone during the pandemic.)

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