Dear Family Advisor
My mother-in-law needs to have her own place, rather than live with us -- but my husband disagrees.
Last updated: July 04, 2009
How can I convince my husband to let his mom get a trailer or apartment before we end up divorced? We've been married for almost two years and have a baby. I'm the wife and mom, so I want to be the one to take care of everyone. His mom meddles. She loses my stuff (just mine) or throws it away. She washes the baby's clothes and bottles even though I ask her not to. And she doesn't take the bottles all the way apart, though she insists she does.
My husband says she's staying. Is there a way I can convince him it would be best for us all if she had her own place?
It's always tough when caregiving issues touch new marriages. You've barely become a couple, and now you have a new daughter -- and a mother-in-law in your daily life.
I hope you'll be able to convince your husband to consider whether having his mom live there is really necessary. Most caregivers either start too early or too late. The danger of starting too early is burnout. It's real. And since you're the one who will probably interact with your mother-in-law the most, you'll also feel it the most.
It'll help if you understand your husband's motives for her living with you. Maybe she was a single mom and he feels the need to watch out for her now? Maybe they're close because of an event that happened in the past -- say, another sibling left home or died? Is he thinking it will be easier financially?
Then do a little research on caregiver burnout and show him how detrimental it can be to your health and marriage, that it's stress to the max. Reassure him that you want to help care for his mom ("help" is the key word here -- after all, it is his mom), but emphasize that it's not good for her to be cared for when she doesn't need it. Most people fare far better living on their own and having their own activities.
Assure him that you know he wants her near, and living nearby is a great compromise. It gives you your space so that your marriage can continue to grow roots -- and it allows the two of you to check in with her. Remind him that caregiving can go on for years -- so be careful about what you start.
If all else fails and your husband continues to insist that she stay with you, don't just give up on your marriage. Your child needs her dad around, and while this is stressful, it doesn't need to be a deal breaker. Sometimes the most unlikely people teach us how to find our inner strength. State clearly to your mother-in-law what bothers you. Create boundaries and become that strong woman I know you are. She's in your home -- which means you get to call at least some of the shots.
Try to be flexible on things that don't really matter. She's probably taking such a keen interest in your life because she's bored. Some daily irritants aren't worth having an all-out fight about, and maybe she does some things well. Is it helpful to have her babysit, for instance? Can she do some laundry or cook one meal a day? Perhaps she can contribute financially, too. It might not be ideal, but by shifting our perspective we can usually make a frustrating situation tolerable.
Elders have so much to teach, and they can be so good with our kids -- patient and playful at times when we're not. Try to notice and appreciate those moments. I do hope that you and your husband find a way to be on the same team. It is possible to face caregiving together, whether now or in the future -- and your marriage will be stronger for it.
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