Dear Family Advisor

I want my mom to move in, but my kids can barely stand her.

Last updated: Dec 29, 2010

My mom, who has severe asthma, needs to move in with us. But she's so strict and judgmental that she's pushing her grandchildren away.

My mom has always been very religious. She attends church three or four times a week, which provides her a strong support group. The problem is that she criticizes everything about my children -- from the music they listent to and the posters in their rooms to what they wear and even the movies we watch as a family. It's gotten so bad that my kids (ages 9, 12, and 14) don't want to be around their grandma. She even makes snide comments about my parenting in front of them!

I'm a single mom and doing the best I can. Besides, it's a "new day" when it comes to raising kids, and I don't want to have to defend every little decision, though that's what I wind up doing. How do I help everyone get along?

If you haven't talked with your kids about your mom moving in, do it soon. They need to feel that they have some input. Let them air their concerns and assure them that you're going to do all you can to make sure everyone is treated with the kindness all of you deserve. Talk about your mom's illness and what that might mean in terms of care. Allow them to ask questions about how much might be required of them and how this might change their lives.

Try not to force your kids to "like" their grandmother. Let their relationships develop naturally. Do insist that your mom is treated with respect and that they're sensitive to her situation, but let some things slide (eye rolling, complaints). Learning to live with a new family member is tough. If you try to force it, it won't be natural. And sometimes it's that less than perfect relationship that creates surprising genuine moments when you least expect them.

You can help your mom smooth things over by having an honest talk with her. Lovingly remind her that she will be moving into your home -"” and your children's home -- and that everyone who lives there needs to be treated with respect. Remind her, and your kids, that love and encouragement trump criticism every time.

Many times our elders complain because they don't know how else to feel needed. Let your mom know how she can help you. For example, if she chooses to move in, the two of you will need to show a united and loving front regarding your kids. Let her know that "my way or the highway" isn't how you parent and will only alienate her from your children. Explain that if she has an important issue about them, she must talk with you privately.

Empathize how hard it is to connect with children at this age nowadays. They're facing so much at school and in the media, as well as dealing with your single parenthood (whether because of divorce or widowhood). Encourage her to invest in their lives and look past the cellphones and ear buds, reminding her that kids are still kids underneath all that; they have doubts and hurts and long for our approval even when that don't (or can't) show it.

Try thanking her for loving you through your teen years. You might even recall an incident where her kindness and understanding really touched you.

Get everyone to contribute to some basic ground rules for living together that everyone agrees on. Keep them clear and simple, and post the rules in a prominent place.

Encourage your mom to continue with her church activities and friends. It will help if she has a private space in your home, even if it's just a recliner, television, and desk in her bedroom. Let her know that you don't expect her to babysit, cook, clean, and run the show. Plan times when all of you get together (such as once a week for teen-friendly pizza) but forewarn her not to expect the Waltons around the dinner table every night.

You have a lot on you. Please set up your own sanctuary and/or a spiritual practice that comforts and guides you, because if you don't, you won't have anything to give your family, your mom, your job, and everything on your plate.

Your mom has the potential to be a real asset in your life and in your kids' lives. With your help -- and your example -- they have a good shot at growing to appreciate one another in new ways.