Dear Family Advisor

Caregiving and Pets

Last updated: Dec 15, 2010

Mom moved in with us six months ago. She's not bothering me, but her bird and her dog are driving me up the wall! The bird is so loud I can barely think--and he's ten times worse whenever I'm on the phone (mostly calling somewhere about my mother's care, of course).

And my mom dotes on her dog so much it's nauseating! I've agreed to drive her to doctor appointments and on basic errands because she has crippling arthritis and can no longer drive. But I don't think that should include weekly dog grooming appointments and visits to specialty dog shops. Pet-related activities are all she ever wants to do. While I'm glad she's focused on something, I feel like I'm second to those pets. I can live with that, but this bird thing is grating on my last nerve.

Living with family members again after we're grown and have lives of our own can be a big challenge. Every little thing can get on your nerves. But since these pets mean so much to your mom, you're going to have to find a compromise.

Try a two-part approach: First, do a bit of research (look online and in books, or consult a veterinary specialist) to find solutions to the pet behaviors you find most offensive. Many people love their pets but fail to create a structure and discipline that helps to make them pleasant living companions.

Since your mom is living in your house, you need to create some pet boundaries you can live with. For example, can you move the bird's cage to another room? Keep the sleep cover over the cage longer in the morning? Tell your mom that "Doggie Errand Day" is one day a month? These little changes can bring great relief -- and give you a sense of power so that you don't feel that your home and life have been invaded by critters. Mom may pout for a few days or weeks; let her. Living together in peace and harmony is worth a few bumps along the way.

Second, work on your attitude. I know these frustrations have really gotten to you, but can you focus on what you like about those pets? I bet her dog does some really cute things -- runs in circles before he eats a treat, lays his head on your lap and gives you those big puppy dog eyes? Since they're a part of her life, try to make them a part of your life. Pets are funny, comforting, engaging, and they love us even when we haven't brushed our teeth or are in a grumpy mood.

Failing that -- or along with that -- consider what you like about having your mom live with you. My mom has passed away, and you know what I miss most? When I see a grown mother and daughter walking together in a store, I miss having someone to go with me on those simple errands. Yeah, she slowed me down, drove me crazy, but I so miss her mere presence -- reaching over and taking her hand on a car ride, or sharing a slushy from the corner store. Simple things.

Your mom and her pets will continue to aggravate you at times. (Don't forget you probably aggravate her, too). But by setting a few boundaries, focusing on what's right with your life and relationships, and letting go of the rest, you'll find that your mom-filled, dog-filled, bird-filled life is a good and endurable one.