I want to care for my mother in law, but her other children say no. What can I do?

1 answer | Last updated: Jul 01, 2010
Pianoratfink asked...

My mother in law has dementia, and due to her helping us raise our kids and being a 'mom' to me, I feel obligated to care for her. However, I am self employed and if my working hours are cut too much in caring for her, I might not have any work left when she passes away. My husband is disabled himself and so wouldn't be much help, and his siblings aren't able to help either, but have opinions about what we should do, and refuse to agree to our having a POA and MPA drawn up for her as she's not in her right mind to sign it. I'm leery of placing her in a full care home due to past experiences that weren't so fabulous, but my in-laws feel that's best. Mom asked me long ago to care for her when she was ill, and I've nursed her through two cancer issues already. Her children, except for my husband, want her placed in a rest home. What should I do?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

 It’s hard to say just why the other family members are turning deaf ears to your generous offer of help. Guilt? Resentment? Fear that you’re already overtaxed with caregiving duties?

They are right that if your mother-in-law lacks the mental capacity to know and appreciate the documents she’s signing, then it is too late to secure a power of attorney or other advance directive for her.

When it comes to her care, it seems that the only step left for you to take is a direct one: Call a family meeting with all present, or at least on the phone. Present your proposal forthrightly, along with a brief plan of how and why you believe you can provide the care your mother-in-law needs. Perhaps you live in a community that has a number of care-at-home services provided by volunteers, for example. Or maybe your house is all on one level, making it easy for her to get around.

Ask for the siblings to weigh in with their honest and candid concerns—then listen to what they have to say without being defensive or dismissive. Instead, invite everyone to pitch in with ideas about how those concerns can be addressed.

Don’t be surprised if the meeting doesn’t proceed completely calmly and peacefully; only the Waltons could pull that off—and it was only on TV. Keep in mind that even having the discussion about a parent’s need for long-term care can be loaded for many people, raising concerns about their own mortality, about money matters, about their own role in the family. All big stuff.

Finally, you might propose that you try the caretaking arrangement for a month or so to see if it works out for all concerned. If not, then you will all be in a better place to consider the next options—assisted living, congregate care, or a nursing home arrangement.