How should I handle my mother in law trying to take over the caregiving of my husband?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 03, 2016
Purplerobin asked...

My husband possibly has lukemia. He has a high white cell blood count and his doctor wants to see him ASAP. He has numerous health problems including emphysema, and anorexia (has appetite issues, not body image issues). My mother-in-law has been overinvolved lately, calling the house several times a day, reminding him of doctor's appointments when I'm quite capable of doing that, and calling me telling me I need to do this and that, blah blah. I realize that she is well-meaning but I feel she is going overboard. When I discuss the situation with my husband he seems to understand somewhat. He has said that (if he's dying) "you can't shut my mother out." My intention is not to shut his mother out, but if she keeps going on like this, she'd try to tell us where to live, or move in with us, calling even more than what she already does, and expecting to be his primary caretaker HERSELF! I understand that she loves him and is concerned about him, but I am his wife, and it should be ME doing most of his caretaking. Also I am not particularly close with her and it would drive me insane (right now her involvement is aggravating)if I had to deal with her in person on a daily basis. I guess I feel like she'd try to take over. Am I overreacting or is his mother over-involved? If so how can I put some distance in...or give suggestions for hubby to get her to ease off some?

Also, HER mother is in a nursing home right now, and I dont get the feeling she makes a regular effort to go see her, much less call. I dont know a whole lot about their relationship, but as far as I know there was no animosity between them, at least not major. Where is all of mother-in-law's concern for her own mother?

Expert Answers

Mary Koffend is the president of Accountable Aging Care Management (AACM), an eldercare consulting and care management firm that works with elder clients and their families to find the best care providers and services to meet their needs.

Having a husband who is ill and may have leukemia must be very tough. My heart goes out to you. The feelings you are having are complex enough and in addition you are dealing with equally complex feelings by your husband and by his mother. This can be a difficult time. Both you and his mother want to be great caregivers to your husband and to maximize the time and efforts to be made. Conflict can often arise in these circumstances. I would encourage you to not include your husband in the issues of dealing with his mother as this will cause an additional conflict for him at a time when he needs all the strength and support possible.

One way to minimize his mother telling you and your husband what to do is to be on the offensive with her. Keep her informed and be proactive in sharing issues, reports from doctor's visits, etc. She wants the best for her son and is having a difficult time coping with his illness. Most folks can deal with the issues of ill health for the aged, but have trouble dealing with the issues of a sick child or younger person. Perhaps the reason that she is less attentive to her mother is that she is at peace with the aging process and is not at peace with her son's illness. Try to extend her as much grace as you can and find things for her to do that will keep her focused and busy and part of the process, but not overwhelming to you or your husband.

Community Answers

Smalkah answered...

I'd just like to add a point to Ms. Koffend's excellent remarks. Please try to keep in mind that your mother-in-law is in a "sandwich" situation here that she probably never envisioned, or if she did, it was her worst possible nightmare. One can intellectually accept the idea of one's parent dying, especially if s/he has been dealing with her parent's illness for some time. If I'm remembering my college psychology course right, dealing with the death of a child is just about the highest stressor we humans can experience.

Your m-i-l needs to have a sense of control, that she's doing SOMETHING for her child. If there is something you can delegate to her, that she'd be in charge of UNDER YOUR GUIDANCE, it might give her that sense AND relieve you of one more task in your increasing burden. Maybe she can research treatment options or run errands or cook meals.

Another thought: If your husband has siblings, you might want to speak to them about this as well. They would have many more years of experience dealing with your m-i-l and might have some good suggestions.

In prayer that your worst fears are unfounded, Sarah Malkah