Been Patient!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is a long and painful question so please be patient. God knows I
have had to be. Recently we took my mother-in- law into our home.
She’d been living alone, though having seen her close up—albeit after
the shell shock of tragedy and relocation—it is hard to believe she was
functional. Her memory is going but she’s not so far gone as the don’t-
leave-her- alone-or- she’ll-burn- down-the- house-making- tea stage. But
she is insecure and needy, and thinks someone going out to get the
mail is “abandoning” her. My husband and I go to a three-week
spiritual retreat each April and October. This year I let him go, to
recover, and stayed home with Mom. He’s due back soon. I realize I
have a lot of anxiety about his return tipping the fragile equilibrium I
have created with her. She is very passive aggressive and will play us
off against one another. For example she calls him into her room each
morning to complain and even tell lies about me, and the whole day
starts off tense and goes downhill from there. Do you have any words
of wisdom to keep me from going crazy and wanting to divorce both of
them? This was a kind and happy home for twenty years.

Been Patient!

Dear Patient:

I don’t know what agreements you and your husband made before she
moved in with you, but now’s a great time to revisit them. You need
some alone time with him before he walks in the door to remind him
about your family values. Either meet him part of the way or use
phone and email. Tell him what you have observed about how to
manage her and what you think needs to be done to maintain the
equilibrium you spent three weeks creating. He may be coming home
more relaxed but the pit of tension you are describing will hit him hard
and fast.

Come to a list of new agreements with him about daily behavior. No
more talking about you behind your back. If Mom has something to
say, then say it a daily family meeting. If she says something untrue,
tell her your side of things. Insist that the house rules of kindness and
politeness are baseline for living in your home. If she can’t be nice, tell
her she can explore outside situations, from group homes to assisted
living. Make sure she has seen a doc and that her meds are up to date
and taken regularly. Find a family support group at least for you and
your husband. Tell him if you can’t make it work without then you will
insist on marriage counseling. Find her activities with peers, whether
they are at senior centers or in the group homes that want new
members and offer day care. Also tell your husband that you have
“credit” for three weeks of solo care. Take time on your own on a
regular basis, and let him see the full brunt of what full-time care can
be. It’s not forever, but it can and will be hard for a while. But if your
husband knows you’re retreating in April and he’s staying home with
Mom, I promise he’ll solve it before then.