Daughter in Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I do not want you or your readers to hate me or think I am an unkind,
unfeeling, or horrible person. But I have lived in a small world of hurt
for the past sixteen months, after my mother-in- law moved in our
home, making it and my life a living hell. She is mean-spirited, sharp-
tongued, manipulative, nasty, ungrateful, unhappy, and generally
unpleasant. I have tried being solicitous, kind, friendly, helpful and,
when that failed, have occasionally tried to be more withdrawn,
leaving my husband to take greater responsibility for her care,
something he tends to avoid, out of a mix of denial, shame, fear, and
generalized reluctance to take care of household chores other than
repairs. She has the usual mental decline of age exacerbated by what
seems to me like selective memory loss, but I have become cynical.
Physically she would probably outlive both of us, especially with the
stress her presence is causing in our home and marriage. That’s what I
thought till last week when she fell, and in the ER was told she had
high blood sugar and needed more careful monitoring.


My husband and I had an almost three-week trip on the calendar, planned
long ago and over which we have no control of timing; it is go or don’t go,
leaving in a week. We had planned for in-home care but now have
decided to put her into assisted living while we are gone, so the docs
can get her more stable. The question is this: When we return, should
she stay there or move back with us? My argument: Her ailments are
intermittent but potentially serious; give her better care, which she
can absolutely afford, and give us a chance to remember we used to
like one another. My husband could go visit her daily (he recently
retired). His counter: She’s my mother; she doesn’t want to go there
are at all; it’ll use up our inheritance; I feel guilty. I am past caring
about money that may never come to us but she could use to improve
our lives now by paying to live elsewhere. What say you? Oh yes, PS,
I, who haven’t been sick three days since we married, have had a
series of week or two-week long flues and ailments in the past three
months. I know it is partially stress, but it has cut into my ability to
meet clients and earn our mortgage money.

Daughter in Law


Dear Daughter In Law:

Even the kindest, sweetest, most generous of soul and spirit addition
to a household can cause disruption and occasional aggravation. That’s
true when both partners are on board with what’s required for the
daily care and nurturing of an elderly parent. The difficult situation you
are describing, albeit with the relieved joy of a rant to an anonymous
reader, does not seem healthy or sustainable. It’s unlikely to prove a
peaceful and relaxing trip with the Sword of Damocles hanging over
your head about whether or not she returns.

When you communicate to her about any or all of this, be sure to
preface every other sentence with Your Doctor Says,…. as the reason
why she is going to assisted living. Be sure the staff reiterates that
medical necessity and her quality of health is the most important
variable that everyone is watching. The question of her return home
should be something that is discussed only in terms of her health and
no guarantees should be made that both you and your husband cannot
agree on.

The two of you will need to find a same page to be on. In this
circumstance, one of you is inevitably going to feel like a loser. The
only way of dealing with that is in some mediated forum, like a
counselor, where you can both speak your piece and feel heard. If she
does return to the home, you must be guaranteed time out periods,
perhaps even evenings or weekend time when you visit or even stay
with friends. Even if he uses some of his mother’s money to hire in-
home care, that will help your husband confront the truer impacts of
caring for her, something it sounds like he has avoided. If I were
voting I’d side with you, but I haven’t heard his version.
“For better or worse” sounds like it’s been bad for both and worse for
you, so in my book you have the right to ask for relief, both temporary
and long term. Either that or buy her or you a personality transplant.
And let me know where you found it so I can spread the word.