Carolyn Hax: How to get an elderly mother to move into your house, but not both

Carolyn Hax: How to get an elderly mother to move into your house, but not both

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: My mother-in-law is getting to the point where she probably shouldn’t live alone anymore, but doesn’t need or want to be in a nursing home. My wife and I plan to ask her to move in with us. The only thing holding me back is that I know that when this happens, my mother, who is 10 years younger than my spouse’s mother, will assume that she can also move in with us when she needs to.

I don’t want this for a variety of reasons: my mother-in-law is great with our kids and my mother isn’t, my mother-in-law will respect our privacy and help with household chores as much as she is able and my mother won’t, etc.

How could I explain this to my mother? Or do I just suck it up and let my mom move in when and if the time is right?

Holds me back: Don’t explain it now, because you don’t know what the future holds. You don’t want her harboring false hopes, I get it. But getting ahead involves delivering a message that she might find hurtful – and if 10, 15 years pass and she has no reason to move in with you, for whatever reason, then you will have hurt unnecessarily.

Sometimes it really is a valid plan to wait for a difficult potential problem and hope that it will resolve itself.

Also: Your children may have grown up and moved on when your mother needs care. You or your spouse could be disabled. You may have downsized your home at this time. Your mother-in-law could still live with you. You might be able to afford an in-law apartment by then. Your mother could soften. Or or or.

I also don’t think you should swallow this and invite your mother to live with you when the time comes just because you did this with your stepmother. You can demonstrate integrity while taking each situation as it comes and making decisions on the merits. Seek equality versus equity.

Just be prepared to withstand any emotional fallout. “Good” does not mean “easy”.

Re: Moving in: The mother may need help, eventually, but she does not define that as needing YOUR help on HER terms. “I want X done, and it would certainly be handy if you believed X was your responsibility.” No. It’s exaggerated.

Dear Caroline: Should I wear the tacky, silly “I’m 70” tiara my college friends sent me for our weekly Zoom, which coincides with my birthday?

But don’t be where all fun will die either. Be a good sportsman by refusing to be a good sportsman. Happy birthday!

Update: I ended up wearing it, trying to be a good sportsman. The dear friend who sent him died months later of a long illness. I would wear this plastic tiara all day, every day if it could only bring her and her mischievous sense of humor back.

Moral of the story: Appreciate and love your friends, because we never know when we’ll be apart forever. (But don’t get me started on the Christmas-themed soup tureen gift for the childless woman isolating herself during the pandemic.)

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