Annie Shaw deals with another reader's moral dilemma
Q: My husband was always a bit of a “mummy’s boy”. He was devoted to his mother as a child, and possibly became even more attached once his father died when my husband was aged about 16. There has always been tension between me and my mother-in-law, and I have always felt that she didn’t think I was good enough for her only child.
Ma is now in her eighties and in poor health, and after several falls really needs full-time care, or at least not to live on her own. My husband wants her to come and live with us so I can look after her while he continues to work. The prospect fills me with dread, and the very idea of caring for her as her condition declines is so unthinkable that I don’t believe my marriage would survive it. How can I get my husband to understand that bringing his mother into our home is not an option? What arguments can I muster that don’t seem unreasonable or uncaring, and what alternatives can I suggest that won’t bankrupt her or us? I think my husband is also worried that unless we take his mother in she will cut him out of her will.
A: Poor you. You really are caught between a rock and a hard place. When you got married you signed up to “for better or for worse” and this seems to be one of those “worse” times. As a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, of course, you should willingly take in your husband’s mother. In practice, life’s not like that.
I am going to stick my neck out here and tell you to stand firm and refuse to have your mother-in-law to live with you. I am sure many people will find my suggestion stony-hearted, if not downright cruel, but I would be doing you a disservice if I told you something other than what I believe.
You should start by mustering reasonable arguments, such as the fact that you and your mother-in-law have never really got on, and that you have your own life and don’t want to sacrifice it for someone you care little for. Add to these arguments other practical points, such as that your house is too small (if it is); that you don’t want to move (if the suggestion is that you buy another house together); or you don’t want the mess and worry of building an annexe to your present home, etc. Tell him you don’t want to be fetching and carrying, cooking and cleaning for her and taking her to the doctor, or doing shopping for her when you have your own interests to pursue.
Why your husband has the idea that it should be you rather than him who has to look after his mother I can’t imagine, in these days of equality of the sexes. However, even if your husband offered to give up work to do the caring and nursing, you would still have a mighty big cuckoo in your nest.
If reasonable arguments don’t work, then you are going to have to put your foot down and play the “it’s her or me” card. You say that your marriage would not withstand your mother-in-law living in the same house, so why endure the anguish of waiting to be driven from your home? If your husband really would side with his mother then he’s not much of a husband and you should threaten to leave now, and then do so if he still fails to respect your wishes.
Why am I taking such a hard line? My own parents took in my paternal grandmother when she could no longer cope. My mother and grandmother did not get on. Then my father died unexpectedly, leaving my mother and grandmother living alone together. Since they had pooled resources to all live together it was now not possible for them to go their separate ways. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the relationship was not a happy one for anybody.
Of course, other people will say that they have come to an accommodation with relatives whom they previously did not get on with, and having an older person around the house has, perhaps surprisingly, enriched their lives. They will say that you should give the situation a go. I don’t doubt that in many cases this arrangement could work very well, and I am delighted that everything worked out for those who counter-argue that in their case such an arrangement has been successful. An elderly relative moving in with younger family members is, of course, a solution for long-term care. However, in your case only you know your feelings and circumstances, so the matter is entirely up to you to decide.
As for what arrangements you can make for your mother-in-law if she doesn’t live with you, that will depend on her state of health. Sheltered accommodation could be an option. A “retirement community” with a nursing option might be something else to consider – or, as a last resort, a nursing home.
The fact that your husband seems to fear that his mother might cut him out of her will is pretty telling. It certainly suggests that she has assets that could be used to fund her own care. What your husband seems to be proposing by inviting his mother to live in your home is to “sell” your happiness and wellbeing in exchange for an inheritance. Tell him you would rather “spend” the inheritance now, in order to purchase your continued peace of mind by having your mother-in-law cared for elsewhere.
* Read Annie Shaw's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.