Dealing with Difficult Aging Parents and In-Laws

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Finding a balance caring for difficult mother-in-law(2 responses)
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We moved in with my mother-in-law; seems like a bad idea now

Sept 2007

I am hoping someone will have some great ideas about managing the increasingly difficult relationships with my nearly 80 year old mother-in-law, with whom my husband, daughter and I live. We recently moved into my mother-in-law's house with the intent of helping care for her. She has emphysema, lives in a somewhat isolated area and suffers some of the expected difficulties that come with aging (can't do some of the larger household tasks like taking out the trash, feels vulnerable, is hard of hearing, is losing some cognitive function).

Now that we are living here, it seems like a bad idea, but one that would be difficult to extract ourselves from. In the few months we have been living with her, it has become increasingly clear that my mother-in-law needs the extra care we are providing. But her impact on us (me?) is exhausting. I am having difficulty with the lack of my own living space. We are in my mother-in-law's house, so it is her domain, and I find myself living almost exclusively out of my bedroom. I have worked on my own patience, on appreciating my mother-in-law while she is still here, on understanding the vulnerabilities and difficulties of aging, but I\x92m starting to feel like The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

My mother-in-law is also having a difficult time with our 5 year old, who is probably much more energetic and emotionally capricious than she remembers children being. Nana loses her temper easily, doesn\x92t hear or misunderstands much of what her granddaughter says, and although my daughter loves her grandmother, she is sometimes direct about \x93wanting a break from Nana.\x94 We have tried to make sure Nana knows she has license to correct behaviors and give consequences (although she sometimes just yells). We have worked with my daughter about being patient with her Nana, and we have discouraged Nana from taking too personally the ever- changing moods of her granddaughter.

I\x92m not sure what to do. I feel like we made a commitment that we shouldn\x92t back out of, and that is good for Nana, but is doing me in. Any advice would be most welcome! Thanks. Stephanie

Maybe Grandma wants you out too! She might have bitten off more then she can chew having you move in....Is it possible you can live nearby and help her daily and you each have your own space? Can she/you afford to have help come in? And lastly...would she be willing to move to a retirement or assisted living residence?

I can tell you it will only get more difficult as she gets older and if she has longevity in her genes she could live a long life.You said some of her cognitive functions are going which tells me that will increase slowly over time. My mom just passed away in April at age 94. She started losing her memory at about 90 or so. It was a sad and frustrating downhill path from there. Fortunately for me and my brother (and her) she lived in a retirement residence where she went from independant living to assisted living to nursing care (she was there for 7 years).

Money is certainly a concertn when making a switch from living at home to a place like that but your sanity is also a priority. EVen if you stay there and live with her, have a talk with her and find out how she wants it to be. Is there a way to separate the house somewhat so you each have your separate spaces? Can you hire someone to come in and help even if you are there? Good luck. You're a brave woman. This is a big undertaking. anon

I feel for you. Would it be possible for you to get your own apartment nearby? You could still spend the day with your mother-in-law, but it would help a lot I would think to have your own place to retreat to when you need to. It could be that nana is finding she needs her own space too sometimes. Good luck. I hope it works out. You are a really good person for taking this responsibility on. -anon

Consider encouraging your mother-in-law to participate in the Alzheimer's program on Channing in Berkeley for socialization with others. Goal: to broaden her focus, lift her spirits BEYOND the immmediate family. This is the trend to help maintain elders at home as they age. 1) engages the elder 2) provides respite for the family members. In addition, although you did not establish some guidelines prior to moving in, you certainly can discuss your needs and hers since she seems to have cognitive function enough to do so. If you need mediation or facilitation: you can invite a geriatric care manager to assist. National Association of Geriatric Care Managers on the web for local referrals. Mark

Being a caregiver to a family member can suck the life out of you!! It is one of these things that is expected of you to take on as a family member, however, there is very little acknowledgement and information out there about how to do it without it adversely affecting your health, sanity, work, hobbies, friends, etc... Being a caregiver to someone with a chronic condition requires a different approach than caring for someone who is dying. A chronic illness such as emphysema can go on for many years. It is crucial to pace yourself and get help. There is a great organization called Family Caregiver Alliance that is based in SF and serves all counties in the Bay Area. You can call them for a consultation and/or referrals, as well as take advantage of their respite and educational programs. Their number is: (800) 445-8106. Their website is They do not charge for most of their services. You dont have - and shouldnt - try to go at it alone. Good luck! Natasha

Ah, you and your family are in a difficult situation. I have two suggestions: the most important is to join a caregiver support group (even if it is online). The second suggestion I have is if your family can afford to pay for a caregiver either for a couple hours a week or a few hours a day so you and your family have a break from doing ''care duty.'' It will be vital to your sanity and your family's well-being to get some extra help in the house to take some of the burden off of you. I help this helps. Good luck~! amy

It is really tough to take on the responsibility of caring for parents as they age. I applaud you, your husband and your daughter for being so giving. While it is a hard situation, even under the best of circumstances, there are things you can do to help make the situation better. Sit down with your husband and talk candidly about what the long-term plan is for your mother-in-law's care. Will you be living with her and caring for her until her passing or is this a situation you will be living in until she becomes incapacitated? Are there other relatives who may be able to share some the responsibility for her care? Is an assisted living facility or home care attendant something you can afford or would consider down the line? I found that having a plan when it came to my stepfather's care was incredibly helpful in reminding me that the situation I was dealing with would not last forever.

I also encourage you to make time for yourself, your daughter and your husband. Schedule at least one weekend a month, if you can swing it, away from grandma -- or at least make it so that you don't have to be the primary caregiver for those two days. Work with your husband to carve out some space in the house -- even if it's over your mother in law's objections -- that belongs to your family.

Part of the upside of this situation is that your daughter and the rest of the family will be able to spend quality time with your mother-in-law before she passes away. You don't want your child's last memories of her grandmother to be shouting matches. Try to ID activities that your daughter and mother-in-law can enjoy together and encourage that -- even it's just watching Jeopardy every night. Then give your child space to be the 5 yo she is away from grandma. You may also want to look for a support group. Sometimes just having an hour or two to vent is needed.

Hang in there and remember that even when your mother-in-law can't or won't say it, I am sure she really does appreciate having you there. so grateful to have had that time

More and more of my clients are in this situation (the ''sandwich generation''). From your post, you seem very caring and concerned about your mother-in-law and your child, and are trying to do the best you can being a good wife, mother and a daughter-in-law. It might be helpful for you to have time for yourself, where you can work on what is best for you, so you can take care of the rest of your family and not burn out. Looking for a therapist is easy with the internet, try for local therapists.

I have not experienced the sam situation, but my sister lived in the same town with her father-in-law who had emphysema. I do know from her (and from my husband who has bad asthma) that a reduction in ones oxygen intake can drastically impact one's mood and level of patience and quickness to anger. So your lively 5 yr old in your mother-in-law's house with her fragile emphysemic temperment may be a very difficult mix for the duration. If you chose to stick with it, do so with a good understanding of how her condition is likely to progress. If I were you, I would find a counselor to help you, at least, if not your child and husband, too, through the duration of your time with your mother-in-law. Also, does your mother-in-law have an old dear friend or two who can come by and visit with her on a regular basis? Sounds like you will each need time off from the others in order to get through this time. It is truly wonderful that you are all doing your best to make this work. It can be very difficult work, and it sometimes is impossible, and another solution must be found. Anon

I suggest you consider your choices very carefully, since your mother in law may be around for quite a while still, and you probably want to make sure you have a sustainable healthy situation for all. I think you are entitled to make mistakes and reconsider your options, if something is not working, you should be able to find other ways to deal with it: hire help, provide help in withouth sharing the house, day facilities, nursing homes, etc.

Frontline has a documentary on care for elder people that is very insightful, titled ''Living Old,'' which you can watch online. The web page for the program lists many useful resources, too. Good luck, EP

My mother in law recently moved to the East Bay, and although we are not living under the same roof, it's presenting new challenges for us. An older friend gave me the advice to have the situation looked at by a social workers. The social worker's job is to interview everyone in the household about how it's going and then to discuss the matter openly and nonjugementally. My friend said it was a huge relief to have someone asking the hard questions, and also to offer advice that made sense. I bet you could find referrals for social workers in your area from your doctor or your mother-in-law's doctor. thinking about it too

My bipolar mom living with us - where can she go?

March 2006

My mother is 65 years old, is bipolor and may have the onset of dimentia. She currently lives in an in-law on our property but her acute mania/paranoid delusions is making living anywhere near her impossible. She believes my partner has bugged her house, violates her in the night, is having an affair, has stolen items. moves items just to make her crazy..... - we don't have a key to her house and with and even with an added deadbolt my mother has has no sense of security so she refuses to sleep. She has gone to neighbors asking them to hold important papers, my partner fears for her own safety, and our two year old regularly witnesses bizarre behavior and has to deal with her grandma acting like a jealous sibling. The problem: we want her to leave but she has spent all of her savings and has not been on stable treatment (though Kaiser is trying). She may be able to move to live near other relatives out of state, but shouldn't in her current state. We need a short term and long term solution. Eventually she will need to be in some sort of assisted living but we have no idea where to start to find options. Any advice? barely managing

My heart goes out to you in this very difficult situation. It definitely sounds like the onset of dementia. This is exactly what happened to both my grandmother 12 years ago and her sister, within a year of each other. They exhibited almost identical behavior to what you're describing in your first paragraph. She lived several thousands of miles away from my father in Florida, so my sister was the one who first alerted us to the severity of her behavior. I strongly encourage you to find her an assisted living facility specialized in dementia/alzheimer's care and try and get her in asap. They are out there. The trouble is the cost. The way my father did it was that he put her in the facility and used all her personal resources to pay for it until her money literally ran out; now she has no money and medicare is paying for it. Once you are in a good place, by law they cannot make you leave. We found the biggest challenge was finding the best place and then getting a spot. That did take some time, so you might have to wait a bit. Sometimes the waitlist can be a year or two. The only other suggestion I have is to find a great geriatric support specialist - a doctor, nurse, social worker, or other professional who knows the ropes and can help you work the system. It can really be miserable to try to figure it out alone. By the way, it has been 12 years now, my grandmother is 96 years old, and has been cared for very well all these years by specialists trained in working with dementia patients. It has been a safe, secure, positive setting for someone who is so terrifed of the world. Good luck. granddaughter of a dementia patient

I would recommend calling Adult Protective Services (in Contra Costa the # is (877) 839-4347) in your county and asking them to come out and visit your mom. They cannot make your mom talk to them, but they could possibly help you with some options as to how to handle the situation. They could also assess your mom and see if she might have dementia. One option is to become your mother's conservator, if she does have dementia. For that, you would contact the probate division of the superior court in your county and APS could help you with this. Good luck! shauna

I am sorry to hear about your Mom. Hang in there! There are some great resources for family members.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)has really good class called Family to Family. It's run by family members for family members of people with brain disorders and it is a great resource. The Nami affiliate in Alameda County telephone # is (510)835-5010, or (510)524-1250. (925)646-5798 in Contra Costa. Or go to I took it after my husband was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and it has helped so much.

There is a family advocate in Martinez that is really wonderful. Gloria Hill (925)957-5146. She may be able to refer you to someone or place in your area.

I wish you all the best. I hope you find the help you need. anonymous

My husband wants his mother to move in with us

August 2002

My husband and I are at an impasse. His mother is reaching an age where she is planning to retire (67 yrs) and he is insisting that within the next year or so she should come live with us. His mother is a very controlling and difficult person. They do not get along and she does not like me very much. Indeed she does not like her own son very much. She has said to me countless times that their family was very surprised that my husband married me as they thought he would have married someone with a higher social class background than mine. She has told me that she does not consider herself my mother-in-law because she is not ready for this role, nor is she ready to be a grandmother to our children. My inlaws are still married, but my husband does not believe that his father will be willing to move in with us so he just expects his mother will.

I do not like this woman. I do not want her having any influence over my children for reasons too many to go into. What should I do? I do not want to come between my husband and his family, but this is worrisome. And I certainly do not want to spend my days interacting with a very disagreeable person. HELP! Miranda

I think that you may have lost the bigger picture at hand- which is completely understandable as your monster-in-law seems to be consuming a vast portion of your energy. I understand your not wanting to come in between your husband and his family, however, I think you need to point out the fact that this woman shall and will come in between you and your husbband and your kids. This is unacceptable. She sounds very toxic and I'm guessing that only bad things shall come to your home with her being in it. Perhaps she can consider a retirement community- say Rossmoor in Walnut Creek? That scenario would cater to her limited ''reality.'' I wish you the best of luck! Been there & stopped that.

My advice is DO NOT, under any circumstances, allow your mother- in-law to move in. Do whatever you have to do, including going to marriage counseling, to convince your husband that it would be the absolutely wrong choice for your entire family. Based on what you've described, I don't understand why your husband would want to have his mother move in. The only thing I can understand is cultural/family obligation (which I have in my background). These feelings of obligation are strong, but can be worked on sensitively with the right counselor. In my case, both my mother and father moved in at my and my husband's request, mainly because they were elderly and I felt guilty about not having them live with me, but I also genuinely thought it might work out. Even though I had memories of an unhappy, dysfunctional childhood, I thought that time and age would have mitigated the problems. They didn't. Every one of my worst fears came true. Having my parents around put enormous stress on the whole family, including my child, created a great deal of tension between my husband and me, and resulted in a lot of ugly scenes before my parents finally moved out (at my request) after 9 months.

I also do not suggest having your mother-in-law move in to see how it works out. In my case, my parents were much more upset that I asked them to move out than they would have been had I not had them live with me at all. Every case is different, but what worked for me is having my parents live nearby (there are some low-income housing options for seniors in the East Bay) rather than in my house.

You should also consider the impact having an unhappy, stressed out mother would have on your children. Perhaps if the issue is framed in this manner, your husband might reconsider his choices. Been there

You have got to be kidding. Suggest to your husband that he could move in with his mother instead. Don't let them control you and make you miserable in your own home. Daughter in law

I read your message and could relate on an intimate level, with one exception, my mother is the difficult, disagreeable one who I strongly feels ''dislikes'' me. We once had a potential move-in situation, that I feared greatly(she's 76 and retired). I evaluated the situation, and realized that I had to be SELFISH if I wanted to maintain a serene, calm, loving family life with my husband and children. A life much different than the one I was raised in(a lot of verbal abuse from my mother). From all the things you mentioned about your mother-in-law, I absolutely would NOT let her live with you. Why have someone so difficult living in your home(sanctuary) who has been very forward about the way she feels about you and your children? If your husband feels guilty about not having your mother move in, send him to therapy, it's a much cheaper(in terms of saving your family) alternative. Your husband's first obligation, now, is to you and your children, not his mother. I always tell my sibling, that if my mother needs assisted living help, or whatever, I will send MONEY, but she absolutely could not live with me! Anonymous

In reading your message, I get the idea that your husband is becoming like his mother. His mother is controlling and hard to get along with, and now he is acting like that. I doubt that taking a stance and fighting about the topic will help. I suggest that, without making any committment, you explore the possiblities. Talk about what space she would need in the house, how housework would be shared, how often she would see her husband, how money would be handled. It will be hard, but talk about sharing childcare also. Try to keep an open mind. I also think you should open up this discussion to other concerned people. Talk to the mother-in-law, her husband, your children. your husband's siblings and anybody else who might be concerned. Perhaps, if you seem open to the idea, he will find something else to fight about. This will not necessarily be an improvement.

Why would a married woman want to leave her husband and move in with her son? Seems a bit wild. But after having a discussion he still wants her to move in, start negotiating. Insist that you get something just as crazy. Maybe you want a yacht or five more kids. Maybe you want your father to move in.

You say that your mother-in-law does not like you much. She would probably not like anyone her son married. You also say she doesn't like your husband much. Isn't it interesting that he wants her to move in if they don't like each other? sun

Help dealing with cantankerous elderly parents who live with us

March 2002

Help! Does anyone know of a support group or other resources available for dealing with difficult issues that arise when elderly parents live with you? My elderly parents are living with me and driving me and my husband nuts. They are generally cantankerous and constantly criticize me, particularly when it comes to my parenting style and lifestyle choices. I've tried reasoning with them (e.g., this is my house, I'm raising my baby in a manner that I see fit, we need to mutually respect each others choices and lifestyles, etc.), but they are incapable or unwilling to change. Kicking them out is not an option for various reasons (they would probably end up homeless). My therapist doesn't have any great ideas, either. I'm hoping to find a group of people in a similar situation with whom to share information, or at least commiserate. Thanks in advance for any ideas! At the end of my rope

For the family concerned about not having enough resources to deal with an aging parent at home: While they're on the other side of the bay, you might consider Parents Place ''Seniors at Home'' program, 415 491-7959. They provide a variety of services for the whole family, including help/support and resources for families dealing with an aging parent. I hope this is a beginning. Michael Y. Simon, MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)

There is an organization in Oakland called Jewish Family Services (sorry, I don't know the number). They have many services including counselling and supportive type of help for the elderly. (You don't have to be Jewish). good luck. There are several really good retirement residences in this area for elderly people. My mother lives in a really nice place in Oakland (she could NEVER live with us). If you'd like more info. about where my mom lives, please write to me. Good luck. June