Dear Sherry, after my husband’s father died, I spontaneously said that his mother could come and live with us. She was unable to nor wanted to be alone at night in the house. She had frequent panic attacks so we said she could stay at ours over the weekend. She refused, saying she didn’t want to be a burden. But after days of not sleeping, she was physically and emotionally exhausted and so decided to stay with us after all.
We suggested several times that she should go and see her doctor and get counselling, but she said she’d be able to manage alone. She is 85 years old, easily annoyed and can be aggressive. Things escalated over the weekend, at the end of it we were at the end of our tether and my husband lost his patience. We had a big argument, because again his mother wouldn’t listen to any advice and just brushed everything aside calling us amateur psychologists. I also got involved and lost control. I shouted at her that we can’t bear it anymore, that she won’t let anyone help her and we all have to watch as she refuses to eat, loses more weight and will end up killing herself. There were a lot of tears afterwards but we managed to all calm down. However it was really bad.
My husband thinks that this argument could have a positive outcome, because our relationship with his mother has to be able to endure such situations if she is to move in with us. This is true, but to be honest I am no longer sure I want her to move in. I am worried that I won’t be able to deal with her difficult nature and because of this I am feeling really bad, because I do really like her. What to do you think about all of this? — Simone
Dear Simone, firstly let me say that I understand your dilemma. A situation like this is not easy and I can see this is a battle between your head and your heart. You want to help your vulnerable mother in law and yet you can know she’s challenging and you and your husband will have your work cut out.
But let me first give you some insight into this lady so perhaps you can understand her better. She is fiercely independent and genuinely doesn’t want to be a burden to you or her son. She finds it hard to accept help. She did rule the roost when it came to her late husband and she is a strong lady who knows her mind. She feels she should be strong and yet the shock of losing her husband of many years and being old and alone is seeping through and making her feel lost and frustrated. And she is struggling with this loss of her ‘tough it out’ identity.
I know you are getting angry because you feel she is not eating, but she then responds by also being aggressive. You and your husband need to get out of the mindset of what is right and wrong and try and a little tenderness and compassion. There is no right or wrong, just different ways of responding. You will not get anywhere by telling her off. Remember that she is your elder and therefore should command your respect. How would you feel if someone decades younger then you started telling you how to live your life? I feel that she doesn’t like the fact that you are both talking to her like a child!
So you need to change tactics and connect with your heart instead of your head. Firstly, she is 85 and in shock, and whether you agree with her or not, it is her right to live as she chooses. You can’t make her eat when she has lost her appetite. But you could still make her some soup and a slice of bread and say ‘If you feel hungry, here’s something for you’. If she doesn’t eat it, don’t get angry. Just know that you’ve done your best and it is also her right not to eat it.
Yes, you have a huge decision to make about whether you let her move in or not and only you can decide that. But ask yourself: if you say no and something happens to her, will that guilt be on your conscience? If you say yes, don’t set yourself up to fight with her. She is someone in the last chapter of her life, so have compassion and gentleness and allow her to be as she wants to be whether you agree with it or not. I feel if you change the way you react to her and have respect, gentleness and love in your reactions, she will change her response to you.
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