Carolyn Hax: Husband second-guesses having his elderly mom move in – Lifotravel

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: My elderly mother-in-law is moving in with us next month. She asked us, we agreed and we’ve been planning it for a while.

My husband (her son) is wanting to back out but can’t face his mother, so he’s picking fights with me and dragging his feet on some of the home modifications needed for her. I’m already stressed about the change coming, and now I’m struggling to deal with him. He hasn’t said it explicitly, but I think he wants me to tell her the arrangement is off.

I love my husband and my mother-in-law, and I’m stressed and happy that she’s coming to spend her last years with us. Any advice?

Anonymous: What a generous thing you’re doing.

Your husband is acting out, so he needs generosity, too, though that can be harder to see. And he might need treatment for anxiety, because avoidance, passive-aggression and fight-picking are pretty classic manifestations. He may refuse treatment, but then inevitability (i.e., the move) takes over.

Maybe, if you have the presence of mind when he’s in the throes of acting out, say: “I know this is all freaking you out. Take your time.” And: “We can manage without the modifications for now. It’s okay to take a breather.”

And if needed: “Am I hearing correctly that you want to call this off?” Let him answer the direct question. If he says yes, then say: “Okay, let’s sit down to figure out Plan B.”

Because it isn’t just, “No, changed our minds, you can’t come!” It’s also about making other arrangements. You’re doing this for a reason, presumably: Your mother-in-law can no longer live independently, or it’s too stressful or expensive for her to try. As you talk it out, the reasons you all chose this option will announce themselves again. But it might help him to walk through the reasoning again.

If you can’t or won’t be his designated hand-holder, then call in an elder-care specialist (social worker) who can help you both navigate this often-overwhelming stuff.

· Shooting from the hip here, but: My guess is the husband wants to be the kind of person who welcomes his mother into his home, but he doesn’t actually want her there. He does not want to say this out loud.

· Why is it the wife’s job to DO EVERYTHING? Elder care predominantly falls on women. Why? Why does Hax seem to think that’s reasonable?

My advice: Move out. Let your husband put on his big-boy pants. This is his job, not yours. If you were satisfied with taking on all duties, and your hubby’s shiftlessness, you wouldn’t have written in.

· I wonder whether the husband feels pressure from cultural expectations, where aging parents coming to live with their adult children is the norm and is often expected.

· Air this out with your husband. Figure out WHY he cannot face his mom, and have a frank talk with her. Now.

· I do wonder whether it’s anxiety about watching his mom die; it’s a sad, scary transition to be the one doing the “caring” for someone who cared for you, and it could bring the husband’s own mortality into sharper view. Either way, they need to figure out what is going on, and HE needs to tell Mom they need to make other plans.

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