I'll be honest. I don't have a strong sense of family. My father is nuts and my mother is very manipulative and cold. Lots of disappointments in life, so it's been easier to distance myself.
So, really my question is about my husband and his family. Almost a year ago, my FIL suddenly died of a massive heart attack. His wife is a stay at home mom with too many dogs and no hobbies besides collecting more chihuahuas and traveling with her husband. She has never been employed outside the home either.
We went to Thanksgiving dinner yesterday at his aunt's house and one of my husband's sister's cornered him and told him he is forsaking his family and it's his responsibility to come home more often because his mother is lonely.
He calls daily. He is usually back by his mother's house 1 to 2x a month to help with smaller things (checking out small household problems, etc).
His two sisters live at home and sponge off his mom's remaining assets (which aren't much), since dad was the sole provider. Of course, mom is going to see and interact with the sisters more.
But my question is, what should be his obligations to his mom? We went back frequently right when everything was up in the air. We have helped sell most of the major things his father owned (airplane, motor home, etc) since his mother in law doesn't use the internet and refuses to be involved in answering questions, etc to prospective buyers.
I have helped fill out all kinds of paperwork, helping find reasonable health insurance since she lost hers, energy assistance, etc. We sat through all kinds of meetings afterwards. The sisters have zero part in this since their only (apparent) goal is how much money they can receive.
He signed her up for a basic computer class at the library, which I thought is great. I am hoping she might eventually feel comfortable using the internet.
But she has no hobbies outside the home. My SIL keep bringing home dogs for her, which is a little concerning. It isn't comfortable to go and visit, since a couple of the dogs are extremely aggressive.
Is my husband really a bad son?
To those that have lost spouses, what do you expect?
What should we be doing for our parents? She isn't hungry or cold, but it would be nice if she would be willing to start taking on some of her own responsibilities. She often calls and says things like "X is your job, since your father always took care of it." Well, it's tough that there is a squirrel in the attic, but surely it's easier to find someone locally to help you than ask people 2 hours away to deal with it?
I don't have a lot of insight to offer my husband who wants to have his own life, but also be supportive to his mom. I just have a weird distortion on family and have been so independent, I don't know what "normal" family obligations are.
Sorry this post is so long. Just a long evening and thinking about the guilt trip laid on my husband yesterday.
Last edited by starrunner; Dec. 14, 2012 at 11:36 PM.
It sounds to me like he's done plenty. Also he has a family, you, and that should be his #1 obligation. Sounds like mom doesn't want to take responsibility for herself and his sisters are taking advantage and most importantly she is allowing it.
When my mother-in-law was widowed we'd move 6 hrs away. She had one daughter and one son who still lived in the same town and 3 children who lived else where. They all did what they could when they could. More of the burden fell on the 2 who lived near by but Mom was pretty self-sufficient. My husband went out to see her 2-3 times a year. She came to visit maybe once a year. She wasn't as comfortable in my home since I had "animals" LOL.
She is just in her 50s. Zero health reasons to be more or less a shut in. She has some very strict preconceived notions on what she refuses to do. IE, refuses to put gas in her car. She's never done it. Refuses to maintain her car. Refuses to mow the lawn. OK, I get they were all things her husband did, but did she expect that she'd never have to do those things her entire life?
Then again, she never lived alone. Went from living with her mother to being married at a very young age.
She called the other week and said her furnace was out. He asked her why she didn't call the furnace company (answer: his father's job). He called her back and gave her the number. She did, at least call after that. They did, subsequently blow up her furnace while fixing it. Called my husband who told her to talk to insurance. At least she has been talking to them on her own. Some progress I think.
My husband has an easier time saying no and is getting more frustrated with her learned helplessness. He just doesn't appreciated being told what a jerk he is by his siblings. I don't see them stepping up either though. They might physically be there, but they certainly aren't out mowing the lawn either!
Thanks for the ideas of looking to see what other activities are in the area. I know there is a local community college and am hoping there is some kind of group or continuing education she may be interested in. It will be difficult though, because she has continuously rejected interacting with anything new in the past. Any suggestions for good places to try and find groups? Maybe a support group might be good too?
Maybe I should reach out to the pastor? Are they usually a good resource?
I am sure she is under a great deal of stress and that having my husband at home would make her feel better, but turning my husband into his father doesn't seem fair either. Thanks. I was feeling so selfish for wanting to have my husband as part of my life too. I have zero problems sharing, but having him be cranky all the time from her squirrel calls, etc isn't fun for anyone.
Is it possible for you and your husband to go down for a few days and set up a binder of services she can access when she needs it? Phone numbers to call for a plumber, furnace, etc.
Maybe get a lawn service/snow service set up for a year?
There's full service at the gas station, so she doesn't need to pump her own gas.
I understand where you are coming from with your husband, and, yes, she does need to learn to stand on her own two feet. If there are a few things you can help with to 'scaffold' things as she learns to be more independent, that would be more helpful, and less crazy making for you, than doing it for her.
This just blows.my.mind! I thought for sure you were going to say she was 75 or something! In her 50s and she can't pump gas? or pay bills? I'd say your husband and you have done a lot for her and if you do more, you will be enablers. Really no reason she can't take care of her life herself. Ignore the siblings or ask them point blank why they aren't helping.
The pastor is a good idea, maybe the red hat people (so she can start to develop a social life with ladies who are actually DOING things). I would say senior services but she's not old enough to qualify.
Still shaking my head about her ideas. Time to blast those old fashioned stereotypes out the window - she's been a juvenile waaaay too long!
It sounds as if they want your husband to replace his father, and that is ridiculous in so many ways. If the sisters who live with your MIL and the other relatives who live right there aren't helping, then they have absolutely no right to tell your husband that his mom is his responsibility. Some things that the MIL refuses to do are silly, and rescuing her isn't helping. If she can't gas her car up, or do maintenance then she either needs to learn or get stuck. When she can't go anywhere, then she'll either call a cab or get the car gassed up and fixed. Enabling a woman who pulls the helpless act isn't helping. Bet the next demand is to fix her finances by giving her money too.
Well, I AM a widowed mother of grown children and have zero sympathy for her. Of course, I'm also a horsewoman, and we all know that we're a pretty independent group! It's pretty overwhelming when your husband dies, but you just push forward and "man up". Sometimes I amaze even myself at the things I handle now.
She has to figure it out. If you take care of things for her she never will. It will be painful for all concerned, but that's life, right?
Get her the name of a good handyman. She can just keep a list of things that she can't figure out and then hire him to do the rest.
While I don't think it's reasonable to expect a son to travel 2 hours every week to visit his healthy, 50ish mother or make emergency visits to tackle the invading squirrel , I've been the daughter in that setup and while these daughters may indeed be leeches who do nothing around the house, I wonder. It's difficult to live in another woman's house; women are extremely territorial about their houses, and can be almost incapable of allowing their daughters to do more than very basic chores like laundry. Anything larger or more permanent - things like fixing a creaky step, replacing a door, ripping up an old carpet - have to be done by sons if the husband's dead, not just because they're more stereotypically masculine tasks, but also because they're more fundamental and lasting and so if a daughter does them, that's the daughter, your rival, placing her stamp on YOUR HOUSE. In short, the daughters may be encountering mucho difficulties in being allowed to do anything around the house - even though if the son walks in, mom would sweetly agree to anything he wants to do - paint the front porch, mow the lawn, gut the kitchen and replace it with a dungeon.
When you mentioned the gas thing, I found myself nodding. My grandma had NEVER pumped gas in her life. I had to show her after Grandpa died.
She had never dealt with finances, never handled any kind of household repairs, never mowed a yard, etc. And there wasn't a lot of money to throw at such services. On top of it, the nearest family member is 1000 miles away.
Here are the things that helped us help her most:
!) Getting her into bereavement counseling.
2) Identifying what community resources and activities were available. (she lives in a small town in Eastern Wyoming so there's not much!)
3) Walking through situations with her--not doing things FOR her, but talking her through action steps.
Her remaining children (my mother and my uncle) are barely on speaking terms and are very at odds about how to best help Gma so I did most of this and got a lot of gaff from Uncle.
Your husband has done MORE than enough. She is a grownup and while I feel for her and realize that it's a huge life change, she cannot rely on your husband for all of her "manly job" needs.
My mother is actually older than yours and has been dealing with some major medical issues. I went out there and did the same with her after she got out of the hospital. Lots of checklists, binders, etc.
And when she didn't really seem to be taking charge, I finally had a very difficult talk with her. I just said something to the effect of, "I love you and want you to be okay, but I can't invest more in your health, well being, and home than you're willing to. So you need to get on board, realize that things are different now and adapt. I will help you the best I can, but this is YOUR life. So if you're not willing to try, I'm not going to waste my time."
It was an AWFUL convo to have, but it made a difference. My mom has really stepped it up. (she's not a widow...just divorced many moons ago and dealing with health issues.)
My brother lives in the same town. My other brother is overseas and I live quite a ways away. But I don't think that my "same town" brother should feel like he's responsible for her.
Your husband is the only boy in the family, right? Don't let him feel badly about this. It's really NOT his job. She is not an invalid. She's just having a hard time and has some old ideas that aren't going to work moving forward.
I do think that the counseling is a great idea and so is getting her involved in some community stuff--especially volunteering!!! There is nothing quite like helping others to feel better about yourself.
A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.
It IS time for a little tough love...getting the siblings on the same page sounds like the biggest battle. Your DH should stop letting his siblings bully and guilt him and give them a harder time. The sisters must be quite young if MIL is only in her 50s...they don't get to live with MIL and sit there and play helpless along with her, ugh. It sounds like they are enabling her in order to not participate fully in life themselves.
Your MIL is MY age peer and there's no way I'd settle for being that helpless!
My father died three years ago, my mother is in her late 70s and was a SAHM and housewife her entire life (also married at 19 right from her mother's house). She's doing far better than your MIL is, so there's really no excuse. Brothers and I spent a lot of time at her house initially and my brother and his fiancee moved in with her for six months, as they were between houses themselves. Brothers and I discussed my Mom's needs and carefully gave her more and more responsiblity for solving problems. She does need help with complicated financial stuff and my attorney brother supervises that. But, she arranges for all repairs herself. She takes classes through the local senior center and community education organization. She's hooked up with a couple of other widows her age and does things with them. She visits my brother or I for a day or two a couple of times a month and we go down there about the same. Regular phone calls, we invite her on family outings. But, she doesn't require constant hand holding or entertainment. My brother jokes that her schedule is busier than a CEO's, when we try to call her, she's never home..out at a class or doing something with her friends.
She is elderly, so the time will come soon enough when she needs more support and she'll likely move up near, or with DH and I, but for now, she's running her own life pretty darned well.
50s? Your MIL could find a part-time job, take classes, even do some dating, in addition to mastering the basics of owning a home.
My husband is the youngest child & he is 28. The SILs are in their 30s. As for getting them to step up, I wish. Heck, I would love if they would ever pay their own bills and move off the property or help pay taxes or do anything useful. But I suppose, the first step would be having them be contributing members to society, which is a far stretch too.
The sisters live on the same property in an adjacent house about 100 feet from the main house. So while not directly under their mother's foot, they still come over and drop their laundry off, eat out of her fridge, drive her car since they can't pay for repairs on the ones that was given to them, etc.
I would love for her to take initiative in wanting to take classes, find a part time job, etc. She has expressed to me (again on Thanksgiving) that she has zero desire to ever be employed or date anyone. I don't really care if that's her prerogative, but it would be nice for her to interact with more people.
She does take care of her finances now on a day to day basis. We handled the major initial stuff, since my FIL kept everyone in the dark about account numbers, if he had a 401K, etc. We have since turned everything over to her and I don't know what her current situation looks like, except I do know from the amount of money she started with, she needs to downsize or get a job or preferably both, especially if she continues supporting the SILs and their offspring. The house is a big massive farmhouse that has always been poorly maintained, very drafty, $$ to heat, and the taxes are high. I guess it should be MYOB, but I don't really want her to run out of money because I wouldn't want to leave family out in the cold, but I'd have a hard time taking her, her kids, their kids, the 15 or 16 dogs on the property (last I looked), and the zillion other animals. My husband did at least go and convince her to look at a smaller house around the corner a few weeks ago. I think that was left at that, but maybe we can continue to keep looking, but she is hesitant about leaving the SILs to fend for themselves.
She does have a handyman type guy around and he does do the lawn care and that sort of thing. He is older and can't handle some of the extensive stuff (squirrel chasing or sealing up the holes in the attic that enables the squirrel to get in), but he does at least help with some of the smaller things, which I am immensely grateful for. There is snow removal already in place as my FIL used to travel quite frequently.
A list of numbers is a good idea. I know that she has a lot of these resources, but feigns helplessness sometimes. But if there was a concrete typed list instead of the stack of business cards, that would be easier access for her (and us, to reinforce she does have the contacts, etc).
Thanks for some additional ideas. I think BuddyRoo, you are right, that my husband does need to have the "talk" with her. She does have access to a lot of information and has family locally besides the useless daughters. She has two sisters that live in the same town along with all of their offspring (who are very useful indeed. )
I think everyone is really right that she does need to step it up. I just wasn't sure if I was being calloused since I am so independent and so is my family. Even my elderly grandmothers (one widowed, one divorced) have never had difficulties taking care of their homes or finding the appropriate helpful guy or whatever to do so.
OK, as for getting her into bereavement counseling, is there a low cost source we could look at? Is this something a pastor/church could offer (can you tell I have no clue)? I seriously don't know where to start looking and I do think that it could help...well counseling in general. There isn't a lot of excess money to do it out of pocket and the insurance she has is more of a catastrophic type of plan and doesn't include counseling.
Thank you everyone for offering input so far. I really, truly appreciate it. I am only in my mid 20s and not really of an age where I have any friends with deceased parents, so not really sure who to talk to about what is appropriate, enabling, or just being mean.
Actually, as for the bereavement counseling, most hospices and funeral homes offer a few sessions free. So do community mental health organizations. If you'd like some help researching such resources, PM me her area. I'd be happy to look around tomorrow.
As for "the talk"...man, it's hard. THere was a moment after the words left my mouth that I thought I may have done something horrible. But the shocking convo shocked my mom right into action!!!
I have spent a lot of years taking care of her financially, emotionally, and otherwise. But now that I am so far away, have a family of my own, etc, I just can't do it for her. and I told her that. I told her that I had a husband and kids at home who needed me too so if she wasn't going to get "game on" then I needed to be home where I was needed more.
(at the time, we had a lot going on. It was awful timing for me to be back home with mom.)
Good luck. It's gonna be hard. Be kind to your hubby. He's got the whole guilt thing going on too. So be patient. But be firm. And if you're okay with it, let him use you as an excuse if needed.
A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.
The "learned helplessness" is not just Mommie's but the sisters as well. Your hubby needs to do with them as he is doing with her: teach them how to help themselves. The next time they whine at him, he needs to turn it back to them and tell them how to address the issue of the moment / challenge them to be more involved since they live there.
"Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
- Desiderata, (c) Max Ehrman, 1926
I do not know where MIL is located, but, around here, I would not know where to find a gas station with full service.
There are plenty of them around me, but pumping gas is not hard . What would MIL think if people offered to instruct her in some basic life skills? I have a friend at work (younger than I, only early 40s) who likes to play helpless (though she is NOT, she works full time, is good at her job and is raising three kids alone), it's just her "schtick" to get attention. I sometimes push her to do things or show her how to do things (that she may or may not already know how to do). She's always happy and proud of herself, she wanted the attention, not the "help".
I do not know where MIL is located, but, around here, I would not know where to find a gas station with full service.
There are plenty of them around me, but pumping gas is not hard . What would MIL think if people offered to instruct her in some basic life skills? I have a friend at work (younger than I, only early 40s) who likes to play helpless (though she is NOT, she works full time, is very bright, is good at her job and is raising three kids alone), it's just her "schtick" to get attention. I sometimes push her to do things or show her how to do things (that she may or may not already know how to do). She's always happy and proud of herself, she wanted the attention, as much as, if not more than the "help".
It's a tough situation to be in because she's not your mother. Basically, you should support your husband's position which seems reasonable to me.
One thing that would help is if she would join a widowed persons' group. It's basically a social group that also offers resources on matters that one may confront in widowhood. Your MIL is not alone in not knowing how to do things or knowing how to ask others aside from your son for help. Most of these groups are free or involve a nominal cost (like a fee for a luncheon gathering).
If you can encourage whatever steps toward getting out of the houese and into the community, that probably will be helpful. She may need to take baby steps and her progress may not always be linear. But the passage of time does help and things always change.
My MIL was widowed about 10 years ago. She has done very well and is currently engaged to a gentleman in his late 80's. They go on lots of cruises and trips. She is very happy and she deserves every moment of it. And she met her fiance in a widowed persons' group. She knew him for years before dating.
My own mother was widowed for the last 18 years of her life. She never remarried or dated much, but she worked and was pretty social. I think she found a great deal of freedom in her widowhood.
Last edited by IronwoodFarm; Nov. 24, 2012 at 07:15 PM.
Reason: Not sure WHY have a thumbs down symbol! I must have hit some key in error.