Exhausted by ungrateful mother-in-law
Published 1:03 pm Monday, February 12, 2024
Dear Aunty Pam,
Every now and then my husband brings his 86-year-old mother over from the assisted living facility where she lives to spend a weekend with us. I created a beautiful guest room for her. We take her to lunch, or a drive in the mountains, and are very careful with her mobility as she is on a walker. Basically, I end up giving up my entire weekend as it revolves around her.
I wouldn’t mind it so much except for the fact that she is very difficult and extremely negative. If we take her to the mountains, she’ll talk about how much she misses the beach. If we offer to go for a drive to the lake, she’ll say there are too many bugs and it’s not the same. If I cook chicken for dinner, she’ll say she just had chicken the night before. Once, I asked her specifically what she’d like for dinner and she said steak. So I made steak and she said she’d quit eating steak because it was too hard to chew. She never says ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’ If I offer coffee, she’ll only say, ‘Well, if you’re making some, I guess I will.’
I still work full-time and my weekends are pretty important to me. When ‘Doris’ stays with us, not only do I get very little rest (I get up to help her to the bathroom during the night), I’m so stressed and irritated that I go back to work on Monday exhausted and in a lousy mood.
I’ve told my husband I really can’t deal with her anymore and he says it’s only three times a year and each time he sees her, it might be the last time. I say it’s easier for him because he now only works part-time and from home. He’s planning on bringing Doris over next weekend. Help!!
Well, look, any article about mental health and the elderly generally points out that depression is a common occurrence. Makes sense when you consider that by the time you’re in assisted living, you’ve lost pretty much every freedom you’ve ever had (including going to the toilet unescorted): living in your own home, driving, shopping, gardening, golfing, dancing…the foods you used to love now perhaps no longer agree with you, and it feels like every day another part of you aches.
And depression can manifest itself as negativity. Not much to look forward to, is there? Certainly, there’s no control of one’s life anymore. And so, as someone with zero education in psychology, but enough experience to know that I become quite resentful when illness or circumstances prevent me from living my daily, physically active life, I can well imagine how Doris has become negative—even bitter— as she sees the sum total of her life when she’s woken in the morning by a CNA to change her overnight adult diaper.
But what about you? Aunty Pam agrees: you’re working full-time and a weekend’s rest is crucial for your own mental and physical health. I think it only fair, especially since your sleep is interrupted with bathroom assistance for Doris, that you be excused from the drives to all the places Doris hates so that you at least have the afternoon to nap, as well as the cooking. Give Doris a selection of menus from all the places that deliver or offer takeout, and then let her choose for herself. And the hubs can go get it.
It’s not your responsibility to make Doris happy. That might not even be possible, although I’ve found an evening out at Chippendales can have startling effects on geriatric personalities (although I’ve never seen a show in the south that didn’t include mullets). It’s only your responsibility to be welcoming (even if through gritted teeth), kind (ditto), and to provide a safe and secure environment. The hubs can do everything else.