Dear Annie: Our son has been married to a lovely girl for over 20 years. She is a daughter-in-law everyone should have. She cares for us; she keeps a gracious home; she is a good mother.
My problem is with her mother. We see them two or three times a year. Her mother will get me alone and start to share things about our son and his wife that we do not know and don’t need to know. Always negative. And I am pretty certain that they are not true, as other things would be manifest if they were.
Last time, at a graduation, she shared money troubles she felt they were having. Before that, her daughter’s troubles with depression — which I knew because our daughter-in-law had spoken with me, but I did not want to talk about it behind her back. Her mother has tried to talk about difficulties with the grandchildren and what she thinks ought to be done.
Now, I recognize that my daughter-in-law may have shared something with her mother, but our son has not shared them with us, so I am unwilling to talk about it with them not present.
How do I handle this without offending someone whom I need to keep a relationship with? — Mom-in-Law Who Wants to Keep Her Ears Clean
Dear Clean Ears: There are lots of reasons people gossip: entertainment, insecurity, loneliness, pure boredom. If this woman has something productive to say about her daughter or your son, she should bring it up with them — and you should feel free to tell her that.
Dear Annie: I need some advice. My mother-in-law, who is 93, lives alone in her home. My wife and I and my sister-in-law and her husband have been her caregivers going on 20 years now. Her husband passed away years ago.
She does not drive. We do her laundry, run her to doctor appointments, shop for her groceries, etc. Her house is filthy. She doesn’t bathe at all, just “washes up” in the sink. Her doctor has told her to go to assisted living, but she refuses.
I am nearing 70. My wife is 69. My in-laws are in their 70s and in poor health. We have told her we can’t continue doing this. She refuses any home care or any house cleaning and gets mad when we do it. We take turns making sure she takes her pills three times a day. I have told her to at least look at a place, but she refuses. We feel like hostages. We can’t force her to go to assisted living, but she is not safe at home alone. Short of going to a lawyer and getting guardianship, I don’t know what else we can do. Any advice? — Tired in Ohio
Dear Tired: Your mother-in-law is very fortunate to have the four of you in her life, watching out for and taking care of her. But taking everything into consideration, it’s unfair to expect that you, your wife and your in-laws can continue as you have for the last two decades.
Though she is stubborn and likely scared, now is the time to confront your mother-in-law with her options, once and for all. If she is dead set against leaving her home for a facility, she must accept the help of an in-home aid. This is a compromise she’ll need to make in order to remain in her own space and without giving up any legal rights — for now — to her own care and life choices.
This kind of change is hard for any older person to undergo, but ultimately, it’s one she must accept for her own safety and well-being and for that of your family.