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Help! My Mother Won’t Leave Our House
Dear Emuna

Help! My Mother Won’t Leave Our House

My mother lacks boundaries and never leaves when she comes to visit.


Dear Emuna,

My mother will not leave my house when she comes for a visit. She lives an hour away and we see her around once a week. I rely on her for help, so I appreciate her visits. But she won’t leave until well after my husband and I are ready for bed. We have tried to set rules like all visitors must leave by 9:30. We have tried to give her an hour warning like “We’re going to bed in one hour,” but she ignores it every time. And even once we are finally getting her out the door she comes up with reasons to stay (she needs a coffee, let her help with something, the baby said "sit down", etc). This week at 11 pm, on a work night, I gave up and just got in bed. My toddler who should have been asleep hours earlier got in bed with me. Rather than take her cue to leave, my mom just hopped in bed with us! She’s been divorced for 20 years and I'm sure she is lonely, and I need her help, but my husband and I don’t know how to stop this.


Dear Trapped,

Well you certainly are! This is extremely unhealthy behavior, especially allowing your mother to climb into bed with you. It needs to be stopped – for the sake of your marriage and the mental health of you, your husband and your children.

You mention twice that you need her help. I don’t know the details of your situation but, from an outside perspective, it seems that you need to bite the bullet and find alternative forms of assistance. If you remain dependent on your mother, you will not be able to stop the behavior and you will all suffer. You need to find other help/pay for other help so that you can say sincerely to your mother that you love her very much but if she doesn’t accept your boundaries, she is not welcome in your home.

I know that sounds harsh and it may initially lead to a disruption in the relationship but, just like children need boundaries and thrive better with structure, so do adults, especially someone who has such an unhealthy sense of them. You will not only be helping yourself, your marriage and your children, you will be helping her as well.

You need to be prepared to accept the initial discomfort and possibly pain – of your mother’s reaction, of the search for other help options, etc. – in order to foster healthier relationships in the long run. It sounds like you have let it go too far already but it’s never too late to pull back. Do it now – before more damage is done.

And don’t feel guilty. It’s best for your family and it will also ultimately be good for your mother to find some other sources of meaning, pleasure, relationships and intimacy.

In-Laws During Birth Experience

Dear Emuna,

We are about to have our first child. My husband wants his parents to be with us for the whole birth and after-birth experience but I feel very uncomfortable with this arrangement and really only want my mother around. How do I handle this without causing hurt feelings?

Trying to Be Sensitive

Dear Trying,

It sounds like you are trying to be thoughtful which is something you should pat yourself on the back for. It isn’t easy and family demands can be so complicated. It comes up all the time and there is no perfect solution.

The first thing you have to recognize is that as long as you behave with kindness, thoughtfulness and respect, you are NOT responsible for how other people react. If your in-laws or even your parents get annoyed or frustrated with you after you have spoken with sensitivity and forethought, that is on them. It is their problem; you do not need to make it yours. It is not your responsibility.

Certainly it is inappropriate for your father-in-law to be in the hospital room while you are giving birth or immediately thereafter and you may feel uncomfortable with your mother-in-law. Communicating this in a loving manner is your husband’s job. He needs to say something like, “Mom and Dad, we love you very much and we can’t wait to see you as grandparents to our child. However, Debbie is anxious about the birth experience, she knows she won’t look or act herself and she would be more relaxed if only her mother and I were with her. We hope you understand. As soon as she is up to seeing anyone, you will of course be the first people in. Thanks for your understanding and support.”

This seems hard to argue with. I’m not saying that your in-laws will like the outcome but I think they can’t really object to the message, especially if it’s delivered with love. Childbirth is traumatic and anxiety-provoking and it is the beginning of a whole new set of responsibilities. This is your first practice at what will become your new reality – putting the needs of your husband and children ahead of anyone else.

March 25, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 10

(8) Bobby5000, March 29, 2017 1:45 PM

Life 101

You can change your own behavior but its difficult to change others. Get a baby-sitter periodically. Generally mothers in this situation consider themselves part of the family, so she would regard this as normal to help the baby get to sleep.

Recognize that you take the good with the bad and the suggestion about having a baby-sitter replace mom is misplaced. I saw a situation where a young high school helper turned out to have a heroin addiction and fortunately the only damage was the items stolen.

(7) Dina, March 28, 2017 8:34 PM

Mom is lonely

While acknowledging that this mom has big boundary issues, perhaps it might be helpful to see it from the mom's perspective. She is divorced and is lonely. She wants to prolong the visit because she yearns for connection. She is dependant on her kids in an unhealthy way. It might be helpful for you to help her make other meaningful social connections so that she is not solely dependent on you. Perhaps book or movie discussion clubs, day trips for seniors, groups at the JCC or other Jewish communal forum. The busier she is, the less she will feel the need to stay forever in your home.

(6) Louis, March 28, 2017 3:48 PM

Careful with this one...................

Perhaps your mother has some issues with Dementia. In that case the advice given may not handle the problem.
Also, the advice given about be prepared for your mother's pain when you take the hard line, good luck with that one.
There is no preparation for that. After you close the door on your mom, you will find you slammed it on your own foot.
It's too easy to give advice to others, they are the ones who have to suffer the consequences.

(5) Anonymous, March 28, 2017 3:11 PM

Mother in law issues.

My long time friend has had issues with her mother. From birth there were issues. She has 3 brothers whom her mother adores, but she feels her mother only uses her. Her mother is in a nursing home, but constantly asks her to move in with her. Her mother is a very "needy" person, and the daughter lacks the resources for her. Her husband stated clearly that if she moves in, he will move out!! She feels exhausted, and feels that the only thing to do is just let her move in. I said "absolutely not!", but she is just is tired of having to deal with it. She herself has made herself ill with it all. How shall I advise her?

Bunny Shuch, April 9, 2017 6:18 AM

Make sure it's a good nursing home, then honor her husband's wishes

Your friend should first make sure that her mother is being properly cared for in the nursing home and that there is kindness, cleanliness, good food and interesting activities. Not all nursing homes have this. She should also make a point of visiting her mother regularly. Once those things are in place, the husband should come first! When we marry, we're supposed to leave our parents and cleave to our spouse. Tell your friend to make a firm decision within herself that her mother will not move in. (As long as she is torn about it, her mother will zone in and take advantage of her indecision.) She can also tell her Mom that she loves her, but that it's not at all feasible for her to move in and that any time the subject is brought up during a visit, she will leave. Then, she should follow through with that. I am an elder who hopes to never be in a nursing home but if I were, I would not want to place my children's marriages at risk.

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