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.

Trapped

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.