Caring and underlying family tensions

Hi, I just would like to meet a listening ear here. I am helping my hubby to care for his mum. He is her only child. She is a widow in her nineties. She is an immigrant from Eastern Europe as I am. She had a fall so she has restricted mobility, practically housebound (except going to the garden), but able to dress, wash herself and make simple meals. She lives on her own, we live (with 2 primary school age boys) 3 mins drive away from her. I decided to go to to see MIL once a week for 3 hours to give my OH some rest as he visits her every day even twice a day to make her lunch, do cleaning etc.
We have never got along well together with MIL. Basically, she does not accept me, the fact thet her son ‘has left’ her to marry me and start a family. We found the safe common ground with MIL as we both like opera music so when I come to see her, we listen to her records together, I serve her lunch etc. Two meetings went well, but today I once again faced her outburst of complaints, anxiety and hostility. She was mentioning arguments we had 10 years ago. I kept saying sorry. She kept saying that she sacrificed her whole life for her son. At the peak of her monologue I heard that I gave her son ‘nothing except two sons’ but she gave him everything: money, education etc. I know that sounds ridiculously melodramatic. I am trying to tell myself that I should not take her words personally. But easier said than done.
I am having this irrational fear about what if my husband dies or falls severely ill and I will have to care for MIL more often :frowning: or full time. I know it is ridiculous but I am feeling anxious. We don’t have any more family in the UK. I am also feelig guilty that I have not been able to work on our relationship and probably have made some mistakes. I keep apologizing and explaining my position, but it does not seem to work. Thank you for reading this. Any thoughts much appreciated.

Welcome to the forum. In the UK, you do NOT “have to” do anything. It’s husband’s mum, husband’s problem

If she cannot be civil, then WALK OUT regardless of her house, saying “I do not have to listen to this”. If possible, record some of her cruel comments on your phone, as evidence.

How old is your husband? How old are you?

She is being unreasonable. You are a Mum yourself and know that whatever we give our kids shouldn’t be given because we want care in our old age, but so that they grow up to be happy independent beings. Sadly, unreasonableness and self focus comes with very old age and is worsened if this is the sort of person she always was.

You and your husband are doing A LOT. Ignore the comments and digs. Be proud of all you do. Would you are your husband like to do less? Have you explored having some help come in? She WON’T like it. But if it is what it takes for you and your husband to regain your sanity it has to happen. I struggles on with both my parents until I found the forum and the bravery to insist my Mum and Dad had carers in as me and my sister couldn’t do it all. Mum still moans, but our relationship is 100x better as I now spend quality time there.

Also ALWAYS remember YOUR boys come first. She has had her life. They haven’t. They need you and their Dad to be fully there for them. I’m not for one moment suggesting you are not caring for them. But when thinking about all this, it is THEM who take priority. Also, if you are feeling anxious or low, you are not a happy Mum. I’ve been there and fully worn that T-shirt.

Good luck!

Thank you for your replies.

Yes, I would sometimes like to go away, I just think it would sparkle more conflict and accusations of ‘leaving her alone’. I would rather endure and go without saying anything to defend myself. Defence is futile. I think she would like to use any opportunity to fuel her moaning.
It is just so hurtful and insensitive when she says to my husband that getting pregnant with him made her stay in England. If she had not got pregnant, she would go back to her home country and be happier. England disappointed her when she came here decades ago. She could not pursue her career, she had little money, sha had to care for her own MIL. It goes on and on…

Yes, our marriage and our boys are the most important, I am glad we managed to keep enough distance for years. I did not see her often when she felt better. Now it is different. I am not a martyr, I just would like to give my husband a break.

I am 45, my OH is 53.

Of course we are thinking about hiring additional help. Iw will be necessary anyway for holidays. Thank you very much again for your time and listening ear.

It sounds like your husband is being the “dutiful son” but there are so many options available for outside help, depending on her financial circumstances.
Is she very poor, or fairly wealthy? If she has under £23,000 in her own right, then she can pay for her own care, under that amount, then Social Services will pay some, or all, of her care needs.

She should be VERY grateful that you are both living near enough for you to care for her.

Did your husband ask to be conceived? Of course not.
She can’t blame him for coming into the world, she should have kept her legs together if she didn’t want to get pregnant!
Don’t let her walk over you and insult both you and your husband. Stand up to her. And if she doesn’t like what you do, tell her to get someone else. It really is that simple. YOU are the powerful one in this relationship, she needs you far, far more than you need her.
Your children need time to be happy with mum and dad happy too. Childhood is so fleeting. Don’t wait until she is dead. Go on holiday this year.

So sobering and reasonable what you wrote!
Actually, she said to me today she had enough money to spend it as she wants to. I think this is mainly my husband’s problem to detach from her emotional blackmailing behaviour. I hate to think he is kept hostage of her unfulfilled ambitions and dreams.
Yes, we are definitely going for holiday this year.

Many thanks!

Jolanta, I helped care for all 4 of our parents, so I know how torn you can feel.

Hi Jolanta
Many a married woman with an in law like that would have made the husband move many many miles away many many years ago.

Stop being defensive, you have done nothing to defend.
Ignore her comments and just change the topic to something else, or walk away.

I am lending you the forums virtual Teflon coat. It is invisible and you wear it anytime MIL starts her poison. The coat lets all barbs and hurtful comments slide right off. It’s tough and nothing gets through. Wear it with pride, she won’t know, but she will realise you stand taller and firmer when you wear it.


Oh, and employ a cleaner for her, and get hubby to drop shopping off just twice a week instead of spending hours there each day. She’s capable of doing more from what you say.

Thank you Mrs Average. Thank you for the coat :slight_smile: I will wear it proudly.

Just one thing to add.
When MIL is lashing out her criticism and complaining and negativity, she does it from time to time. It is the same story again and again. Perhaps, due to her old age, she thinks she says all of that for the first time. She might just not remember that she said that to me several times in the past. She is repeating herself about other things also. She does not have any signs of dementia as far as I know. But this is a tricky one as if I walk away, she might think I do not want to listen to ‘important things’ she wants to tell me for the very first time. I know it would be 100th time for me, but she might simply not remember. I am confused. What do you think?

Jolanta - my mum spent her life telling me the same things over and over again! One develops the ability to say ‘hmm,’ and ‘yes,’ and ‘poor you’…

I wouldn’t try and ‘argue’ with her.

I’ll try and reply at length on your other thread (which maybe the mods will combine for ease??) but I suspect your MIL is reaching the end of her life and is now ‘thinking it all over’ - maybe we all will when we get that old?

I think that ‘nothing’ you or your husband can do is make her happy now - her misery is her owhn, and yes, it’s sad that she didn’t get to achieve thigns that motherhood prevented her, bu on the other hand if she’d achieved those things she wouldn’t have had a son and grandchildren.

We don’t get everytyhing in life, and we pay a price for what we do get. That was your MIL’s price. It must hurt your husband when she speaks like that.

To be honest, I think your aim now, both of you, is to ‘get through this time as easily as you can’…she can’t have many more years left, and I think she won’t really change now, will she?

It’ might’ be dementia, or just, as I say, looking back over her whole life and coming up with a list of regrets. that’s her problem, not yours!

Thank you very much for your reply jenny_lucas.
I know arguing with MIL makes absolutely no sense, even when I try to explain simple facts. For example she keeps thinking I brought no money to the family when we were getting married and I have been entirely supported by my husband. The hidden message here is that I am using HER money, for she has given/sacrificed so much to her son. This is simply NOT TRUE from purely factual point of view. I am tempted to clarify that to her and I even tried to do it once in a firm, but polite manner. But she apparently fogot that, because now she is making exactly the same accusations. So this may be a memory issue, not ‘pure’ hostility. Yes, I practiced the nondefensive feedback to her criticism ( ‘hmmm’, ‘yes’, ‘I understand’ are my favourites). Very good tactics indeed.

I am writing about all that and getting really valuable support here, for in February I will be visiting her once or twice daily for a week. My husband did not have proper holiday last summer as MIL had a fall and needed more care for a few weeks. So he is taking our boys for half-term holiday abroad. This coming summer, we will hire a carer for MIL to go on holiday together. I would like to be prepared and supported during that week in Feb. I know MIL does not accept my husband to go overseas by plane (paranoid about air accidents). She does not accept the fact that her son goes to the country where I come from. My husband has not even told her that he and the boys would stay with my parents as she does not like (how obvious!) my family. So you can see there are reasons for potential outburst of negativity. Of course, I cannot control her feelings so I would like to gather some strength to deal with the challenge.

It certainly sounds like she has memory issues. Would saying something like “Can you concentrate on what we are doing today/what you would like me to do today?” help her to change the focus of her thoughts?

Sadly, I suspect that her perceived “injustice” just goes round and round her head most of the time.

It’s so much easier to blame someone else for things that have gone wrong in life rather than take responsibility for your own actions.
Too late, I realised that my mum endlessly blamed other people for any problem.
I loved my dad, he was always kind to me, but as a brilliant mathematician and scientist, his thoughts were often elsewhere. After he died mum blamed him for anything and everything that had gone wrong during their 50 year marriage. My brothers and I were dismayed.

Mum never ever said that looking back on things, perhaps she should have done something different. Even the purchase of 15 harmoniums for restoration for her to play when she was riddled with arthritis and would never EVER be able to play any of them.
Ultimately, my son and I had to skip the lot, all dismantled, unrestored.

You can never change this sort of behaviour, well I never did, all you can do is try to work round it, focus on what you have to do, and try to get someone else involved in caring for her, so you can withdraw slightly for your own sanity.