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Carolyn Hax: Refusal to care for MIL causing rift

Dear Carolyn: Five years ago, my mother became unable to continue living alone, so she came to live with my family. In the last year she began to fail and I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, so we made the decision for her to move into assisted living. She is doing well, and I was able to go back to work.

Now, my mother-in-law is unable to live alone. Unbeknownst to us, my husband’s sisters put her house on the market and told her she would live with us! We only found out when my husband called for Mother’s Day.

My husband said this was not going to happen.

His sisters’ response was to call us “selfish” and state that caring for their mother does not suit their lifestyles. My mother-in-law told my husband she is “hurt beyond words” that we will not do for her what we did for my mother.

How do we handle this? – Selfish?

Either you cave, and pay dearly for it, or stand tall – and pay dearly for it.

These steep consequences are the meager leavings that you and your husband get to discuss and manage.

Even then, you’ve already decided the consequences to your health rule out caregiving.

The consequences of your other choice – sticking to “no” – are largely in your in-laws’ hands, since silent treatments cut your options nearly to nil. Your husband can certainly write each sister a heartfelt letter – restating that your health precludes caregiving; that he stands ready to help however else he can; that their volunteering him without asking first, and now shunning him, mystifies him and breaks his heart.

Which brings us to your mother-in-law, your only real opportunity to “handle this,” since she, apparently, will speak.

So speak he must: “Of course you’re hurt – I understand. My wife’s health simply won’t allow this, though. I’m stunned and saddened you were told otherwise without my knowledge.

“But that doesn’t change the fact that we need a Plan B. Are you ready to discuss one, Mom, or do you need time to think?”


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