In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states. In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org- all emails stay confidential. Today, Gynomite takes on keeping boundaries up when Mom moves in.
My mom has been out of work since January and can’t find a job in the city she lives in right now. She asked me and my husband (of two years) if she could move in with us so she could shut off her utilities and keep making her house payments so she wouldn’t have to face foreclosure. We know that this is the only way she can keep her house, so we said yes. We have tried to do it the most responsible and honest way that we can be laying out rules (for example, she’s usually pretty messy and cluttered and I prefer a clean home and I told her that it was expected) and asking for a timeline. I told her that I would prefer if she start transitioning back to her home no later than May 2011.
If I had a normal, happy relationship with my mom then this would be a non-issue. However, my mom has always been a little overbearing. Her “sense of humor” as she calls it can be sarcastic at best and mean-spirited at worst. I spent my entire life growing up waiting to get out of the house so that I could live my own life without her trying to control my actions and decisions. She’s not a bad person, our pesonalities just clash. After I moved out and got married, our relationship improved, but that was after years of me reinforcing the fact that I was an adult and did not have to stand for her behavior any longer.
I’m afraid that her moving in will place a strain on my relationship with my husband, first and foremost, and that it will also damage the shaky relationship I’ve managed to cultivate with her so far. I have tried my best to lay down some ground rules before she moves in, but I’m not entirely sure how well she will adhere to them. What is the best way for me to approach something like this with her? If she consistently breaks a rule, I don’t know what I will say to her without making her feel humiliated. She already had an issue with swallowing her pride and asking to move in with her daughter because she’s on the verge of losing her home and I don’t want to aggravate the situation.
I am really dreading the move (that happens in a couple of weeks) because I have no frame of reference for how to handle something like this.
My goodness, I can’t imagine what a pressure cooker this situation could be.
But here’s the thing: you’ve done so much good work on this so far. Seriously. You seem to fully appreciate the amount of humility it took for your Mom to ask this of you, and by setting clear boundaries before this ever happens, and a timeline, you’ve done a lot of the tough work already. Also, I’m very happy that you’re thinking of your relationship with your husband before your relationship with your mom in this situation- that’s the one that may use more TLC during this period than you’d think.
My advice to you is to reward yourself for all the hard work you’ve done upfront by relaxing. The thing that will throw this situation into turmoil at this point is expectations. If you go into this expecting it to be horrific, expecting your mom to break every rule- you’re going to be like a coiled-up spring, constantly waiting for something to go wrong. You’ll start finding fault in almost everything, and anytime she does make a mistake, you’ll see it as fulfilling a prophecy that you’ve created. So dismiss that prophecy.
Go into this situation with an open mind, and start by making a list of ten things that will be good about your Mom moving in. TEN. Maybe you’ll learn more about her, maybe her new humble position will help her learn some things, maybe she’ll cook delicious food for you, maybe you’ll play Candyland one night like you did when you were kids. It’s not an ideal for either of you, sure, but it doesn’t have to be all bad.
Share the list with her. You shared the rules, so it’s fair to share this. Let her know that you’re nervous about the arrangement but excited, and that you are determined to keep your relationship healthy. If she breaks the rules, address it in an almost clinical, detached manner. You set the rules, but her actions broke them, so you have no choice but to address it.
Once she moves in, go out of your way to arrange for everyone to still have their own private space, so you’re not in each others’ faces all the time, and make sure you set up special time with your husband so he’s taken care of too. Let him know that you and he are partners in this arrangement, because the last thing that you want is for you and he to turn on each other. Then it’s just three miserable people in a house.
To that end, you and your husband, as a united front, need to come up with a backup plan if things don’t work out and she doesn’t respect your household. Technically that would be your mom’s job, in a “the ball is in your court because you’re the one who messed up” kinda way, but it might make you feel better.
This will be tough, but it doesn’t have to be all tough. Stick to your guns, look for the positive, and stick to your guns. Good luck to you.