“My husband’s mother is having a tough time financially and wants to move in with us. I love her. She’s great with the kids, and she’s always been supportive of her son and our marriage. But I cannot imagine feeling comfortable having her around 24/7, and I worry about what her moving in would do for our home life. Will my young children’s routines be disrupted? Will our rhythm as a family change? Will her stay at our home ever end? My husband thinks we should help her. What do we do?”
It’s natural to feel mixed emotions about this, especially if you are someone who resents change. Of course, you want to make your husband happy and help your mother-in-law get back on her feet. But you also have boundaries, an established family life with your children and a rhythm with your husband that you enjoy. So, as with most things, you need to compromise.
You should help. I know it might be uncomfortable, but it’s your husband’s mom. He loves her. She raised him, and she’s an integral part of his existence. Shutting her out completely would probably hurt your husband’s feelings in a big way. Instead, you should say yes to helping while still establishing details for the stay that are important to your well-being. Here’s what you should discuss with your husband and mother-in-law up front.
How long is she going to stay?
If you’re not totally comfortable with the idea of your mother-in-law staying with you, knowing that the stay could be indefinite might increase your anxiety. Whether it’s a month or six months, you want to figure out what the plan is. Is she looking for a job? For a downsized house? Where does she ultimately want to end up and how can her time with you further that goal? Establish an expected duration of her stay and tell your husband you really want to stick to that.
What does she need while she’s staying with you?
Do you have a natural space for your mother-in-law, like an extra bedroom and bathroom? Does she need a car or a form of transportation, and who will be helping with this? Will you be folding her into your weekly grocery shopping and errands, or is she going to remain self-sufficient while living with you? Is she asking for money, or other financial help, beyond a place to stay? It’s good to have an understanding of just how much burden you’re biting off—and who is going to be responsible for taking care of her needs.
What are the ground rules with the kids?
You know the situation. If your mother-in-law has a tendency to parent, scold or instruct your children, who already know your house rules and have their own routines, you may want to tell your husband that you’re not OK with her “parenting” them. Wait until it happens once. Whether you call her out or your husband does, it’s important to establish that when it comes to parenting, you two set the rules. If you don’t make your kids finish their dinner, that’s up to you. If you let them neglect chores for an hour of TV, ditto.
How do you continue to meet the needs of your relationship?
You’ll have an increased burden and less space to yourselves while your mother-in-law is living with you. If you have fears that your relationship or time for intimacy will be pushed to the back burner, those fears are valid. So schedule in those date nights! Ask your mother-in-law if she’d be willing to watch the kids more often so that you and your husband can reconnect. This should be a no-brainer, but remember to get out of the house and make time for yourselves. You may feel smothered when you’re at home, but you should be able to get out more often with someone who can watch the children.
Remember: Everyone needs help from time to time, and a temporary stay could help you grow closer to an important figure in your husband’s life. Just make sure you state your boundaries surrounding kids, family time and finances, as well as your desired routines for her time in your home. The perks are nice too. Your kids may love having another playmate around, and your husband may relish the time with his mom as she’s in transition.
Let your husband manage the situation.
After you give the OK and state how you want things to play out, it’s really up to your husband to manage this relationship—and stick to the agreements set in place from the start. If you find that you’re the one being the middleman, it’s time to pull your husband aside to remind him that it’s his mother you’re adjusting your life for, not yours.
But hopefully, a short-term stay with boundaries will allow you and your entire family to grow in new ways.
Jenna Birch is the author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a dating and relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.