Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Between Nests

My husband and I currently live in his mother's farmhouse after selling the home where we raised our sons for twelve years.

Hedi and Me by Cole-Scott

We sold it for monetary reasons.  My husband became disabled in 2006 and unable to work.  He recovered slowly and in terrible pain.  As a distraction, he returned to his first love, photography which he is now pursuing as his vocation.  I work for a local tv station in a small resort area and we make ends meet.  When we sold the house, we had five weeks to move so we moved into MIL's place to see if it might work out.  She has a large home which she offered to share.  Her husband died last year and she is physically frail though mentally sharp.  We took over the upstairs and she took the downstairs.  It seemed ideal but right away there were problems.

For me the biggest problem is I no longer have my own kitchen.  I have unpacked a tenth of my kitchen belongings and I store them in some cabinetry we bought.  I am a pretty good cook and I like to try new recipes and make well-planned meals.  Unfortunately, she likes to hover in the kitchen, be in the way, talk non-stop while I'm trying to concentrate and generally offer to help, oversee or whatever.  I have asked her to consider my cooking the way she considers her art:  personal and private.  Doesn't work.

My husband and I feel the need to keep our voices down when we're upstairs.  She has ears like a bat so you can't be sure if she can hear you or not.  We never feel alone because she seldom leaves the house.  She is 95% sedentary.  Because she is 83, recovering from recent surgery and just submitted to making a will, she wants to know what our plans are.  She wants us to stay.  I want to leave.  My husband doesn't know what to do.

She's a querulous old woman with an opinion on everything!!!! What ever I'm doing or going to do, she's already done it and done it better or with the very best of the best, etc.  You get the idea.

I have a strong sense of family and obligation but I find myself angry and resentful and frustrated.  Our younger son will soon be gone and it will just be the three of us.  She may recover well enough from surgery to take care of herself but my experience with my folks tells me that won't last long.

What to do?


Marguerite said...

Quite a dilemma, indeed! It must be so hard to share a kitchen, I couldn't imagine it. If she is still sharp mentally and expected to recover from the surgery, perhaps she could sell the big house and downsize, and either move to a smaller place or maybe an assisted living community. Good luck, cher!

Susan said...

I think you've already answered your own question. Move out. Now. Before you end up hating her. Living somewhere nearby where she can call on you when she needs you is a much better solution. Even if it's an apartment or condo, you would all be better off in the long run. If it gets to the point where she has to have round-the-clock care....well, you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

I'm very fortunate that my 83-yr-old MIL is still very active and in good health and my 80-yr-old FIL even more so. We would like them to move closer to us, but he will never leave his homeplace, so I guess it will be up to us to move close to them in a few years. My SIL has no interest in doing that, she just tries to bully him into moving, but he's just as bull-headed as she is, so they're at an impasse.

I feel for you, my dear. It's never easy.

Judy said...

You asked, "what to do".... so here is my opinion,
#1) You are doing the correct first step…. “talking about it and expressing your feelings”.
I recently was reminded of Anne Frank and what a life-line her diary was for her during her difficult living arrangements.

#2) Remember “this too will pass” …. Time is on your side…. We are talking about a frail elderly women.

#3) Can you learn something from this experience?

#4) What are you teaching your son from this experience?

#5) Seek help, you are not alone.

#6) Practice “gratitude” for what you do have!

I feel for you…. What can I do for you… hundreds of miles away? I will pray for you and my hope is that you can find some peace even in the midst of your current situation.

Feeling inadequate to give an opinion BUT replying in order to send you my concern and love for my fellow blogger!

Judy in Iowa & Kansas

DawnTreader said...

Oh what a dilemma. I've never been in that position but I know I would hate it.

Is there no way to "negotiate" so that you might agree on some sort of schedule? Daily or weekly, based on times or activities, whatever works best. Any other relative or friend who could help to "mediate"? Sounds like (if you're going to stay in the same house at all) you really need to set some time apart for yourselves, one way or the other.

Wishing you luck and wisdom...

DJan said...

That is a true dilemma. Whatever you do, in some way it will feel wrong. And in other ways it will feel right. I take it she doesn't blog, because otherwise she would be on your case from this post! :-)

If I were you, I would be out of there so fast it would make her head spin. I simply could not stand the restricted lifestyle, never alone, never having my own space. I will be interested to hear what you decide to do. And I'm hoping you will be happy with whatever...

Baino said...

Such and awkward position to be in. I guess it's dictated now by your financial situation and whether you can leave or not. I'm similarly trapped in a house I cannot sell, living with someone I find difficult to get on with (my brother lives next door) for now, I just dream of better days and put up with the situation but it's far from perfect. I have no advice other than, she's elderly, needy and maybe in the long run it'll be worth putting up with a couple of years discomfort. Not much help am I?

Judy said...

I was remembering back when I was in a situation I felt trapped in, a friend suggested I write on piece of paper in two columns, the Positives, the Negatives. This helped shift my perspective a bit. I could logically see that some of the negatives- I actually had some control over to change and I had more power in the situation than I thought.

Deborah said...

It took some courage to tell all this, I imagine. It's not very easy to acknowledge that, at a time of your life when things should be getting easier financially and emotionally (no more teenagers in the house!!) you find yourself without a home of your own and an uncertain future. I admire your husband for having looked for resources within himself despite such a blow, and with pain to boot, which surely saps an awful lot of energy. For you, I hand a medal (don't refuse it!) for being so willing to do the right thing, to support your husband in these changed circumstances and to be so inclusive of his mother. You are good people.

Your situation is very difficult and one I can relate to. For some years I lived with a disabled and needy family member of my companion's, who I began to hate because I began to resent being a caregiver and felt I had no options. What's more, there was nothing of myself there - no belongings, no history - and no real way (I thought) to change that. I never felt at home, and while things started out all right, it got to a point where I spent a lot of energy trying to talk myself out of feelings of resentment, unsuccessfully.
In the end, the decision was made to move the family member to a nursing home and my sweetheart and I are in the process of trying to make his home more 'our' home. Not the same circumstances as yours, at all, but a similar dynamic and feeling of non-belonging.

You have asked for advice, so here is what I think. If you can afford it in the least, get your own place. If you have been able to talk to your MIL on any kind of a meaningful level, explain to her that it is too difficult for adult children who have previously been fully dependent, to live with parents. It's not personal, although she will probably take it that way.
Are there other solutions? Would she be willing to sell the farmhouse and help you buy a house with an enclosed suite, so that she maintains her autonomy (and you too!) but you're not in each other's hair? I don't know if there are other in-laws to consider here, of course.
You seem like someone who is able to discuss things reasonably. Your feelings are entirely, absolutely understandable. I suspect that you beat yourself up a lot for feeling as you do, but that is so unhelpful. And pointless. You're a good person in a tricky situation, and having personal space is very important to your well-being.

The important thing is to be able to look at this whole thing from a practical, non-emotional point of view. Your MIL has her fears, as do you, and maybe the three of you can come up with a creative solution that eases these for everyone. Good luck, and consider yourself hugged.

California Girl said...

Hello All: Thank you for the thoughtful and helpful replies. Your perspectives give ME perspective. It doesn't always have to be about me. Ya know? I will keep you posted with my ongoing life saga and, it does seem to be quite common as many of us have aging parents and relatives. Judy, you are right, it does set an example for my sons.

Here is my fitting horoscope today:

So much of your life now depends on other people that it's difficult for you to have the autonomy you prefer. But your relationships -- business and professional -- are less straightforward today because unspoken feelings can alter the apparent dynamics. An unsubstantiated fear can bend you out of shape, so don't assume there is a problem unless it's actually mentioned. Keeping a positive outlook helps you work well with others.

JC said...

Oh my ... I'm so sorry.
Can you afford to move to an apt or a small rental house ?

Anonymous said...

Patty and I have similar problems. But we still own our house and it is paid for. She has to do all the work now as I am no longer able. But it is frustrating for me to sit here and watch her do the things I loved to do. But that is the way is had to be.

Minka said...

I'm orry you have to face such a difficult dilemma! It must be hard!

Try to talk about it (I know, I know... not easy, maybe not possible at all, but you'll be able to say you've tried), try to help your husban make a dicision... talk about it more, then

DO WHAT YOU FIND BEST or "least bad".

Good luck...

California Girl said...

Rather than answer you all individually, I want you to know it is hard to talk about but easier once it's out there. I tend to do the big guilt trip but that's my religious upbringing. I do realize I am lucky to have a job and a place to live and food to eat. I probably tend to sound ungrateful but I am not. It's really frustration.

As for figuring out what to do, you all have good advice and I think you all are treading carefully because you know this is important and not just about where to go on vacation. My husband is my ally so that is not an issue, thank God. If it were, I'D probably move out alone. He's fully aware of his mother's limitations.

I don't like whining so I tend to write things out carefully. If I put down some of my real thoughts during my mood swings...WHOA! You'd all go running for the hills.
Thanks for the input from people whom I really do feel have an understanding of me through our mutual respect and continued reading of one another's blogs.

Star said...

I sympathise! I have been in this position, similar anyway and by my own choice. I thought I could control the situation but I couldn't and like you, I came to resent the person who got in the way. My best advice to you would be to move out NOW while you still can.
The trouble is that old people are set in their ways and will not shift. They have to have things done the way they want them all the time and in their own time. If you don't go now, your resentment will come out in your relationship with your son and it isn't his fault that you are where you are. That would be worse than leaving the old person to her own devices. She will be fine, at least for the present but you will not. You are like a host plant at the moment, everyone feeding off you and it will 'kill you' in the end if you let it.
Blessings, Star

jeannette said...

Dear California Girl, you don't need to keep the guilt carrying with you every day! (actually there is nothing to feel guilty about!)
-I would say, if you hate where you live right now, move out!
You still could move, close enough that you could visit her regularly, need your own life! And the space you live in, even though smaller, it needs to be truly yours!

It was hard enough on you that your hubby got disabled and that you needed to downsize (I downsized last summer, and I'm still not adjusted to it!!)
You are the only one though who can make this decision (your hubby probably already feels bad that your family had to downsize because of him becoming disabled).
Hope you will do what is good for you -what better gift can you give your family than a happy mom/spouse/daughter?

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Trying to 'put up' with it is too stressful. If you can move to your own place, everyone will be better off. Best of luck to you.


by Cole Scott