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Living with my mother-in-law

June 24th, 2008 / 37 Comments


My mother-in-law lives with us.

You read it right. My mother-in-law lives with us.

My father-in-law passed away of cancer about 10 years ago, and she has been living with us for about that long now.

What is your reaction when you read this? People usually think I am either a martyr or a saint.

But the truth is, I am merely motivated by selfishness.

Here is what I gain with my mother-in-law living with me:

1. My children get Chinese food and Chinese culture from her that they would not get from me.

2. My children benefit from being in a multi-generational household. There is something to be said of experiences in life that young people can learn from.

3. My children have a doting grandma who makes them their favorite food anytime they want it.

4. My children experiences the bigger definition of a family, an extended family.

5. My children learn to accommodate and respect older people.

What do I personally get out of it?

The nicer I am to my mother-in-law, the nicer my children will be to me when I am old!

I am setting the example how relationships with their elders are to be. There is no better way for me to teach my children how to treat me when I am old than to have my mother-in-law live with us.

Now you see why I am selfish when I treat my mother-in-law well?

While I do not want to be dependent to live with my children when I get old, I am confident that they will take care of me the best they can.

But do I feel bothered by having my mother-in-law live with us?

When I feel a hint of that attitude and think that life is only about me, I remind myself of this story. I hope this will encourage you in your relationship with your in-laws.

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old granddaughter.

The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.

The daughter-in-law could not stand the sight of him at the dinner table with them every night, so she set up a small table in the corner of the room.

There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner.

The four-year-old daughter watched it all in silence.

One day, the daughter-in-law was watching her daughter play with her dolls. Several dolls were set up around a short table eating play food.

“What are you playing?” the mother asked.

“I am playing house,” replied the little girl. “This is my husband,  this is me, and these are my children eating dinner.”

The mother noticed a little table apart from the other dolls.

“And what is that table for?” she asked.

The daughter responded sweetly, “That’s where you and daddy will eat when you get old.”

*More on living with my MIL here.

Photo by Shayan

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  1. omigosh – I am LOVING the new look around here!! 🙂

    Great post – it also reminds me of another story, very similar. Except instead of a separate table, he had a wooden bowl because he kept accidentally dropping his dish.

    Until the parents found their daughter working on something and she happily said she was making *their* wooden bowls.

    lol – every time we go house hunting, Hubz and I are always looking at the option of having an extra room or guest suite for my parents – maybe even a casita. Nice!!

  2. Dette: Thanks for noticing the new theme!
    Bless you for preparing for your parents so they know they are wanted.

  3. This is my life too! My mother-in-law lives with us, in a part of the house that’s set up as a semi-detached apartment for her. We receive the same benefits, except without the Chinese food and culture. She too lost her husband to cancer, but about 14 years ago, and has lived with us for ten years.

    The other benefit we receive is that when we run out of milk, we just steal hers. 🙂

    That story is just horrible. I hope it’s fiction, but in fact I can imagine it happening. I think teachign kids empathy is crucial for their development into fully human beings.

  4. Pete: I am glad I am not alone! You are a great dad.

  5. […] I mentioned here before, my mother-in-law lives with us. […]

  6. I wish I were so saintly – I’m not. My mother in law came to live with us when we moved to another state 10 years ago. She was extremely interesting, funny, and annoying. (We had not been the best of friends). There was certain ‘musts’ for this to work. A separate kitchen and or living space. My husband, of course in a tight spot here, said that this was ‘his’ mother and not mine and he was responsible for her. The acknowledgment of this made it possible and in fact successful. We all gained, her experiences were shared, absolute love of the grandchildren and the knowledge that she was wanted and safe with us.

  7. well actually having a mother in law like mine well you will say “wat a hell out of a mohter in law”

    I am a victim out here, i do aceept the fact that these will turn on my side wen am old but sincererly i will not bother or harcel my son’s wife like that

  8. I wish I could be as grateful as all of you. My mother in law lives with us just because, she is perfectly capable of having her own place at this time, she just doesn’t. It’s currently taking it’s toll on my marriage. We just bought our first house, instead of all 3 of us unpacking my mother had to come help me because my husband and mother in law would not. She refuses to unload the dishwasher “because she doesn’t know where stuff goes” (and we’ve been there 3 months) She brought her 2 cats along with her on top of the 2 we had so I was the only one cleaning litterboxes until I blew up about that and now my husband is trying to make me feel guilty for her having a litterbox in her room when I never asked her to do that, I only asked for HELP. I still clean the main ones all by myself. Plus I get the constant “well I do it this way” I just feel like I’m bashing my ahead against a brick wall! Am I wrong for feeling this way???

  9. Garciam, if your MIL is capable of living by herself, then I think she should. If your husband really wants her to live you guys, then he has to give you full support and set up the guidelines for a harmonious relationship.

    My MIL and I are not buddies, but we get along with a cordial relationship because we chose to stay out of each other’s way. She does her thing, I do mine. Some people may be bff with their MIL, but that is not an expectation I want to put on myself.

  10. What about when your mother-in-law is an ex-junky bum who is capable of working but does nothing but lay on the couch all day while I work to support her. I am very glad that you had a good experience with your mother-in-law but I have not. The only thing in life that matters to her is her methadone. Why do I sound so angry? Because I am only 21 years old and she is 49. My husband and I have never had a single night to ourselves and she doesn’t care. All I can say is that if I act like her when I am her age I hope that my kids will kick me out. If she was elderly and honestly needed the help I would understand and lovingly take care of her but there are different situations.

  11. smoss, if you hope your kids will kick you out if you were like that, why don’t you kick your MIL out? It seems reasonable since she is only 49 and capable of working. You are not helping her if you are enabling her.

  12. Katy,
    I read over my comment now and it does sound harsh. You just can’t understand what it is like to go through this. You also have to remember it’s not just my decision it is my husband’s too. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say what you would do in a situation like this but when you are actually there it’s not that easy.

  13. Katy I do understand that your mother in law lives with you but situations are different. I do have to say that the story about the little girl inspired me to try to be a better person toward her. I don’t want to become bitter. Sometimes you just have to vent. 🙂

  14. smoss, you’re right, it’s definitely not easy to deal with family relationships. You sound very mature for 21. Thanks for sharing your story. I didn’t think you were harsh, the truth is truth. Definitely ok to vent here.

    Nothing in life is wasted and God will somehow use this for good.

  15. My mother in law & father in law live with us too. It’s driving me absolutely crazy. I feel sick just thinking about her. She is a selfish, manipulative slob. We jointly purchased our home and it’s the worst possible situation to be in. Now we can’t afford to separate. I’m stuck with her telling people I don’t know how to raise my child. God help me.

  16. Jane,
    I would love to get your e-mail address. Maybe it would help if we could vent to each other. It is really tough sometimes. I understand.

  17. My MIL has been living with us for about 3 years and so far so good.

    Boundaries are a MUST – and it is my hubby’s responsibility to “handle” my MIL if things are getting nutty.

    We’ve had some “level 1” issues and nipped those in the bud right away (e.g. being sarcastic with the 11 year old, favoring the younger child, no over-night guests…).

    Out of respect I have my hubby work things out, if need be, with his mom. BUT, my MIL and I have had our conversations as well. Often email works best so she can read and hear me – and then read again…and then a face-to-face conversation to work it out.

    I had a good relationship with my MIL before she moved in and we’ve worked out the kinks since she’s moved in. It’s ongoing. The pros outweigh the cons.

    K of IAFN

  18. […] To be an exception to the typical mother-in-law, you have to be like my mother-in-law: […]

  19. Though me and my MIL are not best of friends, our relationship is somewhat cordial. The one I dislike is my FIL. I don’t like his presence in our home because he is a couch potato and sets as a bad example to our children. He is 60 years old and is very healthy but all day long he just sits in front of the television exercising his fingers with the remote control. He does not even accompany his wife who has a heart problem, when she goes shopping for their needs. I always tell my husband not to do that to me when we are old. I expect him to be with me when I need his company and help. I am sick of my FIL!

  20. I guess the upside is that your FIL does not interfere…But it’s good to know that you and your MIL are close. I think the fact that the common denominator with a MIL is her son requires a little distance that keeps the relationship necessarily cordial.

  21. […] my mother-in-law lives with us, there are the day-to-day rules that must be enforced as […]

  22. My Chinese MIL has been living with us since the week after we were married. She is a kind person but i’m finding her very controlling at times and wanting to handle ALL the household jobs including raising my baby – some people would be so happy!

    My FIL ‘lives’ with us when he’s not busy with his secret girlfriend and when he’s threatened by my MIL to be at home.I don’t like him cos he makes zero effort to be with the family during human hours.

    I’m not a demanding or loud person but as the father here, i feel emasculated in the day-to-day life of my family and household.
    I really try to stay positive and say, well I’ve got a free language exchange, culture and babysitter etc etc…
    but sometimes i think gosh it would be nice to have a holiday – i’d savour every second of freedom from her!
    every last second…3….2….1…..ahh!!

  23. My mother-in-law sold her house 5 years ago and moved in with her daughter. Her daughter has a new relationship so my MIL has decided to move in with us, our three kids and the dog until she finds her own plave (about 7 months). I offered to redo the basement for her but she chose to move in upstairs (taking over my youngest’s room). I just smiled, rearranged my girls and made their new shared quarters beautiful. I explained that this is what families do for each other and we need to love her and be kind to her. Did I mention that the room is the closest to the master (which is why it was my youngest’s room)? She is not a mean person, a little bossy at times but nothing over the top. But there is tension in an already stressed out marriage. I just don’t want to be around my husband or her so I mostly find things to do to stay away from them until bed time. I know that this is not the way I should be but I don’t know how to force myself to like anything about this. Other countries embrace this much better than we do and I am beating myself up about the whole thing.

    I hope my children’s spouses don’t feel this way about me but then again I like my own space and pray that I never have to move in with any of them. I have even looked into long term care insurance at 35!!! This is a mess on so many levels and I am just sad. I did like the story about the old man and refuse to treat my MIL badly but I don’t want to treat myself badly either. SOOOOO Sad

  24. The individualistic and independent mentality serves Americans well in many respects, but it goes against our grain when it comes to living with MIL and having to share our space. Missy, I would advice you don’t punish your husband for it. Your marriage is #1 priority. Turn this situation to your advantage by going out with your husband more and let the kids stay home with grandma. My husband and I take walks after dinner, go out for dinner, etc. I hope that your MIL can at least provide free babysitting 🙂

    I also advice you to be realistic about your relationship with your MIL and don’t expect too much. I am not bff with my MIL and honestly, I also find things to do to out of the house during the day. Don’t feel guilty about that because you are not obligated to spend all your time with her. Sounds like you are treating her decently, don’t beat yourself up. But I do find that I have to force myself to do what I know is right. If your MIL is a decent person, you’ve also got to give her a chance. I look at it this way: what if I were in her situation? I probably don’t want to live with me either, but what choice does she have? Living with you is probably not her ideal life either. So let’s just all give each other a break, and try to make life happy for everyone. I know you would give your life for your kids, and this is one way you are doing it, by showing kindness to their grandma!

  25. Nice to see you are still answering comments here. My MIL is from an Asian country, I am American. I have many of the pros you list but am suffering from the fact that I will never please her. Any hints how to deal with the constant comments that seem like criticisms (but in all honestly – probably aren’t – they are just a way of pointing out how she would do it) would be helpful. I have no choice but to live with her, my husband is the oldest son, but I am SO much happier when she is not here. It’s been two years and the thought of another 25 almost gives me a panic attack. I point out the good things as much as I can – but I just wish it could be me and my husband and child – And I have to come to terms that that will never be the case. I have this need to please her – but since she doesn’t know what will make her happy – I can’t make her happy. I do I not let her bother me? Thanks!

  26. LB, I know exactly what you mean by “criticisms”. I am sensitive about things like my husband liking her cooking more than mine (she cooks the Chinese foods that he likes, while adding soy sauce is the extent of my chinese cooking!)

    I suggest you take up more hobbies and do things that do not in any way concern her so that she cannot give you any “criticisms” –you have your own territory. Then in the other areas that she gives you “criticisms”, just nod and be polite. Let it slide off your back, and go do your own hobbies where you have full control.

    I totally understand, we want to be the adult in our own home, not be told what to do by a “mother”. We’re past that stage and don’t want to go back there. But you are not going to change her, just know that a Chinese mother in law doesn’t know how to show her love for you and most likely appreciates you more than you know.

  27. […] my previous post on living with my mother-in-law, several of the comments indicate the sentiment that they wish they […]

  28. I posted More on Living with My MIL

  29. My MIL has been living with us for over two years due to her ill-health caused by her poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. She helps out financially and with a couple of household chores, but is physically incapable of doing any serious child-minding in her debilitated condition. Sometimes, I feel like she needs just as much minding as my child (Did you check your blood sugar? Do you need a snack? Do you realize your oxygen machine is not plugged in? Could you please clean your bathroom?). She also has fairly lofty ideas regarding what she wants us to do for her and what she is physically capable of doing for herself. She has the means to pay for extra help and transportation, but doesn’t feel like she needs it – no matter how much we have covered these topics, she feels like I am selfish because I do not fulfill these roles for her. It took several huge upheavals and battles just to get her the little bit of assistance she receives (and of course she loves it now that she has it).

    I have gone through the whole gambit of feelings over the matter: compassion, guilt, anger, apathy, resentment, etc. The resource that I found most helpful in understanding what I was feeling and giving me concrete ways to handle the situation is a book called: Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent : A Guide for Stressed-Out Children by Grace Lebow.

    The suggestions presented there greatly reduced my stress, but unfortunately, I still don’t love the situation. I have found that the best way for me to cope is to set boundaries (regardless of her expectations of me), to be out of the house as much as possible and to talk openly about it with people who can relate and/or give me Godly advice.

    I know that when she passes I will feel lots of regret regarding why wasn’t I more accepting, loving, nurturing and open to the blessing of sharing my family with my MIL, but I also acknowledge that I am just not there yet in regards to my spiritual maturity.

    The reality is that the physical and mental ill-health of America is a disease much like alcoholism that affects more than just the person with the disease. It is a compound problem that is not only an economical drain, but causes all sorts of unnatural and unhealthy dependencies on family members. Yes, we are to love and care for one another, but we can’t be expected to take on the responsibility of a life poorly lived. We are ultimately all accountable for how we choose to live.

  30. My MIL lives with us and it has only be a year and some change. I do not feel safe because I feel I am being watched. I am not home very much and when I am home I never know where I can be for privacy. I hate feeling this way. I thought I was way more loving than I am. I am disappointed in myself.

  31. Reading these comments is helping me with this new situation of my mother-in-law coming living with us. She moved in last week, and I have daydreams of mixing up her medicines so we can not have this (her) in our lives. I know how terrible that is. I am also disappointed in myself. I want to be better. The story of the separate table helped me, because I recognize myself in it. I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about the money I thought she needed to give us. For my own selfish sake, I must do better with this situation. I’m just going to “fake it until I make it” for a few daysand see how it goes.

  32. Thank you for this post!

    I’m currently living with my future in-laws and have been thinking a lot what the situation could be like when we have kids. It’s great that you reminded me of all the good sides that are when three generations live under the same roof. I totally want my children to have a closer relationship with their grandparents, closer than I’ve had with mine.

  33. My MIL has lived with us for a year now since the passing of her husband due to cancer. My husband and I have been married nearly 40 years now and I’ve always had a good relationship with my MIL until she moved in with us. I always knew she wasn’t the cleanest person around. (she’s an admitted hoarder). When she came to live with us she almost took over our home with her “stuff” I had to put a stop to that real fast. She also enjoys being taken care of even though she’s perfectly capable of doing for herself. She’s 83 years old and is diabetic and occasionally has stomach issues. She messes the toilet and leaves it as it is and I have pointed out that she needs to keep it clean as it is also the toilet guests use when they visit. She has been know to walk from the bathroom to her room naked because she’s lazy to put clothes on. There are way too many issues I face with her every day to list here right now but this is a tid bit of what I go through with her. I have to say my husband has spoken to her about our concerns and she tries to fix them. My issue with her now is why doesn’t she respect my home in the first place before these problems arise. My relationship with her now is zero, the resentment has set itself in place and I cannot stand to even look at her anymore. Any advice would be welcomed. Thanks.

  34. That’s a tough one because of her age. She is set in her ways, so I don’t know how effective it would be to try to get her to change.
    Here are a few things you can try.
    1) Get her an apartment close by or move her to a nice retirement home. She must have social security to pay for it. It would be worth it even if you have to supplement it.
    2) I don’t know if she contributes financially, but she should pay for a housekeeper to clean the house.
    3) She can pay for a part time caregiver who will take care of her and clean up after her.
    4) Get an outdoor storage shed for her stuff.
    5) If her husband has left her money, use it to add on to the house, a separate room with sitting room and bathroom just for her.
    6) You and your husband go on vacation more, get away for weekends, etc. and have the housekeeper clean the house before you come back. You have to get out more to keep your sanity.

  35. I am glad to read this. My MIL also lives with my husband and I. Her husband died about 7 years ago from cancer also and she has been living with her daughter, and son while traveling to Korea to see her sister on occasion. Because she has been unable to get along with her other family, she has now living with us for a year or so. She cannot live on her own. I also receive many of the benefits that you receive, but I do struggle with her domineering side. This is why she has failed at living with all of her other children. I too remain cordial and not a best friend because she takes advantage too often if I constantly worry about her opinions. Have you ever struggled with this? If you have, do you have any tips on how to moderate yourself? I know she wont change, but I have been trying to work on myself to make it a little easier.

  36. Hey everyone, I’m a new parent and I’m desperately to get my three month little one to sleep through the night. Currently I’m lucky to get four hours sleep a night. Regards

  37. My Mom is moving with us. She is 81 and has had health issues. She was in assisted living, but due to money issues she had to move. She can pretty much take care of herself, but still needs to be checked on. We made an agreement that we can go to or own rooms without anyone feeling upset, shutting the door. Due to foreclosure it is working out for everyone involved. We (mom, husband and I) like to play games, watch the same shows and she is usually gone a couple days a week for church and to play games with friends so she has mental capacity, but physically it is hard for her to get around. I am hoping for the best for everyone.


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