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So, I've been posting for the last couple of years about my 90-year-old MIL with dementia who moved in with us from France. She has been living with us for 3 1/2 years - we have bent over backwards to make her comfortable and cater to her every need. We got her a subscription to French TV, make sure her every meal is more than ultra cooked, cut in small pieces, and skinless (she has no teeth), listen to her stories and smile even though we have heard the same ones dozens of times. We have not been able to take much time away due to the difficulty of finding a caregiver who speaks French.


She has multiple health problems - macular degeneration, aortic stenosis, hearing loss, terrible eczema, and most recently fractured neck. She still smokes like a sailor; while she can light up a cigarette with the most incredible dexterity, for the life of me, I can't figure out why she can't put cream on her arms and legs. So my husband puts cream on in the evenings.


My husband is an only son. His mom sits in the front seat when the three of us are in the car. The difficult part for me is that I feel this tremendous tug and pull of her wanting to be the woman of the house; she has a tendency to weigh in on every household matter and is very controlling. I have become much better at asserting my role, but it's been a struggle - French MIL's, and add to that old school marms, are notorious for being rigid and tough creatures.


We are also dealing with our own health issues as well as providing financial and emotional support for our two 20-something adult kids, so are doing double duty.


Anyway, my husband was exhausted today after a long day of work and she kept coming to our room to talk about her taxes. There was no rush in the matter. so he told her he was tired and that everything was under control. She does not process so kept harping on the same points. I know with her dementia, it's hard to retain info.


But MIL stormed off saying that it was the worse mistake she ever made coming here, as she has done dozens of times. This seems to be her go to response when she does not get the attention she feels she deserves.


Five years ago, when they started the immigration process, she really wanted to come. She was emaciated when she came here (she was living on her own and not eating) and has put on 25 pounds since moving to our home. She has more social contact here. And she more often than not has us as captive audience to wait on her hand and foot. With little gratitude.


I generally just let these comments pass but there are times like tonight that I wanted to respond. But I didn't. It makes me feel so resentful and angry especially given all the sacrifices we have made. I feel like we have completely reorganized our lives for MIL and are tethered to her on so many levels.


In my dreams, I would say, " Fine, how about if we get you on the first plane back to France if you want to go back so much." I know, many of you have said in the past, just ship her back, but the truth is that she can no longer fly because of her heart condition. So we are stuck.


It's Valentine's Day and all I can think is how worn out I feel and how MIL has invaded our lives. And I just want to say something that makes me feel comforted when she has a hissy fit, even though I know the communication will likely fail to have any meaningful impact. I'm wondering what would you say or do if you were in my shoes?

I think I might be tempted to reach for my copy of L'Etranger and read it with an ostentatiously thoughtful expression on my face and the occasional sideways glance at her. 🤔

However. What to do about your belle-mère, mmm.

Not to beat about the bush: if you were to look ahead how much longer do you expect this to go on?

If it's any length of time, and you're not already doing it, you need to bump respite breaks for you and DH higher up the list of priorities. It really doesn't matter if MIL spends five days not talking to anyone in her native language, it won't do her any lasting harm; but it does matter if you and DH get no down time.

And seriously, now - were you ever expecting her to be grateful? Really?
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sorryselma Feb 15, 2019
Thanks Countrymouse,

Your posts always are the funniest and make me laugh. I'll definitely pull out my copy of Albert Camus' L'Etranger. Yes ironically belle-mère in French translates to mother-in-law but literally means 'beautiful mother."

MIL was just put on hospice after her neck fracture but you would never know because she is still Micromanager-in-Chief. She is one tough lady.

And we get 5 days of free respite in a fabulous state-of-the art care facility in town, but hubby thinks it's too long for her to handle there. I am pushing for it because we are both so drained.

And you're right, the gratitude part is unrealistic. Maybe my good deeds are for something though.
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You all gave lovely kind answers, however, no matter what you do, it will get progressively worse. I know. The only solution is to move her into assisted living or her own senior apartment where a caregiver comes in. There is no nice way to do it but life is short are losing some yours everyday in this situation..
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DesertGrl53 Feb 18, 2019
This is true. Only you can know when "enough is enough" and the day has come when she can no longer live with you. Perhaps you can make the arrangements ahead of time, and then as kindly as possible explain to her that since she is no longer happy in your home you have found her another place to live and then take her there.

I just don't see that you should be miserable in your own home. Many years ago, my husband at the time let his alcoholic dad come stay with us. We had two small children. After about a week it became obvious that the old drunk wasn't going anywhere, and husband wouldn't kick him out. One day after church the kids and I went to spend the day with a friend. I called husband and had him meet me at a restaurant for dinner, where I informed him the kids and I had packed bags of clothing and were prepared to stay with my friend (lady friend) indefinitely, and weren't coming home till the old sot was gone.

He was gone by morning. I'm saying there are ways of motivating husbands. Sometimes it takes action rather than words to make them see that we've had enough. A few nights in a nice motel might just be very good for your soul anyway.
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You will never be appreciated for what you do for her. She has lost that ability. She has lost her reasoning, processing and being able to comprehend. They get like children. Wanting attention and being self centered. Like children, they want it now.

I suggest that Mom sit in the back. There was a poster that said her Mom opened the car door while he car was in motion. The back seat has child saftey locks and same with windows. The door can only be opened from the outside. You may want to tell her you would like to sit next to your husband one day. Work into two days, etc, until you are now sitting in front seat.
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Countrymouse Feb 15, 2019
You could try that. I have to say, rather you than me.

This MIL expects to sit in the front because where she comes from that would be "correct" and "normal"; and even the words themselves have much more significance than they do in English.

When in Rome and all that, I know; but I wouldn't underestimate how genuinely insulted she would be to be made to sit in the back.

But - How about if the OP drives and DH goes in the back, once in a while?! 💡
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I'd be likely to agree with her that yes, this was the worst decision you ALL ever made..but what I think and what falls out of my mouth are not the same.

My MIL JUMPS into the front seat when DH and I take her out. Well, used to, I won't go with them anymore. She acted as if I weren't there and honestly, it was never "fun" for me. She'd sit by him at dinner, or the play--whatever--and I felt like a 5th wheel so I stepped out.

If she lived with "us" there would BE no "us".

It took me far too many years to get DH to see that I would like to be a part of his life, w/o his mother calling the shots. He has NEVER and I mean NEVER stood up for me in 43 years of life together and he never will.

So, I changed. I do not talk to her, and I never plan to again, unless circumstance insists.

But I have the ability to stay away from her, I really don't know if you could approach her in any way w/o DH standing right by you, agreeing with you.

Just--know you aren't alone in this. Can you put a lock on your bedroom door? (One hopes you already have one). Add a "do not disturb" door hanger from a hotel (they'll give you one, trust me) and let he pound on that door.

Oh---and read about "boundaries". Sounds like MIL is really trampling on yours.
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sorryselma Feb 15, 2019
Hi Midkid58,

I totally get what you're saying, I do often feel invisible when I am with the two of them. She talks to DH as though I am not present. In French, you have the "tu" singular pronoun for you and "vous" plural pronoun for you, so it's even more marked than in English. She most often uses "tu" directed at my husband. At times, my husband stands up for me like when she addresses him in a way that implies it is his house, his decision solely to do this or that, etc But on the other hand he gets annoyed when I bring up frequent issues to him like her smoking because I hate that the odor and fumes still get in the house.

Plus MIL feels the need to interfere in everything we do. It's so hard to have friends over; though they don't speak French we have to spend the evening translating for her. When we were painting closet doors in the family room, she expressed her dismay over and over about the color we had chosen. Finally, my husband said, "It's our house. We get to pick the color we want."

One of the things you commented on that rang so true for me is that if your MIL were to move in there would no longer be an "us." That hit a raw cord. I have felt that way since she moved in; there is no true "us" anymore and our relationship has been redefined where "us" means 2 + 1, and odd numbers are always problematic.

There is no way to get MIL to respect our space. We have not been successful in setting boundaries because she is everywhere and has nothing to do but seek us out at home. Closed doors do not hinder her. Because she is legally blind, watching TV or reading books to keep busy are impossible. We are her sole activity besides smoking and eating cookies.

You were so smart for putting your foot down and setting boundaries. I still love my husband a lot but the experience of having her live with us has created so much angst and at times made a solid relationship feel shaky. I just feel like on auto pilot all the time with little joy in my heart.
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Just for the record, it was my mom who grabbed the wheel from my husband while he was driving. I was in the back seat.

When we reached our destination, I told my brother (who had POA) that mother would never get into a car with me ever again. She was transported by ambulette from there on in.

There is no telling when a person with dementia gets it into their head that they are being kidnapped. I'd play it safe and keep her in the back. And make sure that she has no access to things that can be used to hit, like a cane or an ice brush.
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gdaughter Feb 18, 2019
or a machete!
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Big Hug Selma,
Many of us here are in your shoes. We often don't realize how uncomfortable those shoes are going to be until we put them on. I can understand your frustrations. When you move a Loved on in your home, in my case it was two(Dad and Mom), we never imagined how it would change our life. Nor the struggles we would face, individually and in our relationships. My DH and I have no privacy.
we have had no privacy for going on 5 years has really been a struggle. Even more difficult is sharing the house with another female, as a female. That is rough. I have had to step aside in my own home, and now I feel as if I am a kid living with my Mom at times. It is hard, but my situation varies from yours in that these are my parents, that is your MIL. That is harder. Because I love my Mom dearly and will do anything I can with God's help, to allow her a carefree and love filled life. I di d for my Dad til he passed and I will for my Mom. Even though I love her dearly and I have the utmost faith in our Lord Jesus, this is still hard.
I pray a lot, that is what helps me. I use to cry a lot, but that has lessened. However, I do have days.
My patience gets better with practice and prayer. But still does not help with these human feelings of feeling displaced. I understand why I feel this way, and I understand the situation, and therefore I can maintain and grow. So me personally, being somewhat in your shoes, I just do what I gotta do, and do it with love and just do my best. Realizing that this life is only temporary, that I will not always have my Mom. Losing my Dad really made me aware of what I want to accomplish in loving Mom, because I do not want regrets. I just get up each day and pray that I will do better than the day before. It is like physical fitness, when you keep at it, you get stronger, more muscles, lose the fat that weighs us down. Well caregiving is keeping at it, getting emotionally stronger, and losing those ill feelings, that weigh us down.
Best wishes to you, I hope that you find the answers you seek and that things get better for you or at least more manageable.
You are wise not to respond to the ill remarks.
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sorryselma Feb 15, 2019
This is so beautifully written, smeshque.

Your words come from a deep sense of doing the right thing and your obvious amazing inner strength. I love the idea that we can build emotional strength from caregiving akin to being at the gym. I have seen so much resilience in posters like yourself on this forum, it really is heartening. But I do want to add that we have to nurture ourselves, it feels for the last several years my needs have taken a far back seat to MIL's needs. And that doesn't always feel healthy or right.

The pureness of your kindness and generosity shine through in your comments. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and insights.
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My first thought is why are you supporting your 20-something kids: my 20 year old is taking a full load in college and working on our farm, that's why we support him - he earns his support. Those kids can get a job and start working on their resume. This is part of what the author of The Millionaire Next Door calls "economic outpatient care" - you are trying to help them but it is damaging to the kids in the long run. The handouts make them tied to the parents' apron strings for a long time (hmm). The Boundaries book will help you say no to the bank account transfers.

Second thought is to get into couples' counseling so you two can work on your relationship. It sounds like you HAVE become a 3rd wheel and Mamie is the woman of the house, in the front seat literally and figuratively. If your hubby won't take the respite offered by hospice, you should plan the event when Hospice can take her and go by yourself. If your hubby is to chicken to take her and drop her off, at least you can have some time away to think in peace!

Third, we are all reading Dorker's saga of her MIL just flying back from IL. None of us want that. However, I'm guessing Mamie would be just fine in an assisted living with some French speaking islanders working there. It might be a drive for your husband but it would put some distance between you and her.
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You could say, "Yes, you are right. At least we agree on one thing today."

Is it possible to explain to your husband that he plays a role in making this easier for you. Maybe that would help him to not let mom walk on you.

For the cig-stink, There are candles that are sold in vets offices that are great for getting rid of cigarette odor. I used to smoke but hated my house to smell, these worked so well that my mom who is the world's worst reformed smoker, actually said it was a good thing I didn't smoke in doors. I laughed and said only out of courtesy to you, when you are not here, I smoke inside. They are "Pet odor Exterminator candle" perhaps they will help you.

You are doing a great job in a tough situation. Tell your husband that anyone can handle any situation for 5 days. He needs to be the man of the house and take care of the woman he promised to forsake all others for. She will live through it and best of all you will be able to continue helping her. Old people tend to behave like children and you must not get caught up in the tantrums. Tell your husband the things people have said about taking care of yourselves and how important reconnecting as a couple is to your wellbeing. To much of a good thing is just that, too much. How much more when it is a hard thing.

Find laughter where you can, picture her with a kite tail flying away to respite.

God bless you and give you strength.
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The front passenger seat of the car is the most dangerous seat, so the fact that she wants to sit there is good for you. You get the safe back seat! One way to cope is to look at the situation differently. That is what I just did with the first two sentences.
Can she afford to move to an assisted living? If so, she should be glad to move.
The only other advice I can give is that your marriage relationship should, in my opinion, be giving top priority. Try to get some alone time with your husband. Set a specific time in the evening when you retire to your bedroom. Explain to her about the new alone time rule. Put a lock on the bedroom door. If she's out there knocking, ignore it. I went to a psychologist for training in setting boundaries with a parent. If you go, be specific in wanting this training otherwise they want to fix your whole life. It only took a few sessions to turn things around. You teach people how to treat you.
In the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu, one principle is to not fight every battle, but only the ones you can win, ie "choose your battles". Techniques that we learn from raising children can be used with anyone. If a child throws a hissy fit, we are taught to walk away and ignore them--it works.
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shb1964 Feb 18, 2019
The irony of "The Art of War" teaching us how to deal with our parents (and in-laws) is both hysterical and frightfully true!

Sorryselma, validation is a great thing. From your original post and subsequent ones, you sound like you're doing a heck of a job in a difficult situation. Husband is caught between being the son of the first woman in his life, and the woman he chose to be with as an adult male. Not enviable but it's nice that he has stood up to her on occasion...even if it is about the color of a closet. Every day is a new day. I hope you have more better days than bad ones - or bad moments.
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Hi sorryselma

I remember your posts. You always sound like such a nice person. I can’t even imagine you saying something snarky.

I see your problem being your husband. He is the one who places your MIL above you. I don’t think you would mind so much if he made it clear to her by his actions that you were the lady of the house. At the same time, he is dealing with a very old culture that is ingrained. So I’m sure it’s not easy for either of you.
Ask him to ride in the back and tell him you’ll drive.
See if that makes you feel better.
Can’t see that happening? Then luxuriate in all the space in the back. Chat on your phone. Take along some magazines. Take a nap. Make it work for you.

You are probably asking too much of her to expect her to be empathetic to your situation, even in the best of times.

You hear people say, “don’t give your power away. Don’t allow her to diminish you.”
That’s good to remember but really, deciding to rise above it altogether so that it doesn’t touch you, might serve you even better.

In India they have a custom. Place the hands together in front of the heart chakra and bow to the other person and say “Namaste”.
“The spirit in me greets the spirit in you” is what I was taught that means. The divine spark in me recognizes the divine spark in you. I may not care for your nasty cigs or your haughty manner but I have a touch of the divine within me and that divine spirit in me acknowledges the same in you. The rest of you can go fly a kite. (that last part I made up.lol).
So Namaste sorryselma. Happy Valentines. ❤️
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sorryselma Feb 15, 2019
Namaste 97yroldmom,
I love, love, love the idea of bringing in the divine into our caregiving worlds. It feels like it takes away so much of the edge and emotion of caregiving to allow myself to rise above some of the territorial issues I feel. You are hilarious - maybe that should be the response in my head, "go fly a kite" when she has her hissy fit and I can chuckle and remember this post! You are wonderful - thank you so much for brightening my Valentine's Day. Have a happy one too.
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