How do you deal with a self centered, attention craving elderly mother-in-law?

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WOW! Where to begin. My husband and I are caregivers to his 83 year old mother. She is diabetic, takes 20 pills a day for other medical issue and had to go on dialysis last year. We have given up our home and moved into her home so that we could provide care and not remove her from her surroundings ~ thankfully our daughters are grown and in college, but it's still a sacrifice when this is the time in our lives when we are supposed to be able to just pick up do what we'd like as a couple. I don't want to sound sound selfish in saying that but everything I'm reading says that we have to take care of our lives too. He is an only child so it's all up to us.

His mother is THE MOST narcissistic, self-centered person I have ever known. It doesn't matter what we do, it's never enough.

My husband is a only child. His mother lost her father when she was 15. I think she never got over it ~ I think that she aged, got married and had this child but she never matured. During his childhood if he did something she didn't like she wouldn't speak with him for days at a time ~ this has continued his entire life, even to this day.

Our relationship got off to a rocky start because he and I were both previously married and she couldn't accept that her son was getting divorced. Suffice it to say that my (at the time) 3 year old daughter suffered at her hands as well. Example ~ at Christmas she would deliberately give more gifts to his daughter in front of my daughter and make a big deal out of it ~ I'm sorry but you just don't treat children like that. I always said if she wanted to spend a million dollars on his daughter I didn't care but there was no need to flaunt it in front of another child.

I think the worst thing ever was when my mother was going through cancer. It was a time when she wasn't speaking to my husband (and that lasted for over a year!!). He saw her and my father-in-law, now deceased, in a store. She said she wanted to take his daughter to the opera and had bought tickets. He told her that my mother had cancer and we had plans to have a party to celebrate the end of her chemotherapy ~ her response ~~~ Rachel is not part of that family so why does she need to go the party. My husband said that she was part of the family and she was my step daughter. Her response ~ she doesn't need a step-mother, she has a mother. Did she make a comment about my mother's cancer, NO ~ not, "I'm sorry to hear that", not "how is she doing", NOTHING!!!!!

Things have improved over the years but there is still so much resentment for so many things.

She is constantly seeking attention, negative or positive, it doesn't matter ~ just attention. Conversations are always turned to her, how wonderful everyone thinks she is, how she has the best doctors in their fields and how much they love her. She can't get over her past and is constantly complaining about how her brothers and sisters abused her. She had a problem with a needle in her arm when my husband was born, 56 years ago, and still to this day has to go through the whole freaking story when someone has to give her a shot about how sensitive her arms are, how she's Johns Hopkins hospital's walking miracle (yeah, in her own mind).

My husband says that every major occasionfor him growing up and into adulthood she would cause a scene to the point where at times he had to ask her to leave his home. We had a major scene this past Christmas and it just totally ruined the entire day.

During renovations she just had to have a new bedspread and curtains so I found something and ordered it for her and then of course it wasn't right and I had to send it back. I flat out told her that it would now have to wait until all of our renovations were done and we could get our lives settled. So, fast forward to now. Just ordered new ones, hung them Saturday, she said they look beautiful. This morning she tells my husband that they don't look right, the sheer panels need to come out further toward the sides of the windows. I want to scream!!!!!

None of her brothers and sisters have spoken to her for years and years. I can see why ~ she needs to be the center of attention wherever she is. I'm sure she was that way growing up.

My husband feels obligated to take care of her and so here we are. I love him very much and want to support him so what to do?!?!?! We are both frustrated and exhausted by her constant need for attention and validation. He has suggested that she speak with someone about her life so that she can face things and let them go, but of course she doesn't see that there's a problem.

Like I said, where to begin? Thanks for letting me vent!!!

Answers 1 to 10 of 17
Top Answer
Sell her home and get her into assisted living or hire full-time caregivers.

Seriously. This situation sounds hostile and toxic. Your best solution is to set boundaries and stick to them.
Wish it were that easy. I guess we are learning in baby steps. Just when we think we have set a boundry on one thing, the next one pops up. My husband and I have discussed this so much over the past year+ and he just can't bring himself to move her to an assisted living facility.

You are correct, it's toxic. It seems like every couple of months there's a major blow up of one kind or another because of something stupid that she says or does. Seems like she is regressing to childhood sometimes. She's sharp though ~ reads a lot, does the crossword puzzles ~ but she sure knows how to put on the act and get pouty when something doesn't go her way. She definitely tries to "work the system"!!

I've gotten more bold though over the past year and I'll get in her face when she pulls this b/s. We won't let her drive because it's a road hazard so she is dependent on us to get to dialysis and other doctor appointments. Seems like she was going to different doctors every week. We put the kaibash on that. We know it was for purely social, attention-getting reasons. Now she goes only when necessary. She sees a endochronologist, a foot doctor, a cardiologist, her primary doctor, an eye specialist, a hearing doctor (she won't wear the freaking hearing aids and then complains) her regular eye doctor and I know there's another one or two in that count. I can't see going every 2 months if nothing's wrong. Just a way for the doctors to bill medicare. It's too much running for my husband ~ 3 days a week for dialysis, one day for the hairdresser. She gets the care she needs, but things were really being overdone with unnecessary appointments.

I'm afraid he's going to have a heart attack from all the stress!!
Good Lord, this woman needs to live somewhere else. She sounds very much like my mother. My mother's parents divorced when she was 11 years old. She never got over it. I also think mom is very immature. She holds grudges forever and never forgives anyone. And the story you told about the needle in the arm, wow, mom's story is giving birth to me. Just the most horrible experience she ever had and told me, and I am not making this up, that she didn't care if I ever had any children because it hurt too much. BTW, I had three and I did not die.

What I have learned is mom is very narcissistic. Your mother in law sounds as if she is as well. You will never have any peace as long as she is around. Put her in an assisted living and get on with your life. And please don't feel guilty about it, that is exactly what she wants you to do.

As long as she is the center of the universe, she will be happy. :)



Thanks Madge ~ it helps to know we are not alone out there. My husband is the one who holds the key in this situation and he just can't bring himself to put her in assisted living. He is afraid she will say that he abandoned her. I think all I can do is just bide my time and wait. Eventually he will see that it's the best thing for all concerned. It's just good to get it out!!!!!
Can you convince your husband to get some counseling? It sounds like his mom has played him his whole life and he's enmeshed in her dysfunction. It's good that he wants to honor her as his mother, but he doesn't have to turn his life upside down and risk his own health (both physical and mental) and marriage to try to please his mom - who will NEVER be pleased, given her mental dysfunction. Your husband has just as much right in life to be happy and healthy as his mom. Good luck!!
This is going to sound tough... but where your husband feels indebted to care for his mother, then you need to find ways to support his decision, while you draw firm boundaries about your level of care for your MIL. Caring for the elderly does't get easier by the way. It only increases.
Thanks for the responses ~ Blannie ~ my husband has a very strong conscience and it's been difficult for him to think about assisted living.

Perseverance ~ I am at that place that you are talking about. I want to support my husband and I am supporting him but as you noted, I am beginning to put down more boundries.

His mother is quite functional as far as the daily things that need to be done. She cooks, cleans, etc. (albiet slowly) but it's not like she is incontinent or bedridden or anything. He is realizing that while we need to be there to be sure she gets to dialysis, medical appointments, etc., he does not need to sit on her 24/7 and so we are taking more time for ourselves as a couple to do things together.

I think the key is definitely setting the boundries and we will continue to do that but as with everything in life, issues will keep coming at us.
I agree with others that your mother in-law definitely needs to move into senior home or some sort. She needs a reality check that most other daughter in law will put up with her self centered immaturity. At no age should you go around looking to cause harm or suffering to others. She will make friends at senior homes and be so busy that she won't even have time for you guys. I know it's very difficult step but you need to talk to your husband and he has to take a stand for your lives to continue. I think you guys deserve to be happy. Besides, I bet his mom will be happier after she does move into senior homes.
Wow. On the one hand, I have to applaud the sacrifices you've made in your own lives to take care of this narcissistic woman. On the other hand, I can't help but ask, "Why??"

Now, see, I love my mom

I do NOT understand why you moved in with her. What's that about? Sorry, I don't get it. You utterly and completely uprooted your own lives. For what?? So SHE wouldn't have to move? The balance of power is so wrong here. Can't help my thinking there's more to this story.

You harbor so much resentment toward his mom . . . and I'm guessing he does as well. Why are you doing this? If she can't live alone, it's time for assisted living, at the very least, and time for you and hubby to get your lives back. Why you ever put yourselves in that position, with the history you all have, is beyond me.

to death. (I'm an only, too.) She was/is a wonderful mom. A child (an adult) couldn't have asked for more. Generous, kind spirited, all the things one considers "great mom." She's in hospice at my home now, having lived here for the past year.

I don't read a question in your post, so I assume you're just venting. Oh, wait! You actually said that! Ha!
Somehow, paragraphs got mixed up in my post . . . *shrug*

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