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Moving Back with Mom

April 23, 2012 | 10 Comments

Hi GK,

My husband and I and our two children (ages 5 and 7) are facing difficult financial times (I know, we're not alone). To avoid a possible foreclosure on our home, we are selling it and moving back in with my mother temporarily.  My mother is sweet and caring but can be a bit noisy and interfering when it comes to my children.  Do you have any words of wisdom (or encouragement) for a woman who will surely be losing her mind shortly (my mother can drive me crazy)?

Apprehensive in Texas,


This is your advanced course in social skills, Christy, and it will make you an even better person than the fine person you are. As a guest in your mother's home, you surrender a degree of adult autonomy and you must respect that it is her home and you must yield to her authority. No shrieking, no door slamming, none of that. If you're angry, slip quietly away and take a brisk walk and curse to yourself. Passive resistance can be a good technique, and also Killing With Kindness, or Extreme Courtesy. You need to be protective of your husband, whose feelings are delicate in this situation, and you need to protect your children from family conflict. But your mother has to have the right to direct and discipline young children in her own home if you aren't present and maybe even if you are. You have to respect her standards in her home: it'll be a good lesson for the kids to understand this. Expect the best and ignore the worst and you stand a better chance. This is a story that demands a heroine and you're her. Simple as that.

When I was 25, my young wife and I lived for a couple months in her parents' basement and her mother was a tower of kindness. St. Marjory. And when you're back on your feet and in your own place, you'll look back on this as a remarkable chapter in your family's life.


Expectations, Schedules, Journaling

I think gk has doled out some useful tips but that the core issue centers on how and why your mother drives you crazy. Some people clearly make an effort to upset others, and this can really wear you out even if you keep thinking "like water off a duck". Then there's the simple matter that some people are more extroverted than others and don't want or need time alone as an introvert needs in order to function well (you mention that she is noisy, so it sounds like you need a break from her noise - you may need to find that quiet time at the library).

Our in-laws moved in with us while our boys were about the same age as yours. On the one hand it was exhausting, but on the bright side, the boys got to spend time with their grandparents. Looking back I think one thing I might have done better would to have been more inclusive by actually asking grandpa to read to the boys, for example. Planning your walks and their together time might be a good way to avoid conflict and to benefit from being with extended family. My boys did a lot of helping in the kitchen at that age, too, though at times it did seem they would lose interest in things once they mastered them, be it filling the dishwasher or making bread.

It might really help you to vent on paper - start a journal of this adventure - you should keep lots of notes and one day you may want to write a book about it. Thinking about what you are going to write will help you keep some distance and perspective, and to formulate an appropriate response. If things are really eating away at you, a counselor may do better than a friend in helping to sort out what is going wrong and ways to address the issues with your mother. Relationships truly can be toxic, and you have enough on your plate without a meddlesome ma. Oh, and stand your ground - I don't care if it IS her house, they are your children. I have seen grandmothers sneaking foods to babies when the mothers were being cautious due to food allergies - that is simply not acceptable. On the other hand, she might actually be right sometimes, even if the power-play gives you a knee-jerk reaction of resentment. Try to hang on to that wonderful notion that the way to avoid saying anything stupid is to simply not say most of what comes to mind - don't let your mother "win" by bringing out the little girl in you (though you may rightly feel sorry for that little girl now that you see with adult eyes just how she goes about getting your goat!). Yoga can help, too - even just taking a deep breath; or go for a drive so you can sing your heart out. Good luck! Remember, a lot of people might be interested in that book of yours! Even the boys can start journals, with drawings as well as dictation - in fact, grandparents might enjoy helping to write down their thoughts and stories, especially if it is a fond reminiscence of puttering in the garden, playing at the park....Try to take advantage of the opportunities this uncomfortable situation might foster.

Writing to Build Bridges

When extended family
Share a roof
They need time
and time aloof
For in the pudding
Is the proof -
When all ages
try Journaling to think
and learn
Lasting bridges
do not burn.

Mothers intimidate their children.
Understand how intimidation works, and don't
let it work on you.

Christy: I had to read your question to GK twice. The first time I mistakenly assumed that the woman who would surely be losing her mind shortly was your mother.

Being the parents of two young children is a blessing. It is not always a picnic. Weathering difficult financial times and moving in with mother on top of that, well, it can test anyone's mettle.

Your mother was gracious enough to provide you and your family a port in a storm. It is your job to respond with grace. I heartily applaud your efforts to anticipate your own stress and have a pocketful of strategies at the ready. Indeed, this is one of the hallmarks of a heroine.

Crown the moment of glory by considering that your mother, too, might have anticipatory worries that are similar to yours. Help her to help you by letting her know what you need, keeping in mind that - as much as she loves you - her needs will doubtless be tested by these circumstances, too.

Christy, my advice would be for you to have a discussion with your mom prior to moving in as to what your expectations are and also what hers are.

Will you have separate quarters in her home? Will the kids have free rein in the the home? Will you be paying rent or for utilities & food?

Set up some limits(for everyone!)and all should know and abide by the rules agreed upon. You may even want to sign off on a written agreement.

Good Luck to you and your family and to your generous mom. Times are tough, but you are tougher!

As the grandmother of five grandchildren, the oldest having just turned five, I can tell you a bit about my point of view.
On the positive side, your boys are old enough to feed themselves, be toilet trained, understand the meaning of "please don't do that (or touch that)." They have an attention span of more than 49 seconds and can amuse themselves for periods of time. They can talk, listen, and understand what is being said to them.
My grandchildren do well when their parents take them to playgrounds and plan outdoor activities so they can run off their high energy levels. They also don't rely on me to patrol the grandchildren for more than a few minutes at a time - they know I am not a built-in babysitter. They help at mealtime, especially in preparing meals for the children, and don't act like they are on vacation.
For my part, I enjoy reading to them, giving them as much one-on-one attention as I can, thus getting to know each of them as the person they are. I look forward to when they are a bit older and we can go on little excursions by ourselves. I leave most of the discipline for their parents to deal with and stay out of the inevitable 'meltdowns.'
We are still feeling our way along to see the things that are best for everybody. One thing that works is for the adults to dismiss themselves when they are tired and go to bed (after the grandchildren are already tucked in). They also know I need time to myself on occasion. I find I am much more relaxed if I don't go on every outing, but use the time they are out of the house to 'enjoy the quiet.'
I am not in your position as my children and grandchildren usually don't stay more than a few days. All the advice others have written sounds good to me. Things do have a way of settling into a routine, and if you and your husband can set that up as soon as possible, expectations are more apt to be fulfilled and therefore the whole situation more relaxed.
Good luck.

I've never experienced this, but I do have some ideas. One, this situation might not be a picnic for you mom either. Maybe she's used to the quiet of living by herself. Also, she might be pretty upset about your family's situation. I wonder if your sense of her as being quite noisy is that she moves quickly to yelling rather than just talking quietly. I'm not taking your mom's side, but just suggesting that you put yourself in her place. You've got some good advice from the others who have written to you. One of the best is to include your mom and kids in activities around the home and outside the home.
Also, you say that you will be selling the home. Actually, you will be trying to do that (unless that has already happened). If the home is on the market for a while, you will likely have some added stress, and your stay w/mom will be open-ended. I wish you and your family the best.

"This is a story that demands a hero and you're her."

As a writer, I say without a doubt: that's a fabulous sentence.

Dear Christy ~ I'm sorry to hear of your recent situation, and can only imagine the stress of uprooting your family under such unfortunate circumstances.

After 12 yrs of marriage, my husband & I recently invited my in-laws to live with us indefinitely. I too was very apprehensive about giving up our privacy and autonomy; but until they actually began living with us, I wasn't able to really anticipate what the sticking points would turn out to be. I share this because, even though you may go into the living arrangement with an agreed upon set of rules/expectation, you might also experience the arrangement to be rather fluid (like I did) and may need to revisit/revise those expectations "real-time" as snags come up.

The other point I'd like to share is that we also have 2 children (sons - ages 5&8); and I completely underestimated how unsettling the experience would be for them! At first, it was just like g'ma & g'pa coming for a normal visit; but as the days wore on, and g'ma & g'pa weren't leaving anytime soon, there was A LOT of push back from the kids.

It was one thing to have our common space encroached upon; but the thing that really got their dander up was that now they had 4 "bosses," instead of just 2! Especially given that the new living situation wasn't by their choosing, or in their control, they started getting really resentful about having a second set of "parents" whose ideas/ expectations were far more "old school" than what they were accustomed to.

What's been most helpful for me to remember is:
(a)my in-laws have raised 5 kids (+ 2 grand kids) and are pretty set in their ways -- as much as I might want to on some days -- it's unrealistic for me to expect I can change their opinions and/or habits, which puts the responsibility on me to manage how I choose to react;

(b) our kids are closely watching us role model how we treat our parents -- good, bad or ugly; so, it's going to be to our advantage to demonstrate healthy ways of resolving conflict and maintaining an overall positive spirit in our home; and

(c)it's good for our kids to see us welcome our parents into our home as just a natural part of what families do for each other -- simply out of kinship, love and concern (& even with our having LTC insurance, hopefully this'll carry through with them as they have their own homes and an opportunity to help their families too).

Tough times never last, tough people do... :)

Best wishes to you & your's!

"killing with kindness and Etreme Courtesy" is a peculiar Minnesotan form of passive agression. You have to love it.

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