Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: how to deal with a houseguest that decides to just … move right on in.
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Dear Scary Mommy,
Help! My mom came over to stay for a “few weeks” after getting fully-vaccinated for COVID. She became part of our pod to spend some much-needed time with the kids. The trouble is that it has been over 3 months, and she has zero desire to leave. I just found out that she let my brother and his wife take over her apartment during this time as well, and they plan on bringing her cat to my house this weekend! My mom never asked to live here, and my husband is going to shit himself. I mean, I don’t want her living here permanently either. It just doesn’t work for my family. We love her and want to see her, but we want her to keep her own house too. When I brought this up recently, her going back home and us moving toward a more traditional visiting schedule again, she said “My apartment is only one bedroom, and your brother and Nina have nowhere else to go. This works for now!” I can’t kick her out on the street, and I can’t afford to pay for her to get a new apartment. Now what?
Okay, let’s unpack this (and I don’t mean your mom’s belongings all over your space).
Judging by the context of this letter, and the fact that you wanted her to come stay with your family (temporarily!), I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume she isn’t a toxic or horrible individual and that you have a decent relationship, current living situation notwithstanding. So although she may not exactly be the tenant of your dreams, at least she isn’t wreaking total havoc on your home, and that’s a plus.
However, just because she isn’t going balls to the wall with destructive behaviors doesn’t mean she isn’t doing any damage. Your marriage is feeling the strain she has thrown into the equation, and that’s never okay – because you and your husband are the foundation of your home and set the tone for your kids. And if things are getting tense between you thanks to your mom’s interloping, it will indirectly affect your entire household. You don’t want to let resentment over your current situation infect any good relationships.
You have a couple of options here. First, you could bring it up again – but more firmly this time. Let her know that although you realize this is an ideal situation for her (and for your brother who is living in her apartment), it’s negatively impacting your family in the long run. Reiterate that you love her and want her to be happy, but that you simply aren’t set up for her to live there long-term. When she balks — which clearly she will — you cannot back down, because that didn’t get you anywhere last time. Give her a clear timeframe in which to move out, and leave it at that.
Alternately, you could tell her that if she’s going to stay with you, she needs to start paying rent and utilities. That could be a total bluff, but it just might be enough to convince her that her new digs aren’t quite as sweet after all.
I know you love your mom and don’t want to upset her, but until she has the rug pulled out from under her feet a little, she’s obviously going to stay put because she’s benefiting from the situation. It isn’t like you’re going to be putting her out on the street, though; she has an apartment, after all. Your brother and his wife aren’t your concern, and you have to watch out for your own immediate family’s interests first and foremost. If they all end up cramming into your mom’s one-bedroom for the time being, well, that’s on her to sort out.
Putting your foot down and setting boundaries is always hard. But your mom and your brother and sister-in-law are all capable adults, and it isn’t your job to make sure they’re taken care of, no matter how much you love them.