Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Is Using Her Grief to Take Advantage of Us

I’m sorry for her loss, but I’m tired of being treated this way.

A woman puts her hand to her face as she sits next to an older woman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother-in-law lost her father this past January, and it hit her really hard. It certainly really impacted my husband as well, as his grandfather was a wonderful man. It’s been a difficult situation with many layers of grief. My MIL stopped eating for days at a time and wasn’t sleeping, which resulted in her lashing out at my husband and me. We tried to give her grace and some space to grieve by taking on some of the work of her executorship of his estate. At the time of this passing, our daughter was barely six months old.

Due to COVID, we have been driving three hours round trip (sometimes twice in a weekend), making eighteen trips to pack up a house that has accumulated belongings for fifty years, all while caring for a baby. MIL went on only one trip. She never told her work that her father died and refuses to take any time off to come and help (she works weekends). On the other hand, I have had to take a total of 12 days off to handle the estate. We recently received an email stating that the house needs to be listed on the market before a certain date. We informed her and she proceeded to berate us, saying that we haven’t done enough to finish the house and that it should be done by now. I’ve been biting my tongue all year at her snide remarks about things not being done. We’ve also been financially supporting her for over a year because she used to get funds from her dad and is now struggling to make ends meet. I’m honestly fed up with supporting someone who 1) insults me every chance she gets, 2) refuses to help herself by applying for grants and universal credit and 3) takes our time for granted.

My husband and I have done napkin math and realized our support for her has nearly reached $4000, which has not only drained our savings but also leaves us short some months as well. I’ve insisted we stop giving her money until she’s applied for the aid which she qualifies for. But she tells my husband that she cannot bear it emotionally to apply because of grief. Meanwhile, our child has outgrown her shoes, and I can’t buy her new ones until my next paycheck because of extra expenses the last push to get the house on the market has cost us. Am I being unreasonable to want to withdraw financial support? If not, what’s the best way to get passive aggressive individuals who live in a victim state to help themselves?

— Defeated Daughter in Law

Dear Defeated DIL,

It’s not your MIL whom you should be focusing on convincing at this point. It’s your husband. This is his mother, and this performance of support would not be going on if he were not inclined to keep it up. The two of you need to be on the same page when it comes to how to handle her. If he cannot stand up to her and say “Mom, I love you, but I can’t have my child wearing too-small shoes because you refuse to apply for government assistance,” then this situation simply cannot change. He has to be ready to cut her off, or to reduce aid drastically (i.e. continuing to prep the house for sale and ensuring she always has groceries, but no longer giving her cash), and he cannot allow you to be the heavy in this situation.

The two of you can and should offer to help her with the process of applying for whatever aid she may qualify for, by filling out paperwork and taking her to appointments, and you should also make it clear to her that your continued support is contingent upon doing her part to support herself by following up with these application processes and gathering documentation that is required of her. Considering that she was living, in part, off of her father’s support at this point, it seems that she may have spent much of her life not having to take care of herself. You can be sensitive to that without making it your business to care for her like a child indefinitely, especially considering that you have an actual child to raise. Get your husband on board for a new way of operating in 2022, because what you’re doing now cannot work long term and will only put a strain on your household and, most likely, your relationship. Wishing you all the best.

— Jamilah