My mother-in-law is unable to care for herself, but we are not able to take her in



I've read the articles available on this subject, but still have some confusion regarding taking care of parents. My mother-in-law legally separated from her husband of thirty years after discovering he created debts, spent all their retirement money, and had a previous marriage and child she didn't know about (a situation that she claims would have caused her not to marry him if she'd known that in advance). He had money problems in the past during the marriage, but she did not take any steps to correct it, such as becoming more involved in the finances, going to counseling, or speaking with church elders. She only consulted the church when looking for reasons to separate, and as I understand it, the elders said she had grounds for divorce, but the legal separation was unwise.

She opted for a legal separation, and it caused a host of problems. She can't live alone, and she can't afford assisted living. Her marital status keeps her from getting state aid, she has very minimal social security, and even with some financial aid from us, she can't afford private care. Now that she's showing signs of dementia, she can no longer live alone in her subsidized apartment. Due to her negativity, criticism, and constant judgment, two of her children are completely estranged and don't even speak to her. Her oldest son and his wife nearly ended their marriage after she lived with them for six months. One daughter maintains minimal contact. My husband, who was never close to her but is compassionate, is the only one she can turn to for any support. However, we can't afford private care, either: it's more money than my husband makes and we're on one income because I had to quit my well-paying job to care for our son, who has a complex, serious genetic disorder. She can't live with us. Even if I invested in noise-canceling headphones and lived upstairs when my son is in school to escape her daily criticism, my son's needs and her needs are in conflict, and it's a risk to his health that is too great to take.

I also have a bit of a moral issue that has bothered me from day one. I feel like, in a way, we enabled her in making poor decisions like abandoning her marriage. I personally feel like she should have at least tried marital counseling to mend the union, get real help for her husband's financial mismanagement, and explore options such as Veteran's benefits for spouses that could ease the burden of her care while providing her with as much independence as possible. As a condition of reconciliation, her son and I could have provided some oversight and accountability, set up a budget, monitored progress, and spending, assist in finding appropriate counseling, help them navigate care as she progresses (family history of Alzheimer's), and generally become more involved to give her some peace. Maybe with those efforts, this union could be mended. Her husband seems contrite and willing to work on the marriage, but she refuses.

My parents died when I was a young adult, but I do believe that part of honoring parents is to look to their needs when they are elderly or ill, so I want to help my mother-in-law. However, I don't think that means we should blindly acquiesce to her wishes, particularly when those wishes conflict with our own moral code or create more problems for her. I think we're down to two options: reconcile with her husband with some oversight from us, or divorce so we can apply for state aid (and we continue to help her financially as much as we can).

I'd love some guidance from a third, unbiased, Christian-based source.



Your mother-in-law has options, as you pointed out. It is her own choices that created the hardship she is in, but she can do some things to reverse her bad decisions. While you can look back and wonder if advising her differently would have produced different results, the fact is that neither you nor I can be certain that it would have changed things. After all, she appears to have gotten some good advice from the elders, but she went her own way. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise" (Proverbs 12:15).

Honoring your parents does not mean getting pulled into the quagmire that she created for herself. Giving her good, solid advice is a way of helping her. If she refuses your aid, then the consequences are her own. You can't rescue a foolish person from her own foolishness. Have pity for her. Pray that she makes better decisions, but know that you've done what you can.

Check up on her. Continue to encourage her to make better choices. If she does get too mentally ill to care for herself, you can discuss with a social worker what can be done for her that doesn't require you to become her caretakers.

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