We’re stuck with my mom

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My husband and I live next to my mother. She lets me keep my animals (some horses, etc.) on her property (rural). I feel stuck. I am so very grateful for it, but wish my husband and I could move away with our animals. My mom dislikes my husband, and she acts like she desperately wants me to need her. I feel like she thinks I'm 12 years old. My husband and I have three children and have been renting from my parents since we were married. I think we trapped ourselves into this situation when we moved from our previous rental unit, where we were paying, to an unfinished, very musty old trailer house which my parents said we could live in without paying rent. I was very happy with this at first, but I wish we were still paying rent because I feel like we owe them so much. I would love to move but we don't have nearly enough savings for that even without paying rent these past few years.

My mom is wishy-washy. She'll change her mind, be half-hearted about something, and then suddenly rage about that something. She also acts fearful, trying her best to be in control of every little thing. She is too possessive of my kids. On one occasion she told me that my kids were her kids too. I am very grateful my husband works so much because it has provided more money for us. When she started being disrespectful when talking to him, I stopped dropping the kids off for babysitting at her house. But she keeps on dropping in to see the kids, keeps getting us random gifts, and acts like nothing is wrong. I wish I could just walk up to her and say that I don't like how she's treated my husband, and that I feel constantly judged by her. But that would only make matters worse. I don't know what to do.

– happy but sad


You can't count on your mom to change. All you can do is set boundaries and have a plan.

Because this is Love Letters, I'm thinking about your marriage. Let's focus on how we can keep that strong, even if your relationship with your mom is complicated.

It might be time to talk to your husband about your exit strategy. How much money do you need to get you out of this living situation? Is there a long-term plan? If you know what you're working toward and when a change might be possible, this will seem more temporary. It's a pit stop, not a forever home. I have a friend who speaks about "chapters" – as in, this is a chapter, so what happens when you get to the next one?

It's possible, by the way, that the living situation bothers you much more than your husband. He might be able to tune her out or take things less personally because it's not his mom. If that's the case and he's wiling to stay longer than you are, be clear about your unhappiness.

You might also want to talk about compromises. I'm not saying sell the horses (maybe they're related to income), but how far can you be from them? How much does the need for space hold you back?

As for boundaries with your mom, it might be effective to tell her when a topic is off limits. Again, you can't change her, but you can say, "I'd rather talk about something else." Then let her know what works. "I'd love to talk about X, Y, and Z." Worst thing she can do is what, kick you out? You have agency when it comes to conversation. There are some sweet spots, topics that make you both feel OK, I'd guess. Have them at the ready.

– Meredith

Readers? What boundaries are possible to set here? I know that a lot of people live with family because it's more affordable, and I'd love to know how they make it work.