Dear Margo: People Don't Have To "Get Over" Everything

The history with my mother is a rocky one, how do I tell her she can’t move in? Margo Howard’s advice

People Don’t Have To “Get Over” Everything

Dear Margo: Twenty years ago, I lost my job and couldn’t find another one. My savings ran out, and bit by bit, I hocked everything until I was left with only the clothes on my back. My mother had a three-bedroom house, but she was dating for the first time since my father died, and when I asked if I could stay with her until I was on my feet, she said it wasn’t “a good idea,” as “Ed” sometimes spent the night. I stayed with friends, moving from week to week to avoid wearing out my welcome.

With nowhere to turn, I joined the military. The soonest I could leave for boot camp was four months. To tide me over, I got a job at a fast-food restaurant. I had run through all of my friends’ couches and needed a place to stay for just three days until I got my first paycheck. Mom said that even for that short period of time it wasn’t “convenient” for me to stay with her. For three nights, I slept in a field. On payday, I rented a room where my neighbors were prostitutes, drug addicts and rats.

Today, I have my own home and a good job. Mom now lives in an independent living complex. She is quickly reaching the point where she will no longer be able to live on her own. If her options are moving to a nursing home or living with me, then she’s going into a nursing home. I simply cannot forget our history. What shall I say when she asks why I won’t let her live with me? — Cannot Forget

Dear Can: I would tell her “it’s not convenient” and perhaps she should call Ed. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I have always thought we earn the treatment we get in life. Don’t spend a minute feeling guilty. This is a selfish woman with seemingly no motherly instincts. — Margo, guiltlessly

Write Her Off for the Time Being

Dear Margo: My husband and I had our first child six months ago. I work from home and have a relatively flexible schedule, so I’m able to care for the baby during the week with some help from friends and family. My mother works part time and offered to cover one day a week to help out. However, since she started, she has complained to anyone who will listen about how far of a drive it is. She also has made other negative or snarky comments about the effort she’s making and what other things she could be doing instead. The situation came to a head recently when she claimed that my husband and I did not show enough appreciation.

Needless to say, I suggested we end the once-a-week arrangement. In a mildly “colorful” conversation, I told her it was difficult to bend over backward thanking her when she is constantly complaining, and that I didn’t know what she expected from two new parents trying to adjust to their new lifestyle.

Two weeks later, we drove to my parents’ town for my 30th birthday dinner, and she didn’t show up — only my father did. I’m at a loss as to how to quell the family drama and move forward. — New Mom

Dear New: Sorry to state the obvious, but who’s the baby here: your infant or your mother? As for managing the family drama, you did the right thing by bagging the weekly granny duty. (Her loss; I would give anything to be within a car ride of “my” new baby.) Moaning and groaning certainly detracts from her “gift” and is the polar opposite of “gracious.” Your mother’s childish behavior will either fade into the background — or it won’t. I am guessing you could live without the drama quite nicely. — Margo, acceptingly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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62 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Margo’s advice is spot on.   I would have had a difficult time keeping contact with a parent under the circumstances you describe.  While I am all for parents pushing freeloading adult children out of the nest…that wasn’t what was happening in your situation.  And, even with the most loving relationship, taking a parent into your home who is no longer able to live on their own is no picnic.  You might help her find *assisted living* arrangements which is a step short of a nursing home.  But when a person requires more assistance than is provided in an assisted living facility…it is more than a question of giving them a bed to sleep in.  It is providing full time nursing care.   

    LW#2:  Your mother does sound immature.  Good for you in ending the childcare arrangement.  I suspect her *complaining* to her friends is just part of her general attention seeking, aren’t I so wonderful, modus operandi.   And, I suspect that if you grovel, you will be back in her good graces.  Its up to you to decide whether you want to grovel or not.  I would be inclined to ignore her snubs, keep the channels open and wait for her to move on to some other self-created drama .   

    • avatar Brenda S says:

      LW #1 On the mother who may need to go into a nursing home, I suggest another option.  There are group homes that can last the period of assisted living or others that will take someone until their death.  Doing something like that would require the writer to be more involved with the mother though. 
      In my case, I provided this for my sister when her health got worse.  She lived in a regular home with 2 other women.  I did have to lay out her medication for the week and visited with her twice a week.  The benefit of this though was that I did not have to worry about someone coming into her room and stealing everything she owned.  Before she went into the group home she spent time in the hospital and a rehabilitation nursing home.  They stole things from her constantly at the latter facility.

      • avatar Brenda S says:

        Forgot to mention that the cost of the group home compared to the cost of an assisted living facility rather than the cost of a nursing home.

  2. avatar toni says:

    Aah a mothers’ day column! LW1 it sounds like you flourished well in spite of adversity. Margo is on the money. If she has the cajones to ask you, sweetly decline.
    LW2: your mom sounds like a self aggrandizing drama queen. This is her loss. Try not to let her pettiness impact this special time in your life. (and since your mom didn’t say it, I will! Happy birthday!)

  3. avatar luna midden says:

    I always say that is at least 3 sides to every story…. but… the 1st letter… Parents that are even SOMEWHAT decent will take in an adult child for a while, as long as the ‘child’ is not a socialpath, murderer, addicted and/or drug dealer. If LW1 is totally on point, MOMMY DEAREST, probably felt ‘saddled’ with a kid. I wonder what or where was Dad.. and if in anyway she blamed HER child for not having a man? (I haven’t been able to go out,  date, be married, etc. etc. because I have KIDS!-lived with that.) Even under GREAT circumstances, taking care of someone uncapable of taking care of themselves is draining-for the body AND THE MIND! Someone who the caretaker knows doesn’t love her, nor it seems, ever wanted her… NO DEAL- NO GUILT!

    lw2-IF MOMMY DEAREST 2, or Grammy dearest 2- was doing all that complaining….. Maybe it might have been a little much for her, but considering she is still young enough to still work, it sounds more like she is going for Sainthood instead… you know… ‘I raised my children, still HAVE TO WORK, and NOW, I have to RAISE MY GRANDCHILD! When is it going to end? and of course, they do not help me at all by bring the baby to me, NO, I have to drive HOURS each day to MY DAUGHTER’S house in THAT AREA………’ 

    Granny should learn if she is going for saint hood, she has to keep the complaining away from the people who know the truth!     

    • avatar Dani Smith says:

      People are quite fond of the “three sides to every story” meme, but, in my experience there is generally two.  Not “What he said, what she said…..and then the truth.”  That phrase has always bugged me because it implies that neither party is portraying the situation in an even remotely accurate way.   I’ve witnessed a lot of fighting amongst people in my time and been involved in fighting as well, and all I can say is…there’s pretty much two sides, not three, and one person is usually clearly in the wrong, the one doing the brunt of the instigation (or sometimes downright abuse).  But that’s my experience.  

    • avatar butterfly55 says:

      Luna, it said that dad had died.

    • avatar Brenda S says:

      On LW1, the father had passed away and the mother had re-entered the dating scene.  She wanted her freedom without the burden of a son being in the house–interrupting her experience with the new guy.

      • avatar sparktest says:

        Just curious, where do you get that this is a son? It could just as easily been a daughter who went into the military to build a life.

  4. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I completely agree with Margo. There is something (not family-related) from my (recent) past which I don’t believe I have to “get over” either, because 1 person in particular deliberately (and without any provocation on my part) grievously hurt me. I am moving on, but want *nothing* to do with that person (or people around her) ever again. Your mother will get adequate care in a nursing home, and I wouldn’t give it a 2nd thought.

    L #2: I’d ask her point-blank, “What is your problem? You offered.” And have it out with her. If her response is negative (probably will be), I’d relieve her of her “duty.” Tell her “If that’s going to be your attitude, mom, you needn’t help.” Of course continue allowing her to see the child, etc. Apparently she wants you to feel overly appreciative to her. She offered, I’m sure you’ve shown an adequate amount of appreciation.

  5. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#1: You did more than survive, you lived, and you made it without her. I don’t personally care what her alleged reasons might have been for her behavior…she and Ed could have been having furry orgies 24/7 and she could have still given you the basement. You owe her absolutely nothing…especially keeping her enfeebled, perhaps incontinent self in your home and providing her with constant care. Care. Why in the world would you?
    Re: L#2: Granny is being a martyr, this much is clear, I won’t argue. One would think a grandmother would want to see her grand-baby (one would think, but I know better). And childcare is expensive and difficult to manage. But…how is it that a young couple with a six-month old child, with one parent working from home must have their friends and family helping with child care…particularly given the fact that the work-from-home parent has flexible hours?  Really? They are actually quite fortunate that they have friends and family who have the time and desire to provide this service…not everyone does. The LW makes it very clear that her mother is the one entirely at fault in this situation, but…I found the whole “… I didn’t know what she expected from two new parents trying to adjust to their new lifestyle…” comment a little curious.
    If you’re going to have a baby, and you’re both going to be working (one from the home with flexible hours), it is possible to plan for the need for childcare and even to arrange for it in advance. Yes, having a baby in your life is an adjustment, no doubt. For a lot of couples, and singles…there are no available friends and family. Daycare or a paid sitter (nannies or an au pair are not affordable options for most) are necessary and expensive evils. I sense just a wee bit of entitlement in LW2…the whole “get with the program, mom, we just had a baby and we are o, so deserving of everyone’s undivided attention, and you better not utter a word of complaint or be unavailable because we’re adjusting, okay?“. 
    I suppose that the “I don’t know what she expected…” comment was a red flag for me. Millions of people have babies every day. In this country, thousands, and it seems that, lately, far too many see themselves as privileged and entitled because of engaging in a choice that is as old as humanity. Granny/mom also said she doesn’t feel appreciated. It’s just possible that little Mrs. New Mom doesn’t show any appreciation, and that the drive is long, and that Granny is tired because she works part-time (and she may have to…not everyone can survive on SS these days, nor can they work full-time because it interferes with benefits). Also, perhaps she’d like to see her grandchild during a visit that was a little more social and relaxed…we don’t know how demanding and specific Mrs. New Mom is about her requirements for childcare.
    And then New Mom ends it all in a “colorful conversation”. What? Does this mean she cussed her mother, said ugly things to her, told her she was a miserable, ungrateful bitch, and should be glad to be part of her daughter’s, SIL’s and grandchild’s lives? Do we know? Nope. Because we only have the side of the story belonging to “Wah, we have a six-month-old, and I work from home, and we’re still a-just-ting to being paaaa-rents, and mom’s such a not-team-player meanie”. O, please.
    Which is just MY take on this one. I had a MIL with my first who lived 5 minutes away and refused to babysit even in emergencies (not that I especially wanted her to…but her nasty vehemence was almost amusing). I found a daycare when I returned to work, outside the home, when my son was 4 months old. My now MIL worked full time, and volunteered to watch her step-grandchild and her new grandson at any opportunity…but we never took advantage, and always compensated by helping her out as needed, and with dinners (a lot of them home cooked), small gifts, home improvements, etc.. My mother? She’s seen #1 son 7 times, and #2 5 times, and that’s her choice, not mine. I don’t have much sympathy for New Mom, even if her mother whines and kvetches. Feh.

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

       My thoughts exactly about LW2. Now I don’t have to write it. Thanks!  

    • avatar Lunita says:

      I agree. This letter reminds me a little of my family. I have two older sisters, both of whom are married with children (I have none yet). They both live in very close proximity to my parents and, at least to me, it seems like my parents are very obliging and helpful and have not only watched each nephew (there are three between the two sisters) several times. My parents also do other things, like taking my oldest nephew to school twice a week, etc. Despite this, both my sisters have told me on separate occassions that my parents (more particularly, my mom) always sound like it’s a burden to them when they are asked to babysit. This attitude is apparently expressed in the response to a request: “mom, can you watch so-and-so?” followed by maybe an awkward silence, and then, “yes, okay.” This is the type of exchange I imagine from my sisters’ descriptions and yet I was left wondering why my sisters would think my parents (in their 50s and both of whom work full-time) would be ecstatic at the thought of babysitting my nephews, who are 7, 3, and less than a year old. Boys at those ages require so much energy, I can’t imagine they would be jumping for joy, even though these are their grandchildren and my parents undoubtedly love them.

      The whole thing just left me thinking my sisters a wee bit ungrateful for the myriad things my parents do for them (all of us, really).  Howeve,r my mom does act the martyr sometimes. Ah, family.

  6. avatar htimsr40 says:

    We have no idea why Mom was so “hard” on LW1, but I suspect there is MUCH more to it than the LW tells us.  I suspect that LW1 had worn out her welcome at her mother’s home and Mom was practicing some Tough Love.  And, it sounds like it worked.  The LW figured out how to survive for a few days … found a way to get a job and support herself … and developed a good life.  

    Here’s the Big Clue:  “To tide me over, I got a job at a fast-food restaurant.”  After telling us she lost her job and “couldn’t find another one” … we discover that she COULD find another one.  JUST a fast food job to “tide me over”.  I suspect she could have found that fast food job even sooner (let’s say, three days sooner), but wasn’t willing to until she was forced to.  What forced her?  Mom saying “you can’t live here for free”.  If she had taken a fast food job to tide her over three days sooner, she would not have needed Mom’s house for three nights.  

    When I was young, I slept in my car and in fields in tents.  I went from friend to friend.  I rented apartments near prostitutes and drug addicts.  I survived, I thrived and I don’t hold grudges because someone didn’t make life easier for me.  Everything that happened to me was because of choices that I made … and I suspect the same is true for LW1.

    • avatar kjholly says:

      Actually getting a fast food job 3 days sooner probably wouldn’t have helped a bit as most places make you wait until payday for your wages, and quite a few have the payday a full week after the hours/days worked.

    • avatar Davina Wolf says:

      I disagree.  There are some really disordered people out there who are pitiful parents and LW1 got one of them.   My  dad treats all three kids like escaped felons–we’ve gotten no parenting from the old goat.  In fact, he has refused to shelter or help in any way my brother who was brain damaged in a motorcycle accident at age 19.  Good old dad didn’t bother to get brother any rehab or job training after the accident and my brother has been living in a hut the size of a piece of plywood on public land beside a freeway for the last 40 years–he has had a very sad, hard life thanks to the nonexistent parenting of my “parents”.   My dad is a sociopath, and mother has narcissistic personality disorder.  Both parents are very impaired people who never should have had kids.  Counselors have told me that I should have been a felon. 

      Both of my parents are in their mid 80s and beginning to fail.  I will not be there at the end or after for funerals, will not send flowers, etc., for either one of them.  Period. 

      There are some awful people in the world who should never have had kids.   

      • avatar susan says:

        My Dad grew up a lot like you did and he was a fine man a great father.  I commend you for your inner strength and ability to overcome life with rotten parents.   Maybe they shouldn’t have been parents, but they had you and you whether you realize it or not are setting an excellent example.  Wishing you only the best.

    • avatar mjd4 says:

      My first reaction was outrage at the mom, but yeah, I couldn’t help but wonder at getting a fast food job after all friends’ hospitality was exhausted and all possessions hocked.  Not, “I was finally able to find a job – not a great job but enough to get me a crappy room”  But, “to tide me over…”  It sounds more like “I actually had to take a fast food job!  Can you believe it?”  

      Not that this means mom behaved well, either.  There could be plenty of blame to go around.   

  7. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1:  Margo is 100% correct.  If she asks tell her to find Ed to help her.  She made her bed now she has to lie in it. 
    LW#2:  My parents are the same way, they offer to help then to complain to everyone about them being “forced” into the situation and what a martyr they are.  You did the right thing by ending this “help” from your mother and if she wants to act like a 5 year old let her.  She is the one that started this, she is the one missing out on spending time not only with her grand child but also her daughter.  If it comes to another confrontation stand your ground b/c if you don’t she will continue to pull this. 

  8. avatar Kathy says:

    I think there is a lot more to the LW1 story.  She lost her job 20 years ago, and couldn’t find another one.  Really?  Not one job out there, huh?  So she went through her savings, hocked all her stuff and imposed on one friend after another until she slept in a field.  I see an immature person with stunningly bad problem solving skills who probably was a problem for mom and dad for years.  If mom had taken her in, she may never have found meaningful work, wouldn’t have found the need to join the military, and could still be camped out there on mom’s couch.  Perhaps mom knew best.  (The nursing home question is unrelated and just a snotty aside.  When it’s time for a parent to go to a nursing home, regardless of your relationship, it’s time.) 

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      A little over thirty years ago, I lived in Illinois during what amounted to a Depression, during the 1980’s. I was working full time and paying my own way through college…at a state school…because two weeks before I graduated high school, my parents informed that, despite being accepted at Rice, Knox, Oberlin and Yale…they wouldn’t be paying for my education or anything toward it over $500, because they’d abruptly decided to build their dream house and land…from the man they knew, but refused to acknowledge, had brutally sexually assaulted me for three straight weeks. I was not a problem daughter…no drugs, alcohol, jail time, boyfriend, pregnancy, truancy, fighting with my parents (I was a silent child and teen), and I’d graduated 31st out of 900 students. All financial aid in the late 70’s was need based even if the scholarship was academic, and my father was making over $70,000 a year….before his bonuses.
      We moved to the country, over an hour from Chicago. I do mean the country. Poor mother had to drive that horrid drive to get her hair done once a week. I kept jobs steadily…restaurant kitchen, aid at a center for the mentally retarded (and very violent)…each for over a year…retail clerk…sacker and cart pusher at a grocery store…and maintained a 3.75 GPA at college.
      Then the bottom fell out, the jobs dried up, and I had to quit school after my savings ran out. Single white females need not apply for aid. I drove farm tractors for a while. My situation was terrible…my mother had verbally and emotionally abused me since I was a toddler, my parents marriage was imploding, her alcoholism was making her even more narcissistic than usual…and I was going to school (my second to last semester) and working full time, and cleaning entire 2700 square foot dream house, and having my father telling me I wasn’t “doing enough” to help her. No, my sisters were not treated the same way. I drove a ’67 Mustang with rust holes  the size of a human head in the quarter panels, and fuel and oil filters, an enormous wrench and screwdriver for beating the carburetor into submission when the butterfly valve jammed, and cans of oil rolling around in the back. Sometimes the accelerator jammed, likewise the transmission linkage, and it had no front brakes to speak of. I made it last for over 18 months.
      I saved all of my remaining money, and got married. It was a mistake, and I knew it, but I was truly desperate. In the end…well, here I am…married to Rusty, #3 and forever (as long as forever is for us mere mortals) plus 18 years. I would never even think of going home. I have been gone 30 years, and no matter how desperate, awful, low or bad it got…I never went home to mama. Not a chance, no way, no how. I would have lived in a Dempsey Dumpster before going back to her, or asking her for money or help. Or slept in a field, or an alley, or whored myself out. 
      Listen to me, LW1. You made it. Mom’s a rotten parent. For all of you who have this persistent belief that it must be something a child has done that causes a parent to absolutely hate the sight of them…my mother’s big beef with me is that I was born looking more like her mother and mother’s mother….and my dad’s “ugly” family, than her own blond green-eyed self. The cruelty is lodged in my earliest memories…you’re fat, you look like cousin so-and-so on dad’s side, and she’s so homely, you’re clumsy, it’s your fault the teachers compare your (blonde and blue) sister to you, all you do is read…haha…you think that scrape on your knee hurts? Listen to my litany of pain…You can’t wear that, you’re too fat (a 22″ waist is fat? A body solid with muscle is fat?). I never wanted children….sigh…And so on…
      Some people should have been sterilized at birth, or barring that, given up their children for adoption. Secret, off-the-books adoption.
      Just Say No to Mom. Yowza.

  9. avatar John says:

    If both letters are read at face value, then Margo’s responses are perfect.  However, I join those who sense something odd in both letters.

    The first letter sounds like a mom giving some “tough love” to her child. As presented, it appears cold and heartless.  But what we are missing is how many times the LW “lost her job and couldn’t find another”.  How many other times did that person move back home?  How many other times was mom there to help out?  A letter from the mother might give a very different perspective.

    The second letter sounds like some resentment from both sides.  Mom may have offered to help, but didn’t fully realize the commitment or perhaps the entitlement from her daughter. And indeed, the daughter does come across very entitled.  We have a child and are adapting!  Help us and be grateful for doing so!  We may thank you a bit, but you should be the ones who are thrilled because you get to help us!  My guess is that a little more grateful and humble daughter might resort in a mom who’s not quite the drama queen.

    • avatar mjd4 says:

      Yeah, LW2’s mom might be a bit of a drama queen, but LW doesn’t sound they ever expressed any appreciation at all, just impatience with mom for not being happier to do it.  And outrage at the suggestion that they maybe say Thank you.  

  10. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: This letter just pissed me off. 
    Poor pitiful vindictive dramatic little you, looking for a reason to finally one-up your mother and justify that grudge. Wow.

  11. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – Oh good lord. You have a terrible tale of woe that you managed to survive and might even be a better person (in some ways) for it. Your mom will win no awards from me and she certainly made some mistakes but….she’s your mother. Get over yourself and step up and do what you have to do for her for chrissake. I’d love to hear her side of the story.

    LW2 – Keep on doing what you’re doing and the onus is on your mom to come around. When she does be gracious and accepting so you can all move forward. If she doesn’t then I guess she doesn’t and that’s her choice.

  12. avatar Cadwaladre says:

    I disagree with LW2 and Margo’s response.  Even if the mom was just being whiney – and it’s not clear she was getting much gratitude shown to her – that’s no excuse for LW to be rude and disrespectful to her mother.  Now the family’s torn apart and a baby has lost a grandmother – how does that help anyone?  How to quell the family drama?  Own your own part in this and apologize to your mother for having hurt her feelings.  Tell her you realize she was going out of her way to help you and you’re sorry if you didn’t make clear how much you appreciated her help.  Tell her you completely understand that it was getting to be too much for her, that you’re happy to make other arrangements, but that you hope that she will still want to be part of all your lives.  Don’t say anything about her behavior.  If she says she does want to babysit after all, you can either accept her offer or decline, saying you love her and don’t want her generous offer to become a source of tension between you.

    • avatar mayma says:

      Totally agree with Cadwaladre.  “Needless to say…. In a mildly ‘colorful’ conver