Mom loses her job; Mother-in-law volunteers to move in (Sophie’s Choice)


July 28, 2010
Cathy Enns
Staff Writer
Dear Mom

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Dear Mom,

I lost my job and my family depends on two salaries.  My husband is afraid that we will not be able to afford our current home and will have to move to a smaller home.  If we move where we can afford a house, the schools in the neighbor are not up to par in my opinion.   Meanwhile, my mother-in-law has offered to move in with us and share the rent, which would allow us to remain where we are.  I am hesitant to do this, but we are really desperate.  What should I do?

Unemployed in Rockville, MD

Dear Mom,

I’m sorry you’re experiencing firsthand the effects of today’s economy.  I can imagine the uncertainty you must feel.  Instead of making a specific recommendation, I advise sitting down with your husband—and your children, to a degree, depending on their ages—and facing decisions together.  There are many factors to consider, such as your husband’s commute, various important relationships and so on.  It’s time to examine your priorities and options carefully.

For many people, their homes and neighborhoods are top priority.  That’s the case with me.  I found our home after an exhaustive search—the house and setting are perfect.  I would pull out all the stops to stay—cutting the budget elsewhere and taking a so-so job.  Does your family feel this way?  Would the kids pack a sack lunch daily and forego cable TV?  Would you take a less-than-ideal replacement job?  Could your mother-in-law move in temporarily?

Others have different priorities.  For my sister and her family, for example, being ultra careful with their money is most important now.  When they lost some income, they moved to a less expensive area in favor of feeling more secure.  If you decide you should relocate, perhaps a little research would turn up some options.  Would there be a way the kids could stay at their current school?  Are there other ways to make a move more attractive?

What you ultimately choose to do will be many times easier if you and your loved ones do research, planning and decision-making together.  You may even grow stronger as you face challenges as a united family.

Dear Mom,

I have a 6 year old son and a 4 year old daughter.  My son is constantly antagonizing his sister.  He bites her, hits her, pushes her down and says mean things to her.  My husband and I have tried everything from time out to restriction from his toys, but nothing has worked.  We have simply had enough.  We’ve never condoned spanking in our family, but we are at the end of our rope.  Our daughter is being terrorized and we want it to end.  What should we do?  When is it okay to spank?

Worried mom in Reston, VA

Dear Mom:

This is a difficult, distressing issue.  I understand your frustration; even so, I urge you to continue the spanking ban.  Spanking teaches that it’s sometimes ok to hurt a loved one physically—not the lesson you want to convey.  I would suggest trying an approach that emphasizes positive messages.

Your son is old enough to participate in discussions about topics like values.  Think about what you want to say, then sit down and talk with him about family in a positive way.  Discuss the meaning of family and ask what he thinks.  Talk about how family members support each other and give examples.  Read books together that echo your messages—your local librarian can help you find some.

During the discussions, tell your son you need his participation in helping his sister grow up as a strong, happy person.  Give him the chance to assist her with a task, then take him aside and praise him.  When he lapses into hurtful behavior, give him a short time out to consider how he could have handled the situation differently and come tell you about it.

Over time, you can help your daughter respond to your son differently too.  If he hits her and she says, “That hurts me, please stop,” rather than screaming, it will remind your son of the effects of his actions.

If you try this approach with patience and there’s no change, it could be that other factors, internal or external, are influencing your son’s behavior.

Consider finding an experienced family therapist.  Most will have dealt with this problem many times and will have practical ideas to offer.

Dear Mom,

I was raised in a very religious home, and recently I decided to change my religion and convert to my fiancé’s religion.  My parents and siblings are threatening to cut off all ties to me if I do.  I love my family and don’t want to lose them, but I also love my fiancé and want to start my life with him united as a family.  What should I do?

Bride-to-be in Washington, DC (NE)

Dear Bride-to-Be,

You’re preparing to make a life-long commitment to your husband; I applaud you for deciding to join his religion.  In my view, this move will help you establish just what you’re aiming for—a unified young family.

It’s unfortunate that your parents and brothers and sisters are reacting the way they are.  Since they are religious and presumably value love very highly, I suspect that their love for you will eventually win out over any biases they may have.

You may be able to help make this happen.  If you haven’t done so already, talk with your family and explain that you are not abandoning the faith you grew up with; you’re embracing another religion to bond with your fiancée.  You could commit to attending a service at your former place of worship from time to time with your husband-to-be.  Involve your fiancée in sharing your new religion with your family and reassuring them that the belief system they taught is still with you.

Consider providing some materials to your parents and siblings to help them understand the teachings of your new faith.  You might ask them to attend a service with you, and you could even introduce them to the local leader of your new religion and encourage discussion.

You’ve made your decision for very positive reasons.  Your new family will increasingly be the center of your life, so stick with your choice.  Your parents and siblings will likely find a way to make peace with it.


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