“Do I Have to Let My In-Laws Move In?” (Episode 81)

If ever there was a question loaded  If ever there was a question that is loaded with frustration, alarm, dismay and a touch of dread (okay, maybe more than a touch of dread…), it’s this one: “Do I have to let my in-laws move in with me?” In this episode, host Kay Coughlin talks about how to approach this question thoughtfully, and in a way that takes YOUR needs into account, too.

As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: “Do I Have to Let My In-Laws Move In?” (Episode 81) 

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you are listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me, who want to get some rest and feel less alone. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself. So that my needs get met, too. And that’s what I help my clients do. And if we can do it, I know it’s possible for you too.

This is episode 81.

Today, I want to answer a question that I see come up quite a lot in the family caregiver space. And it’s this one: “Do I have to let my in-laws move in?”

It’s funny as I went to take a look at this question, one of the first things I remembered is that when I was a newlywed, so this would be 27 years ago, maybe 26 years ago, we lived above my in-laws. And so that would be my grandmother-in-law and my mother-in-law. Now we were not in a caregiver role in any way, my husband and I. Instead, we were renovating their upstairs apartment in their house. But I want you to know that I do have some experience in living with your in-laws.

So I’m looking at this as a coach for family caregivers and as somebody who’s a caregiver myself. I care for my mom, of course. But also as somebody who has had the actual experience of living with in-laws.

Well, the short answer to the question, do I have to let my in-laws move in is no, you don’t. You absolutely don’t have to. You matter. What you need and what you want matter here, they matter a lot. And that’s a good reminder. You can always say “no”, even in hard situations. And you always matter.

But I’m not sure that that’s what people are always looking for when they ask this question. So I’m going to give you a whole bunch of my thoughts on this question.

First of all, asking if you have to let your in-laws move in? Sounds to me like jumping to the end. Usually it’s the last question to ask. Not the first one. Or maybe it’s the first question that you ask, but then there’s a whole lot of questions you ask before you answer this one.

And you can really only answer it thoughtfully and wisely after you consider a lot of other things, because there are a lot of things buried in the question, do I have to let my in-laws move in? Primarily, I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what your situation is.

So I’m going to approach the question as if it’s coming from a person who thinks they don’t actually have the right to say “no”. And somebody who probably thinks that once the question has been asked, it’s already been decided too. And somebody who’s at least a little bit anxious about what it could mean for their relationship with their partner and their relationship with their in-laws if they do let the in-laws move in.

So I mentioned there are maybe a thousand other questions that come up for me when somebody asks this particular question and some of those are going to be questions about the situation, but a lot of them are going to be questions about your relationship, and what you believe and what you’re telling yourself right now.

If we were in a coaching session, I can almost guarantee you that at some point I would ask you, well, what do you want? And I know that’s a really hard question. It’s the kind of question that usually stops people in their tracks and really makes them consider.

And it’s an uncomfortable question because we just aren’t conditioned to ask it, at least not for ourselves anyway. So you’re allowed to answer the question, “what do you want” in any way that works for you. I am not going to judge you. I know it’s a hard question. I wanted to get that question, which could be the hardest question, out of the way so that I can pose for you some other hard questions.

And I’ve just got a whole bunch of them here. What’s your relationship with your in-laws like, anyway, are you able to set boundaries and enforce those boundaries with anybody, including your in-laws? What concerns do you have about spending more time with them, whether they’re living with you or not? Do you want roommates right now?

What about money, is that something that you can discuss with them? If you spend more time with them, will your partner expect you to handle any caregiver duties? And if they will, what’s that going to look like? What conversations can you have with them about setting expectations and accountability? What kind of conversations can you have with your partner about setting expectations and accountability?

Can your in-laws compromise? Can your partner compromise? Can you compromise? Are you willing to compromise? Are they?

Are there any deal-breakers for you in spending more time with your in-laws? There are a few that come up for me here, but this could be anything. The ones that really come up for me would be abuse, harsh language that somebody tends to use. Maybe prejudice. Is there untreated mental illness or unacknowledged mental illness? Does anybody have violent or aggressive behavior that’s not managed. Are there any family dynamics like hierarchy, or drug or alcohol addiction, or are there abusive family members who would be part of the deal if you spend more time with your in-laws.

So since I don’t really think there’s anything easy about asking the question, “do I have to let my in-laws move in?” Let me bring up something here that I think is really one of the hardest things that could come up for you.

What happens if you ask all of these questions, or any of these questions, and it turns out that no, you don’t want your in-laws moving in with you? The next thing that’s probably going to come up for you is that if you say “no,” won’t people think you are a bad person? Won’t your spouse think you’re a bad person, or maybe your in-laws or your friends and neighbors, won’t they think you’re a bad person?

And I really want to just face this head on. If this thought comes up for you, “if I say “no”, people are going to think I’m a bad person,” or maybe you think that you are going to think of yourself as a bad person? I, I don’t actually think that it’s helpful to pretend that this is not going to happen for you. I mean, maybe it won’t happen and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but it’s probably going to happen.

Somebody somewhere is probably going to think that you’re a bad person if you say “no” to this. I’ve said this before on the podcast in a lot of episodes, but there is no possible way to make everybody happy. No matter what you do, somebody is going to have an opinion about you and you won’t like it and it might hurt.

And that is the way life goes. We are humans. We are complicated. And that’s just part of living here together on the earth.

So what if you’re a people pleaser? Look, I’m a perfectionist. And sometimes that can also look a lot like being a people pleaser. So I am not here to judge you for this. It’s just something I hear a lot and so I want to address it here. If you do have a tendency to people-please. And if this is giving you serious anxiety to even consider that somebody could be unhappy with you? I see you. I really do hear that a lot. It’s hard. It does not feel good. Okay. It doesn’t feel good at all.

What I want you to know is that you can learn to live with it when people disapprove of you or when people don’t like you. Because I’m telling you, I’m saying it again. I can guarantee you that there is already somebody in the world right now who just isn’t pleased by you and who doesn’t like you. That’s the way this works. Long term, this is something that you can learn to live with. I promise you, I do that with my clients all the time.

If you are tempted to say yes to having your in-laws move in with you so that you can stay in a relationship with your partner, I just want you to know that is a sign that you’ve got some other relationship issues to work on. And those issues are not going to go away until you deal with them. Also, your relationship with your partner is not going to get any easier if your in-laws do move in with you. So if you’ve got business to take care of there or unfinished business, and let’s face it, who among us who’s in a partnered relationship doesn’t have business to take care of? Now is the time to take care of that.

What if you have the thought that your in-laws won’t have anywhere to go or anybody to take care of them if you don’t do it? Well, that’s another thing that I think sounds like you’re jumping right to the end of a discussion. It might actually be true. All right. I am not dismissing that as a possibility. It might be true that there won’t be anybody to take care of them unless you do it.

But I’ve been doing this a while now, and I’m telling you that most of the time, this thought when it comes up is really just glossing over the challenging questions that you could ask to figure out an appropriate long-term living solution. Okay. It’s glossing over asking hard questions. And it’s not just glossing over, I think there are probably a lot of hard questions and maybe difficult solutions, difficult answers that somebody is avoiding here.

There’s another way to look at this when somebody says, “but there’s nobody else to take care of them.” That can be a reason. All right. I don’t want to ignore that. It’s true. It can be an actual reason to consider having someone move in with you. But it is also an emotionally triggering phrase that could be used to manipulate you into making a decision that’s not right for you. So I want you to be aware of that.

Looking at it more specifically, let’s use an example here. I’ll say, what if it’s your partner’s aunt or uncle who calls you and says this to you? They say to you, “but if you don’t take them in, they won’t have anywhere to go.” You can really look at this and ask, is it helpful information that they’re giving you?

Is it a fact that if you don’t take them in nobody else will, or could that aunt or uncle be saying it to you to trigger some guilt or some shame just to get you to agree to do it? Those can be difficult to face. And maybe you think that it’s hard to tell the difference, but I’m telling you that if you stop to think about it, “are they giving this to me as a fact, or are they doing it to guilt me or shame me?” I think you’re going to know the difference.

And this is just another good place for me to remind you that you do matter in this question, you do matter in this situation.

So I got those really deep, really, really hard, very personal questions out of the way, because I also want to talk about some tactical things to consider. And the reason that I put the hard personal questions first is that I know most of us want to really skip ahead to the tactical questions because they can be a little bit easier.  So that’s why I put the other ones first. Because the questions about you and your boundaries and what you want, not only are they harder, but they are always more important than the tactics. Tactics come later.

Tactically, asking if you have to let your in-laws move in with you always makes me wonder what other options have been considered. And here’s some things to consider. What other things are going on? What are the reasons your partner is considering moving them? Has a social worker where they live been consulted? Have doctors, healthcare providers, mental healthcare providers, financial providers, have those people been consulted in this?

Moving your in-laws anywhere might not be solving the right problem anyway. Tactically, do they even want to move or do they need to move? Who is it helping if they move, what health conditions are in the mix? What about finances and money, who is going to pay for it if they spend more time with you, whether or not they even end up living with you.

And this is a good time to mention that I did do an episode called “Should you become a caregiver?” and that is episode number 57. And you might want to go take a listen to that too, if you do think that spending more time with your in-laws is going to put you in a caregiver position.

Now I know that all of this was a really long approach to the question, “Do I have to let my in-laws move in with me?? And I want to say I did warn you. It’s just an incredibly important question and it is not something to be decided lightly. As I say, I did live in a house above my in-laws when I was a newlywed. I know that this is not something to do without serious consideration.

And it’s also not something that you should be deciding without your input and taking your needs into consideration.

In fact, at the beginning of this episode, I said that you can always say “no,” and that you always matter. Those are really important things. And we just don’t hear that enough.

So I’m going to leave you with this. Even when a situation is complicated and filled with big emotion. And even when other people are involved. And even if the question that you’re asking is, “do I have to let my in-laws move in?” You can say “no.” And you matter too.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone. It’s the place for emotionally-safe community, brave self-development and always self-compassion. You can find a link to it in the show notes and on my website at Facilitator On Fire dot net. And that is Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you are looking to connect with me, the best place to find me is in my free Boundaries Community. And I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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