The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter,
I’m a working woman in my 60s. My husband passed away 10 years ago, and I live with my mother-in-law, who is in her 80s. I’m not allowed to do a single thing on my own, and every day is marred by stress.
She sticks her nose into everything. If we get an “undelivered item” notice from the post office, she asks, “Did you go get it?” If there’s leftover cabbage in the fridge, she tells me, “Hurry up and use it.” If I don’t ask for her opinion when I plan to throw out something, I have no idea what she’ll say after that.
When my husband was still alive, my mother-in-law took control of everything. I worked while caring for my children, and even when I had different opinions from her over how to raise children, I wasn’t able to express my view.
I have coworkers who have dealt with similar situations, and we released our stress by talking about our problems with each other. When their in-laws died, they were so happy, saying, “I had no idea I could feel so free.”
I want to be free, too. I work just because I don’t want to spend all day at home with my mother-in-law, but I want to quit and take it easy, too.
K, Gifu Prefecture
Dear Ms. K:
I don’t think you can simply live apart from your mother-in-law this late in the game.
I think that every person in the world, regardless of age, wants the feeling of freedom in their lives. Many of my friends in their 80s and 90s often discuss this sort of thing. They say, “It’s so nice living alone.” Even elderly women living alone in underpopulated areas say, “This is great now. I don’t have to tiptoe around anyone.”
In other words, your mother-in-law might be thinking exactly like you are. As she’s advanced in age, I believe she simply thinks it’s nice that you’re around if she needs you.
Why not say something to your in-law? “Mother, it’s just the two of us now, but each of us should do whatever we want from here on out.”
When your mother sticks her nose into everything, you should brush it off as one of her quirks, and just wave it away with a smile. A lot of people tell me, “You don’t listen to others” or “You do whatever you want too often,” and I just wave this all away with a smile. For some reason, this makes them stop chiding me.
You’ve worked so hard up to this point; I think you deserve to live the rest of your life however you want.
Megumi Hisada, writer