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Carolyn Hax: How to move one elderly mom into your home, but not both

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law is reaching the point where she probably shouldn’t live alone anymore but doesn’t need or want to be in a nursing home. My spouse and I are planning to ask her to move in with us. The only thing holding me back is that I know when this happens, my mother, who is 10 years younger than my spouse’s mother, will assume that she also gets to move in with us when she needs to.

I don’t want that for a variety of reasons: My mother-in-law is great with our kids and my mom is not, my mother-in-law will respect our privacy and pitch in with housework to the extent she’s capable and my mom will not, etc.

How could I go about explaining this to my mom? Or do I just have to suck it up and let my mom move in when and if the time comes?

— Holding Me Back

Holding Me Back: Don’t explain it now, because you don’t know what the future will bring. You don’t want her to nurture any false hopes, I understand. But getting ahead of it involves delivering a message she might find hurtful — and if 10, 15 years go by and she has no reason to move in with you, for whatever reason, then you will have hurt her needlessly.

Sometimes it really is a valid plan to wait out a difficult potential problem and hope it solves itself.

Plus: Your kids may have grown and gone by the time your mom needs care. You or your spouse could be infirm. You may have downsized your home by then. Your mother-in-law could still be living with you. You may have the means for an in-law apartment by then. Your mom might mellow. Or, or, or.

I also don’t think you have to suck it up and invite your mom to live with you when the time comes just because you did this with your mother-in-law. You can have integrity and still take each situation as it comes and make your decisions on the merits. Look up equality vs. equity.

Just prepare to withstand any emotional fallout. “Right” does not mean “easy.”

Re: Moving in: Mother may need help, eventually, but she does not get to define that as needing YOUR help on HER terms. “I want X done, and it sure would be convenient if you would believe that X is your responsibility.” Nope. That’s overstepping.

— Anonymous

Dear Carolyn: Do I have to wear the tacky and silly “I’m 70” tiara that my college friends sent me for our weekly Zoom, which coincides with my birthday?

— I’m 70

I’m 70: No.

But don’t be where all fun goes to die, either. Be a good sport about refusing to be a good sport. Happy birthday!

Update: I ended up wearing it, trying to be a good sport. The dear friend who sent it died months later of a long illness. I would wear that plastic tiara all day, every day if it would only bring her and her mischievous sense of humor back.

Moral of the story: Appreciate and love your friends, because we never know when we will part forever. (But don’t start me on the gift of the Christmas pattern soup tureen for the childless woman isolating alone during the pandemic.)

— I’m 71

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Advice columnist Carolyn Hax and cartoonist Nick Galifianakis have collaborated on their Washington Post column for 25 years. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post, Photo: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)