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Dealing With the (Homeless) In-Laws

Dealing With the (Homeless) In-Laws

By Amalah

All wise Amalah,

My mother-in-law moved-in with us two weeks ago. By itself, this isn’t a problem, as my MIL and I get along extremely well. She brought her teen daughters from a second family with her. This is also not the real problem, because while the girls *are* teenagers, they are pretty decent ones, without the attitude problems I had at that age. The real problem is that she also brought her boyfriend (the girls’ father), a large-sized Labrador, a chihuahua, a snake and a turtle. Did I mention that we rent our house? Or that our landlord very firmly told us when we moved in that the house was not a circus, and we were not to add any additional pets?

The thing is, they are making seemingly no effort to move *out* of our house. They just had the house they had lived in for 15 years foreclosed on them. They have no rental history, poor credit and both are unemployed. It’s also a pretty tough rental market right now. Places that fit their desired qualifications are going super fast – you basically have to turn in an application the same day it’s listed in order to get a place. We tried Section 8, but all the counties on our coast have closed wait-lists. And once they are on the wait list, it may take years before it’s actually approved.

Still, via a lot of calling around (untreated Social Anxiety Disorder means my MIL really can’t do that part), I was able to find them a few possible places that would rent to them and fit their rather stringent requirements, all not yet listed so they’d have had their pick. They rejected all the places I found, though, mostly because they were in backwater towns that didn’t have nice downtown areas. Any protestations of “but it’s temporary!” or “but this is what you can afford!” have gone unheard. I’ve explained the 3x rule, found out their income (boyfriend is on permanent disability for a back injury), even done the math on paper so at least the older teen could follow. MIL doesn’t get it, instead is looking at rentals similar to their old house, in their old town; places that rent at well over half their income.

There are other issues, of course. Minor things like having to move our kids into our bed to sleep, my kids (who are 2 and 5) being given soda despite having been told they aren’t allowed, feeding their dogs in the room that gets ants after having been asked not to, eating the leftovers we intended for a second night’s dinner, teenage girls who arrive home at midnight and slam the bathroom door right next to our bedroom, the boyfriend missing the toilet and leaving pee on the floor for me to clean up (“men don’t clean bathrooms”) and so on. These are minor annoyances, I realize. But they are still things that make me not want to live with these people on a long-term basis.

“I give up” is something I’ve said twice a day for the last two weeks. I can find them a place, but they have to apply, and that’s something they aren’t doing. My husband and I have talked about setting an out date, a day when they are just going to have to go – preferably a date that would give them enough time to get the girls enrolled in school in their new location. My husband balks when it actually comes down to discussing it with his mother, though. He knows they won’t have a place by whatever date we select, and then what happens? He throws his own mother and sisters onto the street? Puts them in a homeless shelter?

Amalah, I’m terrified my landlord is going to find out and boot US out. I love my MIL and her girls, I really do. I’m not terribly keen on the sexist boyfriend, but they are a package deal. Regardless of how we feel about them, we can’t afford to feed and house them long-term and I’m fresh out of ideas on how to fix the situation. My own anxiety levels are through the roof, even while taking my meds properly. I’m a ‘fixer’ who just can’t fix this problem!

– Overcrowded and Anxious

Okay folks. That’s it. Shut it down. We have found our winner for the Most Nightmare Inducing In-Law Letter Ever. This is clearly Advice Smackdown Hall of Fame material, right up there with the toddler twins who threw their poop at each other like monkeys and the mom being dragged to soap-making festivals by her husband and MIL at like one week postpartum.

All of you are now required to re-read this poor woman’s letter BEFORE you write to me about how annoying your in-laws are.

And you, OP. I’d like you to re-read your letter. Out loud to yourself, maybe while looking in a mirror. Notice how often you try to play down the absurdity of this situation, and insist that some (reeeeeeeeally unacceptable) things are just “minor” annoyances, that you don’t mind, YOU REALLY DON’T MIND, YOU LOVE THEM, YOU GET ALONG WITH THESE ABUSIVE UNSTABLE FREELOADERS JUST FINNNNNEEEEE.

And yeah. I went there. You can abuse someone’s hospitality. You can abuse someone’s good intentions and sense of familial duty. These people should never have been allowed into your home in the first place (a simple “we run the risk of eviction if you and your zoo stay here even one night” should have shut this whole thing down), but now they are here and what you are describing is a terribly unhealthy, damn-near toxic situation full of grown-ass adults who you keep making excuses for.

She can’t make phone calls! She can’t accept reality! He won’t clean his own pee from the toilet he’s lucky to even have! They don’t respect your home, your rules, or YOU.

I do feel sorry for the daughters. They’re not responsible for their family’s chaos. I could maaaaaaybe see myself offering to become a temporary guardian of them so they could stay and find some stability (if said guardianship also included some really firm understanding that they WILL follow and respect your rules and curfews, etc).

But MIL, jerkwad boyfriend, and all the pets need to go. Like, yesterday.

They ARE responsible for their own chaos, or are at least responsible for dealing with the chaos that results after things like back injuries or lost jobs or lost homes. And you are running a real risk here of absorbing that chaos into your own family. Your children have lost their rooms and routine and privacy, and you’re now putting them in danger of losing their entire HOME, if your landlord finds out. (And I’m guessing Mr. Pee On the Floor And  Treat The Person Who Is Saving His Family From Homelessness Like A Slave isn’t setting the best example for your kids.) Your own financial situation is deteriorating because you’re trying to feed and provide for a family of eight (plus a million pets) and they just. Don’t. Care.

Let me be the neutral third party here, or your pretend friend who is listening to you talk while we’re getting coffee: GURL. THIS IS NUTS. GET THEM OUT.

Nothing you describe here is “minor” or “not really a big deal.” They are holding you hostage — emotionally, financially, even a bit physically — and you guys are going Stockholm Syndrome on them because family. Yes, family takes care of each other and looks out for each other and you have MET that criteria ten fold here, by finding them places to live and doing all the number crunching and legwork that your MIL can’t do. (Or just won’t.) But they reject everything because they like where they are now: Zero rent or expenses or any real expectation that they sack up, grow up, get a reality check and take responsibility for their own family and mess of a situation.

At some point a line has been crossed here. You’re no longer helping them. You’re enabling them. The rejection of perfect rentals YOU found for reasons that fly in the face of their reality was the last straw.  Your MIL clearly has no intention of making any effort to leave your house and doesn’t give a crap that they might get you ALL evicted. That’s just not her problem. That’s yours, in her mind. (I’m guessing nothing is her problem, or her fault.) They probably assume that if you do get kicked out, they’ll just follow you to whatever place you end up next. They’ve abdicated responsibility to you. You’re the grown-up now, who buys the food and makes the phone calls and cleans up the pee on the floor.

Gurl. That is nuts. Get them out.

It’s not uncommon after something as financially and emotionally devastating as a foreclosure for people to kind of shut down. Or lose perspective on their new reality and what their next step should be. (Remember the parents who were expecting their daughter to co-sign a risky new mortgage for them because renting was beneath them or something?) It’s also perfectly natural that you and your husband would want to help in any way you could.

But this ISN’T helping them. Nothing about this situation is helpful or even remotely okay anymore. Of COURSE your anxiety is through the roof. Just reading your letter made me want to pop a Xanax. Put your foot down. Where they end up next is NO LONGER YOUR PROBLEM, because they are GROWN-UPS. Maybe compromise and have the girls stay until their parents settle somewhere, although only if you can accept that might never happen and they’ll be with you until graduation. (As minors they should be able to get more help from the state, though.)

Give MIL and Jerkwad a date. If your husband won’t, tell him you will, and also that you will see him in couple’s therapy, because you guys need to work on your priorities. Namely, the well-being and security of your young children. Who, like the teen girls, are not responsible for and did not invite all this chaos into their lives. But you guys did invite it in, even though you obviously had good intentions. But it’s time to give the chaos an eviction notice…preferably before your landlord hands YOU one.

Published July 20, 2015. Last updated July 23, 2015.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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