Scottish Daily Mail
Could you cope if your mother moved in with you?
With the rise in late-life divorces, it’s getting more and more common. The result? They can be as much trouble as teenagers!
EXHAUSTeD after a hard day at work, it’s perhaps no surprise that Helen Walker snapped at the sight of the unwashed breakfast dishes in the sink and the overflowing laundry basket.
‘What on earth,’ she screamed, ‘have you been doing all day?’ A not unfamiliar scene. But the focus of Helen’s ire is not her idle teenage son or daughter. rather, it’s Anna, her 58-year-old mother.
For 15 months, Anna has been living under Helen’s roof after leaving her marriage and the seven-bedroom home she owns with Helen’s stepfather. Helen admits it has brought their relationship to the brink. ‘Let’s just say the first few months were testing,’ says Helen, 31, who is single and owns a three-bedroom semi-detached home near Manchester, where she lives with her twin seven-year-old daughters, Gabriella and Francesca.
‘Having Mum move in was like having a third child. She was upset and needy, not to mention penniless. When she left her husband, she also walked away from their restaurant business. With an extra mouth to feed, my food bill doubled to £60 a week. All the utility bills shot up, too, not helped by Mum’s habit of leaving the TV on all night.’
More significant tensions emerged over everything from who Helen dated to Anna’s perceived lack of culinary skills. ‘I’m not blameless,’ Helen confesses. ‘I’m a nightmare to live with and I don’t know how Mum puts up with my mood swings.’
It’s little wonder there were explosions. Until June last year, the pair hadn’t lived together since Helen left home at 17. And having your mum live under your roof — and by your rules — is the ultimate role reversal.
Although there are no official figures on the subject, anecdotally there seems to be a growing trend for babyboomer mothers to move in with their thirty or fortysomething daughters — a surge fuelled by rising divorce rates among the over-50s, who have been dubbed ‘silver splitters’.
Divorce rates among the over-50s have risen by three-quarters in the past 20 years, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Add to this the fact that one in four working families relies on grandparents to help with childcare, and you can see why Mum moving in seems the answer to domestic problems.
But be warned. As Helen and Anna’s case shows, there are significant risks. ‘When Mum moved in, she craved sympathy. But that’s not my style,’ reveals Helen, a university laboratory technician. ‘I’m more practical. When I told her to pull herself together, it would often upset her more.’
Helen, too, had relationship troubles. She had been dating a man for three months when her mother moved in — taking romantic evenings at home off the menu, not least because her mother sleeps on a sofa bed in the living room. The relationship lasted just another seven months.
‘Mum wasn’t the reason we split up, but she certainly told me some home truths which made me realise he wasn’t treating me well,’ Helen adds.
‘I’ve been on a few dates since. Though I’m not the kind of girl to bring a man home, I was seeing someone for a while and had to stay at his house when the relationship reached that stage.
‘So Mum being here has affected my love life. But if she wasn’t here to babysit I couldn’t have stayed over anyway. I admit there’ve been times I’ve taken Mum for granted. Suddenly, I had a built-in babysitter, cook and cleaner — although her standards on the domestic front sometimes left a little to be desired.’
Dr LyNNe JOrDAN, a psychologist specialising in family relationships, says mothers and daughters living together can all too easily turn into a disaster. ‘If they already have a good relationship, then Mum moving in can provide more of a friendship now they’re both older,’ she explains. ‘There will be a monumental shift in dynamic, but there’s a massive amount the mother can contribute.
‘yet there’s lots to bear in mind, such as the quality of their existing relationship, how they communicate, and what respect there is for each other’s lives.
‘For example, if Mum’s moving in to help with childcare, what are her limits? Is she a full-time nanny or just helping out? If her marriage has ended, how long will she stay?’
Helen admits she was blindsided by her mother’s sudden request.
‘I was at work when Mum called and said: “Get me a bed ready, I’m coming to stay with you!”’ recalls Helen. ‘I was relieved she was finally leaving an unhappy marriage, but didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of her decision. She’s had to start again with nothing late in life.
‘We love one another so there was no question she wouldn’t move in — though my daughters weren’t quite so welcoming. They see Mum regularly, but they weren’t fond of her suddenly being a full-time grandmother who told them what to do.’
HeLeN adds: ‘Mum once rang me at work in tears after Gabriella shouted, “I hate you!” when she’d told her off for chewing with her mouth open. Admittedly, I’ve lost my temper at Mum, too. Once, after a stressful day, I flipped when the dinner Mum made tasted awful.
‘She stormed off and didn’t come back for hours. I was worried sick. But, all-in-all, having her here has been a huge help. We’ve got back the special relationship we had before my stepdad arrived when I was 12.’
Anna says: ‘We’ve all struggled in different ways. I’ve never felt unwanted, but I’m embarrassed. One friend said: “Shouldn’t it be the other way round?” Well, yes, it should. Sleeping in the lounge isn’t easy, but I’m used to it now. After a shaky start when Helen would shout if the house was untidy, I now pay my way by doing the chores.
‘However, I often feel taken for granted, especially when the girls throw their coats and bags on the floor. And when I want to chat, Helen doesn’t listen, she just rants about her day.’ Despite the chaos, Anna is glad she’s had the chance to live with her daughter again. ‘I feel immensely proud seeing what a terrific job Helen is doing raising her girls alone,’ she explains.
When Anna moves out into a rented home nearby in the New year, it will be with mixed feelings. ‘I can’t wait to climb into my own bed at night, and I know Helen will be eager to start dating again. But I’m going to miss her.’
Helen McNaughton, 66, meanwhile, has been dubbed a live-in Mary Poppins by her daughter, Kerry, 40. For a decade, Helen has lived in Kerry’s home for the four days a week that her banker son-in-law Craig, 50, is away.
Helen takes care of everything from the school run to walking the dog, cooking and supervising homework. Kerry, a Pe teacher, says she couldn’t have managed her career and her three daughters Cara, 18, Katie, 11, and Sarah, ten, otherwise.
But, deep down, Kerry often feels guilty about taking advantage.
‘Mum has always said she doesn’t want a man in her life, but I wish we’d given her more time for herself when the children were smaller — perhaps she could have met somebody.’
There have also been irritations when Kerry perceives her mother to be taking her husband’s side in arguments. ‘There have been times when Craig and I have been in a heated discussion, when Mum has discreetly left the room. But she usually reappears
when things cool down and takes his side, which really irritates me.’
As well as this, Kerry has been almost usurped in her position as mother by Helen. ‘My eldest daughter, Cara, would probably go to Mum with a problem before she came to me.’
Sensibly, Kerry says she doesn’t let this upset her because ‘Cara and i are close, too, and it was almost inevitable because of the huge role Mum has’. Kerry, whose parents separated when she was ten, remembers her childhood as ‘homely and caring’.
‘it’s precisely the environment Mum’s created for us, too,’ says Kerry, who lives in a five-bedroom edinburgh house, where Helen has her own bedroom and bathroom.
it was after their third daughter was born that Kerry and Craig mooted the idea of Helen, whose home is 30 minutes away, living with them during the week.
‘Mum wasn’t happy in her retail management job and Craig and i had no reservations about rescuing her from that.’
Helen started living with them from Monday to Friday when sarah was almost one. now the girls are older, she has reduced her days to four. ‘We don’t pay her exactly, but we look after her. she holidays with us in places like Australia, Florida and Turkey. And if when she’s older she needs help, we’ll move her in permanently and care for her the way she’s cared for us.’
sometimes mothers move in with their daughters because they themselves need care.
Marketing executive lisa bowers’s mother yvonne, 64, moved into her three-bedroom home in Coulsdon, surrey, following a stroke in 2014. lisa, who is 38 and single, was suddenly faced with the daunting task of caring for her sick mother and her three-year-old daughter, Delila.
yvonne, a widow, worked for fashion house Chanel for 28 years. but the stroke changed her life, as lisa reveals: ‘Mum spent two weeks in hospital, then needed round-theclock care, so i asked her to live with me. luckily, i’ve been on an extended maternity break from my marketing career so was able to do so.
‘but those initial months were incredibly hard for all three of us. Mum’s independence had disappeared overnight — and so did mine. Any romance, any social life, was put on hold as i had to do everything from washing Mum’s hair to brushing her teeth. ‘Delila was also reliant upon me and i was constantly trying to ensure both needs were met.’ Although yvonne has slowly learned to speak and walk again, she is unable to cook or drive. now, however, she is venturing out on her own. ‘i’ll drive Mum to the station so she can visit friends, and she did the same for me as a teenager,’ lisa adds. ‘Out of awful circumstances, our bond has been strengthened. but it’s been exhausting.’ Dating has also been difficult since yvonne moved in. ‘For a long time i couldn’t think about finding anyone special, but as Mum’s health has improved i have started going out more with friends and have met someone.’ yvonne still has her own three-bedroom home, which she hopes to move back to once her confidence has improved. ‘she’s only 64, so it’s important she has her own life again and i have mine, even though we’ll still see each other every day,’ says lisa. ‘For now, though, i love having her here and knowing that she’s safe and cared for.’
yvonne concurs: ‘lisa’s my only child and knows me better than anyone else. even when i couldn’t speak after the stroke, she still knew what i was thinking.
‘i’ve been on my own since being widowed 12 years ago, and it’s been wonderful being here. Delila often holds my hand when we’re walking to “make sure you don’t fall over”.
‘i shall be forever indebted to lisa and grateful for this unexpected time we’ve had together again.’
not every mother and daughter could navigate this delicate role reversal so successfully. nonetheless, having Mum move in can be the solution to so many modern problems, from divorce in later life to lack of childcare — for those who learn to cope with the inevitable fireworks, of course.