My husband and I come from broken families with abusive fathers. His mother has paranoid schizophrenia and he was raised more or less by his grandmother with the uncles supporting.

My mother in law is a very difficult woman and does not get along with any of her folks except my husband. Since my husband started earning (at 20 years of age, he did not go for further studies that he wanted to undertake to support himself and his mother financially). Since he started earning, he has financially supported his mother’s living (in his house), medication, day care treatment and other expenses despite her having her own house and some money. Since then her financial demands from him have been increasing — these include regular pocket money that she wastes away and demands to take her out to dinner at expensive places. She makes any occasion (birthdays etc) as an excuse to extract money out of him.

I have seen her make him run around to get things for her and fulfill her various needs after spending long hours at the office. Most of her conversations with him are about money and her needs. She did not want us to get married because she thought I was after his money and her house. She threatened to move out if we married (knowing that her son cares too much and knows that she can’t take care of herself). We went ahead and got married after delaying it for a long time — at the last minute, she decided to stay with us. She then realized that I earn too and started asking me for money too. She used to constantly remind me to fulfill her various needs too. Life at home became hell for me.

Unfortunately, my husband feels obliged to her and feels bad for her state and wants her to have a good life. In the process, I think he has really spoiled her — she takes no responsibility at home and only makes demands at all times and invades into our privacy. I recently told her clearly not to speak to me about her needs. Since then she has been ignoring me completely and looks through me in my own house while being nice to everyone else around. My husband wants to continue making her feel better by giving her pocket money etc so that she can have her own life. But I feel she cares only about the money and nothing else — when he decided to take a short break from work, she used to be after him to join back worrying where the money will come from. Unfortunately, he is not able to say much to her since he attributes all this to her illness — when he does say something rude, he feels very guilty and overcompensates later on.

All this has made me very resentful and I feel very tired and burdened — both financially and mentally. I want to have a good life away from her and the constant tension — I want a place that I can call home. My husband suggests adjacent houses but I am not sure if that will help us get our space. I feel worse for my husband since he is a genuinely nice guy and I see him being used. Please advise on how to deal with her — I want him to tell her to act like a mother and not the child and stop asking for money other than her basic living needs. I want him to ask her to be more responsible, less selfish and let us have our life away from her, but he wants to shield her from all this. What do you think should we do?

A. This situation is very complicated. His mother is probably limited in her ability to care for herself due to the illness; however, she may be more self-supporting than your husband thinks she is. My suggestion is that your husband and his mother begin therapy, see a case manager, or a doctor, if they are not doing this together already, and determine her level of functionality. Once an outside source determines her level functionality, they can set goals and a plan for his mother to become more self-supporting, based on her degree of functioning.

The illness has probably destroyed his mother’s life but it should not be allowed to destroy his life or your life. Your husband does, however, have a moral obligation to help her to the best of his ability but it would be wrong to do this at the expense of his life, your life and your marriage. There is a very good likelihood that his mother can do more than she is doing for herself now, and that may include living on her own, respecting your privacy, or even earning her own pocket money. Your husband is probably doing too much for her, most likely because of his guilt. But because of how he has treated her, she may have never been brought to her highest level of functionality.

In summary, suggest to your husband that he and his mother visit with a mental health professional that can assess her level of ability and functionality. Based on the assessment, he and his mother should strive to have her become more independent. I suspect she is much more capable of caring for herself than your husband has allowed her to be. I also suspect that the relief that would be gained from her doing more for herself, even if it was just a little, would be more than enough to make you happy. I hope this helps. Thanks for writing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Oct 2007

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2007). How to deal with a demanding parent with schizophrenia who acts like a spoiled child?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/10/04/how-to-deal-with-a-demanding-parent-with-schizophrenia-who-acts-like-a-spoiled-child/

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