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Seeking help managing when staying with a hoarder...

(72 Posts)
chillywindows Tue 12-Nov-13 18:50:09

My MIL lives in extremely dirty, depressing conditions. She is a hoarder, with additional elements of serious disrepair and squalor. (I know not all hoarders are squalid, but we're talking bits of rotting food on the floor and in the fridge, unbelievably filthy, black slime encrusted kitchen sink etc) She is also very, very difficult. My DH and I will be staying with her for nearly a fortnight over the Christmas period, between our lease ending, and moving overseas to live.

This sounds dreadful, as we are on the cusp of moving so far away, but I have insisted to DH that after the first couple of days we go away for a few nights, as I cannot cope with the filth for two weeks (I'm pregnant, which is definitely affecting my tolerance levels, usually I'm quite stoic) I also cannot cope with her passive agressive (escalating to aggressive) behaviour when we are in her company for extended periods i.e. more than a couple of days. However, she is desperate for us (especially DH) to stay, particularly as we are moving so far away. DH would not countenance a B&B for the entire period, but I know that she will not be able to cope with us for the duration without having a very unpleasant meltdown at some point. She will not be able to visit us, as she is not allowed to fly. But it is the last time we will ever stay in the house, as once the baby arrives I would never be able to stay in such unsanitary conditions with a small child.

I don't even know the purpose of this post, really. Just that I'm upset for DH - and MIL - that she has this dreadful illness. And for my own part, how do I survive Christmas in her house? Any coping tips from children of hoarders (or anyone else) much appreciated!

SteamWisher Tue 12-Nov-13 18:51:59

Would she agree to having a clean - letting your DH clean maybe - small areas of the house? Eg kitchen, bedroom and bathroom?

There's no way I'd stay there and amazed you've agreed! It normalises it - which is isn't.

Fairenuff Tue 12-Nov-13 18:55:22

There is no way I would stay there. Book yourself into a B&B nearby for the whole two weeks and let your dh decide for himself where he wants to stay.

Why can't she fly?

Twinklestein Tue 12-Nov-13 18:56:09

I wouldn't even try it tbh, it's not going to work.

You're pregnant, your husband should not get to veto a stay in a B&B. (What happens if you get food poisoning?) Stay there and visit her daily.

This is not a slightly batty relation, she's full blown seriously mentally ill.

I would put my foot down now.

SweetCarolinePomPomPom Tue 12-Nov-13 19:02:06

I think I would just have to put my foot down and refuse to stay there if I were you. Let your DH stay there if he likes - he's obviously developed a stronger stomach over the years than you! Go and stay with your own family/friends or just overrule your DH and pay for a b&B and tell him it's non-negotiable. You don't have to tolerate such appalling conditions, you owe her nothing. Especially as she doesn't even sound very nice.

Hoarding is a complex disorder that is made up of three connected problems: 1) collecting too many items, 2) difficulty getting rid of items, and 3) problems with organization. These problems can lead to significant amounts of clutter which can severely limit the use of living spaces, pose safety and/or health risks, and result in significant distress and/or impairment in day-to-day living.

What is hoped to be achieved by such a visit; why has this been mooted at all?. Is it out of a combination on your DHs part of fear, obligation and guilt?.

Your DH frankly needs to put you and your unborn child first now, not his mother.

Neither of you can or should actually risk staying there at all under such circumstances; you and your DH could both get ill as a result. Your own health comes first particularly now as you are pregnant as well. You cannot go into such a frankly unsafe environment.

Sleepyhoglet Tue 12-Nov-13 19:07:02

I would not stay there. I completely understand. I also have to put up with similar at mil

WhoNickedMyName Tue 12-Nov-13 19:08:30

Book yourself into a hotel and leave it up to your DH to come and go between her house/your hotel as he pleases.

There's no way I'd stay with her, no way at all.

Holdthepage Tue 12-Nov-13 19:09:20

I wouldn't stay there either. Book yourself into a nearby B&B, but don't stop your DH staying with her.

Her residence could be actually unfit for human habitation as well as being a fire risk. I wonder if any of these factors have been considered.

firstpost Tue 12-Nov-13 19:21:05

Child of a hoarder here ..

I would put some boundaries in place for what is tolerable for a short stay.

For me, now I have children I need a cleanish only slightly cluttered room for us to sleep in.

I need a cleanish bathroom.

I need use by dates to be looked at for meals that me and the kids are eating (they take pride in eating very out of date food shock)

I reserve the right to 'move' stuff, this can be a massive issue for hoarders but if its in toddler reach and unsafe I move it.

I will never ever understand hoarding but my kids benefit from a really loving relationship with my parents. It's worth a bit of compromise if you can bear it and it doesn't put your health at risk smile

cloudskitchen Tue 12-Nov-13 19:42:26

I'm feeling very anxious for you reading your post. There's no way I could stay there and as you are pregnant I really don't think you should be staying there. You need to think of food poisoning but also all the other germs that are festering. You really dont want to get sick while pregnant sad

BettyBotter Tue 12-Nov-13 20:15:19

My MIL was the same to the point of serious health hazard. I am too horrified even to tell you anonymously what was found in her house when it was cleared up after she died sad . So believe me I know what you mean.

I agree that you shouldn't stay there. Stay in a nearby B and B and visit daily -- and take her out for meals-- . Apart from other considerations it can be as stressful for a hoarder having guests as it is for the guests to live in a hoard.

Olddear Tue 12-Nov-13 20:40:35

Wouldn't take the risk of staying there. It is a very unhealthy environment for you. Think you may have to put your foot down re staying in B&B. If your husband wants to stay with mum, that's up to him but I wouldn't be able to stand living in that squalor!

gastrognome Tue 12-Nov-13 20:54:53

I too would be concerned about catching something unpleasant or indeed dangerous for the unborn child (you don't mention animals, but toxoplasmosis comes to mind, not to mention listeria...). Don't put yourself or your baby at risk.

FlossieTreadlight Tue 12-Nov-13 21:00:15

I just wanted to sympathise - I also have an obsessive compulsive hoarder for a MIL. It's awful on so many levels.

I agree with others re not staying there but I wonder if your DH is insisting you all stay because he feels guilty for moving away?

I really hope you get this sorted out and manage to have a happy Christmas together.

chillywindows Tue 12-Nov-13 21:23:56

Thanks so much for your posts. Please forgive if I answer generally, as I'm on a tablet now and the bloody thing won't let me scroll as I type...
She won't be able to fly to us ever, as she has a health condition which would preclude it (serious risk of clotting).
DH is under no illusions as to her difficult nature. But he is, however, 'hampered' by a terrible pity for her, which I too feel. It would absolutely devastate her if we stayed elsewhere just before leaving the country, even though she doesn't cope well with us (me really) in the house for any length of time.
I like the idea of boundaries, but strangely the condition of her house is the elephant in the room. DH was packing up some of his own books over the weekend, and taking his bike to be packed for shipping, which he'd been storing there. He then took some of his old, old clothes to the charity shop, and she was furious and tearful about it. She yelled, 'Why are you getting rid of everything?' (um, old sweatpants??) I said to him 'Why did you not say, 'Because if I don't, I'll end up living in a space like this!' But he would never say that. So how do I establish boundaries about clean spaces when the filth of the existing space is never acknowledged?

MrTumblesKnickers Tue 12-Nov-13 21:25:50

No way would I be staying, either. I would rather cause offence now and set a precedent rather than have the same issue crop up when you have a small baby and she wants you to visit.

Mumsyblouse Tue 12-Nov-13 21:34:25

Don't stay, have you not see 'How Clean is Your House?'- when they do the tests for bacteria etc, these hoarders houses, sadly, are teeming with them, including faecal matter over everything, rats and mice droppings, food that is actually dangerous, not just a bit off.

Sorry, but there is no time in two weeks to sort out his mother's life long issues with hoarding and while you might feel sympathetic to her, that doesn't mean you should risk your own health. If she has any animals whatsoever, double the risk, but even just the unsanitary conditions in the kitchen and bathroom are bad enough if you are pregnant.

Lie if you have to, say you still have morning sickness and don't want to be ill in someone else's home, but don't feel pressured into staying in an unsanitary environment, if it's as bad as you say, and if you wouldn't ever take a child there- you are carrying a child!

Fairenuff Tue 12-Nov-13 21:39:57

Would your dh agree to you staying somewhere else and him staying with his dm?

chillywindows Tue 12-Nov-13 21:47:08

Fairenuff, DH would never leave me alone in a B&B. I've actually been extremely ill with the pregnancy (which is why I've lost my 'filth coping' mojo), and he wouldn't leave me at the moment (I've been having all night vomiting sessions, which have completely freaked him out). After her behaviour this weekend, I think he would be more amenable to the B&B idea. But the idea of telling her is making me feel quite anxious. His DB and family live just around the corner, and I don't think SIL has been in the house for years, far less their children. However, MIL seems able to rationalise this away - she would never accept it's because of the state of the house. The whole situation is surreal.

Mumsyblouse Tue 12-Nov-13 21:56:12

Ok, if you have been that ill, you have the perfect get out clause, for both her and for your DH (who is obviously conflicted). If your SIL won't visit, you should not either.

firstpost Tue 12-Nov-13 22:11:25

It's really hard because denial is such an intrinsic part of the condition.

Apparently it's the hardest OCD to treat with the highest rate of recidivism.

Can you get your dh to be very clear and specific with her? It needs to come from him really.

It's hard because the odds are this will be a life long issue with no quick fix hmm

Twinklestein Tue 12-Nov-13 22:15:53

This is actually your husband's problem not yours, it's for him to deal with his mother. Expecting you to stay there is not only unreasonable but actively dangerous.

It's all very well talking about 'boundaries' if the hoarder is your own relative, but you cannot establish those boundaries yourself, particularly given your pregnancy, and it may not be possible even from your husband, as hoarders are so emotional about anyone touching their stuff.

That SIL has obviously put her foot down is good news, because it shows your husband that this is a reasonable line.

theoriginalandbestrookie Tue 12-Nov-13 22:18:23

I wouldn't stay there. You have been suffering from sickness and more than likely are exremely sensitive to strong smells.

We went to BILs when I was pregnant, meant to stay there 2 nights. The whole house stunk of his cigars that I felt instantly sick, but when I went to be sick in the bathroom, there was an ashtray in there and it was worse than the rest of the house. I lasted half of one night, ended up sitting in the car at 5 am as I couldn't cope with it any more. DH had to make excuses and we left.

Could you compromise and find a holiday rental for a couple of weeks and ask MIL to visit you for a bit?

SweetCarolinePomPomPom Wed 13-Nov-13 03:40:39

You seem to be prepared to make all sorts of excuses and find all sorts of justifications for why you have to stay there. I don't get that at all. OK, so she's probably bordering on mentally ill, but that doesn't mean she is entitled to make unreasonable demands and cause problems for other people. It sounds as though no-one has ever actually confronted her about this and she seems blissfully unaware of just how bad it is, which has done her a disservice really. Your DH should not be afraid to face up to the extent of her issues. If she chooses to be in denial then fine, but he should not be in denial. This tiptoeing around the issue is what is making it hard for him to say no to her. He can't say no without having to say out loud 'it's because of your house - you have a serious problem.'

She can live in her own oppressive pile of junk and filth if she likes but she cannot demand that you live in it too. You just need to put your foot down with your DH and tell him straight.

You won't do it.
It's dangerously cluttered.
It's scarily unhygienic.
It's smelly and beyond unpleasant.
Even if you were not PG you still would not want to do it.
He is welcome to stay there if he likes.
He cannot force you to.
You have pity for her, of course, but there are limits to your tolerance, and this is one of them.
End of discussion.

I can't believe you are even contemplating it. And as someone upthread said, it will probably be as stressful for her as it is for you.

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 07:54:24

Thanks for your post, and I agree with much of what you say SweetCaroline. But I don't think I'm making all sorts of excuses and justifications for having to stay at MIL's. Believe me, I see the problems. But I am genuinely conflicted about it - we are going to go from seeing MIL twice a month, to maybe once a year (and that's if we can afford it, the flights are thousands and we'll be trying to set up home with me not working with a new baby and DH in a new job). She won't see her newborn grandchild. She is losing DH's regular presence. She's desperate for us to spend this time in her house.

Believe me, I don't want to stay in her house! But I do feel compassion for DH's feelings of obligation, and his flawed vision of what the visit is going to be like. Also, the environment for him is sort of normal, even if he also sees that it is completely dysfunctional! He copes ok in there. I don't. If I weren't pregnant, I would probably suck it up (sorry, dreadful expression), even though I would still think it's too much for her and would end with a big blow up and bad feelings just before we leave. But being pregnant is forcing me to think that I can't do it this time.

The pretty much unanimous view of the thread is echoing my own instincts. So we're going to have to sort out an alternative. Argh! Thank you to all who've posted.

SweetCarolinePomPomPom Wed 13-Nov-13 08:24:47

I think she is desperate to spend time with her son, yes, but I think you are probably wrong about her being desperate for it to be in her house. I am sure so long as she gets to spend as much time with him as possible she would not especially care where he (and certainly not you you!) spent the night. I realise you need to find a solution that keeps her happy but there is more than one way to skin a cat! For a start you can't surrey be considering eating Christmas dinner there?! Can you take her out for lunch somewhere instead?

1charlie1 Wed 13-Nov-13 08:34:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

You wrote this earlier:-

"I like the idea of boundaries, but strangely the condition of her house is the elephant in the room"

I think you need to read more about the dynamics behind why hoarders actually hoard.

The above is actually not strange at all; throwing anything away is complete and utter anathema to a hoarder. Attempts to discard things often bring up very strong emotions that can feel overwhelming, so the hoarder tends to put off or avoid making decisions about what can be thrown out.

Also hoarding can be and is often associated with other mental health issues. Apart from OCD it is also linked with anxiety and depression. Hoarding is truly a serious mental health problem.

I also think that your DH is under obligation to his mother but that does not mean that you have to be beholden to such a person.

Why do you think she is desperate for you to spend any time in her house?. That is mere supposition on your part, the woman cannot abide you or her son for that matter.

"There is more than one way to skin a cat" - you make hoarding sound like it is solvable. It is not easily solved and not at all without his mother's complete co-operation along with in patient therapy. Two weeks will achieve nothing but misery for you and your H.

You could well end up blaming yourself, his mother and your DH for putting you in such a situation in the first place. Your safety comes first now along with that of your unborn child.

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 08:59:55

Thank you, Attila. And yes, I acknowledge she is quite seriously mentally ill. I also acknowledge that she loathes me, principally because I removed her son from her 'hoard'. She has on a number of occasions tearfully observed to me that she is no longer the next-of-kin for either of her (married) sons, an observation which is bizarre, to say the least.

I'm not sure about the 'skin a cat' comment, as I didn't make it in any of my posts. But I know MIL is never going to seek treatment, and will likely die in the environment she has created. And I am a quite mystified that DH has agreed to us re-entering the lion's den, although I understand that the circumstances surrounding our visit are not usual.

However, we have stayed with her before, it was disastrous, and I am going to have to assert that we don't do it again. But it's the practicalities of this conversation that I'm finding difficult. I don't want to hurt her, and we will achieve nothing by, as I said in my earlier post, 'staging an intervention' two weeks before we leave the country. Any suggestions which avoid insinuating that her house is too dirty?

HopeClearwater Wed 13-Nov-13 09:16:33

Any suggestions which avoid insinuating that her house is too dirty?

Can your DH really not say this to her?

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 09:23:41

Do you think I'm being too sensitive here? Oh God, it's just the idea of basically saying that the way she lives is potentially dangerous to her unborn grandchild, so we won't be staying! I guess we could say that it's too long a time, and she's in the middle of 'sorting the house' (which is true - she's always in the middle of sorting the house, which consists of moving piles from room to room) it would be more convenient if we stay nearby and visit. Maybe that would work...

2rebecca Wed 13-Nov-13 09:41:21

I wouldn't stay there, I wouldn't be pussy-footing around the hoarding either. She has to see that her lifestyle has consequences. It's difficult for hoarders to change but it is possible and if relatives they love tell them they aren't visiting because their house isn't a pleasant environment due to the hoarding they may decide to change (but probably won't). You talk about not wanting to hurt her but she is hurting herself by not getting help for the hoarding because it is isolating her as no--one wants to visit an unpleasant house.
Staying nearby and visiting sounds better.

DistanceCall Wed 13-Nov-13 09:43:13

You (or rather, your husband - her son) are going to have to tell her that you won't be staying in her house. Try the "sorting the house euphemism", but it's likely that she'll just say that she'll clear up some space for you among the boxes. In which case you'll just have to tell her that it's too dirty.

Yes, she's going to be upset. Brace yourself for that.

But that's what you need to do. Anything else is exposing yourself and your unborn child to a serious health hazard.

Meerka Wed 13-Nov-13 09:43:45

I know you don't want to cause and create ructions and a more tactful message is better if possible.

But if she doesn't buy it, or even if she does, I'm afraid you might have to face the possibility of a fall out, much as you don't want it. She does not sound reasonable and people can sometimes get the hump over the smallest things. If she does get upset you can still send her baby pictures and all the info you can; at least that way she will have some contact, even if she can't stand you personally.

But like everyone else I think your baby's health, and your own peace of mind are more important than anything else. By a long long way.

You do not want a fall out but this really has already happened because of her own behaviours towards you. She has acted unreasonably throughout towards you aside from her hoarding issues.

I think your H is deeply ashamed of his mother's hoarding and has lived with her hoarding problems for many years. Hoarding often starts in adolescence and becomes worse through adulthood.

She will have to be told by your H that a visit to her house is not possible. End of. She will not like it regardless and will throw her toys out of the pram but your health and safety now is of far more importance particularly as you are pregnant.

From the International OCDFoundation on the subject of Hoarding:-
"Hoarding usually begins early in life, though onset can vary greatly. It can occur in children, and we have seen it as young as 3-years old. For young children, hoarding may look different because parents control what children can buy and the level of clutter in their rooms. More apparent in children are extremely intense attachments to objects and the tendency to personify things, applying human-like characteristics to objects. In addition, children who hoard seem to have more difficulty recognizing hoarding behaviour as a problem.

The typical age of onset for hoarding behaviour (though not hoarding disorder) is around age 13. At that time the behaviour is usually mild and would not be considered a disorder. Hoarding typically progresses to become a moderate problem in the 20’s and 30’s, and a severe problem in the 40’s and 50’s. Onset appears to be earlier in women than in men, though hoarding occurs more frequently in men than in women. Late onset of hoarding (after age 40) is rare and seems to occur in people who have mild hoarding to begin with and suffer a loss of some kind. Most people who hoard describe a chronic course, while a small number describe an increasing or fluctuating one. Stressful and traumatic events are common in people who hoard and may be associated with periods of worsening symptoms. Recent epidemiological studies suggest that as many as 1 in 20 people have significant hoarding problems.

Hoarding is a complex disorder that is believed to be associated with 4 underlying characteristics. First there are certain core vulnerabilities including emotional dysregulation in the form of depression or anxiety along with family histories of hoarding and generally high levels of perfectionism. Second, people who hoard appear to have difficulties processing information. In particular, these difficulties appear as problems in attention (including ADHD-like symptoms), memory, categorization, and decision-making. The areas of the brain that control these functions roughly correspond to the brain regions that have been shown to activate differently in people who hoard. Third, people who hoard form intense emotional attachments to a wider variety of objects than do people who don’t hoard. These attachments take the form of attaching human-like qualities to inanimate objects, feeling grief at the prospect of getting rid of objects, and deriving a sense of safety from being surrounded by possessions. Fourth, people who hoard often hold beliefs about the necessity of not wasting objects or losing opportunities that are represented by objects. Additional beliefs about the necessity of saving things to facilitate memory and appreciation of the aesthetic beauty of objects contribute to the problem".

Apologies for wrongly attributing the other comment to you, had some crossed wires there!. Again sorry.

Your MIL also likely has other serious mental health problems associated with hoarding (I mentioned anxiety and depression but that only scratches the surface really); this lady cannot be reasonable even if hoarding was not an issue. She does not like you and cannot cope with you visiting. If anything of hers is moved she will have a right old go at the two of you.

It is not your fault that she is this way. I also think your DH is a big part of the problem here along with his mother. And I do not think you can do much about him either. He grew up with hoarding after all.

Again from the OCDFoundation":- (as US based website on the subject of hoarding)

"Adult children often have a very strained relationship with their hoarding parent. As adult children move out of the home, they may become estranged from their hoarding relative due to disagreements about how hoarding should be handled. Adult children may also blame the parent for the condition in which they were forced to live as a child. As these children marry and have children of their own, they are most likely resistant to ever bringing their children over to their parent’s home. They are embarrassed and would not like their children to model the hoarding behaviours they see. Therefore, grandparents may be isolated from their grandchildren as hoarding may be seen as a bad influence. Not only does this create distance in the family, but the person who hoards becomes even more isolated. Adult children often copy or oppose the behaviour that they witnessed as a child. Either hoarding behaviours are learned and repeated, despite living separately, or the adult child, embarrassed and disgusted at how they lived, keep next to nothing. For example, if a daughter has observed her mother’s hoarding early in life, and then moves out, she may be more likely to develop her own hoarding problem as a result of watching her mother. In addition, if a divorce resulted due to the hoarding, adult children may blame the break up of their family on the person who hoarded. They may have been taken away from their parent, causing feelings of abandonment, as though inanimate objects meant more to their parents than they did. This causes significant psychological distress and often impacts their future relationship behaviours.

Not only do the affected family members suffer the physical and emotional effects of hoarding, but so does the person who hoards. For example, the person who hoards may resent loved ones who offer advice, but little help. Those who live alone may resent family members that stay away. Extended family members may feel shame related to the hoarding problem in the family and will keep the person who hoards from the rest of the family".

Matildathecat Wed 13-Nov-13 13:52:15

OP, I'm a midwife and I forbid strongly advise against staying there. So would any other mw or GP. You've spent nights cannot even dream of how much worse this could be in a squalid bathroom. You could easily be hospitalised.

So tell you DH in words of one syllable that however badly you both feel for her, unborn babe and you are the priority. Actually I'm really touched by the sacrifice you are both willing to make in going there at all. You sound so nice.

Anyway, tell her regretfully but definitely that your mw and GP have insisted that you must not be in contact with xyz( insert whatever applies here that is undeniable yet inoffensive). Of course you still want to spend lots of time with her. Tell her once the new arrangements have been made and well before Christmas.

Good luck and best wishes.

cjel Wed 13-Nov-13 14:02:35

OP. Please don't stay there, Her hurt feelings are nothing compared to the danger to your babyx

louiseaaa Wed 13-Nov-13 14:12:55

With my Mum, who was definately a hoarder, I never took my hubby home to her house - ever-. I stepped up when visits were talked about and just said that it wasn't possible for xyz reason, even though she knew and I knew it was because of the state of the house.... but I did visit alone and she did acknowledge that it was not normal - but just the way she was. And I accepted that, but refused to take my children there either because of it. She was always welcome at our house and did take advantage of that. It worked for me, less so for dh, bless him, but he tried to understand too. If it is possible I would suggest you have a robust alternative in place, such as a rented cottage, and you ask your partner to just say it like it is - "we are here" "come and visit us" "It's not possible to stay with you this time" I bet that presented with this (ie don't try and find your excuses) she will actually capitulate - because the alternative will be to mention that white elephant in the room - except she will have to - not you. Good luck and you are being way more tolerant than my partner was

Mellowandfruitful Wed 13-Nov-13 14:24:08

This is not really about the hoarding side of this - though I am interested in the suggestions - but about your MIL being unable to fly. Has she specifically been told there is no way round this? I have a clotting conditions and have several clots myself - I can be medicated for flying and have even done 24-hour long-haul flights. Of course your MIL's age and other factors may be an issue, but it's worth checking on as I wondered whether you might feel better about setting boundaries now if the door is left open for her to visit you, as well as vice versa, after you move.

Loopyloulu Wed 13-Nov-13 14:47:07

You shouldn't stay there.

You are continually mentioning the upset not staying would cause others. Do you have a habit of protecting people from the consequences of their behaviours? Because that is what you are doing.

Your DH's focus ought to be you and your unborn child. His mother's needs should come 2nd.

I doubt she would be distraught. And if she is- well, that's her issue really. She might be upset, at first, but perhaps this is the wake up call she needs to get her life back into some kind of order.

If you go, you are in effect saying that her way of living is acceptable. It's not. Maybe for her but not for visitors. It certainly won't be a suitable home to take a baby into.

We've stayed elsewhere when visiting in laws for far less serious reasons- namely saggy mattresses and only 1 loo between 6 people. I can't understand why you are putting everyone else before yourself. You are also vetoing any suggestions- so do you want helpful suggestions or just to complain about it when your mind is made up?

Loopyloulu Wed 13-Nov-13 14:51:36

BTW has your DH talked to her GP? Is he just washing his hands of her? Not sure how old she is but suspect late 50s, early 60s? Not old by any means and she ought to have some professional help- which means the family faces up to what she is doing instead of condoning it by refusing to do anything to rock the boat.

Loopyloulu Wed 13-Nov-13 14:58:16

Just one other thought- Your DH seems to pander to her whims BUT he is willing to take a job on the other side of the world which will mean he rarely sees her.

Does this not strike you as slightly odd?

Is it a form of escape for him?

I'm asking because my DH has often had the chance to work overseas and I've always turned it down as an idea because we have always lived 4 hrs drive from my family and that's enough- I don't want to be in another country now that they are old.

I find it slightly odd that he is jumping every time she says jump, but in effect extracting himself from her life at the same time.

Any thoughts?

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 17:47:16

Thanks so much for more helpful posts. I don't mean to seem as though I'm vetoing suggestions, in fact, I'm grateful for all perspectives outside of mine and DH's. And I have decided - largely thanks to this thread, but really because the thread just affirmed my instincts - that staying there is not an option.

The only thing I do feel I am vacillating with regards to is how best to tell her.

Someone observed (can't scroll! apologies!) that I am overly concerned with the upset this will cause her. Yes, I am very concerned about this, possibly because I fear her irrational behaviour. It reminds me of my own violent mother as a child, and there is definitely within me a desire to buffer all hostile situations, in order to 'control' the consequences i.e. to avert aggression. In a way I feel my MIL has been 'brought to me' in order to help me resolve some of these tendencies, rather than to repeat what I have learned as a child. People can get angry, even extremely angry, and the world will not end. But it's very difficult for me. The idea of actively bringing someone's displeasure upon myself is anathema.

Loopyloulou, DH definitely displays aspects of a 'rescuer', and feels responsible for his mother, as his father has suffered from significant mental illness in the past (he is in remission, if that is the correct term) and was violent to MIL, among many other destructive behaviours. DH's brother couldn't get out of the family home fast enough, while DH sacrificed much in order to nurse his DF, and keep his parents functioning. I think DH sees this move overseas as a chance to make a good life away from the terrible burdens which were imposed- and which he accepted - from his DPs. But he's still enmeshed in the protector/rescuer dynamic.

Thanks for the great info, Attila. And you're right, DH says he doesn't remember anything like the conditions now when he was a child. I've seen photos of perfectly normal family parties, with normal kitchen and living room. She has worsened hugely with age.

To the poster who mentioned the flying, she has had a number of major surgeries in recent years, and is generally not particularly mobile. I cannot imagine she would cope long haul. She said her specialist said she could not fly. I don't know if this is true, but I can believe it based on her general condition.

To the midwife poster, thank you. I will be talking about all these things with DH tonight, and the health of the baby is the most important thing to both of us.

Holdthepage Wed 13-Nov-13 17:58:02

OP when you move abroad will you stay with her when you return to the UK for visits with a child? I think not. When your baby is born you will not allow them to stay in the squalid conditions you have described, so at some point you will have to tell her that her house is not suitable to have overnight guests staying. Confronting it now will just save upset later.

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:02:39

Oh, louiseaaa! I just saw your post. DH kept me well away from his mother for a long time after we got together. But when we finally went to visit, he had not mentioned that his mother was a hoarder to me, and when I saw the state of the house, I assumed it was so bad because she'd been chronically ill for some time hmm! It was only after she'd bawled me out for putting a ripped cardboard box in the recycling that I started to do make the connection. It's only very recently that DH has started to use the term 'hoarder' in relation to his DM. And she certainly does not have the awareness of your DM i.e. that she has a 'problem'. She just laughs and says, 'Oh, I keep everything!'

I like your 'We're here' fait accomplis. And you're right - I'm sure she will capitulate rather than admit the obvious. Thank you.

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:10:16

Loopyloulou I just saw your other post about the possibility that DH is 'washing his hands' of his DM. I cannot begin to tell you how wrong this suggestion is (I know that you're only speculating based on the information I have so far provided). The amount of support DH has given to both his selfish, dysfunctional parents, at HUGE personal cost i.e. of his career, his financial security, his emotional wellbeing, is unbelievable. There is, believe it or not, another son in the family, who lives literally around the corner, has lived an utterly conventional life, lovely home, family etc and has done bloody nothing for either of his parents. It's DH's turn to have a life.

NumptyNameChange Wed 13-Nov-13 18:26:31

agree dh should be free to go have a life but none the less someone does need to have a word with her gp and ask them to visit her. it is not safe and by the sounds of it she will have no one once you're gone as the other brother doesn't get involved. be good to know you've done what you can to try and get her some help.

just a thought but could you call the SIL and ask her how she's handled it and whether she'd consider putting the two of you up for part of the time?

NumptyNameChange Wed 13-Nov-13 18:27:53

i don't mean to be antagonistic but there is a difference between helping and enabling and possibly dh has done more of the latter? helping would mean confronting the reality and expressing concerns to her and to health professionals not colluding in denial and fearing mentioning it.

louiseaaa Wed 13-Nov-13 18:31:41

Actually even if loopyloulou is right - as in getting away from being responsible for his DM, it's IMHOP the right thing for him to do - he's also responsible for your child, and if it takes moving such a distance away for him to focus on you then that is what he needs to do. The fact that you are going and supporting him is great. What both of you need to discuss (rather than sweep under the carpet) all of this stuff about his parent that this thread has brought up. How do your parents feel about it?

Feel free to ignore x I am a nosey bugger :D

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:35:48

Yes, Humpty, I think you're right. But I think the enabling came after the helping! DH has repeatedly tried to help his DM organise things, and has been met with repeated hostility. His options were to 'work around' the glaring issues, for the sake of 'harmony' (such as it is!) or do what his DB has done and generally avoid his DM. His DM is a retired health professional, which does complicate things. She still has a profile in the local medical community. God knows what she'd do if DH called her GP!!!! The mind truly boggles...

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:41:49

louiseaaa we are going to have a BIG chat tonight! I've tried not to talk to my DPs too much about this, although they know my MIL is difficult, and I think my DM was pretty surprised when I said we were staying there before flying out. She and dad are giving us some Christmas dosh, which is now earmarked for a B&B. We've been invited to stay with a number of friends too - everyone wants a piece of us before we leave, thank goodness!

louiseaaa Wed 13-Nov-13 18:50:55

best of luck then.... I think you have a plan :D

2rebecca Wed 13-Nov-13 19:24:37

There is nothing your MIL's GP can do unless she wants to change. Hoarding isn't an illness that will respond to a few tablets. It's changing deep rooted habits and she has to want to change for any therapy to have a chance. Psychological services have a huge wait in the NHS anyway.
If she doesn't accept she has a problem and doesn't want to change anything then involving the GP is pointless.
Social services don't get involved in decluttering houses any more, it's too expensive and too often the place just returns to its former mess anyway. Often hoarders only "improve" when they are bad enough to need residential care and clutter isn't tolerated and they can't control the environment any more.

Fairenuff Wed 13-Nov-13 20:23:51

The bottom line is that you cannot stay there OP. So if that means that your dh won't leave you alone, it follows that he won't be staying there either.

That's the easy bit decided. What you have to discuss now is where you will stay instead and how/what you will be telling MIL. If your dh tries to persuade you to stay at her house, then your problem is really with him, not her.

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 21:57:52

Bit of an update. Had good chat to DH over a nice meal. He agreed we cannot stay with MIL, apologised for accepting the invitation and we've written out a list of our options, of which there are, fortunately, several. I've just this evening been offered a dear friends' lovely flat for the entire duration, should we need it, as they will be away. We will probably stay with MIL on our last evening, as she is driving us to the train the following day. The bedroom is ok, DH will clean the sink and loo, and we will be eating out for dinner. Now just to think about how to break the news... very matter of factly, I think. Just that we've been offered a flat to house sit, and we're going to take it. But we'll be popping in and out to say hi, and are looking forward to a nice Christmas Day. Am hoping if we're simple about it, she'll actually be relieved.
Re the GP stuff, 2rebecca, we would never contact her GP. Pretty much all her good friends are medical professionals, who I've actually met in the house on a number of occasions. If they haven't felt it necessary, with the benefit of their professional experience, to stage an intervention, I'm certainly not qualified to do so, and neither is DH.
Thanks again to all who've contributed to this thread, it has helped me so much. xx

cloudskitchen Wed 13-Nov-13 22:15:59

well done chilly. I think you've made the right but tough decision.

KouignAmann Wed 13-Nov-13 23:31:20

I have read this thread while hiding in my DPs room as the rest of his house is rendered uninhabitable by his DPs. So much resonates with me. They have lived with him since their house became unfit to live in. In the next month we will move them out. Meanwhile I cheerfully don the marigolds and harshly go through the fridge, bleach the sink and smuggle bags of rubbish out to my car to stop FIL rescuing it from the bin. They squawk in horror but I love DP and know he approves.
If I was pregnant I would run a mile for the baby's sake. You are doing the right thing. And no GP would be surprised if you rang. This is a common condition in older people sadly. Just watch your DP doesn't go the same way!

Viviennemary Wed 13-Nov-13 23:35:41

This is a difficult situation. You can't change things in this short time. It would need quite a lot of help and time from somebody who would support her to get her home cleaned up. I think the only way is to find an alternative place to stay.

Viviennemary Wed 13-Nov-13 23:36:22

Crosspost. Sorry. You made the right decision.

Just to get back to your post about medical intervention. It may well be that the friends are only allowed in part of the house, and don't recognise the extend of the problem. Or that they are embarrassed, and not sure what to do either. And think, well if the FAMILY don't do anything, it can't be as bad as I think , and it's NOT my place since I am her friend not her son/social worker/ nurse/ whatever.
I have seen people admitted for treatment, while the house was being cleaned up.
You can report to either environmental health or social services, anonymously even. If it really is as bad as you say, once it's officially brought to their attention, they will at least have a look. I would suggest environmental health, as social service and GP will have far more of a problem if the person refuses help.
Glad you have your immediate problem sorted, though !

"We will probably stay with MIL on our last evening, as she is driving us to the train the following day. The bedroom is ok, DH will clean the sink and loo, and we will be eating out for dinner".

I would not do this either and I would make alternative arrangements to get yourselves to the train the following day.

As for DH cleaning her sink and toilet, well I would not do that either. Nothing you do or say whilst you are there would make any real difference whatsoever. And what if she starts on at you or both of you again?.

"Pretty much all her good friends are medical professionals, who I've actually met in the house on a number of occasions. If they haven't felt it necessary, with the benefit of their professional experience, to stage an intervention, I'm certainly not qualified to do so, and neither is DH".

But you're still considering visiting albeit for one evening.

I doubt very much these people can or will say anything; its not their place to do so as they perhaps feel that this is a matter for family. Also what sort of medical people are they?. They are probably only allowed in the less cluttered areas also.

You seem and feel almost as obligated to this woman as your DH is even after all the awful behaviour she has thrown in your direction.

Loopyloulu Thu 14-Nov-13 08:21:41


I'm glad you have some other plans now.

I wanted to clear up my perceived comments earlier. I wasn't for a moment suggesting your DH was washing his hands of her, in a premeditated way. What I meant was how could he cut the amount of contact so radically after having been so involved, when I assume working overseas was a choice, not something imposed on him? It's not a criticism, but a question!

I agree with Attila. Staying for 1 night is foolish. If you become ill then it will be at the start of your journey. It's also appeasing her without treating her like an adult - who has the choice to clean her house or, face the consequences.

Finally, my late MIL suffered from mental health issues for 20 years before her death brought on in the main by self neglect. We live at a distance but my DH was fully involved in supporting her via her GP- having phone discussions with him when he thought she was slipping back again ( into anorexia amongst other things.)

Your MIL would never know who had spoken to her GP. There are ways and means of them contacting her, or putting SS onto the case because it's a mental health issue.

Her friends- whether they are medics or road sweepers!- will not feel it's their role to interfere. have you not considered that they might be shaking their heads in despair wondering why her 2 able sons don't do anything to help her- via professional help?

NumptyNameChange Thu 14-Nov-13 08:26:35

agree about not staying the night. if you are never going to stay there with a baby/child then the we don't stay at your house line is going to have to be drawn and will be easier to draw now i'd have thought. delaying it to next time won't help.

chillywindows Thu 14-Nov-13 08:33:02

MIL has many good friends. She is actually very generous, and would do anything for them. I have been with various of them in the worst room of the house (in my opinion), which is the kitchen/ dining area. It's all pretty bad, but this is where there are piles of dirty dishes, slimy gunk, bits of rotting food 'for the compost', floor covered in paper and less pleasant detritus, benches piled high with all matter of things etc etc. MIL is not trying to hide anything, she's in complete denial about the actual state of her house. She seems to enjoy the moniker of 'charming eccentric' among her friends. confused I imagine that anyone in her past life who has expressed concern for her environment is no longer around. And about DH being the one to seek help for her because he is 'family'- I can't express my frustration at the sheer bloody amount of help DH has attempted - and failed - to give both his dysfunctional DPs. And amazingly for such a fabulous, caring man, he's had enough. He's finally making sane choices about her i.e. WALK AWAY, rather than bending over for yet another kicking. No more.

But DH is not going to cut her off, particularly at this time. Attila, she wants to drive us to the train before we leave. How could he say no? It would be cruel (and her car is ok). She's not coming to the airport. As for the staying on the last night thing. It's not a matter of convenience for us i.e. staying there does not make the logistics of our journey any easier, so I think it's just DH and I making more gestures of appeasement. But it's a pointless gesture, and I don't want to stay there at all. I think we'll be having another chat tonight! Bloody hell...

Loopyloulu Thu 14-Nov-13 08:37:41

Harsh words. 'Man up Chilly'.

Stop tiptoeing around her. Put yourself first.

How can you say no to a lift to the station? Easy- you tell her you have either booked a taxi from the flat, or she can drive to the flat and pick you up there, so it won't put her to any trouble. She can meet you at the station if she likes.

You are still avoiding the issue of your DH talking to her GP- don't know why?

chillywindows Thu 14-Nov-13 08:42:55

Loupyloulou, I think DH has been trying to escape the suffocating obligations imposed upon him by his DPs for years. His brother has managed to completely extricate himself despite living in close proximity. DH was always being drawn back, despite at times living much further away. (Although when I met him he was actually living back IN the house, helping his mother recover from her chronic illness.) So a merely physical removal of oneself from the situation - be it to the other side of the country or the other side of the world - is not the same as being able to withdraw mentally/ emotionally, and I am so glad we're not staying in the house now. It gives DH a chance to change the dynamic between them even before we get on the plane.

chillywindows Thu 14-Nov-13 08:48:14

No I'm not, Loupyloulou. DH is not going to speak to the GP because he's sick of having to parent his useless parents. We are snowed under with the logistics of my difficult pregnancy, moving our lives and work over to the other side of the planet and saying goodbye to the people who actually care about us and support us. More intervention in the life of a woman who DOES NOT WANT IT is a bit too much to contemplate at the moment.

Loopyloulu Thu 14-Nov-13 09:11:25

I see where you are coming from - really do. But at the same time I'd have thought that as you are both going to be half way across the world and he has put so much effort into it all to date, it would be fitting to say to her GP that he can no longer support her day to day, but that in his opinion she needs help- so over to them.

How old is she by the way? That makes a difference. If she is elderly and frail, her home will be a huge risk in terms of falls, more than anything else.

Anniegetyourgun Thu 14-Nov-13 12:30:54

Not an expert here, but I have worked a little bit on the periphery of social services and the main principle seems to be that people have a choice to live the lifestyle they want, whether or not the rest of society would throw their hands up in horror. Mental capacity has to be very severely impaired before the professionals will swoop in and force somebody to clean their house, feed themselves etc, and it doesn't sound as if the OP's MIL is in that situation at the moment. She is clearly unwell but she is functioning day to day, albeit in a way most of us would find unacceptable. She eats, she drives, she has friends in. The Powers That Be will not make her miserable by forcing change upon her. If she were trying to change and needed support it would be a different story - her sons really should be pushing to get that support. But she isn't. So there's not a lot they can do, really.

Whether this is how things ought to be is a debate for another day, but right now, this is how things are and the son contacting the GP is really not going to achieve a lot. Otherwise, as the OP has made clear, he would have done it, because he does care about his mother. (I only hope when I'm old and doolally, which is going to happen if I live long enough, my sons are as caring.) He has just had to give up, basically, because he cannot live her life for her, even if it would make that life better in theory. All he can do now, apart from keeping an eye on her from a distance, is focus his energy on the next generation, which is his primary duty.

Holdthepage Thu 14-Nov-13 13:06:35

Well done on confronting a difficult situation OP. I think your compromise solution sounds like a good alternative.

I feel relieved for you.

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