Is a complete lack of ‘life admin’ skills a common thing, particularly in older women?

(646 Posts)
ElphabaTheGreen Tue 13-Apr-21 23:27:26

DFIL died recently. DMIL (70 years old) is bereft, quite understandably, because they were that rare, utterly, utterly besotted and devoted couple from the day they met until the day he died 48 years later. I used to use the fact that they even had the one email address as testament to what an inseparable, devoted couple they were (it was

Until it became apparent, now that DFIL has gone, that the lone email address is actually testament to how utterly, utterly devoid of life admin skills DMIL is.

She had no idea how to use the email address. She had no idea how to access their bank accounts. She hadn’t the faintest idea what their incomings/outgoings/savings were. She hadn’t the first clue how to arrange the death certificate or funeral, even when given basic, basic instructions and multiple calls from the bereavement office at the hospital. You might just as well be speaking German to her as having a basic grasp of wills, probate, or transfer of any of DFIL’s accounts to her name. All queries from the solicitor get forwarded to DH to deal with - not because she’s mired in grief but because she cannot grasp requests for even basic information such as confirmation of address. She has no idea how to book her car in for an MOT, no idea how to even put screen wash in her car. My DH has been helping her with all of this, obviously, but when she asked, ‘Will I still be able to afford holidays?’ he just looked at her with slightly desperate incredulity because she wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to book one, she’s never driven further than 20 minutes from her house by herself (DFIL drove anything further) so would never know how to get to an airport or onto an aeroplane by herself, navigate a foreign country, arrange and deal with foreign currency...

DH and I thought she had managed her own father’s finances and funeral up until he died a couple of years ago but nope - DFIL did it all.

DH is gobsmacked at how lacking in basic skills she is to the point that he’s wondering if she’s even in an early stage of dementia. I don’t think she is, because she is slowly picking up on bits here and there and I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel in giving her some basic competency in running her own life. I think all of the above was just always and entirely DFIL’s responsibility in which she had zero interest so was perfectly happy leaving all the ‘hard stuff’ to him. What we’re not sure of is whether there might have been an element of DFIL realising how utterly inept DMIL was at all of it from the get go and just took over sharpish because it was easier.

What flummoxes me about this, though, is she’s the first generation of women, surely, who would have grown up with the understanding that women could and should be as self-sufficient as possible so would surely have felt some obligation to keep herself more informed and engaged, particularly in their finances? She went back to work after DH was born (their only child) so it’s not like she clung entirely to the role of 50s housewife. What’s more, she was a secondary teacher, working up until 2010 or 2011 so she would have worked well into the technological revolution. She would surely have used computers and email for work, needed to use PowerPoint, Word (DH was showing her the other day how to cut and paste in an email which was new to her...). Her main subject was home economics/food technology but I’m pretty sure her final years were spent doing relief in the one school. Looking at her now, I have a feeling she may have been one of those relief teachers who the kids were delighted to get - a period of sacking off maths because Mrs DH’sMum has no clue on the subject but instead she’d ruffle their hair and reminisce about how she taught their parents.

Before anyone suggests financial abuse on the part of DFIL - no, not the slightest chance. He was the kindest man to ever walk the earth. By contrast, if I ever needed help with childcare, it was DMIL I’d arrange it with as she was their very efficient social secretary - DFIL was scatty as fuck with anything like that. He also never ironed a shirt in his life, packed a suitcase or switched on a hoover - that was her department. So they had clearly defined roles. Nevertheless, if she’d gone first, DFIL would have managed living independently far better than it looks like she will because he knew how to function in the wider world.

Very, very long ramble to basically ask, how common is this? Is she unusually lacking in skills to manage her own life or is this an alarmingly frequent occurrence?

OP’s posts: |
Harriettheoriginalspy Tue 13-Apr-21 23:30:42

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

OppsUpsSide Tue 13-Apr-21 23:31:34

Does it really matter? It won’t have any impact on her whether there are 1000’s like her or only a handful.

MadMadMadamMim Tue 13-Apr-21 23:32:44

I don't know. My DM is mid 80s and very competent. She is perfectly able to manage all of the things you talk about.

She plays bridge at international level and has Zoom meetings and competitions with people all over the world.

I would imagine it's individual rather than generational.

OneEpisode Tue 13-Apr-21 23:33:26

In a long partnership chores are divided very clearly. DGM hadn’t used a screwdriver or managed finances until her 70’s, but learned when widowed. Be kind. She can learn.

DianaT1969 Tue 13-Apr-21 23:34:22

I don't know anyone like this. Particularly as young as 70. I've been surrounded by strong, capable females all my life.
Although women not enjoying driving (and leaving it to the man) is more common among my relatives.

rainbowthoughts Tue 13-Apr-21 23:34:50

Is she unusually lacking in skills to manage her own life or is this an alarmingly frequent occurrence?

Why do you think it's frequent?

ElphabaTheGreen Tue 13-Apr-21 23:35:29


You don’t sound very nice

hmm Charming.

I love her to bits. DH and I would say none of this to her, but we, especially DH, are shocked at how little she can manage, especially of her own finances. I can’t have a discussion on an anonymous forum about how common this level of difficulty is?

OP’s posts: |
WTF99 Tue 13-Apr-21 23:36:23

Yes, all of us older women are ignorant about how to function in the world hmm

ElphabaTheGreen Tue 13-Apr-21 23:36:32


*Is she unusually lacking in skills to manage her own life or is this an alarmingly frequent occurrence?*

Why do you think it's frequent?

I have no idea. That’s why I’m asking.

OP’s posts: |
Justaonetimeting Tue 13-Apr-21 23:36:35

I think some women lose confidence over the years. If you’re used to your dh handling all the financial stuff, driving, sorting the holidays etc then you lose your confidence and the knowledge of how to do this stuff. I think being the first generation to be more independent is a bit of a fallacy. I know many many women born in 1990 or after who don’t drive and let their dh/ dp renew the insurance, mortgage, tax etc. It’s scary really!

Changingwiththetimes Tue 13-Apr-21 23:36:40

While I'm sure there are a number of women like that, in my experience it was the woman half that did all the life administration. My mother (who would be 96 if still alive) paid all the bills, took care of getting cars taxed and serviced, and dealt wilh tradesmen. But she certainly wouldn't know how to use a computer - she could barely get her head around how a mobile phone worked!
Her sisters were the same - they took care of the financial (and domestic and social) side of the partnerships.
But really it was not that long ago that you needed your husbsmds signature on things. In the 1980s my father had to 'introduce' me to the bank so I could get an account, and I was in my 20s.
If your mother in law went straight from her own family to the married home, it is conceivable she didn't deal with the finances and left it all up to her husband. But I would not assume the majority did.

rainbowthoughts Tue 13-Apr-21 23:37:39

I can’t have a discussion on an anonymous forum about how common this level of difficulty is?

Why do you think it's common? What part of uncovering someone's struggles in life has made you decide to ask if others are the same?

mermaidsariel Tue 13-Apr-21 23:37:48

My mother was exactly the same. She also worked . He did everything practical. She ironed and did the washing. She has never been able to cook. I just don’t understand why anyone,male or female would allow someone else to run their life for them. When he died she just had no idea about how to do anything. She can’t use the internet or email. Any sort of admin flummoxes her. It’s a nightmare.

BackforGood Tue 13-Apr-21 23:38:06

Definitely what has worked for the individual couple rather than generational.
My Mum would have been 90 this year if she were still alive, and you aren't describing her in any way.
I have plenty of friends in their 70s that you aren't describing either.

Keepitonthedownlow Tue 13-Apr-21 23:38:15

I might've ended up like this with my exdh. He was very into life admin whereas I couldn't be bothered. It probably comes down to personality in some circumstances. The only way to know if it is a systematic, social phenomenon would be for some sort of research/survey data to be available.

It would be worrying if it was widespread as women tend to live longer than men on average.

ElphabaTheGreen Tue 13-Apr-21 23:38:18


Yes, all of us older women are ignorant about how to function in the world hmm

My total assumption is that you wouldn’t be, which is why I’m asking in case I’ve completely overestimated our sex, or people in general.

OP’s posts: |
Rno3gfr Tue 13-Apr-21 23:38:35

My DFIL is the same at 54. It’s the way some people tick in dedicated relationships. They get together young and become utterly dependent on each other for different things. He’s a lovely man, I have vowed to look after him should anything bad happen to DMil.

AfterSchoolWorry Tue 13-Apr-21 23:38:44

Maybe she has a learning difficulty though? Things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, processing disorder etc weren't diagnosed back when she was young.

Her dh might just have compensated.

blacksax Tue 13-Apr-21 23:41:20


You don’t sound very nice

Neither do you.

SDTGisAnEvilWolefGenius Tue 13-Apr-21 23:41:54

It doesn’t sound like financial abuse on the part of your FIL, @ElphabaTheGreen - quite the opposite. It sounds like he cared for her so well she never needed to learn how to do these things. If this is the case, I can understand why she is struggling so much at the moment - not only has she lost her soulmate, but she has been pitchforked into a complex and difficult situation where she is facing a mountain of different things to do, to organise, to understand.

Had she had to do one of these jobs on its own, without the upset of bereavement, she may well have grasped things better than she did - but she had so much to cope with all at once, and it was too much for her.

TheSpottedZebra Tue 13-Apr-21 23:42:36

I've no idea how common it is, but my mum is of similar age, and one of her friends is this to a T. She 'doesn't do': money, The Internet, turning right in a car, so many things. She was a bloody tax inspector! She could do money!

But at home their roles are firmly gender segregated. If he dies first, she'll really struggle with probate, bank accounts, The Internet. If she does first, he will marry again extremely quickly, probably. And eat sandwiches until then.

Badbadbunny Tue 13-Apr-21 23:42:45

Yep, my 79 year old MIL is the same. She hasn't a clue. Again, not dementia/alzheimers etc as she's still good at other things, but since FIL passed away (10 years ago) she has been incapable of "life admin". At one time I wondered if she could actually read because even the simplest of letters, bills, statements etc were beyond her. She just has zero comprehension skills and can't understand. As OP says, even the simplest of things, like a dentists appointment letter are alien to her and we need to read and explain to her.

vdbfamily Tue 13-Apr-21 23:43:40

I have asked my husband to compile a folder which I know how to find in event of his death. I work long hours of of house and he WFH. He deals with all our bills, finances, savings, kids school accounts, booking car in, booking holidays. I inherited a fair bit from parents and were discussed what to do with it but I left it all to him to sort out. I was however single and independent until my 30's so know what to do if I ever have to.

Wiltshire90 Tue 13-Apr-21 23:44:13

Not sure why you're getting such snooty replies OP. My mother is computer literate but has no confidence to do any life admin. She's only 65 and it drives me bonkers, particularly as I know that when my dad dies I'll be doing it all for her. Even something simple such as paying car tax she says she can't do and wants me to do for her - but she can buy things online from John Lewis! I honestly think it's learned behaviour and now a habit.

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