What can/should we do to help my father-in-law?
January 12, 2009 10:36 AM   Subscribe

What can/should we do to help my father-in-law? He's mismanaged his money, he's unemployed and he's in danger of losing everything.

My father-in-law is unemployed and in danger of losing his house. He has a history of mismanaging money and has not paid his bills, so everything is turned off except for the electric and water. He doesn't appear to be actively seeking work; as far as we know he has only applied for a small handful of jobs in the last few months. He does have a pension because he worked for the city, but it's not enough to cover everything. Until recently, his daughter lived with him and helped with expenses, but she just moved in with her boyfriend. She has two small children and really can't help much now that she's paying rent elsewhere.

He's either a compulsive hoarder or just an extreme slob; the house is barely fit for human habitation. He is probably depressed and has been diagnosed with ADD, but won't take medication nor seek therapy. His health insurance runs out next month and he's too young for Medicare. Fortunately, there are no drug/alcohol issues, and he's in OK health for his age. Considering his dire financial situation, he's surprisingly chipper and enjoyable to be around.

He has been divorced from my husband's mother for 30 years and is in a new relationship with a single mother of three. I am sure she can't afford to help out, even if she is willing (they've only been dating a few months). Right now she's out of the country until April. He's previously borrowed money from his 2nd (ex) wife, but she holds it over his head as she hopes they'll get back together.

We really can't help him with the bills. We are living paycheck-to-paycheck as it is, and my husband is having to take a pay cut due to the economy. This is totally stressing out my husband, and I don't know how to approach this. His family tends to be "rescuers" - everyone in his family has bailed another member out of a bad situation caused by poor decision-making. My family is pretty self-sufficient, so I have no experience with this kind of dynamic. I'm floored that my father-in-law doesn't seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation and DO something about it. It's completely foreign to me.

My husband is thinking that he might have to move in with us. I certainly don't want to see this guy on the street, but I'm also afraid of him becoming a semi-permanent resident. I don't expect him to be any more motivated to change while he's living with us, and meanwhile our standard of living will decrease. I have nightmares of piles of laundry and garbage and dishes. My husband and a previous girlfriend lived with his father before we met, and the stress of the living conditions were a factor in my husband's breakup with the girl. No amount of cajoling and encouragement has helped motivate my father-in-law to go to a doctor or find work. What do we do? What do I do if he has to move in?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Having gone through my own parental bankruptcy I can offer this advice:

Your husband's parent is an adult. Yes, he clearly has some issues (ADD) but it is still up to him to take responsibility and help himself. If he was clearly helping himself, but still not able to make a go of it, that would be one thing, but this is clearly a case of "I don't have the gumption to take care of myself". You guys are not his keepers.

If his family is more familiar with the "rescuing" mindset, perhaps they should consider the economic equivalent of an "intervention"? Talking to him about this, with that level of seriousness, including several members of the family, seems like something that might ease your husband's mind. But if after talking to him he STILL doesn't take steps to help himself and actively pull himself out of this mess, I'm at a loss to understand why you guys should risk your financial future right alonside him.

It is very, very hard to let your parents go and make their own mistakes. :) Trust me I know! But they're adults, and in the end need to be treated as such. This is his choice. Good luck. I know how hard a situation this can be.
posted by twiki at 10:45 AM on January 12, 2009

1. He doesn't have to move in. The first thing -you- should do is decide whether or not this is acceptable to you. If it is not, you need to make this clear to your husband ASAP. It would not be unreasonable of you to say no to this. I had to do this with my mother. It was not easy, but my marriage would not have endured the presence of my mentally-ill mother in the house. Make your decision, define your boundary and hold to it.

2. If you -do- take him in, you should insist on a -plan- and a -schedule- for getting him back into an independent living situation. If he is not staying permanently, that needs to be made clear -up front- to everyone involved.

3. Your husband must -insist- that he look for work, and hold him accountable if he does not. By "hold him accountable" I am talking about working directly with him to make sure he's job hunting.

I sympathize and wish you luck.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

You both have a huge problem. It might be that he becomes a permanent resident. And I think you and your husband should not enable him. Having him underfoot could cause a huge problem between you and your husband. It is your husband's job to step up and confront his dad. Can he go on welfare? Can he live in assisted-rent housing? He really needs to face his issue and survive without having to have you two bail him out. I think you are facing a huge disruption of your lives if he moves in with you. Have him seek counseling with agencies that help people in sire circumstances. If he won't take his medication for his ADD nor seek counseling why do you think you can help him. He must help himself first.
posted by JayRwv at 10:48 AM on January 12, 2009

We really can't help him with the bills. We are living paycheck-to-paycheck

You can't help with the bills, and even if you could you would only be prolonging the problem. You have to find some other angle of attack for helping him. Perhaps that means you help him come to terms with his mental health. After all, he doesn't sound like he is in any condition to either find or keep a job right now, and won't be able to until he makes some changes. You should look into whatever state resources are out there to help with this, perhaps he can get counseling, medication, or other help with little or not cost.

Whether you can get him to do this may be its own problem. Generally a direct approach is probably preferable. Lay it all out for the guy. Say, "Look, you're a mess right now, you're nearly homeless, we can help you get back on your feet, but you've got to be willing to help yourself..."

I certainly don't want to see this guy on the street, but I'm also afraid of him becoming a semi-permanent resident

You can cross that bridge when it comes. You should focus on the things you can do right now, today, to help this guy so that he can stay on his own. You may find that things are so far gone that it's best to pack him up, sell everything he has and move him in for a few months. Certainly if you do so it will be critical to have a game plan for when the guy moves in. Something like, let him move in, but the first week he has to begin counseling. You need to create achievable goals and help manage this guy toward getting better.

You've got a handful and I'm sorry you're having to deal with all this, but you're doing the right thing. Don't let your husband's father become just another faceless bum.
posted by wfrgms at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2009

While your tendency/desire to help him is admirable, these situations rarely end well for those who step in to help. He is an adult who has made the decisions which have landed him in this spot. He is not an unfortunate victim of circumstance here. Sometimes the best way to help is not to help in the manner in which you suggest, e.g., by letting him live with you. It's pretty much assured that your reaching out to him with housing help will do little to alleviate what appear to be longstanding problems for which he's made little effort to resolve on his own.

He's repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot or will not make the effort to manage his funds, look for a job, clean his home, find insurance, find medication. Do you think those things will change simply because you offer him a home? When already "no amount of cajoling or encouragement" has made that happen? When LOSING HIS HOME and LOSING HIS UTILITIES have not propelled him toward making needed changes? There's no rescuing you can do here. He's seen the signs and bypassed them, full steam ahead.

The additional dimension to this is that his family tends to be rescuers. Knowing there is a safety net makes one more prone to using one, IMHO.

It's time for him to put on his Big Boy Pants and resolve this on his own. Some toughlove might be the best course of action here, as challenging as that might be for both you and your husband. The crash will be messy and unpretty but sometimes that's the kick in pants required.

Best of luck to all of you. This is not an easy situation.
posted by December at 10:54 AM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

If he still has no income when his medical coverage runs out he will be eligible for medical benefits through welfare but don't count on welfare to help his income profile. Single men get almost nothing in cash assistance, and his pension income will make him ineligible for case benefits and maybe even foodstamps. In the meantime, you should find out what his local energy assistance programs are so he can get connected to LIHEAP and other initiatives that can help him get his utility bills under control.
posted by The Straightener at 11:37 AM on January 12, 2009

wfrgms - I don't think more guilt will help the OP. As an adult, her FIL is making his own poor choices despite the husband's (and undoubtably others') advice and help in the past.

Honestly, in your shoes, I would refuse to let him move in. I'm a very giving person but there does come a time when you need to use a little self-preservation. Your husband has choosen his father over his girlfriend in the past and I would be worried he would repeat that and again choose to prioritise his father's wants over your needs. If he moved in with a "move-out" date agreed on what happens when he has not arranged a place to go? Do you let him stay anyway? Do you then put him on the street personally? Letting him move in seems the worse possible thing you could do for both him and your relationship, enabling his behaviour while simultaneously blaming you if you try to create reasonable boundries.

You need to sit down with your husband and clearly communicate why living with you is not an option while also letting your husband know all the ways you CAN help his father become self-sufficient while emphasising he is not responsible for his adult father.
posted by saucysault at 11:38 AM on January 12, 2009

Others have hit the main points, so let me offer a secondary one:

If you tell your husband that his father moving in isn't acceptable, or otherwise that you REALLY don't want it to happen but it does anyway, then you should start doing whatever you can to disentangle your financial lives now so that when and if you get divorced, your father-in-law's problems don't wreck your life any more than they absolutely have to.

When dealing with grownups with problems, especially problems that they've refused to deal with, recognize that some people's decline is essentially inevitable or nearly so, and the first thing you need to do in that circumstance is make sure that your father in law's problems only ruin his life, and not yours.

If you have kids, you should stress your responsibilities to your children to your husband.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

The municipality where he lives may have an elder services department or something of the sort that can offer some assistance.
posted by winston at 3:50 PM on January 12, 2009

Let him hit bottom. He's not going to be motivated to change his life if others cushion him from the consequences of his actions and decisions.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:55 PM on January 12, 2009

Sounds like he might be mentally ill. He may not be able to take care of himself properly if it is untreated. Blaming him for not coping feels good but doesn't help if he really lacks the ability to cope.

How long has he been jobless? What were the circumstances when he stopped working? Is he fairly employable? Realize that in this economy even people with great resumes and skills may be busting their asses to find a job and still come up empty. His age may also dim his prospects.

Maybe my guess is wrong. But if he does have a mental illness and refuses any treatment for it, then maybe there really isn't anything you can do.
posted by marble at 5:40 PM on January 12, 2009

Is his pension enough for a cheap efficiency or senior housing? If you or the rest of the family could find him somewhere he could afford to stay, then it would probably help you when you talk to your husband about your worries about his father moving in. I have to agree that if your F-I-L moves in, he's not going to have any more reason to be motivated than he is now. Many people put off getting a job as long as they can. When getting a job sucks less than their current standard of living is when they find motivation. I'd count on it being permanent unless or until you get fed up enough to kick him out.
If he owns his home, maybe the family could pitch in to clean it so it could be rented. If he's lucky, it might be enough for him to have a little income. If not, it might cover the mortgage so he doesn't lose his home. If you can find him another place to live, setting up automatic bill pay to kick in on the date his pension comes through would at least cover the basics and help him not blow through his money.
Seriously, it's a bad idea to let him move in. Do what you can to help but I'd draw the line there. It's got a real chance of wrecking your marriage. If worse comes to worse, it sounds like ex #2 is willing to have him move in. He might not like it but he has somewhere to go. Don't let yourself get pushed into something that you know won't end well.
posted by stray thoughts at 6:23 PM on January 12, 2009

These three things stuck out to me:

My husband is thinking that he might have to move in with us.

My husband and a previous girlfriend lived with his father before we met, and the stress of the living conditions were a factor in my husband's breakup with the girl.

No amount of cajoling and encouragement has helped motivate my father-in-law to go to a doctor or find work. What do we do? What do I do if he has to move in?

Your husband let his father move in once in the past and it a) led to the break-up of his relationship and b) didn't help motivate his father to get his act together--and now he's considering bringing the same situation back into his life? And he's framing it as something that "might have to" happen? Enabling your FIL does not "have to" happen, and risking the stability of your relationship does not "have to" happen. But based on history your husband has experienced firsthand, and that you have heard about from him, those things are very likely to happen. Your FIL has made his poor choices and continues to make them regardless of the consequences to himself or his family members. You can care about him and do your best to help him, but don't let that be at the expense of your marriage. I know that this is an emotional and tough situation, so I don't mean to over-simplify, but the "have to" phrasing strikes me as extremely problematic.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:14 PM on January 12, 2009

I would suggest you make an agreement with your husband right now that under no circumstance will any member of his family ever live in your home. Even "temporarily". Period. I married a man (my beloved husband to this day!) from exactly the sort of family you describe. The boundaries were nonexistent. Everyone felt free to drop in and stay for...a month, or a year....with everyone but us.

In place of putting them up, though, what I offer to do, and have done on numerous occasions and at length, is to research and locate help his family members need. That has included help finding numerous social services, medical care, including searching out funding options for that and education opportunities, job re-training. I provide rides to doctor visits and to job interviews, and help with paperwork, make phone calls...anything short of moving them into our home. Just one time we broke that rule...a brother-in-law moved in for a week. Months later my husband and I were in therapy because my husband just couldn't ask his brother to move out. When asked by the therapist how long his brother had been in our home, Mr. Mums said "about 2 months." I had to prove to him with dates and a calendar that it had actually been 6 months; he was flabbergasted. That week we helped his brother get into a rental. The very same day he was evicted for verbally abusing and physically threatening a new neighbor. There is a reason families get into these patterns, and in my experience it isn't due simply to temporary difficulties. Meaning they won't go away on their own...neither the problems, nor the relatives. ; )

You and your husband have to put priority on your relationship and future together. You'll help with what you can (and clearly that's not finances) while keeping your family the number one priority in your lives. One reason your father-in-law may be " reasonably chipper..and enjoyable to be around" is that he may assume your hearth and home are an option for him. If you contact local city and county social service agencies and find resources for your father-in-law if he should become homeless, or need medical or mental health treatment (sounds likely), when you let him know what you've found out, he will also know what his options are...and aren't. It may add to his peace of mind to know that he won't have to move in with you, and that you have shown you care enough to help him find real, practical and long-term help beyond just a place to sleep.

I wish you the very best.
posted by mumstheword at 10:35 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, the most important thing is for you and your husband to talk, come to agreement, and present a united face. And that your agreement includes not letting your FIL come to live with you.

You might try asking your husband, "How would FIL living with us help him change? What outcome do you expect?" Maybe that will open up a conversation about exactly what "rescuing" will accomplish.

I wish you the best. It is very hard to break established family patterns, especially when you are not (by blood) part of said family.
posted by Herkimer at 10:10 AM on January 13, 2009

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