My mother asked me to do her a favour. I don't want to anymore...
March 17, 2014 10:39 AM   Subscribe

My mother routinely asks me to 'check on' her place when she is out of town. This has become very burdensome for me. Details below.

I love my mother and am fully prepared for the hive mind to tell me that I have to suck it up because this is one of the things we do for family. But I am not sure my mother understands how much of a production this is for someone like me who does not drive. Her place is about 15 minutes away by car, but it's double that by transit; I have to walk a fair ways to the bus stops on either end and stand outside in the cold; the path at her apartment building is often not plowed; we are looking at an hour, start to finish, to get this done.

I do have a partner who drives. But he has a chronic health condition and is very protective of the energy he spends on chores like this. She is a very social person and lives in a large building full of people her age; he can't believe she really doesn't have a single sweet old lady in the whole place whom she can trust to water her plants, empty her mail box and run the faucets for a few minutes. When I tried that one and was told she really didn't, he shrugged and pretty much said 'your mother, your problem.' If he is going out somewhere anyway, I can sometimes get him to drop me off there if I agree to make my own way home. But even then, I am left with standing in the cold after my ten-minutre shore and waiting for a bus to come and get me.

Maybe I am making too big a deal about this because it's been an unusually harsh winter and I dread the protracted journeys to get this done more than usual. Maybe it's taken on extra weight for me because I don't like fighting with the boyfriend about my mother. Or maybe my mother truly doesn't understand what the world is like for the car-free person, and doesn't appreciate what a huge burden this has become for me. How can I explain it to her? Do I have to just suck it up and keep on doing this forever, or is there a graceful way to gently ask her to start making other plans?
posted by JoannaC to Human Relations (41 answers total)
Is your current stint of checking in on her house for a set period? ie. is she away until April at which point your responsibilities are suspended? or is she away more often than she is at home?

I think your best option is that once she returns from wherever she currently is you tell her that you aren't able to continue to check in on her house while she is away. She will probably have a "Why now? What has changed?" response so be prepared for that. Obviously don't tell her you can't continue while she is away. Wait until she is home and more able to find a solution for herself before she goes out of town again.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you were going to be out of town the same week as your mother, would she cancel her trip or find someone else to check on her place? If she wouldn't cancel her trip she can make those arrangements when you tell her that you won't be able to check on her place. She might also decide her place will survive without being checked on. The majority of people just put a stop on the mail and lock everything down when they go out of town.
posted by mikepop at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you borrow her car? Otherwise just tell her you won't, but you're happy to go over the day before she leaves and help her 'gone-proof' her home (strategies such as turning off the water into the house to prevent leaks, shutting off electricity, and other such things that drastically decrease chances of severe events whilst gone).

Is there a building manager she could ask? How about a trustworthy individual who would be willing to go for 5x5 minute checkins for a total of $30-50?

You probably just need to take command of the situation. In the end no matter how great your job/friends/family are, you are your biggest advocate. I know what you feel like, because I also HATE adding an hour to my post-work commute. But other people sometimes just gloss over it, like "oh it's not a big deal"
posted by jjmoney at 10:51 AM on March 17, 2014

I am wondering if your mother could give you use of her car while she is away.

Your partner does not sound very supportive. Can you not use his car? Are you unable to drive? I recognize he has a chronic health condition, but I am a bit surprised that he doesn't loan you his car.

How often is she asking you to go over? She may really not have anyone she trusts to check in. Longer term, perhaps you can help her connect with someone.

I don't think it is unreasonable for your mom to ask for your help if she offers up her vehicle or you can use your partner's. If you can't use your partner's vehicle and he shrugs at you, I think your problem may not actually lie with your mother.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:53 AM on March 17, 2014 [39 favorites]

It really doesn't sound like you are "checking in" on her place for anything other than your mother's vague peace of mind. She can get her mail put on hold. In an apartment building I can't imagine pipes are likely to freeze and even then you could merely keep an eye on the weather and only go over if there is a really bad cold snap. She could get some of those glass bulbs full of water for the plants. She doesn't actually "need" anyone to check in on her place. So yes I would refuse to do it. I would offer to go over once every one to two weeks absolute max and maybe offer to have her bring a couple of her more delicate plants over to your place so you can water them there. But yes her request is unreasonable given the burden on you and that she doesn't need you to check in on her place, she merely wants you to.
posted by whoaali at 10:57 AM on March 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

How often do you have to check in on her place, and for what length of time (just a weekend, a week, a month)? If this is a long-term or very frequent thing I'd tell your mother that this is tough to do for her on a regular basis and see if there is anyone else who you can split the duties with - you stop by on Mondays, they stop by on Thursdays, something like that. I think that taking an hour to do this favor once a week would be a little more manageable.

Alternately, can you sweeten the deal for your partner in exchange for them helping you with this favor? Offer to treat them to their favorite cafe or something else near your mother's house?
posted by marshmallow peep at 10:57 AM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: I think it's fairly likely she doesn't realize what a pain this actually ends up being for you because the be-carred don't really get that sometimes things that are easy with a car are a huge hassle without one. Explain that to her and ask her to please find someone in her building who can do these simple tasks for her, even if it involves paying them a small amount of money to do it, because the favor she asks of you is not as small as it seems. If she has little money or less than you, consider offering to pay the person yourself.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:58 AM on March 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

To an extent, this is something we do for family. My grandparents have a farm about a half-hour's drive from my family's house in town. My dad, for his entire adult life, has always driven out there to do bare minimum farm chores (mostly feeding/caring for animals) anytime they go out of town for more than a few days.

That said, how often is this happening, and do all these tasks really need doing? If your mother goes away for a few days, she really doesn't need anyone to check her mail or turn on her faucets, or just generally "check up on the place" whatever the hell that even means. That's a little outrageous. If she's such an avid gardener that she has a lot of plants with demanding watering schedules that need a special visit if she leaves for more than a day, she should incorporate a house-sitter into the cost of her gardening hobby, not expect you to do it when it's obviously inconvenient.

Also, I think your patience about this should depend on how often it's happening. If she is away for months at a time, she should deal with that on her own, probably by partially closing up her place (suspend mail delivery, getting rid of plants, batten down the hatches, etc). If she wants you over there every time she goes out of town for a weekend, you can feel justified in saying no, because that's way too demanding. But if this is like her going on a five day cruise once a year? Suck it up and help her out, to the extent that it's practical.
posted by Sara C. at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: Not trying to thread-sit, just to clarify---

1) Typically, she is away for at least three months in the winter (ending in two weeks) and then a few weeks in the summer. Obviously, I will maintain it until she comes home. Bit next year, I really want her to find another option.

2) I don't drive, and even if I did, they take the car with them for the winter. By next year, I may be driving and therefore able to borrow the partner's car. But there are other things which may be different by then too, including where we live in relation to her, so I don't want to plan based on this possibility.

3) Yes, he could be more supportive about this issue. But he's not, and that's the way it is. He has his own baggage with his own mother which is coloring the issue for him, and I empathize with that but try to stay out of it. When it's really important to me, he comes to family stuff, but when it's not important, I try and leave him out of it.
posted by JoannaC at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2014

Every family is different, so "this is just what you do" really depends. It's what my family does, but maybe not your family. In my world, I would gladly look after a parent's home while they are away. And they wouldn't ask unless it was important and there was no other real way and it wasn't too hard for me to do. And I would have little patience for a partner who would leave me to fend for myself in the cold at the side of the road while they toodled on home in their toasty and dry car.

I think you're going to have to have at least one conversation, and maybe two. There are watering systems for plants, and mail can be put on hold. I have no real experience with frozen pipes, but if she lives in an apartment is that really an issue (given that the pipes and water moving through them are shared with her neighbors)?
posted by Houstonian at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2014

I don't drive (although I have a license, which it sounds like you might not) so I totally feel your pain on this. Although I agree, generally, we do things which are inconvenient for our families because that's part of love, I also think that you have to calculate which things to do and which not.

What are you checking on, exactly? An apartment in a secure building (that is, one with an exterior door that requires a key to enter) does not really need "checking up on" while the tenant is gone, in my opinion. Pets (fish, for instance) might or plants might need watering or mail might need to be checked. But mail can be put on hold; plants can have auto-watering bulbs. You can set lights and radios on timers to give an appearance of occupancy. Building management should be able to handle any real disasters.

If your mom just wants a warm body in her empty space from time to time while she travels, this seems like a request you can honestly say "no" to, by explaining how difficult it is for you, especially given the lack of benefit to your mother.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:01 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would be easier to advise if you gave more information. If she was gone for a month at a time 2 or 3 times a year I'd offer different advice than if she was gone for a week at a time 12 times a year. If she's gone for a long time when she does leave I'd say try and just move her plants that need watering most often to your place (if you have the room) or use one of those glass bulb things whoaali mentioned. You canget her mail forwarded to your place or put a hold on it. It's very cheap to do mail forwarding in the US and you can specify start/stop dates if you know when you're going to be gone.

That leaves checking on faucets which in an apartment I can't imagine needing to be done very often.

Basically, it really depends on the specifics of how often you need to do it. If she's never gone for very long when she's out of town I'd just tell her she'll have to make other arrangements and find other people to help out.
posted by Green With You at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2014

This sounds like a situation where there should be a stop on the mail, the plants should be temporarily relocated to your place for watering, and the building owner should take care of running the taps (although I've never heard of this need for an apartment/condo).

Or a house-sitting service. They can water the plants and run the taps and collect the mail, for a fee.

Or one of your mom's friends could do her a favor, or switch off with you.
posted by zennie at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

In my world, there's no way to say no to this. But some of that depends on how often you are checking in. Once a month? Suck it up. Things can happen, and it's nice to have someone come by and check that nothing bizarre did and your daughter is more trustworthy than a casual acquaintance. Once a week? Excessive.

Your partner isn't refusing to do your mother the favour, he's refusing to do you a favour. I know it depends on what his chronic condition is, but "I have issues with my mother, therefore I won't drive you somewhere" is pretty much punishing you, not your mother.
posted by jeather at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2014 [38 favorites]

Does she do any favors for you?
posted by Wordwoman at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

On your update, yeah, she needs to close up/winterize her apartment during the times of the year she's not living there. This is completely beyond the call of familial duty.
posted by Sara C. at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think your plan of attack is:

1) Finish out the next two weeks. Hell, yes, but you did agree to do it.

2) "Mum, I love you and I know how much you did for us growing up, but this is becoming a really difficult thing to do while you're away because (insert text from your question here). Why don't we ask nice Mrs Johnson from across the hall to keep an eye on things most of the time when you're away this summer, and I'll drop by once in a week to make sure everything's fine?"

The issues with your partner being unsupportive are more complex, and a conversation between you two is indicated.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have the mail forwarded to you, bring the plants to your place, and problem solved. The water does not need to be run in an apartment building.
posted by HotToddy at 11:10 AM on March 17, 2014 [19 favorites]

There are bonded, insured people she can hire to do this, and they tend to have resources (known good plumbers etc) for if there are issues.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:16 AM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with jeather. The frequency of the visits affects this hugely. Even without a car once a month would not be something I would deny my mother, even without a car. I went years and years without a car, it is hugely inconvenient and a big deal that people with cars seem to disregard. Simple things like getting groceries was such as massive hassle. But taking an hour a month to check on your mother's house (albeit unnecessarily) doesn't seem like such a big request. You should still talk with her and ascertain whether or not the house even NEEDS to be checked in on. I agree it really does seem unnecessary. Other commenters here have offered solutions that would take away the need for visits (ie. getting the mail stopped or forwarded to you, housing the plants at your apartment while she is gone, hiring someone else to do this, etc), so suggest those to your mom when you tell her you cannot continue.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:20 AM on March 17, 2014

Hi Mom, I can't commit to checking on your apartment the next time you are away [insert reasons if desired]. But I'm happy to help you find a trustworthy house-sitter. I can also help you close up before you leave, and you can have your mail forwarded to my place. What do you think?
posted by bunderful at 11:24 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am +1ing the sentiment that people who use cars don't 'get' how much your relation to space and time change (in much of the US) if you don't drive.

But instead of trying to explain, just propose a reduction in frequency. This may be better than proposing she hire someone because it's possible that she might get social value from being able to say that she has a daughter checking on her home ("look at how well I've done mothering: my spawn does things for me and is close by").
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:39 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since the main problem is transportation, ask your mom to pay for a taxi each way.
posted by desjardins at 11:40 AM on March 17, 2014 [19 favorites]

You're stuck until she gets back this year, but you can always say to her, "I love you, but this damn near killed me this year. Please find someone else to do this."

You are perfectly within your rights to say no if it's burdensome.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:42 AM on March 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

Three _months_? This is not the efficient way to do this. You are totally justified due to personal inconvenience, but even if this person lived next door, I'd suggest a very different approach for a 3-month absence (similar to zennie's and others' comments above).
posted by amtho at 11:50 AM on March 17, 2014

How can I explain it to her?

Could you maybe have her accompany you on a trip via public transit from your place to hers and back at the time you would normally do this, so she can actually experience what a hassle it is? (I mean, the weather two weeks from now will (hopefully) be better, but she'll still maybe get a sense of what a time-sink the round trip is.)

Nthing the suggestions that the tasks she's asking you to do could (and, honestly, probably should) be easily covered by other methods, especially if she's going to be gone for weeks or months, and that it's likely she's asking you to do these minor things because it just hasn't occurred to her that it's a big hassle for someone who doesn't drive.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:52 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe on some of your endless visits over there this year you can befriend one of her neighbors and ask them to take care of it for you - problem solved! Really though, your mom may not want a non-family member coming in her house.

If she is gone for more than two weeks, she needs to "winterize" - move the plants to your house (1 trip!) or have fewer plants, stop or forward mail service, and turn the water to the unit off and drain the pipes.
posted by amaire at 11:56 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

How often do you check-in? Once every three months? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day?

Regardless, I agree with zennie's first paragraph. But if she's asking you to come once per three months, I would suck it up.
posted by valeries at 11:57 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since she is gone for an extended period of time, perhaps she could sublet her place, or AirBnB it in the summer months when she is gone for only a handful of weeks. If that is a possibility, the plant watering can be put on the sub-letter. Your mom may also have peace of mind in getting someone in her place for the entire time and covering expenses on the side - or not if she does not want non-family members in her home.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 12:21 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

For now, nth taxi + using time at your mom's place to do something you'd need quiet for (reading, writing); later, winterize for sure!
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:38 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am more or less you (carless, and with a mother four city bus trips away asks me to house-sit now and again) with the added proviso that I have to be there every day or two at least -- there are cats to be fed -- and limitation that her trips are much shorter (weeks, not months). I may have missed it above, but could you not do as I do and just relocate there for the duration? Would this place too much stress on your commuting time otherwise? The SO could visit whatever works best for you and you get a change of pace.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:52 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe once your mom comes back, you could sit down with her for an afternoon and interview potential house sitters together? Sometimes it's hard for older people to trust strangers. If she interviewed several house sitters and picked the best one, perhaps that would put her mind at ease? You could help her do background checks and call references and such.

(I'd give anything to have my mom just 15 minutes a way. She's 7 hours away and I miss her so.)
posted by Ostara at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2014

Yes, this needs to be set up differently. There is absolutely no need for you to be heading over there. Work on that. If you are going to be around next winter arrange for the mail to be stopped and get her to drop her plants off at your place. If you're not going to be around get her to look into befriending somebody, paying somebody to do this.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:45 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Even if you did have a car, it still wouldn't make sense to have you going over there all the time for a couple chores that could be more easily taken care of the way others have suggested.
posted by sam_harms at 2:22 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

She may not know her neighbors well enough to trust them with something like this (the stakes are higher for older people, so the risks of letting strangers into the house might feel too high).

I've been thinking about this kind of thing lately. If your Mom knew her neighbors better, her life might be a bit easier. So, here's an off-the-wall suggestion:

How about helping her host a couple of pot-lucks or (other type of gathering) for the neighbors who live closest? It might feel safer for her if these were held someplace other than her home -- an outdoor area, a condo clubhouse, something close and simple. Getting people to attend won't be that easy; she'd have to invite people personally rather than just sending out an E-vite or whatever, but it could be a real boon to the whole group, not just her.
posted by amtho at 2:38 PM on March 17, 2014

Sorry, but I think it's your partner that's the problem, not your mother. These are the kids of things you have to suck up when you're living with other people. Him refusing to do this thing (and I appreciate he has health issues) is something that needs to change.

All the best to you and your mum!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:50 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm an old lady who lives in an apartment building with many old people. My son lives here in town and on the very rare occasions when I'm out of town I'm usually with him. I have one old lady friend who will come in and take care of my birds and get the mail, so that works out just fine - but ...

That one lady is the only one I'd trust enough to be in my apartment when I'm not there, only because I don't know anyone else well enough, and I've lived here for over five years. The thing is, most old people have an apartment/house full of medicine, including pain pills, and many of us have some cash hidden away somewhere because we can't always get to the bank and a little cash is a good thing to have. These things put some boundaries up as far as access to my apartment. I take care of her birds and she takes care of mine if one or the other of us is away. She did have another lady who lives here take care of her birds a couple of times, but then found that the lady had been in her kitchen cupboards and in her utility room and her bedroom for no real reason other than nosiness. Still, that's not acceptable at all.

I haven't had a car or a driver's license in about 15 years - I use public transportation with my scooter, so I know it can be a real pain, but I also know the buses are heated, you're out of the weather when you're on the bus and they come often enough that I rarely have to wait more than 15 minutes. If the weather's horrible, I can wait in a business that's near the bus stop, but that level of bad weather is unusual. I doubt that your mother has any idea that this is such a huge burdensome chore for you. She travels so much that she's used to inconvenience and making adjustments to her plans, and I'm sure she has no awareness that it's such a difficulty for you to check on her place.

Yes, talk with your mother when she comes home and I'm sure she can make some other arrangements. But I think the big talk you need to have is with your boyfriend, and I think you know that.

Good luck.
posted by aryma at 4:00 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I say tell her that you can't house sit for her anymore, but you are happy to think through an alternative solution to you with her if she wants. I mean, don't suggest she ask a neighbor, etc., unless she actually asks for your help. It is her situation to resolve in a way that she can live with (and you suggesting solutions without her asking might put her in the situation of being able to poo-poo every suggestion you make, and make you feel as if you have to do it).

Additionally, if you really don't want to do it anymore (even if you can), you are not required to explain why not. You can just say that it has become too difficult, particularly without a vehicle since you don't drive. Your partner's vehicle is not the point. The fact that he can drive is not the point either. The point is that it is really difficult to get there on your own steam (and you only promised your time, not your partners').

Finally, you can decide the circumstances in which you would do it - for example, if she paid for your taxi each way. Decide what is truly negotiable for you, and try to limit yourself to those parameters.

As a new mom, who comes for a family where familial ties are incredibly important, I've always been nudged/guilted into doing things for family, because it is what one does. But now that I am a mom, I no longer buy the 'do everything for family' line without the caveat 'within reason.' And I get to decide what within reason means. If my child honestly comes to me and tells me they can't do something, I'd inquire about why and try to figure out if anything could make it work, and if not, figure something else out. But if the only reason they are coming over/helping out when it really doesn't work for them is guilt because I labored almost 24 hours with them in the hospital, that's not healthy on either side. Always try to get as close a possible to what would be considered a healthy relationship in situations like this. You may not always get there, but you'll be closer.
posted by anitanita at 4:03 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mom's not around any more, but if she were, this is totally something I would just suck up and deal with (she put up with a lot of shit from my siblings and me while we were growing up, so it'd be the least I could do).

If it really is a transportation issue, make sure she gives you roundtrip cab fare for however many times you plan to do these chores before she leaves. If she can afford to vacation for three months, she can afford to pay your cab fare. Nobody should have to trudge through the snow and ice like that while doing someone else a favor, even family.

Alternatively, you could have someone drive you there and bring all of her plants to your place, that way you can water them at your home. Take them back to her apt before she returns.

Gathering her mail and running the water needn't be done that often; if you can't or don't want to, tell her she needs to make friends with the apt manager or someone else in the building to do those little things. I agree that those are burdensome chores for her to ask you to do, especially in the winter when you don't have your own car.

She might also hire someone who is licensed and bonded to perform these chores if she doesn't trust anyone in her own circle of friends to be in her apt. Help her set up some nannycams that she or you can monitor from a different location if she really is worried about theft or snoopers; that should put her mind at ease.

If you flat out don't want to do it anymore, just tell her. "Mom, I love you, but I just can't do this any longer. Sorry." Don't offer excuses, just give her the ole Miss Manners standby, "I'm afraid that won't be possible." She'll figure something out when she sees you're serious.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:19 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sara C.: "This is completely beyond the call of familial duty."

Ya, this is a pretty big YMMV. I'm in essentially the same situation. It takes me all told ~45 minutes twice a week to check my MIL's place for the months they are gone over the winter. We've been doing it for a few years now and I don't really see that changing any time soon.

At any rate if I was looking to get out of this task I'd try to work with my MIL to find a replacement together while still agreeing to stop by one a month or so for her peace of mind and to check up on the person checking up.
posted by Mitheral at 8:16 PM on March 17, 2014

Ask her for cab money for each trip
posted by gt2 at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2014

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