The problem: My mother-in-law has never been a big fan of mine. Now she’s in need of me. I told my husband that this is really hard for me. There were a lot of times she could have been there for me, but she wasn’t. Do I just suck it up because she’s 82?

Low road: Ask her if she hears that loud whistle. It’s the sound of the Helping Train barreling past. Pity she didn’t buy a ticket long ago.

High road: I’m not convinced that your MIL has never been a fan of yours. I’m guessing that she is the stoic sort who never was good at telling you or showing you how much she appreciated you, regardless of your differences.

I say this because, now that she is aging and vulnerable, she turned to the person she believes is the best candidate to be competent, knowledgeable and reliable. Perhaps she was watching you all along with admiration and, maybe, a bit of jealousy for what she wasn’t.

You do not have to accede to her wishes. You’re clearly in charge here. You can say to her that you are surprised that she is reaching out to you now for help, when she never seemed to feel much affinity for you in the past, and that you do not feel suited for the job.

But you could also take in the broader view, which presents an opportunity to be surprised at the 11th hour, a time when such surprises are especially sweet. Take baby steps. An errand here. A hot dish there. It is quite possible that you will see a grateful, humble person emerge.

If you don’t, please feel satisfied that you tried. It will then be your husband’s turn to pick up the slack.


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