My mother lives in squalor. I don’t know what to do about it. She’s a wonderful woman, but she’s spent her entire life living according to what my father wants, and he’s always been content with a hovel. An unfinished, unstable shack, that would probably be condemned if it wasn’t in a backwards, middle of nowhere place where you can basically set up house in a spare milk crate and no one says a word. Wood heat, curtains hanging in doorways instead of doors, unfinished rough wood on the floors, or old, torn-up linoleum. Piles of junk everywhere. Not garbage, but junk, trinkets, pictures, statues, useless stuff, which my father collects. So much of it he doesn’t even know what’s there anymore.
If you’ve ever seen the show, “Hoarders,” that’s what my mom has around her, except that if you moved all the junk out, there wouldn’t be a livable house hiding underneath. I know she’s not happy. What should I do to make her put her foot down and change her life?
Dear Caring Son,
Nothing. You should do absolutely nothing to make your mother change. She has chosen her own path. If she wants to change, that too, will be her choice. Let her know that you will support her should she decide to change things. But basically, this is up to her.
If she wasn’t getting some kind of gratification from living this way, she wouldn’t be doing it. Often in cases like this, where the husband is the bad guy, who’s “forcing” the poor, long-suffering wife to live in squalor, it’s the wife’s need to be the martyr driving the energy of the whole situation. A lot of people alive today, were raised on the notion that a “good woman” is one who puts everything and everyone else first, and themselves last, and that doing so is valiant and noble. It’s a mindset where being miserable makes you happy. To such a person, a wonderful life in a beautiful home, doing things she loved, would bring a burden of guilt so heavy, that she would be utterly unhappy.
Odd thing, the human brain.
Just tell her you’ll help if she ever wants to change. Mention to her often that the notion of self-sacrifice as a path to redemption is a flawed premise, and that we’re on the planet for the sole purpose of experiencing the joy of life, and then relax and let it go, allowing her to live the way she chooses to live.