AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

My Girlfriend’s Grandmother Has Become a Burden. What Do We Do?

My Girlfriend’s Grandmother

I currently live with my girlfriend of three years and her grandmother. Folks would say this is awkward, but, given the grandmother’s situation, it made sense. About a year and a half ago, she was living with my girlfriend’s sister and taking care of her three kids. In addition, the sister was and still is in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, and he had even threatened the grandmother on several occasions (mind you, the caretaker of his children a majority of the time while the sister worked). Realizing it was a bad situation, we offered a safe haven. Fast forward a year later, and she is still living with us. 

Background on Granny: She is 70 years old, has a sharp mind, not as able-bodied as she once was, is a terrible planner, is really, really set in her ways, loves Netflix (her activity on my account shows at least eight hours a day with a max of 16 hours a day), is a borderline hoarder, is dependent on a lot of help, has very limited income (very little wiggle room for any savings) and makes a lot of excuses. The perfect roommate!

I am 30 and work full-time, and my girlfriend at 25 is busier than I am with grad school, working in a lab, being a TA, etc. Our incomes together are modest, but pretty comfortable for Athens. However, we both have become tired and irritated, living with Granny. Her living habits, especially the daily Netflix bingeing, hoarding in her room (which we try to keep in check) and neediness are taking a toll. She is living rent/bill free, as well. She folds our laundry and puts away dishes to make up the difference, which is sweet of her, but infrequent. 

We sat down with her and listed her short- and long-term goals and told her ours as well (we plan on moving in two years). We also looked at all her spending. We then put in a series of mini goals and deadlines to have her find the costs for haulers to take away her mold-infested trailer back in a neighboring county (which she is still paying a mortgage and insurance on), for realtors in the area to help sell the property and for affordable places to live. I even contacted a friend at the local Council on Aging for resources, but Granny always says that she’ll do something and then nothing moves forward. I have shown her basic computer skills and how to search for resources without doing it all myself, but she still asks and expects me to help her. 

Lastly, she has no friends and a son whom she does not want us to contact for help, because she doesn’t want to burden him, his place is too small, he is too sick (not true, he is a pretty active guy), excuse X, Y, Z. Honestly, I am at my wit’s end, and my girlfriend has grown almost resentful of her. We both feel awful for having these feelings. We just don’t have the time and resources at this point to provide the care that she needs. 

We both miss having the couple’s life we had, but we are afraid for her health and safety if we ask her to move out. We would rather be miserable than to see her go to the hospital for living in mold or worse yet being physically accosted. Also, I am not immediate family and feel that it is not my place to overstep my bounds and talk with her son against her wishes.

I would love an outside perspective. I am not sure if I am being an enabler for Granny and/or an asshole for having these feelings. My girlfriend and I don’t know what to do, and our sanity is waning. Please help! Thanks in advance,

Sanity Gone But Not Forgotten

First, please accept my permission to let go of any feelings of guilt about not wanting to live in this situation indefinitely. You did the right and compassionate thing by helping Granny get out of a dangerous living situation; you acted as her family—which you are—in bringing her into your home for the past year. That cannot be a permanent solution, though, for many reasons. 

You and your girlfriend need some space and privacy. You need to be able to spend time together as a couple and with other people your own age. You cannot (and cannot fairly be expected to) sacrifice your social lives, your relationship and your privacy. With any roommate, you would need to set these boundaries. Of course you will integrate Granny into part of your life, but only part.

This means that Granny needs to have some resources, friends and support other than the two of you. She can’t be home all the time watching Netflix; she needs to give you two some time alone. She cannot collect more stuff than the room or the house can comfortably hold. 

Your responsibility is to make sure Granny is able to live in safety and dignity. That does not have to be with you. I suggest you and your girlfriend do the following:

• Contact her son. He needs to be aware of and understand the situation. She will need his assistance sooner or later and unless he refuses to help, he should really be involved.

• Begin looking for living options for Granny. She has demonstrated that she won’t follow through, and you’re not going to put her out on the street, so you need to have clear options to present to her, because eventually she’s going to need to live elsewhere.

• Take the initial steps of contacting a hauler about removing the trailer if it really cannot be salvaged. You can’t rightly make that decision, but if you can put the numbers in front of her and offer to make the calls, she might agree. 

• Then you can contact a realtor about selling her property. If her trailer is uninhabitable, she’s going to need money in the bank. Again, you can’t list the property for her, but you can make it very easy for her to do it. She clearly needs help doing this, and it’s in your best interest to get things moving soon.

Do these things as quickly as possible so you can present her with an alternate living situation no more than six months from now. This will give her time to get used to the idea and let you see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, try to carve out some space and time for you and your girlfriend. Stay at a hotel for a weekend.

Need help? Ask Rhonda.