#725: “How do I get out of the middle of a situation that I set up?”

Oh Captain My Captain:

I’m running into a communications problem, and could use some advice.

First the backstory: I live with my parents. My mother, who is nearing seventy, is having arthritis issues and needs a little bit of extra help around the house; generally more help that I can reasonably provide while being a full-time student. A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option. Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.

Now, the problem: Mom is unhappy with Kat’s performance. A lot of this is coming from the fact that Mom isn’t actually talking to her. She doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks (because we’re intelligent people and she shouldn’t have to explain the obvious), and deals with extraordinary requests by telling me that they need to be done (with the unspoken riders of “so get Kat to do it” and “you should already know how I want that task performed” and “I will be Very Upset if you do this yourself instead of making sure Kat does it to my specifications.”) When, somehwere along the line, communication inevitably breaks down and something *doesn’t* meet with her approval, I get to listen to Mom rant about how she’s not getting what she’s paying for and how Kat isn’t ever going to be able to make it in the real world if she can’t complete simple tasks. Mom does not, generally speaking, ever voice concerns directly to Kat.

Do you have advice/scripts/etc. for how to stop being the Mom-to-Kat translator in this arrangement?


The Messenger Is Tired Of Being Shot

Dear Tired of Being Shot:

It could be that your mom’s critiques about Kat’s domestic services are about just that. If Kat folded the dishtowels *just so,* all would be well. If your mom could just tell Kat how to do it, Kat would do it right. Solved! Why put you in the middle?

I think your mom’s rants are about something more, though. The comments about Kat’s ability to “make it in the real world” and “I need to get what I’m paying for” and “do not do it yourself, absolutely make her do it”, etc. are hinting at a larger subtext, one in which your mom is not happy with the overall arrangement. This is a complete mental recalculation of Kat’s status from “child’s good friend who I am helping out in return for some help” to The Help. I know that you don’t want to play translator or run interference between them, but Kat’s continued housing stability in the short term may depend on you doing so. This has crossed over from an “employer” wanting to correct a mistake to a judgment on *what kind of a person* Kat is. What does your mom say to her when you’re not around, I wonder?

I have sympathy for your mom – it’s difficult to adjust to needing help, to physical pain and limitations, to the awkwardness of having someone who is between a houseguest and a roommate and a maid around in your space all the time – I get it. But whenever someone talks about “the real world” as a place distinct from here and a place where you are sure to be found wanting if…(you don’t do what they want you to do), you are about to enter the World of Power-Tripping Bullshit. Does it get more “real” than having to flee an abusive situation and live as an unpaid domestic servant on dependent on the goodwill of a lady who resents you and rants about your work while passing judgments upon your character? Seems pretty fucking real to me.

There are three big issues or needs here:

1) Getting your mom some help with household tasks and easing her burden,

2) Buying your friend some more time to put together a stable housing and employment situation for herself, so that she can move out on her own terms, and,

3) Protecting your study & work time and not making the household slack (or conflicts around it) fall on you. This is the question you asked, and the answer is simple (but not easy, and not without consequences): “Mom, why don’t you tell Kat directly? I’m sure she’ll fix whatever it is right away if you just tell her.” 

If it sounds like I am Team Kat in all of this, I will confess that I am, though I feel for you and I think that your proposed solution last year was a very kind one. It had a lot to offer in terms of a short-term solution that filled a lot of immediate needs. But after a year it’s definitely time to revisit the whole thing, because now these seem like competing goals. My sense is that you can pick any two of the three goals to advance at the same time. I think the uncomfortable truth here is that Kat might have traded one insecure, walking-on-eggshells living situation for another. As tempting as it is to say “Mom, tell Kat directly what you need but leave me out of it,” I think you need to tell Kat what your mom’s grumblings are (or at very least that she has grumblings). I also think it’s time to have a talk about what Kat’s plans are. There are caregiving jobs (that pay real wages!) that also provide housing: residential advisor if she’s in school, nanny, caregiver. “You are my friend, not my maid, and I want to figure out how to help you transition to a very stable, happy living situation where you’re paid what you are worth.” There’s protecting your mom from Kat’s weaksauce towel-folding or whatever, and then there’s protecting your friend from a sudden “This isn’t working out and you need to move out right away” edict from your mom. Which is you in the middle again, where you don’t want to be.

So, how to make it better in the short term? Here’s one way to maybe make it a little better for now. (Yes, that IS a lot of qualfiiers, isn’t it?)

The rare times I’ve been able to hire cleaning help, the service sends a giant checklist of what they do and don’t do and you agree on pricing and a time estimate up front. Then the cleaner walks through the space with you on the day and goes over exactly what will happen. Then you do a walk-through at the end and make sure everything is cool. Everything is very well-defined, because while the cleaner might be very diligent and great at cleaning, they don’t know all the quirks of your house and how you like things to be. It protects everyone if things are written down and agreed-upon in detail. It sounds like Kat and your mom need such a contract to be in place (and if there already is one. it needs to be more detailed). Professional cleaners do this, so why would Kat just magically know how everything should be done? Also, pro cleaners work set, defined hours and charge way more than $10/day.

You and your other parent (where are they in all of this, btw?) and your mom could spend a day or so building a list of all the tasks that need doing around the house on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You could approach it from the standpoint of “Mom, I’m trying to figure out how to make sure whatever help we get around the house is actually helpful, and it’s clear from some of your complaints that there are whole areas of stuff that you quietly took care of for years that Dad & I have taken for granted. I’ve printed this list off from a local cleaning service as a guideline, will you take a look at it and then walk through everything with us so we can make a master list of what needs to get done on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?

This master cleaning list is not an “Assignments for Kat” list, btw. There are laws against having an unpaid full-time servant living with you, for many, many good reasons. The list is a basis for deciding what will your mom still like to handle, what will your dad do, what will you do, what is Kat’s, and what might you hire additional people to do. The list is also a way to get your mom to articulate exactly what her needs are. Something too “silly” or “basic” to go Officially On The List? “You should just already know what to do” won’t fly anymore. It goes on the list, or it’s not important, and you (all of you, Kat too) have permission to not give a fuck about it.

[EDITED TO ADD]In consultation with local legal experts and abiding by local laws[/edit], your family and Kat can put in place some kind of contract that spells everything out. The contract should have an end date on it, and stipulate a process for extension or renegotiation at that time. In my opinion, the contract should spell out real world rates for whatever services that Kat performs, and then articulate that those rates are discounted in exchange for $x worth of room and board. If your mom is so anxious to put a price on stuff, put a price on it. The contract should also have a checklist of things that happen AND the time frame for work to happen in, like, 2 hours/day, dusting on Wednesdays, etc. The script for talking about this is “Hey, now that we’ve been at this a while, let’s revisit things to make sure that they can work for everyone.

Short of a comprehensive contract or list, you could try a script of “Ma, can you write that down for me? If you really need me to be the one who gives instructions to Kat, I guess I can do that, but it would help me a lot if you wrote a list.” She will grumble that she shouldn’t have, to, y’all should just know, etc. and you can say, “Mom, whether you should have to or not, I would really like you to do it. I want you to have the help you need, and it would help me so much if you could spell it out on paper. Thank you.” Stay very positive and polite, but always push for the written list before you promise to take any action. Her actions after you ask her to write things down will also get right to the crux of the matter – Does your mom actually want the cleaning to get better, is this about her trying to get your attention, or is she starting the case for evicting Kat?

Upsides: It’s good for a family if everyone understands what makes the household run, this list will be useful in hiring services down the road post-Kat living with you, and the list will help generate a list of reasonable expectations, and it may make your mom aware of what market rates are for this kind of service. I think if anything has a chance of making things smoother, spelling it all out is that thing.

Downside: Figuring out the list, delegating things, taking on more household tasks is work, work that maybe you don’t want to do. It advances the goals of getting your mom the help she needs and preserving Kat’s situation for now, but it doesn’t support your goal of disengaging. Again I ask: Where is your other parent in all of this?

170 thoughts on “#725: “How do I get out of the middle of a situation that I set up?”

  1. “You and your other parent (where are they in all of this, btw?)” When I first read this I was like, um, obviously her dad isn’t there, presumably he passed away. But then I reread the letter and indeed, it says ‘I live with my parents’ and then the other parent is never again mentioned. So yeah, the dad is pretty mysteriously absent in this entire letter. Unless he’s sick and frail himself? But then presumably that would have been mentioned?

    1. Yep, LW lives with parents, plural, which could be a dad, could be another mom, could be someone who is also frail, etc. The answer could be “In no position to help” but it’s a question worth asking as to why this is all falling to the LW if that person is around and capable.

      1. True, the gender of the other parent isn’t specified, thanks for the correction.

      2. “A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option.”

        It seems very possible that Mom is seeing it from the point of view of ‘This is YOUR friend, that YOU convinced me to allow to move in, so it’s up to YOU to make sure the situation works.’

        1. This seems like the crux to me. Communication is tough for all three ladies, but I really feel like everybody is trying to do the “nice” thing and not really talking about what’s the “needed” thing.

        2. Yeah, I had some of that for a few years, though in a very different situation.

          My metamour went through a divorce that left them unemployed and 10 years out of the workforce, with nowhere local to live. I agreed that they could stay with us for a while, but I made a lot of mistakes about boundaries and not setting them up right away. For a year or so it was fine, but eventually I really resented sharing a kitchen, having an extravert around who processed out loud, and having them have their own bedroom while I had no space that was just mine in my own home. It didn’t help that, since they were staying rent-free, I thought they should be on guest behavior, adapting themselves to the way I did things, while they, somewhat at my husband’s encouragement, thought of themselves as an equal housemate and weren’t willing to live on guest terms.

          My husband wanted me to work things out with them myself, but I went from mildly annoyed to eating crackers in the course of a few months (during which we did have some conversations about the kitchen and such, but it was never settled to my satisfaction – granted to my satisfaction mostly would mean following my rules for use of the kitchen full stop – which I think is reasonable for a guest). Anyway, he didn’t want to deal with it, but I couldn’t deal with it and keep my tone civil, and I felt like it was his person, not mine, so he should be responsible for making it work.

          After about three years, they reached a point where they were able to move out, but by that point they and I were no longer friends. We’ve recovered somewhat since – I had a month of no contact and they had the opportunity to tell me their FEELS about the situation. My own FEELS still pop up from time to time, but I don’t think I’d get what I actually wanted from having the FEELINGSTALK with them, so I don’t. We can be at the same activity and do light socializing if my husband organizes something or if a mutual friend has a party, but I don’t invite them to stuff that I’m organizing. The situation may have turned out better if we’d had more discussion of terms at the beginning.

          tl;dr – having everything clear up front in a house-sharing situation is even more important when a new person is added who isn’t close to all of the current inhabitants.

        1. For most of my childhood my dad was at work all day and all evening and pretty much came home, ate dinner, and went to bed. On weekends he either went back to work some more or hid in the garage doing Dad Things.

          He was a super avoidant workaholic dad who used being at work as a get out of family issues free pass.

        2. Possibly? I know someone like this, not much younger than the LW’s mom. He’s a workaholic I 100% expect will one day keel over at his desk. If there were strife in the home, or any other uncomfortable situation, I could see him stepping up his at-work time even more. 😦

        3. Yeah, my dad left before we went to school in the morning, was *usually* home in time for dinner unless he had a meeting (we ate dinner late – 7 or 8pm, and sometimes even 9), was home in the weekends but spent a lot of them in his office doing his own personal workish stuff. While there are many things that annoy me about my mother, I feel a lot more comfortable with her than with my father, who I honestly don’t really know that well as a person.

  2. Very interesting question, where is the other parent? I actually found myself assuming while reading that the mom was widowed or divorced, because the focus was so totally on the mom as if she’s alone in the world without help or support except for LW. I had to go back to the very very beginning to see the word “parents”, plural. I hope the LW will be able to address that cause whatever the answer I’m guessing it’s pretty relevant.

  3. I worked as a live-in domestic for room, transportation, clothing allowance, and board when I was going through school (for 6 years) and I found the arrangement to be quite useful. I did this after reading several finance books and already having an idea what I might charge. When I entered the arrangement, my employer and I had a list of everything I would do (and wouldn’t; I don’t cook, for example) and an approximate dollar value of my work per month. We agreed that if I took on extra duties I would be paid a set rate (above minimum wage) per hour and that we would both try our hardest to be upfront and honorable regarding hours worked and ‘wages’ paid. An exacting, detailed contract and open communication *before* labor of that sort begins is crucial or you end up with resentment and people feeling that they’re taken advantage of.

    Similarly, a writer friend of mine is a house husband and nanny. He works approximately 60-80 hours a week and his living expenses are completely covered. He’s been in his arrangement for a while. Originally his employing family had a list of things they wanted him to do (this was Before Kid) and a dollar amount he’d be “paid,” but then, after a few months, they realized he was working more than he was getting “paid.” (Domestic work is not at all cheap!) Now that the couple has had a kid and he’s added daytime nanny duties. They hire him help if the work load gets too much. They’ve also taken to covering his electronics purchases and some other sundries. It’s worth it to them to have the house clean, the errands run, and the child competently cared for while they’re at work. Everyone is completely aware of how much his work is valued and he appreciates having a stable and decent place to live with plenty of paid-for groceries and a working computer for the 20-30 hours a week he works as a writer.

    Bottom line – these situations can absolutely be made to work BUT you have to have lots and lots of good communication, a work list or contract, and an agreed-upon dollar value for the work (whether it’s per chore, by the hour, or ‘salary’). Your employer also must respect your time off–I didn’t/wasn’t expected to work as much during finals or those months I had major papers due, for example, but I made it up during summers and winter breaks. When resentment creeps in it’s a good idea to either re-negotiate or find employment elsewhere.

    1. Does this writer person contribute to Grounded Parents at the Skepchick network, by any chance?

      1. That reads like a business relationship rather than a romantic/sexual one, so I’m guessing it’s not them. But you never know! (I guess “house husband” might belie that…)

        1. I always get overexcited when one of my favourite blogs links to or references another of my favourite blogs.
          It makes me feel like one of the cool kids.

  4. I think the free room and board plus $10 puts Kat in a murky situation where she’s neither one thing nor another. She’s working in exchange for paying rent, so she isn’t a regular roommate, yet she’s not being paid a legal minimum wage, so she’s not an employee either. Which might leave her in an awkward position of feeling like, or being seen by your mom as, sort of a charity case (free rent!) while she’s also paradoxically sort of unpaid labour (working for free!). Have you ever asked her to keep track of how many hours a week of housework she’s doing?

    And has she ever discussed with you her medium and long term plans?

    1. I agree. I’d be very careful about writing up anything that looks like a contract in this situation, because there are many places in the world where Kat’s situation would fall into a very murky area of tenant or labor law. I recall a similar case that was in the news recently, when a family with a an arrangement with a live-in nanny found out that they couldn’t evict her after they’d fired her (from a job that also wasn’t legal, because in that area, the value of rent couldn’t be subtracted from wages if it fell below minimum wage).

      Which isn’t to say that Kat or your mother would escalate it to that level. But it’s definitely a good idea to talk to Kat about what’s coming next for her, and if she wants this to be a long-term arrangement, it may be time to talk to a lawyer to make sure you’re aware of what’s legal in your area.

    2. It’s also a shitty situation where she’s not getting paid a real wage, so she can’t save up for anything that will help her situation, but she’s also expected to be doing work and committed to the house, so her ability to find other work is severely limited (probably in a social/emotional way?). And it might also be hindering her from access to resources for people who are unemployed or in unstable housing situations?

      If you have employment services, free legal consultation services etc, and also services for abuse victims in your area, I would strongly encourage Kat to check in with them. Counselling services would probably help Kat with her current situation, as it sounds like a tense one and she’s probably aware of that.

      Also: You’ve done a great thing in helping your friend, and helping your mum, and it’s completely reasonable that you would really like to have these two problems that you’ve theoretically solved not be problems any more. I know we’re all giving you advice on ways to be active in addressing this and helping this and mediating this… But it’s also perfectly understandable if you just wanna not have to deal with it for a while. This sounds stressful and shitty for all involved, so make sure that you look after yourself, too.

      1. It’s also a shitty situation where she’s not getting paid a real wage, so she can’t save up for anything that will help her situation

        Yep. This. What is the exit plan here? The situation is set up to keep Kat secure but it’s also vulnerable to keeping her stuck.

  5. With the older age of LW’s mom, it may be worth it to see about an overall health evaluation. My ailing grandfather would routinely pick one family member that was a “No good knuckleheaded screw up loser good for nothing yadee yada yada….” It got worse the older and more frail he got. The No Good Knucklehead of the month didn’t really do anything wrong, it was just a part of his aging and being miserable in his old age that made him take out his frustrations on a rotating basis.

    If mom isn’t dealing with some kind of mental health/aging related issue that would cause her to be this way, than I would suggest that LW get firm. With each of my grandfather’s escalating health issues I had to remind him gently but firmly that, “Because of health issue X, you’re just going to need to start doing some things differently. This means Y.” So a gentle but firm reminder that “Mom, your arthritis means you need more help with household chores. This is how Kat folds towels. I know it’s not your way but you’ve got to pick your battles with her or we might lose her help” repeated often might help cut the negative attitude. Or at least how often she vocalizes it.

    1. I was thinking a longitud these lines. I mean if Kat is doing her work competently yet diferently, it’s probably a sign that LW’s mom trying to “nit pick” as a means to show that she’s having a hard time, either adapting to having someone new in the house, or in relation to her condition and not being able to do a lot of things on her own (or both!).
      Age may play a roll here, it must be hard for her loosing her independence, but if she is taking things out on Kat, you have to have a word with her.

    2. Yes, this! In aging situations, particularly with women who are used to their house looking a certain way, these statements are usually true:

      1) Nobody cleans their home right (my grandmother would throw around the word “incompetent” a lot).
      2) Everybody gives too many “orders.” (in scenarios where a med schedule is enforced, they perceive their autonomy being taken away)
      3) In all other areas, they are very easily taken advantage of. (“charities” that target seniors in the mail are the worst)

      When one of my grandmother’s caregivers showed actual unprofessionalism- she frequently called off on short notice without finding a sub- it was completely overlooked. My mom suggested that she fire this particular caregiver and her response was, “Oh, you have to have a heart!” The caregiver she eventually fell in love with was a fastidious cleaner (she would vacuum the drapes regularly) and would make home-cooked meals without being asked to (so, y’know, going above and beyond her job expectations).

      1. 2) Everybody gives too many “orders.” (in scenarios where a med schedule is enforced, they perceive their autonomy being taken away)

        If med-taking is being “enforced”, then someone’s autonomy is being taken away. Which may be absolutely necessary if someone has dementia, but that doesn’t make it not an enroachment on their autonomy.

        In any case, LW’s mother is in her 60s, and there’s been no suggestion that she’s not mentally competent.

        Her expectations about what Kat should do and how she should do it might or might not be unreasonable — since no actual examples are given in the letter, we’ve got no way of knowing.

        But I find it somewhat disturbing that “elderly person with physical disabilities complains about not getting the home help that they’re paying for” seems to lead directly in many people’s minds to “elderly person must be crazy old coot, needs ‘gentle but firm reminder’ that they’re no longer a competent adult and can’t expect to have control over things in their own house any more.”

        1. I take your point, but:
          a. She’s not paying Kat the normal rate for cleaning services, home care aid services, etc; she’s paying far below them.
          b. She’s not actually communicating with Kat about how she likes things to be done, etc; so Kat’s “mistakes” might not even BE mistakes as much as they are just different ways of doing things.

          1. We don’t have any information about whether she’s paying exactly at, below, or above the going rate since we have no information about how many hours Kat is working.

          2. FWIW, the letter writer words it as ‘somewhere along the line, communications inevitably break down’. I read that as the LW keeps making mistakes in passing along instructions and wants to figure out how to get out of that role.

            If they’re not comfortable refusing to pass on messages, the other obvious answer is to pass on the message but with an added comment ‘I’m not sure I understood that right, though, so you’d better ask Mom for the details’.

          3. @TO_ONT: Re: “how much is Kat making an hour”, we…kinda actually do have that info? To quote LW: ” Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.”
            Ten dollars a day, at eight hours a day (if we’re being generous and assuming that Kat isn’t being asked to do more than eight hours of work each day, since she’s “at home all day and doesn’t have anything better to do”), works out to about $1.25/hour. That’s not only well below the minimum wage, I’m pretty sure that Kat could make more as a waitress at this point.

    3. Somewhat off topic, what *is* it with folding towels? My mother flipped her lid regularly about how I folded towels, and to this day, I do not understand why. It’s a towel. It’s going on a shelf with other towels, possibly in a linen closet where no one else will see it. So long as everything fits and is reasonably tidy, why does it matter?

      I still don’t know if I fold towels “the right way” but I no longer care.

      1. I think it’s kind of like loading the dishwasher–everyone has a way they do it, and all other ways are WRONG. But healthy people either accept that other people do it differently and keep their opinions to themselves, or they (*I*) wait until their helpers (*my daughters*) are out of the room and reload the dishwasher the CORRECT way, quietly, without comment. 🙂

        1. Haha! My dad’s way of re-loading the dishwasher had had this result: I don’t ever put anything in the dishwasher at my parents’ place anymore. I will help clear up the table and put nearly stack things *near* the dishwasher, but that’s it.
          And I’ve told him why: why would I bother doing it if he’s just going to rearrange everything I do later? He’s a great believer in laziness efficiency, so he gets it.

      2. I’ll admit to being fussy about towel-folding, so I’ll try to explain. For me it’s that, unlike clothes or sheets or whatever, towels seem to really want to all come tumbling out of the linen closet when you go to get just one of them (I acknowledge that my clumsy and chaotic nature probably has something to do with this). Of all the different ways a person could fold a towel, there’s only a small number that will stay neatly stacked for any useful length of time. Throw in particularities like maybe the shelves in your closet are particularly narrow or something, and sometimes there’s really only one right way (for me) to do it. Not that I’d criticize someone who was nice enough to fold my laundry for me, but trying to grab a towel to deal with some kind of urgent and spreading mess, only to have a whole jumbled mess come raining down on you? It’s annoying enough to make you care about the state of your closeted towels. I’m not normally fussy about things like this, so I didn’t even realize it was a big deal to me until I moved with my S.O., whose towel-folding strategies were interesting, but really just not working for me. Order was swiftly imposed.

        1. This. I’m really picky about how the towels are folded, but they get folded differently for every bathroom I’ve ever had. It makes them fit on the shelf and not fall off.

          I have a friend whose bathroom was renovated, and her towels got in the way of the new linen closet’s door when she tried to shut it. And they slid off the shelf. I refolded them in a different pattern, and they fit and looked great. She said, “I didn’t realize you could fold the towels that way!”

          For me it’s totally a practicality thing. It also means I can grab the top towel, and don’t have to stop and mess around with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th towels’ falling out of the cabinet.

          But there are other people (like my friend) who think there’s a universal way. My MIL said, “that’s not how you’re supposed to fold shirts with collars!” bcs I fold my DH’s polos in half down the middle. I told her, “Look, there is no universal right and wrong way. Sure, it looks nice to fold them in thirds, but your son won’t do that neatly, they just look sloppy. Once I changed him over to folding them in half down the middle, he can do that neatly, and they don’t fall off.”

      3. I think one of the reasons to have A right way to fold towels is if the storage logistics warrant it. So, as mentioned above, the shelf might be narrow, or they might be stacked somewhere visible so you want them to look neat, or something similar.

        I come from a family where the received logic is that pillow slips (but not sheets) and tea towels must be ironed. I asked my Grandmother about this once and she said that it was only because they stacked neater and smaller if they were ironed. Since she told me that, I’ve stopped ironing my tea towels as the drawer in which they are kept is pretty roomy, but I still iron my pillow slips because then they fit better into the space I’ve allotted them.

        1. Yeah, I didn’t used to fold underwear. Or I folded them in thirds and halves. Then I got a new dresser, and stuff wasn’t fitting. So now they get folded in thirds and the bottom folds up by 1/4. They aren’t as thick when they’re stacked, and they fill up the extra space in the dresser.

          I do have some extreme frustration who insist that there’s “A right way,” and not “my preferred way for this situation.”

          1. Not to get too bogged down in folding techniques, but for a recent trip, I discovered rolling for both underwear and tshirts. It’s pretty easy for me (who struggles to do things “neatly”) to make symmetrical and nice looking, yet much more compact than some kinds of folding/mess.

    4. It occurs to me, though, that if mom does need help around the house, she might be happier choosing for herself who she hires, or hiring someone from a professional agency. Basically, usually when you want to hire a person to do something you would figure out what you need and then try to find the person who would best fit your needs.

  6. The first caregiver for an older person or couple usually faces a lot of hostility. Most people don’t want to admit they need help, and ‘proving’ that the help ‘can’t do anything right’ is the next best way to deny their loss of independence. Also, many women of a certain age identify as homemakers and the introduction of a younger woman to fill that role may unconsciously trigger some insecurity which again would be expressed as hostility.

    I’m sorry that the LW’s friend is the one to be the “first caregiver”, but I’m afraid the issues around aging, independence, and whatnot should be dealt with now or they’ll keep coming up with every subsequent caregiver.

    1. Yeah, this is a very good point. For an extra bit of impetus, LW may come into the role of caregiver someday with no extra help, and be not just the middleman but the target of all these issues if they’re not dealt with.

    2. That is an excellent point. When my grandmother needed assistance with chores around the house, my mom struggled to find anyone she wouldn’t irrationally hate (one person used too many cleaning supplies to clean the bathroom, another person talked too much, blah blah blah). The one women who succeeded in pleasing her was from the same cultural background (and I am sure that’s no coincidence).

    3. This is definitely true. Also, in my experience, LW might expect resistance or complaining when any switch in caregiver occurs. My mother at first had in-home help, which she bitched about to her children incessantly, but when she had to be hospitalized, then suddenly the in-home people were the Best People in the World, an honor that was subsequently transferred to the hospital nurses when she had to go to the nursing home, and then the night staff at the nursing home as opposed to the day staff. In short, it was all about whoever she was (a) used to and (b) was no longer providing her services.

      My sister and I would definitely listen to her complaints, as we wanted to be sure she was being treated properly, but in most instances it was just that she was used to This Person or didn’t particularly like That Person, and not that there was an actual problem with the care provided.

    4. In my family this has split along class lines. Two of my grandmothers*, both from farming families, considered paying for any kind of home service to be a terrible, ridiculous waste, probably some kind of scam in fact. One of said grandmothers extended that to store-brought bread and any cleaning products besides bleach, hot water, vinegar, and dish soap. Interestingly, both of them worked outside the home, so it wasn’t so much that they identified as homemakers, but some kind of extreme frugality. And inevitably, when they required care beyond their own hands or family, they HATED it.

      One of my other grandmas grew up fairly well off, in a family that owned a department store. She never worked outside the home and never hired help that I know of as a young or middle aged woman, but she took to an assisted living community like a duck to water. I think it was more common and acceptable in her family/community to hire things out, so it didn’t seem at all odd to her that this would eventually include cooking for her and cleaning her place.

      *Blended family, lots of grandmas

      1. Yeah, my mother grew up with servants, so she’s had a cleaning person ever since I can remember. So I don’t anticipate having *that* particular fight with her as she gets older. Which still leaves plenty of hings to fight about, sadly!

  7. If Kat had the choice of staying in an abusive situation and homelessness, your family paying her only 10 per day (while occupying her time with work so that she can’t get a “real” job) is a great way to ensure that she will never be able to move out. In other words, you keep her dependent of your family’s “help”.
    I’m sure no one *wants* to make her dependent, but please think about it.

    1. I think this depends on how much she’s expected to work. If this is “do the dishes every night and a few hours of heavier cleaning one day a week,” and could reasonably be done around a full-time job, it may be a good trade for room and board. If it’s the equivalent of a full-time job (or even a half-time job), Kat may not be earning minimum wage even if you count her room and board, and isn’t going to be able to save any money toward moving out, and both of those are serious problems.

      1. Yeah, I didn’t read “dishes and minor housekeeping tasks” as full-time domestic work, and I think that the amount of work being done may matter to how to best handle this situation.

        Of course if Kat is basically working full-time, then $10 a day (even with room and board) is not enough compensation and the situation is counter-productive to her being able to get back on her feet and support herself. In that case, I think LW’s mother has unreasonable expectations and the Captain’s advice makes a lot of sense.

        But if (as it sounds from the letter) it’s more like a few hours a week of cleaning, then LW’s parents have actually been quite generous to their kid’s friend (room/board and $300 a month) for the past year. In that case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the complaints from LW’s mother are her way of (poorly) expressing that she’s no longer happy with the arrangement the LW convinced her to go along with. “Kat will never be able to make it in the real world” might just be unreasonable griping about housekeeping, or it might be mom saying “I thought this was temporarily helping out a friend but it’s been a year and she shows no signs of leaving.” If that’s what’s going on, then all the communication tips in the world probably won’t help, because the root of the problem is that your mother no longer wants to have Kat living there.

        LW, what discussions did you have with your parents before Kat moved in? Was this presented to them as a temporary situation, or as a long-term employment relationship? What expectations did KAT have — was her goal to get back on her feet, save some money, and move out? Or did she think she was taking on a job she could potentially do for years? If the former, has she been taking any steps to make that happen?

        Even if your parents initially agreed to Kat taking on the role of live-in housekeeper indefinitely, I think it’s worth talking to them (and particularly your mom, since the complaints are from her) about whether they’re still happy with this arrangement. Is this really about your mom needing to learn to ask Kat for things directly without using you as a go-between? Or is this about her not really wanting to continue with the arrangement, and a need for everyone to discuss that openly and come to an agreement about a timeline for Kat to save some money and find another living situation?

    2. THIS.

      You know what might be a lot better for everyone, long-term? If Kat no longer performed unpaid (or barely paid) housework in return for room and board.

      Because right now, the obligation to provide housework services to (what sounds like) increasingly exacting standards is going to be interfering significantly with her time, energy and ability to…

      1- Search for, apply for and attend interviews for other work
      2- Perform other work, assuming she gets a job or starts looking into freelancing
      3- Take on studies or other paths to improving her employability
      4- Save money towards a course to improve employability
      5- Save money with the goal of moving out into a more stable housing situation

      So she’s trapped in a situation that sucks for her. Your mum is trapped in a situation that she is not happy with. And you’re trapped in a situation that is detrimental to your needs.

      One option, if you do discuss and revisit the situation with everyone. Six months. Kat stops acting as a live-in cleaner, and instead starts *sharing* the household duties with you and your other parent (if they’re able), the way you naturally all would be anyway if she hadn’t been brought into the home with this plan in place. She gets 6 months rent-free, to allow her to look for work. At which point options might include her paying rent to stay with you, or saving up wages and moving out.

  8. To Kat specifically as well as the LW – get everything written down! Everything!

    There was a point when I was living abroad and torn between what I wanted to do next. New job within that city? New job in new city/country? In the midst of that indecision, I had to find a new place to live – so when a friendly acquaintance mentioned he was looking for a flat mate where I wouldn’t have to sign a lease. After moving in for a month, my friend realized that I would typically cook in bulk – so mentioned that if it was cool for him to eat my leftovers, then I wouldn’t have to pay utilities.

    This presumption that everything would just be chill and work out was clearly that, a presumption. Four or so months in, it became clear that the food situation wasn’t benefiting him. Either the food I made or how I made it did not suit him, and I suspect that what he was hoping for was that every time I was cooking, I would offer to make him a plate or be a bit more house keeper/mommish about things.

    Paying half of utilities wasn’t a big deal for me, but then about 6 months into living together he decides he’s not so into having a roommate and instead just wants to let the room out occasionally on AirBnB. Having no lease, no agreement, I not only had no protections – I also had no expectations. While I didn’t want to necessarily commit to a 12 month lease, I would have never moved into a new place under the potential of getting kicked out on a whim within less than a year.

    We were never close friends, and ultimately I left the country – so there was no motivation to stay in touch, but I have a hard time thinking the whole situation wouldn’t ultimately have ruined the friendship. Writing stuff down, contracts, I get that it feels really formal and not so “friendly” – but this is a great way to stay friends. If the agreement says “two hours of dusting, dishes, vacuuming, etc. a day for $X” and at some point Kat either isn’t doing that or doesn’t want to do it (or believes that more than 2 hours a day is required to accomplish everything) – you discuss those specific points. Not who she is as a person.

  9. I feel for you, LW. I really suggest having a conversation about long-term care (or at least some outside help) now. I totally agree about a transition schedule for Kat – it sounds like she has little time to save and get back on her feet so she can move on? Have you talked to her about this? You don’t really mention how Kat feels about all this in your letter. Was the housecleaning in her plan/her intent to keep doing that?

    Ugh. This is such a bad situation… my similar-ish but not-really-the-same story (but with familiar themes): My parents have huge mobility issues. My sister expanded my parents’ house to make a duplex/MIL apartment upstairs for her family (doubling the square footage) because housing prices are outrageous where they live but the schools are great… and now they’re completely beholden to my parents. Even though my sister and BIL pay their own mortgage (the Home Equity Loan for the expansion) and have their own issues w/their kids, full time careers, etc. Anything and everything that needs to be done in/around/to that house, regardless of whether it’s in their space or my parents… has to be done my my sister and BIL. For example: Trash. Laundry. Fixing plumbing stuff. Emptying dishwashers. Cleaning. Mowing lawns. Pool stuff. Putting up holiday decorations. Taking them down. You get the picture. It’s so very, very difficult to draw a line when you share a home and have aging parents. I’m so glad I live thousands of miles away sometimes. My mom is very demanding so I understand how hard it is to tame that issue. I know my sister never intended on having her family transitioned into serfdom – although I’m certain the situation would exist even if they just lived nearby.

    Good luck – these are tough conversations to have.

  10. Dear god, the “you should just KNOW” thing gives me the absolute rages. It’s so passive-aggressive, the way it turns the speaker into a martyr and turns “you failed to do $thing to my satisfaction” into “you are a failure.” Yyyyeah, I got that nonsense directed at me well into adulthood until I moved overseas.

    And LW’s mom can’t even say it to Kat! She has to dump it on LW, I guess because LW is a safe target. I probably should have a lot more compassion for LWMom than I feel right now, but my own angryfeels are getting in the way. I hope Kat can find some better arrangement, within this household or outside of it.

    1. The one good point of this whole arrangement, to me, is that at least Mom isn’t dumping her FEELINGSBOMB about all this nitpickery on Kat. Kat doesn’t need the extra bullshit right now in her life, and while the LW doesn’t either, Mom seems to have at least a tiny scrap of sensibility about Kat. Hopefully that may possibly translate into, if the LW forces her to communicate with Kat directly, she softens the verbal blows… ><

    2. My mum used to pull it, sometimes. Her favourite was when she was mildly annoyed with some minor thing I’d done wrong (I was a freakishly well-behaved kid so we’re talking SERIOUSLY minor shit), then 10 minutes later she’d be FURIOUS with me. Because in her mind, the “right thing” for me to have done when she was upset with me would’ve been to magically intuit that doing X household task would’ve made her feel better, and my failure to have figured that out and gone and done X household task I didn’t know needed doing was apparently something I was doing *on purpose to spite her*.

      It sucks that LW is on the receiving end of this, although I am glad (or at least very hopeful!) that this means the person recovering from an abusive relationship is NOT being bullied and browbeaten by the person she is now beholden to and dependent on. But it makes me suspect that the whole thing isn’t really *about* Kat in the first place.

      I might be reaching too much, but I am getting serious My Mum feels. And one of her Things was that she really wanted people to think of her as this cool, young-at-heart, generous-spirited open-house type of person. I could see her agreeing to let one of my friends in a similar situation stay with her, despite deep down really not wanting the hassle of it all, and growing to resent *me* for suggesting it in the first place. At which point it becomes my responsibility to fix, and increasingly impossible to fix as the expectations grow, and ultimately my fault when it turns out to not be working. I wonder if perhaps LW’s mum is not offloading this all on LW because LW is a safe target, so much as because the complaints are actually *about LW* suggesting this situation to begin with.

      1. I had similar thoughts and very similar ‘My Mum’ feels. While I’m sure it is a combination of all these things (pain, loss of autonomy, a long term ‘guest’ in the house, things not being up to her particular standards, etc) I would not be surprised if the complaints were mostly anger at LW for daring to suggest something so impossibly inconvenient, and how dare LW not magically read her mind to fix it to her satisfaction?

      2. Hey our mums are… clones?

        Except that my mum did actually let in one of my friends when she ran away from an abusive situation. And then… oh my, she loved the whole situation, because Friend was so grateful she spent every day trying to get into my mum’s good books. She lavished attention on her and she cleaned the house every day. She did this because she was utterly terrified of falling out with us and being made homeless at 18. But my mum naturally held this up as an example of how Other People’s Children are much better people than the useless ungrateful daughter she was stuck with. She proceeded to try and play us off against each other until we both moved out.

    3. First paragraph: are you me? One time, in mid-rant, my mum gave me “You should just KNOW that the white laundry goes in the square basket [uh huh, with no sense of irony] and the colored laundry in the round one. How many years have you been living here?” (Um, 12, because that’s how old I was.) Eventually I understood the logic; the white stuff was mostly towels that fold square (see towel thread above). But I still moved across the continent.

  11. I think Mom here needs to be reminded that Kat is not The Hired Help, but is a person trying to scrimp and save money so she can be an independent free person with her own living space and her own life that doesn’t depend on folding Mom’s towels just so. Also, I think Mom needs a caretaker. If she’s getting distressed about her aging state, especially with a condition that prevents her from doing the little physical tasks that often make people feel capable and in control, the LW and Mom should probably have a chat about having actual hired help for this purpose. I know Mom might be uncomfortable admitting she needs assistance, and that’s totally understandable, but sooner or later Kat is going to get tired of this treatment. Mom being a slave driver is its own form of abuse, especially since Kat has no other immediate options right now.

    I hate to say it because it’s building her savings a little at a time, but I think Kat needs to stop helping around the house for money. The fact that her assistance is earning her money seems to be setting a precedent with Mom here that Kat is an employee that can be hired for dirt cheap, not a friend who is being helped out. I think ending the exchange of money for services will help reinforce Kat’s position here as “friend of the family.” Whatever the LW and Kat’s other friends can do to help her get an income source would be amazing — a part time job, odd jobs like the occasional neighborhood dog walking or house-sitting for some acquaintances or whatever have you — will be far more productive both mentally and physically than Kat putting up with Mom’s ultra-specific requests for 10 bucks a day. Then, if Kat feels the need to help around the house to sort of “pay rent,” she can do just that — help, not take over the chores by herself.

    Even so, I expect Mom to get tired of letting Kat hang around the house, because if she’s not “doing the chores wrong,” she’ll probably get labeled as a “lazy freeloader.” Getting Kat out on her own, with plenty of Team Her support, should be a priority right now.

    1. I was going to suggest something similar. People can feel very different about accepting or offering favours and gifts, as opposed to things they’re paying for, even nominally. The mum might feel much different about “Kat lives with us and helps us out” than “Kat is getting paid to stay here”.

    2. It sounds like Mom was led to believe that Kat WAS being hired to help, and that this was a mutually beneficial situation. She may have been fine with giving charity in the short term, but after a year I would imagine that might be wearing thin.

  12. So my mum and I did something similar for my best friend once, although my mother was not aging and my friend was not “hired”–she was given a place to live for reasonable rent because the alternative was a toxic home situation. So the care-giving and housecleaning aspects were not there. My mother also did not require very much convincing. She had overheard enough midnight tear-filled phone calls or heard me come back well after midnight from another round of sitting up with my friend that one day I looked over at her and she nodded and I told my friend that she could come stay with us. (My mom had also known my best friend since we were both 12, so she was not a stranger.)

    Even so, the arrangement only lasted for a year and it was somewhat stressful on my mother to have an extra “child” around (my friend and I were in our early 20s and self-sufficient but still in that fuzzy “adult child who hasn’t moved out yet” kind of zone). My friend was also recovering from her past living situation which had not left her with a wealth of emotional resources or great coping mechanisms, and needed a lot of patience and support too (which my mother understood from the get-go). It was good for my friend and gave her the chance to come back to herself and start figuring out what she could do next, but it was *always* a short-term arrangement. We didn’t hash out exact details at the start, aside from rent and expectations about keeping her space tidy, etc. (which I was not part of–my mother handled that directly with her), but when a year was up it was felt all around that it was time for my friend to move on, which she did (and she is doing really well now).

    I’m sharing this to show that even under ideal circumstances with a parent who is motivated and understanding and not dealing with her own issues, this kind of arrangement can be awkward and tough and can’t last forever. Captain’s advice is very good for the short-term, as intended, but please if you haven’t already, do yourself and Kat the favour of starting to talk about what her next steps can be and how she can reach them. She’s gotten out of one truly awful environment thanks to your intervention, which is good, but living as the dreadfully underpaid live-in help to a woman who sees her as an incompetent interloper is not going to be great for her recovery long-term. It’s probably best all around that Kat moves on to something better and more supportive of her independence as soon as she can. (And, honestly, $10 a day is so little, even with room and board covered. That’s well below a living wage in, though how drastically depends on exactly where you live I guess. If there’s any way to pay her more or to help her find an actual job that will sustain her instead of being the help for your mother, that would help her get out of there faster.)

    1. Even when it’s not giving someone a safe place to live, these kinds of situations can be weird and uncomfortable. One of my best friends right now rents a room from her boss. It’s nice and convenient in a lot of ways, and she needed somewhere to live, but she constantly gets roped into extra (unpaid, as far as I can tell) work, jobs around the house like painting and such, and – this really takes the cake – her boss’s family is having exchange students for a couple of weeks and then is going to be gone for nearly half the time, leaving my friend to be responsible for them.

      Even besides the complete ridiculousness of the last one, all these things cut into my friend’s free time and social life – she is constantly late when we have plans and part of that is because she’s a chronically late person, but part of it is because she keeps getting roped into things that should not be her concern but she can’t really say no to her boss/landlord.

  13. “There are laws against having an unpaid full-time servant living with you, for many, many good reasons.”

    Off and on for the past two years of unstable housing and unstable job situations, I’ve been posting CL ads, describing me and Spouse as unpaid full time live in servants. In my head, it seemed like a good way to get the shelter we need in order to not die, while also saving the very tiny amount of money we have. Now I know why no one ever answered our ads.

    1. Well, even if it weren’t illegal it isn’t a situation most people would want- you couldn’t guarantee a good standard of work from someone you’re not paying, and hard to get them to leave if it goes wrong.

      1. See, originally, I was asking for a room/board plus $400 a month, but I didn’t hear back on that one, and I thought it was because no one was going to pay me to live in their house, while I also use the internet and shower. So I discounted our services further, to free.

        1. Try raising your rates and describing in greater detail what you can do for the homeowners. Desperate vibes a) attract people who want to take advantage of you, and b) make people wonder what the downsides are – have you done something illegal and just want to lie low for a bit, will you be walking off with all of the valuables? The less you come across as needing this place, the better your chances of finding a good position.

          Also, if you’re good with animals, and particularly if you have experience farming/smallholding, advertise this and look in specialist publications/websites. Someone who will house *and* dog/cat/horse sit is solving a lot more problems.

          1. This. Plus instead of “unpaid full time live in servants”, try things like “caretaker” or “groundskeeper” or “housekeeper”. Professionalism ALWAYS helps.

    2. I’ve actually seen so many of those from the other direction (ex: “live rent free in my basement and in exchange do all the housework and watch the kids!” plus one really kinda-horrifying one that went “I am suddenly a widower and am looking for someone to come nanny my 3 boys under the age of 10, cook their food, take them to/from school, and do minor housework, in exchange for free room and board, great opportunity for a college student!” That went had every thing in the “job description” of a wife, I was relieved at least it didn’t say “and have sex with me!”) that I’ve stopped looking for apartments on craiglist permanently.

      1. Yeahhhhhhhhhhh because parenting three children and maintaining a household for zero dollars is totes supes easy peasy weasy for someone attending college who will also presumably have to have another job in order to do things like pay tuition and clothe themselves.

        SO MUCH SIDE-EYE for that guy.

        1. So sorry for his late wife. I wonder if she knew enough to be grateful for the free room and board he generously provided her.

      2. I saw an ad kind of like that back when I was apartment hunting, but this one was essentially “I will give you free room and board in exchange for housework and sexual favors.” And it hit every point on the grosser-than-gross-o-meter…specifically requested women aged 18-25 for a guy in his mid-40s who described himself as “very sensual”; asked for a photo to “make sure you will meet my needs”; made no attempt to hide the fact that he was targeting young women in vulnerable positions (“just broke up with your boyfriend? Want to move out of your parents’ house? This is the perfect opportunity!); and he capped it all with an accompanying photo of an East Asian woman in a pink sexy maid costume.

        I reported the SHIT out of that guy.

  14. I want to echo the Captain’s suggestion for a checklist. I worked as a housecleaner for a while, and the lady whose house I cleaned had a very odd set of tasks she wanted done. A checklist made that job doable and sometimes even fun instead of frustrating and annoying, particularly because the checklist explained details of the various tasks (for example, “clean refrigerator” had the subspecifications of “wipe shelves, wipe bins, throw away only rotted veg”). If you don’t think your mom is willing to explain those details, maybe Kat can keep a record of how she’s done the tasks so that there are notes to compare for the future if it becomes a source of conflict. (“Kat never remembers to dry the dishes!” “Actually, she always dries the dishes, but she uses a dishtowel; do you want something other than a dishtowel?”)

    I also agree that all of this is a lot of work, but maybe this can (a) save everyone work and angst later on and (b) give Kat and your mom a more structured and therefore possibly more accessible means of communication without you, if the notes & checklist can become the middle man.

  15. I’ve been on the receiving end of “but you should JUST KNOW” a fair number of times, and I’ve had some success responding with “But I don’t, so what can we do going forward to make sure X gets done?”

    Basically, instead of arguing over whether I should “just know” that tea towels are to be folded into thirds, but bath towels must be folded in fourths, I let the other person “win” that point (that I should already know whatever I’m being complained to about) in order to get them to give me what I actually need (which is guidance on what I’m supposed to be doing and how I’m supposed to be doing it).

    1. This is great. I shall definitely try to remember this if I ever end up in this kind of situation.

  16. So, I think a lot of this comes down to how many hours Kat is spending on housework. LW describes these tasks as “doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks” — to me, that’s nowhere near a full time job. At least plausibly, these tasks would fit into an hour a day (say, 15 minutes of washing dishes + 45 minutes of other housecleaning), in which case Kat is getting a great deal ($10/hour + room and board). Or, who knows, perhaps she’s somehow filling 8 hours a day with washing dishes and sweeping floors, which is potentially very concerning. But I don’t really see an indication of that from the description of the work. I think the amount of time spent on these tasks matters a lot in terms of whether we see this as an “underpaid domestic servant” situation or not.

    I think there are great suggestions above if Kat really is working enough hours that she’s unable to seek other employment, etc. But if this is more in the 7-10 hours/week realm, I think things could probably be solved by having a cleaning “summit” with folks to hammer out details in writing. It sounds like there are two types of tasks here, the routine ones and the extraordinary ones. For the routine ones, try sitting down with your mom and drawing up a clear list of what needs to be done and how she wants it done. Just as an example:

    1. Each day, dishes transferred to dishwasher, dishwasher run, and put away each morning (estimated time, 15 minutes).
    2. Tuesday evening, trash goes out to the curb. Wednesday morning, trash comes back in (estimated time, 10 minutes).

    She can include as many details as she wants, and then expect that she shouldn’t have to issue reminders every Tuesday, etc. — the list will be posted and clear. The estimated times can both provide a way to ensure that you’re not making unreasonable demands on Kat’s time (if they add up to 40 hours/week, you’re in trouble) and as a reality check — if your mom says “well, I want a deep clean of the entire house every Saturday, and I estimate that will take 25 minutes,” you can talk to her about that expectation and how it’s really not realistic/reasonable. Include Kat in this so she can say — “you know, the dishes actually take more than 15 minutes because you like me to scrape them in this special way before putting them in the dishwasher, so let’s rethink that piece.”

    For extraordinary tasks, either work a buffer time into her weekly hours (i.e. 2 hours per week of special requests) and/or have a specific wage you’re going to pay her for any amount of time over that (as well as the understanding that she can say no if it’s interfering with her job/school/etc.)

    1. Are there people capable of washing a day’s dishes in only 15 minutes? It always takes me over an hour. Maybe because I also have to clean the sink and stove, and wipe down all the counters. Damn the counters. They take forever because they’re hopelessly cluttered (with my parents’ belongings, which they refuse to move) and because I’m the only one who cleans them, so I have 24 hours worth of crumbs and spills and trash to clean up.

      Similarly, other “easy” routine tasks like sweeping, mopping, vacuuming/hoovering, and dusting require herculean effort when every horizontal surface in the house is covered with other people’s clutter.

      Um… I guess the point of this comment is that a routine, supposedly easy cleaning task can be a time-consuming pain in the ass if you live with inconsiderate people.

      1. (… or with people with limited mobility, or limited ability to pick things up, or limited ability to see or cognitively process clutter…)

      2. Do you wash them all by hand? Because washing a full load of dishes by hand is significantly different from sticking them in the dishwasher and letting it run, which may be what takes 15 minutes. You also sound more thorough than many people re: counters. Many people don’t do them every day.

        1. For two people, when I wash dishes by hand, and do not dry them, the evening dishes take me a total of ~15 minutes a day.

          Those are the table dishes. Cooking dishes add to this. If we had pasta and spaghetti sauce, it does not add much time. If there was a roasting pan and a basting brush and measuring cups and spoons and a mixing bowl involved, you can easily double it. (I understand that a dishwasher may be available, but not everything can go into the dishwasher.)

          And that is for two people, not four (LW and Kat and mom and Other Parent), and for one meal, not three.

  17. This suggestion would only work if your friend is doing a fair amount of work: It seems like your mom’s annoyance may also have to do with feeling her generosity is taken advantage of, that she generously lets your friend stay for free, and your friend can’t even be bothered to towel fold correctly (this is a guess at angry feelings not a statement that this is accurate) So, what might work is to change the structure of your arrangement, to set a value on the bed and board that your friend gets, X amount per day, per month, whatever, and to set a value to her labor that she does to earn it. Instead of $10 a day, make it hourly or chore based, and work out the chores. Logging it that way takes generosity out of it-it becomes transactional, and seeing the hours worked ?might? make it less angry for your mother. This would only work if your friend is doing enough labor to earn what she is getting, which is not clear from your letter, but if she is, normalizing relations so that their roles are clear might help.

    1. What is it with towel folding? Every person I have ever met does it differently, and so many people have BIG FEELS about which way is The Correct Way to Fold Towels(TM). Even towels that aren’t on display that go in a cabinet that is big enough to hold all of them no matter how they are folded. Even the towels that are a million years old and so worn out that you only use them to clean up things that are super groddy.

      They are TOWELS, not the ineffable secrets of the universe.

      1. Yeah, that puzzles me too. It seems that the Great Housekeeping Fights of Aught-Whatever always seem to revolve around laundry and dishes. Are the clothes/linens/dishes clean? Are they put away in a reasonably neat and organized fashion? Are they somewhere everyone can find and reach them? What else matters?
        Don’t get me started on people who argue about how to hang the toilet paper. Life’s too short.

      2. It’s like what order you put the cutlery in – is it forks, spoons, knives, or is it forks, knives, spoon, or some other even more heathenish version? People can argue about it for hours. (Not that I would ever do that *cough*)

          1. Do you organize your drinking straw spectacles by color?! I won’t set foot in a home whose spectacle straws aren’t arranged by color!

        1. My cutlery drawer organizer has little pictures in the bottom of each compartment of which item it thinks should go there. It’s a bit odd to be bossed around by a drawer organizer, but it does cut down on pointless household arguments.

          1. One of the housekeeping things that my mom drilled into my head from a young age is that it’s stupid to have a cutlery organizer. They make the drawer hold less cutlery, and they get gross and no one ever cleans them.

            Which is true I guess, but it’s kind of funny how mad she could get about a little cutlery organizer.

        2. I split forks and spoons – the ones with flat handles – with knives in the middle In my partner’s kitchen, the drawer is shallow, so they’re lined up sideways in order of usefulness: knives, forks, spoons. My MIL has a cutlery set where *everything* has a solid handle, so you can’t tell, *and* she orders them spoons, forks, knives – and I will never get used to this.

          And in the end, it doesn’t matter, and if you pick the ‘wrong’ utensil, you roll your eyes and move on.

      3. So very true. Some of the worst fights that I ever had with my mother while growing up was over towels.

        When I found myself correcting my daughter on how to fold a towel, I stopped, took a deep breath and said “Here is how I fold a towel, if you want to copy me. However, the only ‘rule’ is that it has to fit reasonably neatly on the shelf in the linen closet, so you can’t just fold it in half and stuff it in there.” I have not said another damned word on the subject since.

  18. Ha! Sounds like my 83-year-old mother. Over the past few years, my sister and I have lived with her to do her housekeeping, hired live-ins when we couldn’t stand it anymore, had her live with us until we couldn’t stand it anymore, and hired over ten different hourly wage people to help her with housekeeping in her own apartment, but . . .none of us has ever done anything “right” because she is so finicky and demanding that it is impossible for anyone to begin to meet her standards. She also claims she can do it all herself even though she can barely make it to the bathroom using her walker, let alone clean and cook a meal for herself. Some people are just plain ornery. And when they get old and weak but think they can take care of themselves just fine, thank you, they get a lot ornerier. Good luck!

  19. I don’t want to be accused of being on the anti-Kat team, but I’m sensing from the letter (perhaps the line “she doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks” and also that LW seems to be secretly covering some of the chores herself) that maybe Kat really isn’t holding up what Mom imagined to be the arrangement. Was there a sense, when this was arranged, that this would be a “Let’s help Kat out by saying she can stay here until she’s back on her feet, and we’ll ask her to do dishes and pay her 10$ a day so she doesn’t feel like she’s totally freeloading” kind of thing, or was it more a “Great news! My friend needs a gig with a place to stay. This will solve our housekeeping problems!” kind of thing? I suspect that Mom assumed (and perhaps her denial of her need for help played into this assumption, and it wasn’t the same assumption that LW and Kat were operating under) that it was more of the former, and is wondering when her generosity will be sufficient?

    It isn’t clear whether or not the cleaning thing is a full time job, and/or whether Kat has other stuff going on (another job, school, etc.) But if neither of those things are true, I would imagine if I were in Mom’s position, and Kat came into my house under this arrangement and spent 90% of her time watching Jerry Springer while munching on potato chips I bought for her, and 10% of the time doing a half-assed job of washing the dishes, well, I would be pissed, too. And that would be a different kind of awkward situation for the LW. No one wants to be in the position of referring a friend to a job, only to find out they didn’t perform well, and that goes double (or triple!) when the situation is with your own mother and you all have to live together. LW wants to defend her friend, of course, but I noticed the lack of actual endorsement for the quality of her friend’s work to be a little telling. I could be reading into that from personal experience, though!

    That’s not to say that Mom is handling the situation with grace. Passive aggression is never the answer. But if this is the case, there might already be some Bad Feelings going around that might still stick around even if Kat upped her game. I would think that what might help would be to discuss with Kat her plans for moving forward, whether it be a new live-in situation with people she isn’t emotionally entangled with, or for making moves towards getting a job that she could make enough to get her own apartment (or an apartment with roommates). Perhaps if there were a plan in motion for Kat’s future, Mom might feel less like she had to be charitable indefinitely, which I get the sense, from the sampling of her remarks about Kat, is what she is feeling.

    This is only, of course, if Kat really isn’t doing all that much, not if she is and Mom simply doesn’t like the kind of swans into which Kat folds the dinner napkins. Then I fully endorse the comment above about detailing the exact rate of work vs. compensation, along with a specific checklist of what Mom wants done, when, and how.

    1. That’s a valid point. I think there are a lot of details we’re missing (about how much work Kat is expected to do, how well she’s performing without taking Mom’s standards into account, what Mom thought about the time frame and scope of this arrangement), so it’s impossible to say who’s the “right” one in this situation. Mom is the one who has a problem with the way things are now, so the Captain’s advice was about going back to Mom and getting a clearer understanding of what her expectations are and whether Kat can reasonably be expected to meet them.

    2. That was my thought too, that maybe Kat isn’t doing as much work as she’s being paid for (including room and board). And in that case, both sides need to have clear, written down expectations, and Kat needs a plan of action for moving out and getting a job that she can show progress on.

      1. A reminder that at $10 a day, she’s really only being paid to do about an hour’s work. Maybe two, though honestly room and board doesn’t really account for that much. For $10 a day, I’d be willing to do the dishes once a day, vacuum or sweep the main floor, make beds, and take out the trash. I wouldn’t even do laundry on top of that because it’d be well over an hour of work at that point. If this is getting down into little details like folding towels correctly, then I’d say it’s gone way beyond that.

        1. $10 a day PLUS room and board. That savings in rent is significant and should be included when considering Kat’s “income” from Mom.

        2. I’m curious why you say room and board doesn’t account for that much? Where I live it’s unlikely you’d be able to rent a small room in someone’s house for less than about $500 a month, and groceries would easily add a couple of hundred more. So when I look at those numbers, she would be being payed a value of around $1000/month, minimum wage is $11/hr here, so about 90 hrs a month, or more than 20 hours of work a week at minimum wage. (Fewer of course, if you assume more than minimum wage)

          I’m sure the numbers will vary depending where you live.

          1. I’m thinking less in terms of the money that Kat has saved (which is substantial–I think your calculations are reasonable) and more in the extra money it costs the household to keep her, which is far, far less. I’m not sure exactly how to calculate it, but I’m certain she doesn’t use $1000 a month worth of groceries, electricity, water, etc. I’m assuming this is not a situation where the LW and her mother are seeking to profit off of Kat, which is why I’m coming at this from the angle of “how much money does it cost them for Kat to live there” vs. “how much money is Kat saving”.

          2. OK, but “how much it costs for Kat to live there” is the…incorrect angle? I mean, that’s not how the value of a living situation is calculated. What is the market value in the area for a bedroom in a house with shared kitchen/living space, utilities included, and laundry?

            It doesn’t matter what it costs to the owner of a rental property to have someone live in that space; the value that matters is what it costs to the renter. Where I live, you could reasonably expect to pay $400-1000 a month for such a space, depending on location and the niceness & size of the house. It doesn’t really matter if, say, the cost to the owner of the rental property for both the $400 space and the $1000 space is $200 of utilities & whatnot: providing someone a living situation in one space is not the same as providing them a living situation in the other.

        3. Where I live currently, the absolute cheapest rent is $17 a day, if you’re subletting in a multi-person apartment or for someone who doesn’t know how much rent normally costs you might be lucky enough to get it for $14 a day. Groceries cost about another $3-5 a day. So if you add in room and board then she’s making more like $25-35 a day. Just so we’re using the same numbers here. And that amount of money could cover anything from 2 to maybe even 5 hours of work a day.

          But “minor household chores” tend to make me think it’s more like 2 hours a day, though obviously we don’t really have enough information to go on. In my house the trash only needs to be taken out once a week, and the floors only need vacuuming maybe once a week, which leaves ample time for laundry once or twice a week as well. My point being, people’s chore schedules vary and without enough information we really don’t know the number of hours Kat is working.

    3. I have to admit the whole set-up as described made me feel anxious. When I was a teenager a few people made suggestions as to how to get me away from my parents (not that I recognised how abusive they were at the time), and it could have been disastrous if I’d taken them up. I had no skills for living in a normal household, certainly no initiative because I assumed anything I did was wrong, and my getting along strategy was to be unobtrusive as possible. I would have eagerly done everything clearly specified but to frightened to do or negotiate anything else.

      1. It’s kind of interesting in the letter that we hear nothing of Kat’s thoughts or words or behaviour or opinions on the subject. It’s sort of odd ommission. Is she also just really quiet and unobtrusive? Or depressed or having mental health problems or something else? Or is she just happy with the setup? She’s described as LW’s friend so it’s a little surprising that there’s nothing about their interactions or her opinions on the situation.

        Somewhat related, but I wonder if she ever managed to hook up with some counselling.

        1. And why doesn’t Kat just go to Mom and ask her directly what needs doing and how?

        2. I confess I’m wondering how easy it is to afford counselling if her entire income is $10 a day and that has to cover any medications, clothing, transportation, and non-food essentials (bank fees spring to mind). I know it’s possible, it just seems like it’d be non-trivial to arrange, and could easily feel overwhelming.

          (I do get that she’s spending a lot less than she would need to spend if she had to pay for room and board, and I realize that’s a huge weight off. I’m not saying that’s not the case.

          (Actually, I suppose that I’m saying that when you were very nearly homeless due to an abusve relationship, and your entire income is $310 a month, paid by a woman who apparently resents you a great deal, counselling cannot hurt at all.)

  20. Dear LW:
    The situation with your mother, Kat, you, and your other parent(s) sounds like a well intentioned disaster.

    The Captain’s right, an accurate list of the tasks your mother expects from Kat is necessary short term, and long term? Long term Kat probably needs to leave.

    At a guess the longer she stays, the longer the list of house work tasks.

  21. LW, it sounds like your mother wants you to be sort of a middle manager because she isn’t comfortable talking to Kat. I.e., she wants you to communicate the job expectations and make sure Kat meets them. This is work for you, but I don’t think it is unreasonable, because this arrangement was your idea.

    It’s not correct to describe Kat as an “unpaid” worker. Lodging, food, and $10/day (~$300/month) IS pay. Whether it’s enough pay legally depends on lots of things we don’t know, like the local law, Kat’s hours, and the value of housing. But it’s clearly enough for Kat, or she would have left already.

    I agree that as a good friend LW should help Kat get out of this low-paid, dead-end job. But as a good daughter, she should manage her mother’s employee so that the mother doesn’t feel exploited.

  22. LW, some have touched on this, but I want to highlight it – it’s the first thing that jumped into my mind when I read your letter.

    Your mother’s adjusting to being less mobile/able to do things than she’s used to. This is never an easy process. Right now, she has a home help (carer) who she’s refusing to give directions to, believing that you, her dear daughter, JUST KNOW everything and should/will sort it out. You can’t do everything for her AND live your own life as well. All this adds up to: your mother seems to have decided that you shouldn’t live your own life, and you should instead only be her carer.

    I don’t think most of the tension you’re facing has much to do with Kat – I think most of it’s down to your mother’s insistence that YOU should be the only one caring for her. If her arthritis is expected to only get worse (I think that’s how it usually goes), then you definitely need to address this, at some point*. You can start by trying to make her see that folding towels (or whatever) differently is not wrong, and that you won’t be doing everything for her because you still want to live your own life, not just be her carer. Don’t expect her to necessarily see your point. Focus most of your energy on not giving a shit about her complaints about incompetent carers – some of the stories of such are above – on sifting the stories to be sure that there’s nothing of substance (no abuse, etc) to actually be concerned about.

    * You might lead with this now, in the short term, as one person suggested (“If you keep complaining about the way Kat does things, we’ll lose her help.”) OR you might address the Kat issues now with a contract and hopefully getting Kat back on her feet elsewhere in the next 3-6 months, and then address this with your mother. You know the personalities, and you’ll be there to see how things play out.

  23. Have you asked your mother if she would like to discontinue the arrangement?
    Because I’m Team Mother in this – it’s her care, her home, possibly even her $10 a day, and if it isn’t working for her, I think she’s entitled to say so. (I’m family caregiver for my 82 year old mother with Alzheimers: I’m not underestimating the difficulty of your situation – I had two interruptions whilst typing that first sentence)

    If, given a real choice, your mother wants to continue the arrangement, that leads naturally to – ‘Well, now we’ve been doing this a while, let’s fine-tune things!’ – but equally, if she doesn’t want to, she may feel it easier to bear with Kat’s work if she knows there’s an end-date in sight You all sound like caring people: so hopefully she’d be happy to give Kat a reasonable amount of notice, which in turn gives you (the family unit) time to consider other solutions. (Rent the spare room officially, and use the income to pay someone to come in? Would your parents consider moving to somewhere smaller and easier to maintain?)

    I don’t think it’s up to you to solve your mum’s care problems if she’s still reasonably alert, but neither do I think it’s up to your mum to be responsible for Kat’s upkeep for an unspecified amount of time. (And, and this probably goes without saying, neither should Kat feel obligated to be responsible for your mum’s needs for an unspecified amount of time: it was an ideal set-up for them both at a period of time, but either should be able to terminate the arrangement without feeling guilty.)

    1. YES. Given the few facts given, I’m on Team Mom, too. The fact that Kat has been there an entire year, and there doesn’t seem to be any mention of her having a plan for moving on, is a red flag to me. I’m very sympathetic to Kat’s original crisis, and thank goodness she escaped an abusive situation. But that doesn’t mean she’s entitled to camp permanently at her friend’s mom’s house for free, even if she DOES do dishes!

    2. Okay, I am rewriting this reply because when I initially wrote it, it was full of bitter snark to the point of rudeness.

      LW’s Mom is getting UNBELIEVABLE value for money. I had an elderly relative who had live-in help when she became old and frail and — even though this was about a decade ago and there has been massive inflation — the price per day was vastly higher than $10.

      Furthermore, if someone was paying me $10 per day, I would EXPECT them to have to tell me which tasks they wanted me to do on a daily basis — and, furthermore, I would have a timer which I would start when I began work, and when it ran out that would be that. This woman is apparently expecting open-ended labor (“doing the dishes” is easy if everyone had lunchmeat sandwiches for lunch — not so easy if you made a lasagna and dirtied a mixing bowl, a saucepan, a pot, a cutting board, a strainer, the lasagna pan, and a dozen miscellaneous cooking utensils, in addition to the usual plates AND whatever was used to make any side dishes or salad), which will be done to an endlessly minute specification (arguing over folding towels? give me a break.), combined with mind-reading. Last I heard, you had to pay an awful lot more than $10 a day for that.

      LW’s Mom needs to get over herself. If she finds that she needs to remind Kat of certain tasks over and over, then she needs to tell Kat — NOT LW — that “here is a list of the things I need you to do every day without being reminded”. If she has other problems, she needs to tell Kat ANYWAY. This nonsense of bringing Kat in? She wants avoid the consequences of being unpleasant, but not the deep satisfaction of complaining. That’s horrible behavior.

      1. Doing the washing up once a day? That’s, what, half an hour’s work, even if it is what you’re describing? Loading and unloading the washing machine once a week? That’s not worth $70 a week. Light housework can be anything. If it’s just washing up and, I dunno, loading and unloading the washing machine once a week, then $70 a week is a steal. If she’s expected to vacuum the entire house and scrub out the bathroom daily, that’s a big difference. If she’s getting board, she might also be eating shared meals (in which case she should probably be helping out with that anyway). We really don’t have much to go on, and honestly, she could be being taken advantage of, or she could be coasting on the situation. We don’t know what else is happening, if she has a job or is looking for one, if she’s spending all her time in the house doing chores, or if she’s spending all her time in the house doing nothing.

        My great-aunt had a live-in help, who needed to do things like help lay out her clothes, put away anything on shelves, prepare meals, help her up, make sure everything was where she expected it when her sight went, etc. That’s a full time job, and should be paid accordingly, but it’s not the same as my grandma needing a cleaner once a week, because her arthritis made it uncomfortable to clean.

        Also, if somebody does know it’s their job to do something, and then they keep not doing it until someone reminds them? That’s irritating, and them failing to do it. If I have to tell housemate not to leave stuff in the sink so I can’t use it? Sure, she’ll do the washing up when she’s reminded, but it still means I can’t use it until she’s done, and I feel like I’m nagging.Yeah, the mum could tell Kat directly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not Kat’s fault for not doing it. She knows she has to do these things– why doesn’t she have a list for herself? She’s not a child, that’s entirely within her responsibility.

        1. Yes, and depending on how much renting a room or buying food costs where they live, it isn’t $70 a week – where I live room and board plus another $70 a week would come up to at least about $250 or $300 a week, if not more. If Mom was ‘convinced’ this was going to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, then she might have had low expectations for the first few months out of charity, but at some point, certainly a year in, of course she’s going to expect a fair number of hours of work for what she’s providing if it’s meant to be a win-win situation for everyone and not just charity. Or maybe having tried it, she doesn’t actually want to continue, but feels mean or awkward saying so.

          In the homes I’ve personally lived in, there’s no way I or we ever generated anywhere remotely near $250 worth of housework in a week even if no one else was chipping in (I mean, it would be unusual for me to spend even 5 hours a week on housework, personally, if we’re not counting cooking and buying groceries, which as far as I understand I don’t think we are).

          On the other hand, if there are four people living there and some of them aren’t contributing, if the house is very big, if there are extra tasks needed to help the older woman with arthritis get through her day, if there’s yardwork involved, or cooking, or grocery shopping that’s far away, or particularly high expectations like dusting every single knick knack and scrubbing all the kitchen cupboards every week, or individually folding every person’s socks, it could theoretically add up to so many more hours. And if there’s some actual caregiving involved it could even be a demanding full-time job (though to me, personally, it didn’t sound like there was).

          So we don’t know.

          But maybe the whole arrangement is not longer suiting everyone’s purpose and it’s time to revisit the details or set an end date.

        2. If the mother can’t clean, then chances are that she can’t really COOK either, so add in meal prep unless the old… lady, let’s be polite, is living on cold cereal and lunchmeat sandwiches. If her arthritis keeps her from being able to clean, then chances are that “light housework” is a euphemism for “doing cleaning which able-bodied people aren’t even aware might need to be done”, too. I’m kind of betting that Mommy Dearest, here, is expecting a minimum of 4 hours a day spent on her — if she really had reasonable complaints, why would she be unwilling to talk to Kat about them? The only plausible reason for trying to bring in LW as a middleman is that Mommy Dearest knows that she is being unreasonable and thinks that a family member will be unwilling to tell her where to go when she complains that she thinks the eggs used in her daily soufflé may not have been raised locally on organic feed.

          1. It’s pretty different levels of activity. My grandmother could cook. Arthritis doesn’t necessarily effect all the joints equally (if you get it more in the hip, that’s a problem for cleaning but not so much for cooking) and if cooking is something the mother enjoys doing, she might figure that it’s worth the discomfort anyway.

            Also, you can get good grip spatulas and there are food processors and so on to help with cooking, that can reduce the level of activity or change the movement required– pushing a vacuum around or lifting a feather duster are pretty fixed, though.

            And there are lots of reasons why she might not want to talk to Kat directly, starting with the fact that she knows Kat comes from an abusive situation and might not feel comfortable criticising her, but figures LW would know how to talk to her better, in a less hurtful way. Or she is just bad with confrontation. Or she figures that this is LW’s friend, and LW’s responsibility, since she’s doing this because LW said her friend needed help.

            The LW said nothing about meal prep, and honestly, even if she did? I don’t spend four hours a day on housework, and I do my own cooking and cleaning.

            LW described it as washing up and minor housecleaning chores and hasn’t said anything to imply that in LW’s opinion (not the mother’s) that it goes beyond that. For me, that would cover routine things (vacuuming, doing the washing up, etc.) and occasional extra tasks (cleaning the fridge, descaling the kettle, defrosting the freezer, etc.). Granted that can cover a lot of ground– how often does something need to be vacuumed, how often does the bathroom get cleaned, does the freezer frost up easily and take ages to defrost without a steamer– but the problem *from the LW’s words* is more based on communication and different standards and expectations (hanging the towels on the towel rack vs folding the towels on the towel rack).

          2. My grandmothers both had a cleaner in once or twice a week once they got older to do cleaning that was hard for them, but they both cooked their own meals until the last week of their lives. Even my grandmother who couldn’t go down the stairs to leave her apartment and needed someone to do errands for her did her day to day cooking and most of her laundry.

            Different tasks use different amounts of physical effort and different parts of the body.

      2. (arguing over folding towels? give me a break.)

        Can I just point out that the LW never mentions towels?

        The Captain uses dishtowels not being folded correctly in her reply as a hypothetical example of something not being done to specifications; it’s not something the LW ever mentions.

        So all the comments about how LW’s mother is so crazy and irrational and abusive in her expectations because she’s getting on Kat’s case about folding towels incorrectly — that’s not actually a thing that’s happening, as far as we know. It might or might not be, but the LW doesn’t mention it.

        We have no idea if LW’s mother’s complaints are along the lines of “Kat folds the dishtowels diagonally instead of lengthwise!” or are more like “The sink’s been full of dirty dishes for the past week because Kat won’t do the washing up unless she’s ‘reminded’ to”.

  24. Even before I read the Captain’s response, the phrase, “How will you ever make it in the ‘real world’ if you can’t [insert whatever here]” raised both my hackles and a red flag, but I couldn’t quite articulate why. After some reflection, I realised that, at worst, it sets up the speaker as a benevolent protector who is shielding you from the supposed consequences of your behaviour, and then using that as an excuse to then turn around and treat you crappily.

    Not to say that this is the case for the LW’s mom! This sounds much more like the LW’s mother wants to complain but feels guilty doing so, and so is trying to be indirect, as the Captain was saying.

  25. I’d like, also, more details about what routine tasks Kat needs to be reminded of. Because, coming from your mother’s side, “I’ll give this woman a place to stay, food and a bit of money in return for her doing some chores[1], and I need to remind her every single time to wash the dishes in the sink and empty the fridge, why is the emotional labour of planning work all falling to me as well as having a stranger in my house who I need to feed and give money to? This is OP’s friend, I’m doing her a favour too, I’ll ask her to do the work of making sure the normal housework gets done.”

    The “she does these things wrong and will fail at life” seems more like Bitch Eating Crackers than anything else.

    You need to have a conversation with everyone about what regular tasks you and Kat are each expected to do, so it’s clear in everyone’s mind that you are supposed to clean the bathtub every week and Kat is expected to wash the kitchen floor and so on, then no one will need to have your mother remind you regularly of what you should be doing, and extraordinary things can be dealt with on a case by case basis where your mother isn’t upset already about the daily stuff you should be doing.

    [1] As other people have said, it depends how much work Kat is expected to do; I’m assuming it’s a reasonable daily amount such that she has time to have another job. But also, an au pair works 45 hours a week for $200, room and board, so up to 10-15 hours a week on chores for room and board isn’t entirely out of line here.

    1. Yeah, my Dad uses “But it’s not fair if you expect me to JUST KNOW” as a way to make it so exhausting to expect anything of him that everyone ends up doing everything themselves. “How do I do this? What do you want me to do with that? Can you come and look at the other?” So even if he’s technically cooking supper for once, you still have to do all the emotional and mental work of planning the meal and supervising every step, even though he is a grown man who used to cook all the time before my mother retired and is completely capable of making those decisions by himself.

      So, “You should JUST KNOW” is not always 100% invalid — if it’s things like “You should just know that humans need to eat and the resulting mess needs to be cleared up, without needing me to spell it out for you every single time” or “You should just know that things should go back in the place you took them from” not “you should just know that I can’t sleep if all the jars of spices aren’t facing outwards just so in the cupboard.”

      But in either case, they need to work out clear, reasonable expectations and Kat needs a new living and working situation as soon as that is practicable.

    2. Yeah. “Routine tasks” suggests to me that there are certain routine chores that Kat is expected to do.

      In which case, yeah, I can entirely see why LW’s mum objects to having to remind Kat every time they need doing, and may feel awkward about having to “nag” LW’s friend in order to get her to do them.

      Especially if there’s general ambiguity about whether Kat is primarily there as an employee, a guest, LW’s friend, someone who’s being helped out, etc..

      If there isn’t a list of what routine tasks Kat’s expected to do, then there needs to be.

      1. I think you’ve put your finger on it — there’s ambiguity about whether Kat is a part-time employee, a member of the household who does her share of chores and receives an “allowance”, a tenant who pays for her rent by helping around the house, a friend receiving temporary charitable help in exchange for a token amount of work, or what, and that’s causing problems because the expectations for all of those roles are different in terms of how much housework you can reasonably expect her to do, how picky you can be about exactly when and how she does it, and what the consequences might be if she doesn’t do the work or doesn’t do it up to your standards.

  26. I’ve been in a similar situation before with two high school friends who, at different times, moved in with my family because their living situations had become untenable. For one, her father’s Internet honey had moved to his state to live with him and decided his daughter was so much excess baggage and had to go, and her only option was moving in the middle of the school year to another state to live with her mentally unstable mother, and the other one was having a lot of friction with her parents because they wouldn’t let her do stuff like pick out her own clothes (at 17).

    It didn’t work out well in either case, partially because the adults who should have been involved/behaving like adults weren’t and because expectations and a clear time of departure were not set out at the beginning. It’s pretty easy to go from “I want to be a good friend” to “This person is taking up space, eating our food, and generally behaving like a 17 year old and it’s getting very old very fast.”

    There’s a lot of stuff going on here, but a few of the comments mentioned that having clearly set out expectations in written form can change the conversation from who Kat is as a person to what she’s doing (i.e., she’s not doing the dishes as is set out in our agreement vs. she’s a lazy/bad person for not knowing what to do without it being clear). I know this is hard because it sounds like the LW’s mother is going to fight the LW’s efforts, and I think part of that is because she’s probably trying to get Kat out of there without actually saying it…which is also not fair.

    In retrospect, I don’t think letting my high school friends live with us solved any problems or really helped. All it meant was that their families got to duck out on dealing with what was their responsibility (their minor children) for a little longer, and when my parents got fed up with having them in our house, what to do with them was suddenly an emergency. Of course, part of this is that their families just wanted the problem to go away, and didn’t use not having their kids in the house as a time to form an actual workable plan that wasn’t “let our child live indefinitely…somewhere else.” But it was also a super difficult position to be in as a 17 year old when your friend is asking to borrow money from you because their parents aren’t providing them any, and they can’t exactly support themselves while in high school.

    It also made me realize how awful it is to live somewhere where you feel unwelcome and resented but have nowhere else to go. That SUCKS and I feel very sorry for Kat. That being said, her continuing to live with the LW may not be a workable solution.

  27. I agree that it sounds like it’s time for LW to talk with Kat about next steps. But I am also the daughter of a mother who complains about having to do the chores herself because we all gave up trying to do them to her specifications long ago, and the only time I have ever gotten any traction in getting her to understand this was when she was temporarily laid up and the only option was doing things my way or not doing them at all. I’m seeing a lot of that in your question, and I wonder whether the thing you need to address is not so much what Kat is doing as your own feelings on Mom’s expectations. In which case, the script may not be so much, “Mom, if you have a problem with what Kat’s doing, you should talk to her directly” as “Mom, I don’t see this as the problem that you do. I’m not comfortable telling Kat she has to do it this way when I think she handled it just fine or she interpreted things the way I would’ve in her place, and I’m really not comfortable with the way you’re criticizing her over it. If there’s a reason behind doing things that way I’m not seeing, I’m sure she’ll be happy to make adjustments if you explain it to her. But otherwise, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree, and I need to change the subject now.”

  28. “So, I think a lot of this comes down to how many hours
    Kat is spending on housework.”
    Yes, so much this!

    The situation could be anything from ‘Mom is doing Kat a big favour and expecting very little in return’ all the way up to ‘Kat is being asked to work for us without getting fairly paid’. And it’s also possible that everyone involved has a different feeling of where on that spectrum this situation lies. A bit of math might be helpful to clarify to all involved what is the truth of the situation.

    Deals and trades and jobs of all kinds tend to work best when details and expectations are out in the open and everyone is on the same page.

    1. Also, how many things does Kat do in the house that fall under ‘things you do when a member of your household is physically impaired’? There’s helping to cook (you’re eating it) and helping to clean up and ‘just’ picking up a thing or getting a thing from the shelf or changing a lightbulb or taking down the curtains or going up the stairs to fetch something or popping down the shop to fetch something…

      If a stranger rented that room, they’d only do a fraction of it, but as Kat is getting a friend/family deal, she might be doing a lot of stuff over and beyond ‘chores’ – and there may be a certain discrepancy between how much work she feels she is doing, and how much work the LWs Mum thinks she’s asking her to do.

  29. Yes, there are many times in my life I would have been happy to have $300 left over every month after paying my rent and utilities AND all my groceries… It’s very low for a full time job (and depending on the details could be less than minimum wage), but if it turns out she’s only working an hour or two a day for that, then it actually sounds like an awesome deal for her. Financially, anyway. There are other considerations than financial.

    But I don’t think we know enough to know if she’s getting a hugely generous deal or a very unfair or even exploitative deal. And the way the letter is worded leaves it a little unclear whether the LW, mom, and Kat are even clear on the answer to that.

    1. Where do you get the ‘$300 left over’ from? If you’re counting the ‘$10/day’, please consider that Kat almost inevitably will have to pay
      – further bills (like mobile phone, insurance, debts)
      – non-household groceries.

      Just because she eats with the family does not mean that *all* her groceries are paid. Snacks and any food the family does not like or that seems too outrageous to ask for (Kat isn’t five) are likely things she pays for out of her own pocket.

      And then there’s the fact that, having come from an abusive situation, she probably does not *have* a wardrobe (much less one suitable for job interviews), so when things wear out she needs to replace them now.

      I have no idea how much money Kat has ‘left over’ but I guess it’s a fraction of the sum.

      1. I think To_Ont’s point is that there are plenty of people who work and DON’T have money beyond rent, utilities, and basic food, and would be thrilled to have $300 left over each month after those things were taken care of so that they could buy things like clothing and extra snacks. I know I’ve sure been in that position as a student and young adult.

        1. Yes, me too. I think minimum wages should be set high enough that no one is in that situation working full time, but the situation doesn’t sound like a full time job. It could be as little as 5-10 hours a week, it isn’t clear from the letter. And to have those bare bones essentials covered in 10 hours of work? With any additional work I can find to fill the rest of my week being on top of that?

  30. I’m not surprised that the originial advice is so anti-mom (because advice here tends to cast parents as irredeemable villains) but I am so surprised at how little compassion there is for the mother’s situation generally in the comments. I sometimes feel like people are high on sympathy but short on empathy. Because most people answering are young and have negative experiences of being patronized or having low paying jobs, people seem eager to cast the mother as a villain.

    Firstly, she is experiencing loss of independence and mobility. This is a hugely stressful and difficult situation to be in. A LW a few days ago was considered perfectly reasonable to run out of a dinner with family due to anxiety, But an elderly woman who is facing a hugely difficult transition and likely permanent and increasing disability is considered a monster for a few cross words.

    Secondly, the LW’s mom not taking her complaints to Kat. I see. In another letter the fact that women are conditioned to be nice and not cause conflict, and that the mom probably doesn’t want to have conflict in her home (where she may be increasingly confined due to arthritis), the fact that it’s a complicated employment relationship (daughter’s friend/abuse survivor/dependent) or the fact that Kat is only there due to her being “convinced” (her words) by her daughter might loom large. But not here. The mom is complaining because she is a Power Tripping Abusive (Bitch). Case closed. The only question is how to extricate Kat from this terrible abusive monster. It’s a completely unfair, one sided reading of events.

    The LW CONVINCED her mother to take Kat in. She convinced her it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. But these arrangements fail all the time. Living with people is hard; taking in a daughter’s friend is hard; mixing that with domestic labor is hard; mixing that with a person facing an growing lack of mobility is hard. There can be poor outcomes without evil people.

    Nowhere in the original advice is the suggestion that the LW sit down with her mom and ask if she is happy with the arrangement. LW (if I may be so bold), ignore this advice. Treat your mom like a human being with worth, value and a brain whose house you live in. Discuss this with her. THANK HER for taking in her friend but ask frankly if it’s not working. Maybe she’s terribly unhappy with this and feels constrained by the fact that she is consigning Kat to homelessness. Maybe she’s generally unhappy. Listen to her suggestions. Be objective. Come up with a plan. Maybe Kat is not the best worker or maybe your mom is unreasonable. Either way, thank her and make plans how to move forward.

    1. After reading your comment, I went back and reviewed the comments above it, and I am not sure what you’re talking about. Most commenters acknowledge that the mother is in a difficult position, and most commenters point out that everyone–not just the mother–could be handling it better. Your comment really rubs me the wrong way, and not least because it sounds like exactly the kind of thing my own self-centered, guilt-tripping, boundary-pushing mother would say. What point are you making, exactly? That the commenters should be more considerate of the mother and her situation? That is a valuable and worthwhile remark and a valuable addition to the conversation. We could all be more considerate of people and consider things from their point of view. Can that valuable addition to the conversation come without the butthurt? Because that valuable observation doesn’t seem so valuable with all that butthurt slopped all over it. Meanwhile, from the original advice: “You and your other parent (where are they in all of this, btw?) and your mom could spend a day or so building a list of all the tasks that need doing around the house on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You could approach it from the standpoint of “’Mom, I’m trying to figure out how to make sure whatever help we get around the house is actually helpful, and it’s clear from some of your complaints that there are whole areas of stuff that you quietly took care of for years that Dad & I have taken for granted. I’ve printed this list off from a local cleaning service as a guideline, will you take a look at it and then walk through everything with us so we can make a master list of what needs to get done on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?'” That sounds an awful lot like a suggestion that the LW sit down with her mom and ask if she is happy with the arrangement. If you’re going to scold and try to send people on guilt trips, at least get your facts right.

      1. A+ comment, a much more eloquent version of my thoughts on the comment and the thread.

      2. ’Mom, I’m trying to figure out how to make sure whatever help we get around the house is actually helpful, and it’s clear from some of your complaints that there are whole areas of stuff that you quietly took care of for years that Dad & I have taken for granted. I’ve printed this list off from a local cleaning service as a guideline, will you take a look at it and then walk through everything with us so we can make a master list of what needs to get done on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?’”

        Actually, the above is definitively NOT asking the mother if she is happy with the arrangement. Asking would mean acknowledging the difficulty of the situation and discussing the friend potentially leaving. What the advice is suggesting is “managing” the mother’s discomfort at the friend living there.

        I’ll leave the rest of your comment alone except to say that it completely reinforces my general point re the acknowledging the mom’s feelings = kowtowing to abusive parent narrative that so unfairly flavors the original advice.

        1. Even if Kat leaving is the best solution – which I think it probably is – that’s not likely to be something that can happen immediately. And it doesn’t change the fact that there needs to be some kind of long-term plan for taking care of Mom that Mom can live with, whether it’s being carried out by Kat or the rest of the family or someone else. That’s going to require a discussion like the one above, and that discussion may make it clear to everyone that what Mom needs is more than Kat can provide without causing any hard feelings.

          I haven’t seen anyone saying Mom is evil. I’ve seen plenty of acknowledgment that this is difficult for her. But she’s taking out her stress in a way that’s creating stress and conflict for the LW, and that’s not okay. Not evil, just not okay, and something that does need to be addressed in addition to the Kat situation.

          1. I hear you, but I think the original point is still fair. “how can we work within this existing situation” is not the same as “should this situation continue”? I understand the former approach makes a lot of sense where the situation is beyond someone’s control OR where the parties have all agreed that they want the situation to continue in principle but there needs to be improvement. I’m not sure that assumption has been tested and I think it’s because LW and perhaps Kat is afraid of the what the answer may be. If so, then, respectfully, that is patently unfair to all parties but especially the mother, because it is denying the mother any right to agency in her own affairs. Or, if I put on a different set of spectacles, I could pretty easily re-frame the situation as falling into the broad spectrum of elder exploitation (child “convinces” elderly mother with physical disability to take on an extra unrelated adult dependent at elderly mother’s cost while adult child also lives at home in exchange for ?). To be clear, I am NOT saying that is the situation –just that there is enough material that can also be perceived in a way that doesn’t put either the LW or Kat in the best light.

            So, the right thing to do is to check with the Mom. Acknowledge the tension, test if Mom is still okay with the arrangement and if not, why. If things are capable of being addressed THEN work out how. If Mom says no, then work out the process for unwinding the situation. Just as it is totally okay to not want to be in a relationship with someone, then it is totally okay to not want to live with someone (subject to the law etc. etc.). Maybe Mom is an idiot who doesn’t realize that free market labour would cost 10X what Kat is getting. Maybe it is her right to find out. Or perhaps Mom is actually fairly astute and is willing to pay that price because it comes with no additional obligations or emotional entanglements.

            Obviously, the situation would change if the mother was legally incompetent, but I am not seeing that from the information in the letter. If passive-aggressiveness and irritability is the marker of legal incompetence then I think the courts need to brace themselves for a rush of guardianship applications.

      3. I think it is vital for the LW to ask Mom how Mom feels about the arrangement – and be prepared for the answer that Mom isn’t happy and wants to bring things to a close. If Mom doesn’t want Kat there, Kat is gonna have to eventually move, and the earlier the notice she gets, the better. She may qualify for low income housing or other forms of aid, but these programs often have long waiting lists. Furthermore, if Mom knows there’s work toward an end date, she might be less angry and unreasonable about the housework, even if that end date takes many months or even another year to reach. The worst case scenario is that Mom (and other parent?) gets fed up and kicks Kat out with short notice, leaving her in a bad spot. Or alternately, tries to do so and ends up tangled in legal action.

        Of course that still leaves the question of who’s gonna do the housework once Kat is gone? LW pointed out it’s too much for her. Other posters have pointed out that formal housecleaning service costs add up faster than you’d think. Mom will have the $300 she’s currently paying Kat, but it might not go as far as she thinks. That’s where asking Mom what she wants dovetails nicely with CA’s suggestion of going over a printed list of services with a price sheet, along with the LW being frank about how much work she can and can’t do herself. Who knows, maybe if Mom sees prices, she’ll realize she’s getting a good deal and dial back expectations. Or maybe Kat will be the one to take a look at rental rates and realize it’s time to put in more hours.

        LW, I think the best way to get out of the middle in the long run is actually to get _more_ involved in the short run! You can’t control what everyone does, but you can start nudging people toward making plans.

    2. Elaine May, commenters on this site in run a pretty wide gamut. I notice a comments from folks who have been married 10, 15, & 20 years, folks married more than once, folks with older children, folks who are older, folks who are parents. If there is a “parents are a problem” flavor in the commentariat, it’s not only coming from young, child-free, unmarried people.

      There might be an OMD YOUR MOM flavor to the site, but that is because people write in when they have legit parent dilemmas. And really? I tend to think children underestimate how dreadful things are a lot of the time. By the way, my parents are marvelous people. I don’t write in to advice columns online when I do have a parent problem because I already have the tools I need to resolve my issues. The tools? Are skills my highly functional parents taught me. People with highly functional families don’t need affirmation that yes, things are functional and they can solve their problems. This is not the case so much for people who have been gaslit, for example, and need a lot of affirmation that what happened, happened, and it was Not Good.

      I expect that, if things are pretty much like LW describes them, and they haven’t thanked Mom recently for her generosity, then yeah. That would be a good thing to do. But I really do understand why CA puts herself on Team Kat. (Which is not the same, by the way, as Not on Team Mom.) Abuse victims are vulnerable to violent attack, tend not to be believed, to have their abuse minimized, and have a hard time accessing resources to safely reestablish themselves after leaving. The stakes for a disaster in Kat’s situation are high. Her odds of a disaster are higher than many people’s, and her resource access lower. So yeah. I want Mom, who seems like she is in a tough transition but mostly pretty okay, to be well and happy. I want those things for Kat too. Right now, though, “not likely to be revictimized” is a high priority in Kats’s case. And so for now I will play on her team.

  31. Most of what I’d want to say has been said, so I won’t beat those drums, but… one more voice in favor of getting things into writing with legal help. I have had a job where my wages included room and board + a stipend and… room and board are taxable non-cash income. A lot of taxable income, really. Is she being paid enough to cover the taxes on that or is she going to find herself in a hole with the IRS?

  32. It’s been a year and, given that Kat would probably be paying at least $500 rent if she weren’t living here, Kat gets the equivalent value of at least $800 a month from Mom, for doing the dishes and minor housework (no implication that this is full-time work). I doubt very much she expected to be doing that long-term but just for the rescue term. In addition to not paying rent, is Kat also not paying for food/housing supplies? From the mother’s point of view, it may feel like she suddenly has another dependent. it sounds like Kat and Daughter are taking this arrangement for granted. Mom is elderly, probably on a fixed income, and has health issues. Has it occurred to them that she can’t afford to support an extra adult, and has been too nice to say so?

    Devil’s advocate n all…

    1. When you pay for a room, you have rights. Under an arrangement like this, you are always treading softly, aware that you are dependent on the people in whose house you stay. (You’d lose your home *and* your job. *And* a reference, if you’re short on that kind of thing.)

      So whatever you might be able to rent out a room for if you were on the open market – where you’d then have to comply with regulations and make sure the contract is watertight etc, this kind of informal arrangement is worth about half in my estimation.

      1. But in many places, legally, room and board can be considered compensation up to the fair market value of the property and amenities. So, maybe you wouldn’t personally choose it, but, as many have pointed out, the whole fair/unfairness of the arrangement depends completely on how much work is being performed (and also what the market value of both work and room and board is in the area).

  33. Wait … it is REALLY confusing to me whether Kat has a full-time job in addition to these minor chores, or not, because to me that makes a huge difference. If she has an entry-level (read: low-paying) full time job, and just doesn’t have the cash to put a deposit down on a new apartment, I can understand the arrangement a little better. If $10/day is her only source of income, though, I think Kat and LW (and maybe LW’s mom) should sit down ASAP and figure out how to make the arrangement work for a little while longer, but primarily focus on how to get Kat a Real Job and out on her own. For the legalities, and also just for Kat’s overall well-being.

  34. [Disclaimer: The following situation occurred several years ago in upstate New York, your mileage may vary, check your local listings, none of this is advice.]

    I was in a kind of similar situation, once, a long time ago. Back when Spouse and FirstKid (who was a little baby) and I lived in Old City, we had a friend I’ll call Pat, a classmate of Spouse’s at the local community college. Roughly a year after move to New City, Pat had a catastrophic housing failure such that she was living in an “artist studio” or “indoor storage unit” depending on who you asked – it was about a 10×10 room, there was a toilet and sink but no shower on the premises, etc.

    We collectively decided “no, the heck with that!” and invited Pat to live in a room in the house we were buying (valued by us at $75 a week, which was what a small inexpensive room in the New City area with utilities included ran for at the time) and be paid an additional $150 every two weeks in cash in exchange for roughly 20 hours per week of child care for FirstKid so that Spouse could do schoolwork. Since Pat was on Medicaid and taking multiple psych meds at the time, and this was before mental health parity was law, we were setting this up carefully to ensure that she stayed below the Medicaid cutoffs. The official arrangement was to start the first of the month after we closed on the house; before that she was a friend coming to visit us and helping us move.

    Everyone handled it badly. First, right after we brought Pat in to live with us, Spouse had a serious mental health crisis and spent about two weeks inpatient, which meant I was leaving Pat with FirstKid over the course of a full workday plus visiting time at the hospital, upstairs from the neighbor who was harassing our family and was the catalyst for Spouse’s mental health crisis. She insisted she was okay with it, and I did not have the money to pay her because everything was going to closing costs, but it wasn’t a good start to things.

    We had a couple of months where things were sort of working as intended but it wasn’t quite comfortable for a long list of reasons, and then Pat and Spouse got in a huge argument while Spouse was driving, which Pat chose to interpret as “[Spouse] tried to throw me out of a moving car on the expressway!” (And then I found out from a mutual friend that Pat had a history of accusing people of that exact thing.) Things escalated from there, and then Pat was the one who had to be taken inpatient. While she was there, we decided the arrangement wasn’t working out and ended up giving her notice to move out and writing down a set of conditions that we went over with the hospital caseworker before Pat came back to our house. And there were other fun moments along the way including but not limited to Pat loudly threatening suicide in the local social services office because she hadn’t bothered to transition her Medicaid from Old City to New City and suddenly there were a bunch of problems related to that.

    Once Pat left our house, she ended up going into some kind of long-term supportive housing and psychiatric rehabilitation program. She’s still in the area, I think, and has attached to a completely different circle of friends from the ones we have. We ran into her a few years ago and said hi.

  35. If LW’s mother has arthritis issues (and thus potential typing/writing pain), LW could consider offering to scribe as their mother dictates. At the same time, if LW does so, there need to be clear boundaries, is “I am not writing this for you, I am a pair of hands. Dictate.” Also, not to give LW’s mother a pass but it might be good to check in with her pain level / frequency and see if a medication or habit change might be an underlying need. Good luck, LW!

  36. Hi,

    Speaking as both someone who has done a lot of service jobs where I interacted with older/elderly people and someone who cared for her Mom the last 4 years of her life, there’s a few things I’m picking up on here that maybe others haven’t…

    1. LW’s Mom seems to be the resentment Queen of the Universe– she resents having Kat in the house, she resents having to explain things that are second nature to her because she’s been doing them her whole life (i.e. the towels), and very likely, she resents the LW for passing the buck.

    What do I mean by that last line? Many older people, my own parents included, firmly believed that it was the strict duty of their children to take care of them in their old age, and not by hiring someone else to do it. That was one of the reasons they had kids in the first place. My own parents did it for theirs, and I and my sister were expected to do it for them, never mind that that is a *horrible* thing to dump on someone. In this case, I think Mom is not-so-secretly ticked that LW has not dropped everything to cater to Mom’s needs, like a good and proper child. The fact that the duty has been passed on to someone that they actually have to *pay* and *house* is probably extra galling to Mom.

    Which brings me to….

    2. Unless Kat is doing less than 2 hours of work a day, which by my estimates would be about 1 load of laundry and nothing else, Mom is getting a *lot* for her money. Ever been out to eat with your grandparents, and despite the fact that the whole group ran up a $45 tab, Gramps believes $1.50 is an incredibly generous tip? It is not at all uncommon for older people to be out of touch with the financial times. Blessedly, my own parents weren’t this way (partially because they both had daughters who waited tables on summer break from school and heard all the horror stories), but I’ve waited on plenty who were. *If* LW thinks this might be a significant part of the problem, it might be beneficial to get some estimates from outside companies that would do exactly the same type and level of work Kat is doing. I think all 3 parties involved might be in for some sticker shock.

    There are likely other things going on here, but I think others have covered them pretty well…. These are just the two that came to mind that I don’t recall having seen.

  37. Yeah, I don’t mean left over as in not needed, just ‘left over after housing and groceries are paid for’, to be used for all that other stuff you mention. It’s obviously not a lot, at times when that’s been what my budget looked like I was certainly poor, but IF all I had to do was an hour of work a day for that (and I have no particular reason to think that’s the case here, but it’s possible, we don’t know so that’s on one extreme of the possibilities), if that was my baseline before I even found another job, then yes, I’d consider it an amazing deal.

    If I was working full time for that on the other hand then that would be a problem.

    If the people involved have thought this through at all then the reality will probably be somewhere in between.

  38. Yeah, I don’t mean left over as in not needed, just ‘left over after housing and groceries are paid for’, to be used for all that other stuff you mention. It’s obviously not a lot, at times when that’s been what my budget looked like I was certainly poor and struggling, but IF all I had to do was an hour of work a day for that (and I have no particular reason to think that’s the case here, but it’s possible, we don’t know so that’s on one extreme of the possibilities), if that was my baseline before I even found another more substantial job, then yes, I’d consider it an amazing deal. If anything I might even feel uncomfortable and awkward to be the recipient of what would feel like obvious charity and the awkward relationships that can come from that.

    If I was working closer to full time for that on the other hand then that would be a problem. And I’d feel, rightly I think, that I was being taken advantage of.

    If the people involved have thought this through at all then the reality will probably be somewhere in between. But where on the spectrum? To me it sounds like they may not even be clear on that themselves.

  39. I’m finding the idea of ‘getting firm’ with another adult a little unsettling. It’s more something you do with a child.

    My parents are in their sixties… They are both extremely intelligent, competent people, and I’d be very uncomfortable with the idea that a health problem makes it OK for me to start bossing them around or making decisions for them.

  40. Wait twenty years and see if you still feel the same way. Some (certainly not all) elderly folks (75-plus, not 60s!) do begin exercising poor judgement regarding their own health and welfare that put them at risk of harm. Sometimes as the elderly struggle to retain their independence, they refuse to accept that they have permanently lost some of their physical and mental capacities to age and/or disease. They may be in denial about their current capacity to care for themselves and to make good and reasonable decisions about their finances and health. Add dementia to the mix and the problems get much worse.

    Adult children who love and care for their aging parents often get put in a very difficult situation. How do we protect our parents from their own poor decisions which could leave them destitute, injured, hospitalized or dead? How do we deal with the hostility and mistrust of elderly parents who perceive our compassionate efforts to protect them from themselves as interfering, controlling and disrespectful? Frankly, my mother has started to reason (and sometimes behave) exactly like a child. She has injured herself repeatedly because of her stubborn refusal to accept her limitations that are obvious to anyone else. She won’t even listen to her doctor’s advice and suspects the doctor’s motivations! I respect mom’s need to exercise as much independence and control over her own life as possible, but the constant struggle to keep her safe, healthy and financially solvent is exhausting and thankless work.

    1. The woman in this story is in her sixties, and she has not been described as having dementia or any problems other than some arthritis. Unless I’m given more information, I assume someone in their sixties is a mentally competant adult who should be treated as such.

      1. Whoops! Thanks. I missed that. I guess you can tell that someone (me) is pretty overwhelmed by trying to take care of an elderly parent!

      2. Superficially, yes. But actually I have a friend who’s the daughter of someone way too young to have this kind of problem, late 60s and just arthritis. But the combo of side-effects from taking anything at all as she pleases, alienating every doctor within a 150mile radius, constant screaming at every family member (including the grandkids at this point) and general near-psychosis over loss of control over her life is making life hell for everyone who hasn’t fled yet. Pain messes with people’s heads, and ‘just arthritis’ is not enough to assume people are physically or mentally healthy…

  41. I do kind of see what she’s getting at. Mom is not being portrayed as evil, no, but there is kind of an assumption that she is definitely behaving badly and that the LW is maybe also behaving badly and that Kat is ‘the good guy’ in this story. E.g., the Captain saying she was on ‘Team Kat’ and even suggesting that Kat is being (even if accidentally) exploited.

    There isn’t really enough info to say that, IMO, or even to say that the mother is being unreasonable. She may have very reasonable concerns and feel that her daughter is the just the most appropriate person to discuss them with. She may feel a lot of pressure from the daughter to put up with this situation, she may have tried to do something charitable originally but now a year later finds herself saddled with an uninvited houseguest rather than real practical help. We don’t really know.

    That’s kind of always the case when someone writes in, though. We’re reading a story from one person’s point of view, and there’s only so much we can guess about whether they’re capable of seeing the situation clearly, or what everyone else’s point of view is, or what we would think if we were actually there. So the captain, and often the commenters, generally start by more or less accepting the LW’s interpretation of what’s happening. It’s imperfect, sure, but as a model for an advice column it’s probably the best option.

  42. I usually dig the Captain’s advice and the comments, but I’m feeling pretty skeptical of the whole set up. First of all, getting room and board is not insignificant, especially in some urban housing markets. The value of a room can be several hundred dollars, and food is pretty expensive, too. Nowhere does the LW say what kind of hours would be expected, but she said it involves minor chores like dishwashing. Friend’s labor might be an hour per day or less. Plus there is the loss of privacy from another person added to the household. I don’t default to seeing the friend as an exploited victim.

  43. There have been a lot of comments going either “Kat is being exploited! Doing a full household’s worth of work is worth way more than room and board plus $10/day!” or “Kat has a great deal! If she’s doing only an hour of work a day, $10/hr plus room and board is a lot!” and a few going “It really depends on how much work she’s doing if this is fair or not.”

    The great thing about the Captain’s advice is that ALL those problems can be solved by sitting down and actually taking a look at the situation!

    If Kat is being exploited and Mom doesn’t want to pay fair rates for all the work she’s doing–good, you can get the price for the work she’s doing, room and board, and actually get an idea of the real price. Then Kat can either get paid fair wages or stop doing that work and get a different job.

    If Kat is more-or-less freeloading and Mom isn’t getting the help she needs and is feeling her generosity run thin–good, you can discuss an exit strategy with Kat, she can get a different job or figure out other options, and possibly transition into housing under her control. The Captain has lots of letters on how to get unstuck, how to get out of situations you don’t want to be living in, how to get your feet under you. Kat may still need support in getting her head together after living in an abusive situation, but this may not be the place for her to do it.

    The script of, “Hey, let’s re-evaluate how everyone’s feeling about Kat’s situation now that it’s been a year” doesn’t actually presume ill will on anyone’s part. It’s clear that a lot of people have FEELS about housework, aging parents, abusive situations, charity, and presumptions of guilt. Having a discussion that gets everyone’s expectations on the table means that everyone in this situation can get a clear plan and move on without the buildup of resentment that the LW is dealing with.

    It doesn’t matter, in the end, if the situation for the past year has been fair. It hasn’t been working, so it needs to change.

    1. Agreed. All parties may have legitimate concerns exacerbated by underlying assumptions. I think clarification will help (at the very least, I suspect it will show that some of the issues are due to misunderstandings vs. actual malice) and if, at the end of the day, the parties recognize that there is no common ground, there will likely need to be a change. That could also ultimately include a change in the LW’s living situation (once you start probing, the conversation and conclusion can go anywhere). Consider it the “check” part of the Plan, Do, Check, Act model.

    2. It’s also possible that everyone is being reasonable and that they just don’t match. Maybe Kat is the last person Mom would have chosen as a roommate OR as a cleaner, if she was choosing freely without the aspect of it being her daughter’s friend and needing help.

      I mean, choosing a roommate in particular is a really major and incredibly personal decision, and hiring someone to do any job is a bit less personal but still involves lining up your needs with what they’re offering (and when it’s in your house, it is kind of personal). People aren’t interchangeable.

      (And no, Mom is not an elderly person with dementia who is incapable of making her own decisions, in fact she’s described as being in her sixties.).

      The same applies from Kat’s point of view – in an emergency situation taking a housing/job option because it’s what’s available makes sense, but it’s not an ideal long-term strategy.

  44. Piping in to promote the national (US) campaign by domestic workers for a domestic workers’ bill of rights, to ensure that “informal” labor like that done by Kat is protected, fair, and remunerated.

    Here’s a link to the details in the MAssachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, recently passed: http://www.domesticworkers.org/new-rights-under-the-massachusetts-domestic-workers-bill-of-rights

    Lots of others states have active campaigns, get involved! ❤

  45. FWIW, the letter writer words it as ‘somewhere along the line, communications inevitably break down’. I read that as a diplomatic may of saying that the LW keeps making mistakes in passing along instructions. At least the way the letter is worded, Kat actually IS doing it wrong, but the LW doesn’t in any way imply either unreasonable expectations OR poor work.

    According to the LW, it’s honest miscommunication due to the broken telephone nature of their communication.

    I’m kind of confused though why she doesn’t just tell Kat ”I’m not sure I understood that right, though, so you’d better ask Mom for the details’???? It really seems like the simple and obvious thing to do when someone asks you to pass on a message and you don’t want to be responsible for that.

    1. A huge element in misunderstandings (at least in my life) is that we’re all sure we do know what the other people mean, and we are wrong

      Perhaps LW doesn’t tell Kat that she doesn’t understand what her mother said, and Kat doesn’t ask for clarification, because they both think they did understand — until later when the results are not what LW’s mother expected (or wanted)

      1. True. I can see that happening intially. But now the LW is talking about miscommunication and asking help for how to reduce their role in passing messages, so it seems that now they DO believe it’s happening.

  46. Any person may be mentally unhealthy, whether they have physical health problems or not. LW may be mentally unhealthy. Kat may be mentally unhealthy. Personally, unless I have specific information otherwise, I’m going to assume any adult is mentally competent unless proven otherwise.

  47. Coming in late but a facet I think hasn’t been addressed, LW is living with her parents. If LW’s mom is near 70, then barring.a late adoption, LW is an adult – at least in her late 20s. Mom may well feel like she already has one grown child in residence who doesn’t have enough time to help around the house, and now she has taken in a second grown woman and the dishes STILL aren’t done.

    (As all have noted, there are too many unknowns. Maybe LW supports the parents so they can keep their house, maybe mother is a monster, everyone has brought their own family dynamics into their replies here. LW and her mom clearly have plenty to talk about.)

  48. I’m so glad Kat was given dignity in this response. Having fled an abusive home myself, I needed help from others during critical times when I was younger. Being treated like a burden or a dirty mismatched sock took a very heavy toll on me that I’m still in some ways recovering from. There was a lot of ambiguity and I was never quite sure what I was doing wrong or why people would only help me for a very short time and then kick me out. Coming from an abusive/alcoholic home where I was never quite sure why my father was mad or what condition my mom would be in when I found her made this constant state of uncertainty unbearable.

    I agree with this amazing advice – everything needs to be clearly put into writing and the parameters should be crystal clear, and Kat needs to make plans to be somewhere else where she can learn to feel like a human and not a dirty mismatched sock. Just be prepared that when you sit down to have this conversation, it might result in Kat getting kicked out immediately. If you push your mom to confront what’s bothering her, it may end up being that she simply doesn’t want Kat around. That happened to me. Just be prepared for this possibility and maybe see if you or Kat can have a short-term back up if she needs somewhere to sleep immediately.

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