Dear Penny: Should I Buy a New Home to Get Rid of My Controlling Mother?

A retired mother causes friction between her son and daughter-in-law.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

I’m 52 years old and married with two kids. My parents are living with us. They’re almost in their 70s. I don’t want to kick them out. 

My mom doesn’t get along with my wife, and it’s very stressful. She thinks I’m still her little boy. I have rental property. I’m thinking of buying another house and having them live in my current one because it has put tremendous stress on me and my wife. I’m thinking about doing it every day. My current house and rental are paid off. Your insight is much appreciated.

— J.

Dear J.,

I’m a fan of using money to buy your way out of a bad situation. But buying a new house and uprooting your family is also a really expensive way to dodge difficult conversations. So if you haven’t talked to your parents about why the current living situation isn’t working, that’s your first step. The issues you have will continue to surface even if you’re not living under the same roof.

I wish I knew more about the dynamic between your wife and your mother. Is it a personality clash? Do they simply not see eye to eye? Or has your mother pushed your wife to her breaking point?

Dear Penny

Ask Dear Penny!

Get practical money advice from Dana Miranda, the voice of Dear Penny and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance.

DISCLAIMER: Questions will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. We are unable to answer every letter. We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. But don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous.

You’re not exactly a neutral third party here. But your line about how your mother “thinks I’m still her little boy” suggests that she’s the problem. If that’s true, you need to set boundaries with her even after you’re no longer living together.

Before you go any further, make sure your wife is OK with this plan. I’m sure she’s eager to stop sharing living space with your parents. But buying another home is a big commitment. If your mother has been disrespectful to your wife, I’d certainly understand if your wife isn’t thrilled about taking on a mortgage or spending a couple hundred thousand dollars on your parents’ behalf.

Another thing to consider is: Do you actually want to move your family? Would you be contemplating a move even if your parents didn’t live with you?

It’s fine if you would otherwise be looking to upgrade. But the woman you married and your children should come first here. If you’d prefer to stay put, your parents need to be the ones who move.

Think carefully about what you can afford. If you already own two residences mortgage-free, it sounds like you’re in a good financial position to make this happen. But make sure any home purchase you make, whether it’s for your family or your parents, syncs with your other financial goals, like saving for your retirement and your kids’ college educations.

If paying for another house would be a financial stressor, you could offer to buy a small condo for your parents. You could also give your parents a move-out date and offer to pay the rent and security deposit for an apartment. This could be a good option if either you or your wife has qualms about the long-term financial commitment of buying another home.

Regardless of which way you go, the conversation with your parents is the same. You need to sit down with your parents and tell them why the current situation isn’t working. Since these are your parents, you should take the lead here.

If you think that moving your family is the right decision, it’s still essential to have this conversation. It may be easier to fib and claim you found a great house that’s closer to work. But it doesn’t address the underlying behavior that’s made living with your parents so stressful.

Let’s say your mother is constantly criticizing your wife or refusing to accept your parenting decisions. Tell them this behavior is a source of contention and you’re no longer going to put up with it. Enforce whatever boundary you set even after you’re no longer living together. For example, if your mother criticizes your wife when you get together, you can give her a warning. But the next time it happens, you and your family get up and leave — or you ask your parents to leave if they’re in your home.

The fact that you’re thinking about buying a new home every day to escape from your parents is a good sign that this arrangement can’t continue. Money can certainly buy you peace and privacy here. And it sounds like buying separate space is worth it. But money is no substitute for setting healthy limits. Without boundaries, your parents will still be a stressor, even once you’re no longer living with them.

Does your balance sheet need a reset? Try these smart ways to organize your finances.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].