The other day, though, I got a little bit of a scare. I came home and she was holding the baby, who was asleep. My other kids were eating their lunches, perfectly content. When I asked how the morning had gone, she told me how the baby had loved drinking water from a cup. The cup she held up was coated in grease and I was sure it had been in the sink with some filthy dishes when I’d left. (I’m bad at house keeping). I hadn’t been able to get the lid off the cup, so it has been sitting in our sink for almost a week. Each time I washed the dishes, I tried to get the stupid thing open and it wouldn’t budge. So, there it’s sat.
After I clarified that it was, indeed, the cup she was talking about using, I asked where she’d gotten it, thinking maybe my husband had washed it without my knowledge, but she couldn’t remember where she had found it. She first told me she’d found it in the dish drainer, then that it was on the counter. But she was completely confused. I told her that it had been dirty and she said “Oh. I think I washed it and put fresh water in it.” I asked her how she got the lid off and then she looked confused again, and said, “Well, maybe I didn’t wash it. I thought I did.” She assured me, though, that she’d put new water in it.
She felt really terrible, and it made me really uncomfortable, so I just acted like it wasn’t a big deal. (This is the same baby that eats crumbs from our floor. I doubt she’ll be hurt from drinking some greasy water, even though it makes me want to hurl.) After my MIL left, I pried the cup open and saw that the water was dirty, and now, I’m completely at a loss for what to do. I know that my MIL feels absolutely horrible about the whole episode and I truly don’t want to make her feel worse. However, I seriously think that she needs to get checked out at the doctor. She should have been able to remember where she got the cup and whether she washed it before giving it to the baby, right? She doesn’t take Alzheimer’s seriously, and has often made excuses for her own mother’s forgetfulness in the past. Anytime I’ve brought it up, she gets skittish and changes the subject.
The other issue is: how to we broach the subject of whether she should be caring for our kids? I don’t want to hurt her or frustrate her further, but I wonder if it’s still safe. Like most moms, my kids are the most important things in the world to me. I don’t want to put them at risk. — Worried Mom
I don’t know… I can appreciate how grossed out you must have been, not to mention concerned for your kids and your MIL, but unless this incident is one of several similar ones (and needing written notes to care for multiple children doesn’t count!), I think it might be a bit of a leap to think your MIL has Alzheimer’s. She’s a senior citizen who doesn’t spend every day with kids like you do and she was watching three young children (maybe more?), including a baby, in a home that, apparently, wasn’t very tidy (at the very least, there was a sink full of “filthy dishes”). I can certainly understand how she may have felt a little overwhelmed, especially if the baby was crying, and may have just grabbed the first cup she found to quiet the yells. That does little to make YOU feel better, I know, and I don’t think you’re wrong to feel concerned about your MIL’s ability to watch your kids regularly, but I do think you’re probably over-reacting a bit, at least when it comes to diagnosing your MIL.
That said, there IS family history of Alzheimer’s in your husband’s family and you and he should keep notes of strange behavior, the cup incident included, to help in a future potential diagnosis. I also think it should be your husband’s job, not yours, to talk to her about the illness and nudge her to get examined at the appropriate time (which could very well be NOW, especially if there has been other questionable behavior).
You have a few options when it comes to your MIL watching your kids. Instead of asking her to watch all of them at the same time, you could ask her to watch one at a time, or just the older ones while you care for the baby. You could ask her to come help while you’re home with the kids so you’re there to supervise and are better able to see how she interacts with them. That won’t give you the full-on, free babysitting you occasionally need, but you’ll still get some help while giving your MIL and your kids a chance to spend time with each other. And if you still want to let your MIL watch all the kids unsupervised, you need to continue writing detailed notes, and leave a clean house with no dirty dishes in the sink or food out on the counters or anything that might confuse your MIL or pose a threat to the kids. You could also ask that another adult be present — maybe another relative who would appreciate spending time with your children. I would also choose times to have your MIL babysit when your children are lower-maintenance…. if there is such a thing when it comes to multiple children. For example, when we have friends or family offer to babysit for free, we try to have all the hard childcare work done for the day so that the only thing left to do is read Jackson a few stories and put him to bed. We still get a free night out (well, as far as paying for childcare goes), but we’re not leaving anyone with an overwhelming work load.
Finally, I think it’s probably time to find additional babysitters if you don’t already have some. Relying on a grandparent — one you fear has Alzheimer’s — as your sole babysitter probably isn’t the wisest move. You say you only rarely need a babysitter, so start budgeting for those occasions, and find someone you can trust to watch all your kids for the time you need help. Let your MIL be a doting grandmother instead of your primary babysitter. If she DOES have early Alzheimer’s, the last thing she needs is the stress of caring for several young kids all by herself.
You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.