Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend Is Always Late Because He’s Running Errands For His Mother”

From the forums:

I understand that this might come off as insensitive, but in reality I’m just concerned. My boyfriend’s mom is disabled and has many medical conditions. She was recently hospitalized for a rash/infection on her leg. She is also obese and isn’t able to walk a long distance which makes it hard for her run errands on her own. I don’t mind that my boyfriend is attentive to her and helps her out, and she seems to be kind to me so far. But I have noticed that my boyfriend will be running late most times because he needs to get her prescriptions or run an errand for her. I try not to pay it any mind because I don’t mind that he’s basically being a great son!

Recently, we’ve been talking about marriage and how when we move in together, he has hopes that his mom can move in with other family members. Of course, I never get into details and point out that most likely she would want to stay with him. He is her only son and they live together. It really brings me down to think we would have her live with us in our early years of marriage. My mom is a single mom as well and I’m the only kid in the house left. My mom is also needy – she’s not disabled but she gets sad when she’s alone. So I’ve thought about having my mom live with me as well but not in the fist couple of years of marriage. Of course, my boyfriend’s mom has a more intense situation going on and I wouldn’t be able to say no if it comes down to it.

I’m wondering if this will be a dealbreaker as it gets more intense, because as of now my boyfriend has only been running late or canceling our date nights at times because he has to pick her up from the hospital right after work. Again, I don’t mind; I actually admire the care he gives his mom, but I don’t think it’s something I’m looking forward to. Am I a selfish person to be thinking like this? — I Don’t Mind

I don’t think you’re necessarily selfish here; it’s probably a wise thing to consider what is a very likely situation should you and your boyfriend continue to get more serious: His mother is going to be part of the deal, and can you handle that? Can you handle the care-giving that will be involved and the decision-making around her care? This care will likely affect the amount of privacy you have with your boyfriend, the amount of time and attention he can give you and your relationship (and, potentially, even future kids should you have them together), and maybe even your finances should you combine them, eventually, and need to help pay for care of your boyfriend’s mom. But, look, depending on how serious you are, these issues may be pretty far off in the future. Good to consider now and maybe even start discussing with your boyfriend but perhaps not time to really obsess over yet or think about ending your relationship over.

I’ll share my experience in case it’s helpful to you. When I met my now-husband, his father was already well into his 80s (he was 50 when my husband was born, so was always an “older” dad). He lived independently, but Drew, who lived about a mile away, visited at least weekly, and called him every day. As the years progressed, his father’s health declined and his needs increased, which affected us in all the ways I mentioned earlier. It was stressful at times. His father never lived with us, but there was still a juggling of his needs and our own needs and wants, especially as newlyweds and then as brand new parents. Drew was such an attentive son and, like you, I really admired that in him. It gave me faith that he would be an attentive husband and father. And guess what? He is! More than I even imagined. We are so lucky to have him.

Drew’s father passed away a few years ago – at 95! – and I don’t regret for a minute the time we spent with him, the time Drew was away during the week to be with his dad, or any of the decisions that were made around his care. It was a gift to have him in our lives, for him to meet his grandchildren, and for me to see Drew’s heart and his commitment to family in a way I might not have been able to see if the situation had been different. It gave me a lot of confidence in marrying him. I know, without any shadow of a doubt because I’ve seen it firsthand, that Drew is the kind of guy who will be there through thick and thin, through sickness and health. He’ll be there AND he’ll still fulfill his other obligations.

If you feel like your boyfriend is there for his mother but not there for you or not fulfilling his other obligations, then that’s something worth being concerned about and talking to him about. If he’s canceling on you all the time or is often late, it sounds like he needs to work on time management. What kind of errands is he running for his mother that can’t be done before he’s supposed to meet up with you? Are these emergencies? If not, why is he letting them affect his time with you? Are there things he’s doing for his mother that can be outsourced sometimes (like grocery delivery, medication delivery, etc.), if not just done at a more convenient time? These are the topics that are relevant to you NOW – as opposed to the idea of his mother living with you in your early years of marriage. Creating some boundaries now around these things is the first step toward addressing concerns that might come later, as your relationship intensifies.

Let your boyfriend know how far your patience and understanding goes. Instead of always saying – even if it’s just to yourself – that “you don’t mind,” when you clearly DO mind, be honest. Tell your boyfriend that you are understanding when his mother’s needs trump a date night or occasionally mean he’ll be late to meet you, but your understanding has a limit and that limit is when your boyfriend is late ALL THE TIME or constantly canceling dates. That’s not fair to you and it needs to change. Let him know that’s your hard boundary. If he’s a decent person, which his care of his mom would indicate he likely is, he’ll want to be a good boyfriend in addition to a great son. Let him know how he can do that – where there’s some room for improvement. If he’s not able to meet your needs now in a way that satisfies you, THEN it’s time to think about moving on. But moving on now because you’re worried that his mother might live with you one day? I think that would be a premature move.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

6 comments… add one
  • LisforLeslie September 24, 2021, 10:24 am

    I agree with Wendy but what wasn’t really addressed was the expectations that you have of moving your mother in with you because she’s lonely. That’s a terrible burden to put on a child. You should encourage your mother to find activities that she’ll enjoy or learn some new activities.

    You should not be responsible for your mother’s social life or emotional well being. As an adult, that is her responsibility.

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  • Kali September 24, 2021, 12:07 pm

    Just an observation: What a lovely Valentine to Drew, Wendy.

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  • Joanna September 24, 2021, 12:27 pm

    Thank you for responding Wendy, and for sharing your experience! Your experience really put mine into perspective and helped me get a breath of fresh air. At times he has to stay with the nurse that visits their home so he can learn how to wrap her leg properly so he can assist her with that. He will also has to get her food after he gets off work because his mom is obese and struggles a lot to move and she’s afraid of exposing herself to covid. So those two examples would be the emergency examples for when he runs late, but he only has canceled dates when his mom is hospitalized. Of course I never make him feel bad about it and I ask if she needs anything that I can help as well, but now that we’re talking about marriage I’m slightly concerned for what the future holds.

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    • ktfran September 24, 2021, 1:15 pm

      It’s absolutely a valid concern when you’re considering a future together. Really, I think the best solution is open and honest conversations about what living together/spending your life together would look like and what, outside of your immediate relationship, are factors, and it seems like both of your mom’s will be.

      Maybe you decide this isn’t something you want to sign up for, and that’s ok. Truly. If you don’t want to give up the relationship, I’m sure there are good compromises.

      Good luck!

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  • brise September 25, 2021, 3:47 am

    I think that one has to become an adult – that doesn’t mean not take care of your parents, but stop the co-dependence. Of course you can’t move in as a couple with your mother and not with his, who is more vulnerable. Just don’t move with parents as a couple. Organise yourselfs to hire help, recruit other family members and friends in a rotation. Buy the way, your BF’s mother could be better if she does move a bit to run errands, it has her move and work out a bit. When an old person becomes completely sedentary, their condition deteriorates quickly. So start now, hire someone, both of you, before even considering a marriage. If your boyfriend avoids the topic altogether, you have your answer about his maturity – but I have concerns about your own. Last: of course you don’t plan a date the day your BF has to pick up his mother from the hospital.

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  • Amy September 26, 2021, 8:44 pm

    About 8 years ago I was a newly-wed to my husband. His adult children did some things that I really didn’t like. I remember talking to a very wise coworker of mine about the situation. She had been married about 40 years at the time and she told me that it might not be worth worrying about. Sometimes you just have to let things slide. In my situation she was right. My husband was balancing other family priorities with his new wife and he probably wasn’t able to make everyone happy. But he’s someone who cares about his kids and his mom and his wife and I’m very happy and confident in our relationship.

    I don’t want to suggest that your feelings and situation MUST be the same as mine – but I am sharing my thoughts on the evolution of my relationship – so certainly take what I say with a grain of salt. For me, I feel more secure in my relationship now than I did 8 years ago. So if something comes up with one of my step-children – I know that my husband’s role as a father to them is not tied in to his devotion to me. He can love us all dearly and and give us all what we need – even if sometimes he’s spending time with a kid. Early in our relationship I worried that there could be conflicting loyalties and worried what it might mean for our future. For me… now I know that it means that he loves his family and he’ll be someone we can all count on. I am incredibly thankful for this attribute and love my marriage.

    Of course – you are the one that sees the dynamics of your relationship. But if you think he’s a good man and he’s devoted to you AND his mother, just know that it might turn out to be a really wonderful life together.

    Best wishes as you make these decisions in your life. It’s scary. But it’s scary for everyone. You’ve got this.

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