My Aging Mother Is Dating a Man I Strongly Dislike As He Stays Overnight at Her House

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a civil servant in my 50s. I’m the second of three sisters. My older and younger sisters live far away. My mother, who will turn 80 soon, lives alone at my parents’ house, which is about a 10-minute drive from my house.

About a year after my father’s death 13 years ago, my mother made friends with people to go out drinking. She began dating a man who is older than her and staying overnight with him.

My sisters and I protested, but we decided to quietly watch over her as long as they meet outside the home. Our mother insists that she cannot leave him alone as he is a lonely person who has been divorced and does not get along with his relatives.

After a while, the man started visiting my mother’s house. When I talked with him over the phone, he began lecturing me, saying I am “unfilial.” That offended me. When I asked my mother not to have him over, she promised not to, but I found out in autumn last year that he was staying overnight at the house.

I just can’t stand her letting a man into the house where my father’s Buddhist altar is. How should I deal with my mother?

— E

Dear Ms. E:

You’re saying it’s OK as long as your mother sees this man outside the house but you don’t want him to enter her house. From what you’ve said, I get the impression that you’ve strongly rejected him and you absolutely don’t want him to be part of your family circle.

It seems you have a strong distrust of this man. Your mother told you that he is a lonely man who has been divorced and does not get along with his relatives. You’re probably worrying that he may take advantage of your mother or deceive her. I assume you’re feeling there is something unacceptable in the way he speaks and behaves.

The first thing I’d recommend you do is to take steps to prevent your mother from being financially deceived by him. If your mother has real estate or savings, you should talk to your sisters and make sure that she will not be able to use or dispose of them at her own discretion.

It also seems like your mother’s own loneliness is a factor in her dating the man. She may be feeling lonesome as her daughters are independent and have their own lives, and she is trying to distract herself from that feeling. If she becomes more involved with her daughters, she may become less dependent on the man.

Instead of telling her not to date the man, why don’t you and your sisters become more involved with your mother?

Even if it’s difficult to meet her in person, your sisters who live far away may be able to talk with her over video calls where they can see each other’s faces.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist