Ask Sahaj: My family says I’m ‘selfish’ for not wanting my mom to live with me

Q: I’m in my mid-40s and have a tween daughter. I recently got divorced after being married to a White guy - who my family didn’t approve of - for 20 years. My dad sadly passed away and my mom has been living with my sibling for the last several years. She didn’t want to live with me because of my ex but now that I’m divorced she’s wanting to do all the things with me - move in, go on vacations, etc.

My daughter and mom can’t communicate well due to the language barrier and because my mom is hard of hearing. My mom puts in no effort to engage with her. I understand that after my dad’s passing she had to leave everything behind to move to a foreign country. However, she has quite a harsh tongue, criticizes liberally and hardly ever compliments anyone.

Post-divorce, I’m trying to do the best for my daughter and maintain the strong bond between us as she’s stepping into her teen years. I honestly do not want my mom to move in with me or go on all the vacations with me, but I understand my sibling can use a break. I’ve tried to be honest and speak openly with my family but they say, “Mom will help you out with cooking, etc. since you are already overburdened with parenting and working a job.”

Being the youngest in the family, I didn’t learn how to build healthy boundaries. When I try to explain this situation to my family, I’m met with words that make me feel guilty, like, “You can’t even take care of your own mom?” Or, “What kind of a daughter are you?” Or, “Selfish!”

How do I handle this situation?

- Single Mom

A: You don’t want your mom to move in with you, and that’s okay. However, you are struggling and feeling paralyzed by guilt. There is helpful guilt that propels change, and then there’s unhelpful guilt that causes pain, anxiety and self-blame. Before you take on unhelpful guilt, consider what other feelings you have that are creating tension in your relationships. These may be frustration, disappointment and even resentment.


Your interactions in your relationships don’t happen in a vacuum, and I wonder if your family’s lack of support toward your past marriage is contributing to what you feel - especially if there’s an expectation to “be normal” now that your ex is out of the picture. It’s important to process these emotions to clearly understand what you want right now and move forward.

Guilt is not uncommon in families where it’s expected each person will prioritize it. In your case, you want to do right by your mom and sibling. When you step out of your expected role, it’s natural to worry that you are doing something “wrong.” However, you have to interrogate your guilt and get clarity on your values. This may mean the way you value “family” is different for you - and your daughter - than it is for your mom or sibling. You may also find that how you envision being a “good daughter” or “good sister” is different from what your family believes to be true about these roles. You may find that your guilt is rooted in simply wanting something different from what is expected of you, but this does not inherently mean you are doing something wrong.

With that said, there are other things to think about. Is there a compromise of how long your mom could stay with you to give your sibling a break? Are there some, but not all, vacations your mom could join? And most important, is there a deeper conversation you can have with your sibling about a long term plan so everyone’s needs are met? Take some time - alone, with a trusted friend, or even with a professional - to really think through what you are okay with, what you are willing to compromise on, and what you are absolutely unwilling to tolerate or negotiate.

Then in a one-on-one conversation with your sibling, you can start by saying something like, “After thinking this through, I have decided I don’t want mom to move in with me and [daughter]. Can we discuss alternative plans together?” Or, “I’ve spent time thinking about this and want to share what would work for me when it comes to mom. I also want to hear what you want so we can come up with a solution together.” In case you encounter pushback, be prepared with something succinct and clear that you can repeat to maintain your boundary. This may be, “I know it may not make sense to you but this is what is best for me.” Or, “[Daughter] and I are navigating a major transition, and I believe it’s best for us to do this alone right now.”

Ultimately, you may be disappointing your family to protect your priorities - your daughter and your mental health. However, when your needs and desires are conflicting with those of your family, the healthy solution is compromise and finding a way to bridge these differences. The unhealthy solution is one person having to forego their needs or desires. And the painful solution is disconnecting from the relationship because there is no mutually agreed-upon solution.

Sahaj Kaur Kohli

Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy. She writes a weekly advice column for The Washington Post that also appears on