Ask Ada: Is Making My Mother-In-Law With A Heart Condition Guardian Of Our Kids A Good Idea?

Plus: help! My chronically ill mom is being harassed by neighbors!

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Should We Let My Mother-In-Law With A Heart Condition Take Care Of Our Child?

Dear Ada,

My husband and I went to get wills and other legal documents, and we were asked to choose who would be the guardian of our children. We weren’t prepared for this question! We disagreed at the appointment — so much so, that we couldn’t even formalize the documents. We both don’t have any siblings, and while we have many friends, the majority of our friendships are short term as we relocated for work just a couple of years ago. He wants to pick his mother who is younger, but she also has a major heart condition (and his father passed away when he was a child, so it’s just her to care for them). I want to pick my parents, who are about a decade older, but they are financially stable and in great health. Who’s right here? We can move past this decision, and I don’t want to go without a will for much longer.

Oh, this is such a difficult decision. Neither you or your husband will be “right”, regardless of what you choose in the end. 

I’m sure your parents and your mother-in-law love their grandchildren and would do anything to protect and care for them. Whoever gets chosen as their guardian will be a good choice. They will love them, provide for them, and raise them as best as they can. That doesn’t mean the one(s) that aren’t chosen are any less deserving of this responsibility.

Because that’s what it is: a responsibility.

No one likes to think about what may happen in the case that both you and your spouse dies, but as you’re well aware, making your wishes legal is vitally important. As hard as this choice may seem to the both of you, consider yourself blessed to have three wonderful grandparents who would be able to care for your children if anything happened.

Right now, it sounds like you and your husband are deadlocked. Have you tried talking to his mom and your parents about this? How do they feel about this responsibility? Do they even want to be guardians? 

If you’re going to ask them to take on such a giant responsibility, they deserve a say in the outcome.

You can’t make a decision without their input. What if your parents told you that they’re too concerned about raising the children at their age? Or, what if your mother-in-law says she’s not comfortable living with the children with her heart condition? If you’re going to ask them to take on such a giant responsibility, they deserve a say in the outcome.

Now, you might end up back in the same scenario with all three grandparents offering to act as your children’s guardian, and if that’s the case, you and your husband will have to choose on your own. Instead of thinking about health, age, and finances, I encourage you to instead think about what’s important to you when it comes to raising your child. 

What’s your parenting style like? Will the chosen grandparent(s) parent similarly? Is there anything from either of your childhoods that you don’t want reenacted in your children’s? Is either side better suited to support your children’s emotional needs? They’re going to need that the most if something happens to the both of you.

Unfortunately, I cannot make this decision for you and your husband, though I do wish you some peace in the decision you both come to together. Know that neither choice is going to feel “perfect”. You are the only two people who should be parenting your children. But when you make a choice, you can move on knowing that there are legal protections in place in the worst-case scenario.

And remember, you can always update these documents at any time and for any reason if you both were to change your minds.

My Chronically Ill Mother Is Being Harassed By Neighbors

Dear Ada,

My mother suffers from chronic COPD and lives in an apartment complex. The people who live next door to her are smokers, who only smoke on their outdoor porch that’s also connected to my moms. There’s supposed to be a non-smoking policy in this specific complex, which is a huge part of the reason we moved her there, but yet, their smoke still comes in through her windows, and we had to get rid of her patio furniture as it reeked like cigarettes. We’d talked to management, but that only made it worse. The neighbors are now nasty and spiteful with her, and nothing’s changed because management isn’t onsite. They say they can’t do anything unless they’re there to catch them in the act — but they do nothing to show up on site! What should we do?

It sounds like you need to find a new place for your mother to live.

Sure, what may be “right” would be for her neighbors to be removed and the apartment complex management to offer smoke remediation services to your mom. But, if they can’t even manage enforcing— or shall I say, if they don’t bother to enforce — their own policies at this point, they’re not going to step up and proceed in this manner. Plus, evicting her neighbors may take some time, and I can imagine their behavior will only worsen if proceedings begin.

So, it’s up to you to take action.

First, I recommend getting a copy of the lease your mother signed, if you don’t have one already, and ask a lawyer to review it to see what type of rights you have here. It’s obvious the management of the apartment complex isn’t fostering a safe environment, so ask the lawyer if she can be reimbursed for her patio furniture or the cost of her relocation. They will also be able to advise you as to whether or not your mom can break her lease without any repercussions.

It’s obvious the management of the apartment complex isn’t fostering a safe environment.

This whole experience must have felt so frustrating and worrisome for you, but regardless how bothersome a move might be right now for you and your mother, it’s the best approach to providing her a safe place to live —a place where she doesn’t have to worry about whether her breathing issues will be exacerbated by smoke entering her apartment all day long. She deserves a place where she doesn’t have to live in fear about retaliation from the people who live closest to her.

Right now, your mom is living in both a hostile and unhealthy environment. Even if the apartment complex management company announced they won’t be renewing the lease of their neighbors, they’ve proven they don’t care enough about their residents and won’t step up when needed in the future. 

The best option is finding your mom a new place to live. And remember, you’re interviewing the apartment complexes to find the best fit. You have every right to ask questions or get tours at various times of the day (pandemic permitting) until you feel assured that this new location is the best place to keep your mom safe and comfortable.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.