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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter,
I have submitted my story through the Frequent Fry-Her Page.  My question is whether my decision to have nothing to do with my mother-in-law is the best way to solve this problem.  I have decided that I will go to family reunions, but avoid her there, and I will by no means see her in any other circumstance.  As I mentioned, my husband spoke with her several years ago, and it did no good.  He doesn't want to say anything more to her, because he doesn't think it will help.  I tried once after that to speak with her, and she got very defensive and insisted she was just expressing her opinions, and why won't I believe her?  I felt bad then, and suggested we go for a walk so we could talk alone.  She ended up lecturing me on how great cranial sacral therapy was, and what she wanted to do in her career!  And after that, still nothing changed, and she continued to insult my career and life decisions!  Is this really the point where I should give up?  And if so, do you have any suggestions on how to help me "let go" of the anger and disappointment?  It's easier said than done -- while I've tried to wash my hands of her, it still frustrates me to no end when she and my husband (she only calls him on his personal cell phone) talk as if nothing is wrong.  Fortunately this is fairly rare, but here I am, dumping this on the Internet because I am so bothered by it. Thank you.

Dr Apter's reply:
From what you describe, it seems as though you have various options.  You can try to practice being with your mother-in-law, but not really engaging with her.  You could keep conversation neutral, and give up any expectations that you could have a genuine exchange of opinions.  In other words, you could be with her, but tune out.  Another possibility is to seek some kind of counseling with her, so that each of you learns to respond effectively to the other.  It is unlikely, however, that your mother-in-law will agree to this, because she sees the problem as all yours, and not hers.  The anger and disappointment you continue to feel shows that you have not cut off your involvement, even though you are trying to cut off your contact with her.  I suggest you try to think about why you feel so hurt.  Do you long for her approval?  Do you feel that her judgment is somehow right?  Once you can name the reasons why she has such a strong effect on you, you may be able to minimize that effect.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mother-in-law to be is very controlling of her children, all of them over the age of 24.  She has referred to our 11 month old child as a bastard child because we are not married.  I cannot get over this.  In fact, I do not want her anywhere near my child.  She has apologized, but this really did not make a difference.  I also do not like the way that she raised, or is still raising, them.  For instance, I suspect that she is allowing her two children, (both in their 20's) to smoke (what I suspect may be an illegal substance) in her home, & she condones this.  This is not what I want my daughter to learn.  It is also causing problems between me and my daughter's father, with whom I think I want to spend the rest of my life.  But his parents keep interfering.  Please help.

DR Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law's apology should count for a lot.  It takes some guts and self awareness for a mother-in-law to see that she has been unfair to a daughter-in-law, and to take steps to mend the relationship.  In apologizing, she is putting herself in a one-down position.  It would be good to show appreciation for that.  Regarding the differences in your views on child-rearing, I urge tolerance.  Perhaps when your 11 month old daughter is older, you could explain clearly how you feel, and make sure that your values prevail.  But at present, this difference in itself is not likely to have an impact on your child.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I've had a perfect relationship with my MIL until my daughter was born 8 months ago.  She works full-time, and my mother helps me to take care of our daughter.  My MIL gets very jealous every time she hears that we leave our daughter with my mother.  She demands to bring our daughter to her house every time we visit my mother.  Also, she has an opinion of her own on everything.  She refuses to read books on parenting, she refuses to listen to doctors.  She always gives advice, and sometimes it is dangerous.  She insists on following her advice.  I tried everything: talking to her, explaining to her what I was doing, and why I was doing it my way, offering her articles and books to read to support my views, but nothing has worked.

She says a lot of hurtful things like: "My son gained weight properly and your daughter did not!!!  I hope your daughter will turn out normal."; "Everyone says you should do it this way", etc.  I am really hurt.  I still breastfeed my daughter, and I do everything I can to give her the best start in life.  I decided to stay home with her for the first two years to care for her, and she disapproves of that too.  She always talks about how difficult it was for her to work and have a child.  I feel that it is much more difficult to sacrifice your career for two years (I am an educated woman) for your baby.  I feel that being a housewife is more difficult, and more rewarding ... I feel like she does not respect me ... I feel so unappreciated ... I am planning to go back to work ... My husband says that I am being unfair to his mom, that she does not mean to hurt me, etc.  However, after every conversation I feel like I want to cry.  I feel like I did everything I could to bring us closer, but with no reciprocation ... Help ...

DR Apter's reply:
You need far more support than you are getting at present.  Perhaps you or a friend could explain to your husband how difficult it is for a new-ish mother to hear that she is not doing the right thing by her child.  It may be true that your mother-in-law does not intend to hurt you.  On the other hand, anyone reading your account of what she says would know that any mother would be very likely to be hurt by what she says.  It is important for you to have confidence that what you decide about your child and about work and about childcare will be based on good sense and good will, and should not be open to criticism by your husband's mother.  Perhaps you should give up your need to be appreciated by her.  But your husband does need to show more appreciation of you, more sensitivity to your need for confirmation as a good mother, and greater awareness of his duty to support you when you are criticized.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband & I have been married nearly seven years.  Here's my mother-in-law problem:  In the last couple of years, she constantly whines to my husband on how she feels "abandoned" by her family -- due to the fact we have massively busy schedules (graduate school, full-time jobs, moonlighting jobs, etc.).  We try to call at least weekly, & visit her whenever time permits (she lives about 3 hours away) ... Well, here's the problem: Each year, on our anniversary in May, my husband & I plan a nice vacation (away from everything!) ... Well, today, she asked if we were going to Las Vegas in May (a place we've been several times).  My husband simply said, "Well, we just don't know for sure yet, but maybe." ... She then said, "This year, I think I'll join you." ... Are we being selfish? Since my husband & I rarely have any time together (due to the rough schedules), we try to "celebrate" our anniversary in a special way each year ("just the two of us" in a romantic way) ... Without hurting her feelings, how can we cordially tell her that this vacation is special for the two of us?  Thank you for your help!

DR Apter's reply:
It is not selfish to want time by yourselves.  Perhaps you cannot make that clear to your mother-in-law without hurting her feeling. But you can state your own position clearly, and then help her tolerate her disappointment.  If you and your husband work together, you can be firm and consistent.  Explain how important it is to have time together, alone.  You could also say that you will be thinking of her and glad to see her upon her return.  You could arrange to visit her soon after her return.  While you are away, you could write or phone.  She may sulk.  She may be angry.  But if you stay calm, and thrust aside your own (irrational) guilt, she will eventually come through it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter, This is the second marriage for my husband and I.  My husband had been divorced from his first wife for 4 years when we got married. Little was said about the ex-wife, and I thought she was out of the picture.  My husband's mother acted like she enjoyed my company, until the marriage plans were announced.  There was total silence when she heard the news.  I have never been asked when my birthday is, and have never received a card in 5 years.  My 2 children have never received birthday or Christmas cards or gifts from my MIL.  I sent his family Christmas presents and, this year, his mother told us after Christmas that she was not buying for us this year.

My husband's ex-wife is idolized by his family: (she works hard, she has been described by them as a "pioneer woman", "perfect mother"). My MIL would go places with the ex-wife and invite her to holidays.  She would buy her birthday presents.  One holiday, she invited us and the ex-wife.  She did not think we would attend, although she asked us.  We got back early from our trip and went to their RV.  The ex-wife was there, so I waited in the car while my husband went to say hi to his children.  The MIL came out and started yelling at me to get out of the car.  She accused me of being like another person she hates, and then denied everything to my husband when he asked her later.  She did not know what he was talking about.  She stated that she did not do anything. She also said he should know how much he means to her, and she loves him.  The family would always make a point of telling me how great the ex-wife is.  I would not say anything.  One Christmas, after hearing this from 4 different people, I told my husband that I was not going to take this anymore.  What was the point in his family bringing up his ex-wife to me?  He went to talk with his mother, and came home mad at me.  From then on, his mother would talk about his ex-wife in my presence, but would refer to her as "no-name".  My MIL also stated to him that, "their family" has ex's at holidays.  I know this is not true, because my husband's older brother is divorced, and his ex-wife is never around.  The ex-wife is best friends with my husband's brother's wife, and is over there a lot.  The ex-wife pretends she is so helpless with everything so she can get everyone's help.  She pretends she can not find her way to other places, although she has driven on vacations to Dallas and Colorado by herself.  She has stated she loves my husband and would choose to go back with him.  He was the one who initiated the divorce.  I look like the unreasonable one.  I don't know - maybe I am.  I have stated I do not feel comfortable being at family get-togethers if his ex-wife is there.  I also do not trust my MIL, and do not want to be around her.  Is this just a problem that all stepfamilies encounter?  Or, is my MIL just contributing to this?  How do I deal with this?  I am so hurt by this.  My husband does not see the issue here, and just wants to ignore the whole thing.  His family sees me as the one causing the trouble, because they should have a right to include the ex-wife if they want to.  Help!  I do not feel any loyalty from my husband's family, and this is affecting my marriage.  My husband says he is loyal to me, but I don't get that feeling.  I think he is torn, and I hate to see that.  I am scared that his family will have such an influence on him that he will choose to leave me.

DR Apter's reply:
Anyone would find your mother-in-law's focus and admiration on a former daughter-in-law difficult.  It seems that you are particularly upset about it because you feel somewhat insecure in your marriage.  Try to realize that it is your mother-in-law and your sister-in-law who speak so glowingly of your husband's former wife.  Explain to your husband that their admiration unsettles you because you are afraid that he shares it.  Ask him to understand that you need a little more reassurance when his former wife is being praised.  He could show the family where he stands.  When they praise his former wife, he could take your hand, smile at you, offer a compliment.  In this way he could both support you and send a message that he does not condone their praise of the former wife.  He could do this without confronting his mother, or arguing with her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I know that this has probably been addressed before, but I feel like I am at the end of my rope, and I need help.  I have been married for 2 1/2 years, and have a beautiful three month old son.  I adore my husband, but his mother is putting a strain on our relationship.  I feel so pushed around by her, and my husband seems to think, as long as we keep her happy, we should be happy.  She is not malicious, but she continually oversteps the bounds of a MIL, and has no respect for me.  For example, she has shown up to visit with friends at the house, either without calling, or by calling and saying, "We are in the neighborhood," (this being when the baby was a few weeks old).  I feel pressure to, of course, have them over.  She has invited friends to my house for lunch and told me after she invited them, and I am expected to entertain.  I do not mind seeing her with my husband, but I feel awkward spending time alone with her, because it seems we have nothing to talk about.  She is the mother of 4 sons, and is clearly missing the company of a daughter, yet for the 8 years I have known her now, I still don't feel comfortable around her.  She has made rude comments about my weight and looks in the past.  I have never made a disparaging mark to her, although it is tempting, and I encourage my husband to maintain a close relationship with her.  She claims to him that she, "loves me to death".  He knows how overbearing she is, yet he expects me to "deal with her" because I love him.  I love him more than anything, but I would not ask this of him from my family.

She is manipulative as well.  When I was pregnant, she called my husband in tears, complaining that I don't call her or spend time with her.  I was seeing her at least on a weekly basis, though it was always with my husband there.  We would go to dinner or lunch.  It was not enough.  Then he tells me she is upset and asks if I can spend more time with her . So, of course I did at first, but I find the more I give her the more she wants.  At first, I felt obligated because I knew she wanted to see the baby.  But she is not deprived.  She sees the baby at least once a week, if not more.  She is also very jealous of my family . I am very close with my mother, 2 sisters and 2 sister-in-laws.  She has told my mother, "you can go now" when she arrives.   She called while my SIL was baby-sitting and said, "Well I could have done it."  She has told my husband, "Well I get the baby before her sisters."   My own mother can't baby-sit alone because of her medical condition, and she feels the need to constantly ask how well my mother can hold or care for the baby.  I am worried about this causing a huge crisis, because I don't feel comfortable leaving the baby with her for any length of time, especially at their house, because of their poorly-trained (has bitten) dog.   I feel like, I am the baby's mother, and although my husband may not agree with me, he needs to back me up.   I have bouts of self doubt and feelings that I am wrong.   Even my own mother who, in the past, told me to let it all go because "it is his mother" has been in tears over what she is putting me through (obviously I have only given a few gems from the chest).  Please help me before this woman's actions drive me to the breaking point.

DR Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could use your position as a new mother to open a conversation with your husband about your needs and your frustrations.  Explain that now you have a child, and a range of new pressures and responsibilities, that you need his help in setting boundaries between you and your mother-in-law.  Both of you could say that unexpected visits, or visits by a number of people, are tiring and stressful.  You could say that at this stage of your life you need to keep visits to a minimum, and will have to establish rules that they are by invitation only.

I suggest you refuse to get involved in any arguments about which grandmother sees the baby more often.  You could try fending them off by
saying how pleased you are that both grandmothers are so fond of your son.

If you are not happy leaving your son with your mother-in-law, then don't. It sounds to me as though you feel particularly fragile, perhaps going through a mild version of that depression that affects many women after the birth of a child.  In this frame of mind, criticisms and nagging are much harder to take.  Suggest that your husband lift some of the burden from you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Hello.  I will try to keep this question as short as possible.  I'm a successful person in all respects of my life, except with regards to my relationship with my fiancé's mother.  At one time, his mother and I were extremely close, and spent all of our Sat mornings talking (while her son was at work).  When her daughter became engaged, she became possessive and evil.  She said terrible things about her future son-in-law, his family, how they were planning the wedding, money issues, & her daughter, and some of the things her daughter was doing behind the future SIL's back.  I began to stop going over to her home, in order to stay away from her negativity. 

Then, one day, a little after this, my fiancé and I got into our first large disagreement.  Basically, we were working completely different shifts, and I was going to graduate school, so we had hardly any time to talk.  When we did, we did not discuss problems or issues that were on our minds due to the short amount of time we had together.  Small issues grew large & we needed to communicate.  We were able to resolve all of our issues rather easily.  At least, until his mother got involved with the argument.  This woman did not even know my fiancé's side of things (& knew nothing of mine) and had nothing to substantiate her mean comments to me.  She just went on and on about things that are none of her business, and accused me of all kinds of crazy things, including stealing an invitation to a party so she would not be there, etc., etc.  She got into our finances, our engagement, my profession, my education, my habits, & she even called me selfish & self-centered (after I loaned her son $ 20K to get him out of debt).  She was totally out of line.  The day after she got into our business, my fiancee tried to have a discussion with her, which ended up with him yelling at her.  Since then, he has discussed/yelled at her three more times about what she has done.  I believe this is also part of the problem, since he has NEVER raised his voice to her before in his life (he was 30 at the time).  He is very upset with her, and has openly said that to those who hear about the argument from the MIL.  I feel better that I know I can count on him to stand up for me.

One of many other strange things (I could literally write a novel) is that, about 7 months ago she called up my fiancee (I wasn't home) crying and saying how wrong she was, and that she wanted to apologize to me, etc., etc.  Then, nothing.  No call to apologize.  When my fiancee talked to her about it, she said she then felt she didn't have to apologize to me.  Now ... our wedding is in six months.  She kept telling everyone that they had to do "exactly the same thing" for me as they did for her daughter.  Same room for the shower, same invites, same gifts, same everything.  Even after I told her early on that I had different ideas about how I wanted to have things.  Who would want EVERYTHING the same??  Basically, she has major "control" issues.  Because I said I didn't want to do things "exactly the same", her "friends", who were allegedly backing the shower, said they no longer wanted to, & my future MIL yelled at my mom when my mother called her to talk about things like an adult.  Now, my mother is out $600 because of my future MIL.  I would hope she would not back out on the small amount she has also offered to contribute to our wedding, but I have to prepare for the worst, given this woman's history.  My fiancé, my family, & I do not deserve the treatment we have experienced from this woman.

I have not let on to her that she affects me, and I have kept control, but it is getting increasingly difficult.  I even tried to get her to see (w/us) a counselor that my F & I saw for premarital.  She insisted that she HAD to talk to the counselor first, and after this conversation the counselor said, "It would not be a productive visit."  She even has her daughter (& her) going to other family members, telling them her side of the argument  She is surprised that her son does not want to speak to her (but once a month), and that he does not try to see her.  Even though I told him that I would go to any event he wanted to attend, I am the "bad guy".  At least I am not a doormat, and I have my self respect.  Do you have any advice on what my next steps should be??  This really is a nightmare, and I thought I was doing everything right.  Please help!!!  Signed - the "Bad Guy'".

DR Apter's reply:
I know that you signed yourself "the bad guy" as a kind of joke, a way of both using and rejecting your fiancé's mother's view; but it is clear that your fiancé's mother makes you feel as though you are the bad guy.  The next step in your relationship with her is to prevent her views of you from influencing you.  If you feel she is being interfering, then tell her as neutrally as possible, that you do not wish to continue a discussion about these topics.  If you feel she is stepping in to control your wedding plans, then say firmly, "That's not what I want."  I know this is far more easily advised than done.  I would also predict that you will have to say it over and over again.  However, it could be helpful to set boundaries from the beginning.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I happen to be of a different religion than my in-laws, who are not very religious people after all.  They know though that I practice my own, and it is important for me.  It bothers me, though, that they never wish me happy holidays during my religious holidays.  During Christmas, however, they send me cards and Christmas cookies, wishing me "Merry Christmas," and they call to ask me what I would like for a Christmas gift.  I feel awkward having to explain to them that I very much respect their religion and their holidays, but I am of a different religion.  I keep thinking that they probably mean well, and they just do it unconsciously.  I'll appreciate if you could give me some advice about how to handle this.  Many thanks.

DR Apter's reply:
Your parents-in-law probably do mean well, but if you feel uncomfortable (and probably frustrated) by the way they ignore your religion and pretend that you adhere to their customs, then you should speak out.  Perhaps you could explain that you appreciate their attempts to include you in their celebrations, but your devotion to your own religion makes you uncomfortable with that.  Perhaps, too, as one of your holidays approaches, you could inform them of this, and explain its meaning, both in the context of the history of your religion, and its personal impact for you.


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