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3/31/00
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
SHOULD I DIVORCE MY HUSBAND OR NOT?
Dr. Apter, I've been married for 3 years and just had a baby girl 7 months ago ... since my daughter was born, my in-laws have created problems for me and my husband, and my family (my parents).  I met my husband in Europe 5 yrs ago ... he then came to live w/ me and my parents (east coast U.S.) ... since we were still not married, my parents were good enough to give him a room to sleep in, food on the table each day, laundry, and my mother even lent him her car.  Anyway, I always respected his parents and sister ... we called each weekend, I wrote them letters, sent them pictures of us, etc.  My parents even had them visit, and offered them my parents' guest rooms, etc.  My parents have done so much for us ... I noticed my in-laws started changing after I announced I was pregnant ... to make a long story short, the DAY my DAUGHTER was BORN, my in-laws CALLED my parents to tell them that they need to mind their business and stay out of their son's and my life!!!  They also went on to say that they were never happy that their son came to America, etc.  I was devastated, and my parents were so sad ... my husband, instead of reprimanding his parents, he agreed with them with everything they said (mind you, I had all this pressure after I gave birth).  So I had a fight with them on the phone, telling them exactly how I felt, and that I couldn't believe they were so mean and unappreciative ... in turn, me and my husband have been fighting ever since.  I hate my husband for allowing his family to talk to me the way they did.  They told me that I don't deserve the "water I drink" and that my mother is a "whore", etc.  My husband never stuck up for me and my family.  So, 7 months later, I don't speak to them, he doesn't speak to my family, and I refuse to let them see their granddaughter.  I am thinking about getting a divorce because I hate my husband for everything that has happened.  I am a family person, and now I can't even spend holidays all together (w/ my parents and my husband and daughter) all because HIS PARENTS BASICALLY GOT JEALOUS OF MY PARENTS.  I believe his parents are sick (especially the mother) ... they were so distraught that he was in America that they ended up hating everyone around him ... they told him that he should divorce me.  I just wish he would wake up and see who the people are that really love him.  My parents don't even want to see him anymore either.  I am under so much stress.  I am trying to find a psychologist to see.  I know my husband won't agree to counseling.  He gets mad at me for always "starting" with him.  Just an example of how mean my inlaws are ... they recently sent him a package from Europe of something he requested, and they put in the package some chocolates that he loves and a stuffed animal for the baby ... also a letter to their darling son and stating to give the baby a kiss for them ... WHO AM I?  A WHORE THAT HE MET ON THE STREET?????  That is the kind of people they are though.  My mom even tried to call them to try to make peace "at least for the kids" ... and his mother hung up on my mother and told her to go to hell (I'm trying to use a nicer word for what she actually said).  My husband won't admit that his mother is sick and mean (she didn't speak to her own mother-in-law for 15 years).  I have a beautiful daughter, and I don't want her growing up in this horrible environment ... me and my husband fight almost every wknd ... he thinks all this doesn't bother me, but it does.  What do you think?  What can I do?  Should I leave him?  We already separated back in October for a month (my baby was only 2 mos. old) and guess where he went after I kicked him out (he went to Europe and stayed with his parents) ... I told him not to come back, but he did. 

Please write me back....I am in desperate need of some professional advice.

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
The question whether or not you should divorce your husband is not one I can answer - but you raise so many profound mother-in-law issues which I think I can help with.  The worst problems seemed to start with the birth of your baby girl.  It was then that they attacked your parents and told them to "mind their own business."  What they were doing, from their point of view, was to try to protect your boundaries.  That was, as it were, their "cover" for their jealousy.  Once they had a grandchild (which, after all, is how they experience the birth of your child), the closeness of your parents was intolerable.  It's plain jealousy, and they did not express it well - but it's also understandable.  Let's look at what they went on to say: that they were never happy their son had come to America.  What they are saying is that they felt abandoned.  Perhaps they had always felt that, but having a grandchild which would be closer to your parents than to them triggered this behavior. They exclude you from any mention in their letter because they feel excluded.  As you say, your mother-in-law does not have a good model of a daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship.  She did not speak to her mother-in-law for fifteen years.  She is probably terrified that the same thing will happen to her.  Feeling left out, they become angry and abusive.  In these circumstances a downward spiral is very common.  They become "mean and unappreciative", you become angry - and so it goes.  But if somehow you could respond to what's genuine and understandable in their feelings, you could stop this downward spiral.  Perhaps, when they complain about your parents, you could say, "I really don't want to hear anything bad said about my parents."  But then you could go on to invite them to share your little girl with them in some way.  You could write to them describing what she is now doing, and say you hope they will be able to see her and develop a relationship with her.  They do not seem able to reflect on the reasons for their behavior, or to control their anger - but perhaps you can.

The second part of your story involves your marriage - as in-law problems so often do.  Your husband surely cannot agree with his parents when they abuse you, but he probably feels such divided loyalties that he does not know what to do.  Each of you is depriving the other of contact with parents, and this will lead to greater hostility.  I agree that some kind of therapy could be very helpful.  An outsider could allow greater communication between you.  In the meantime, you could aim for mutual understanding.  You could tell him that you understand he loves his parents, and that this is a virtue in him - but you are his wife, and he should stand by you when they attack you.  Assure him that he can do this without being disloyal to them.  All this is happening at a very stressful time for both of you.  A young child is demanding and exhausting.  Try to find a time when you can explain all this to your husband.  I wish you the best of luck.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I love my boyfriend but really couldn't stand my future mil.  She doesn't treat me with respect, and she is just a grouchy old b*tch.  My boyfriend & I are saving money to buy a house this year.  But, every weekend, I go over to their house to spend time with my boyfriend coz he said that his mom likes it when I go over there to spend the whole weekend.  But, I don't feel that she really likes me being there, so she treats me like sh*t.  Do you think that she hates it when I'm there, and that her son will be moving in with me in the near future, and is she getting insecure about this whole situation?  I would never want to live with her & become miserable for the rest of my life coz she has a nasty attitude, pls help me.  Thanks

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
I think your boyfriend's mother is finding it hard to share her son.  She feels threatened or jealous, so she takes it out on you.  Perhaps you could confront her with her behavior.  For example, you could explain that you feel she is "treating you like sh*t."  Try to focus on your response to her behavior without actually blaming her. (Accusations tend to block communication.) Then ask her if there is some way you can work together to solve the problem.  If she is forced to focus on her behavior, she may come to see how unacceptable it is.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What do you do with a MIL who is constantly lying and interfering in your life?  And if you call her on this, she will cry and run to her husband and have him just ream you inside out.  It seems like she almost dares you to call her a liar or say something negative.

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
Your mother-in-law is practicing a well-known family tactic:  she behaves badly, then shores up others to protect her when she's confronted.  I suggest you try fairly neutral ways of dealing with her lies and interference.  Don't give her an excuse to cry (and arouse other's pity or protectiveness).  Try to work around them.  If you don't believe something she says, ignore it.  If she tries to interfere, say as neutrally as possible, "We're going to do it this way."

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
I have a very interfering mother in law (surprise, surprise) and she also puts me down every chance she gets.  When I try and explain to her son (my husband) that I don't like being put down and told what to do in my own house, his response is that she does it to everyone and she will never change.  I don't think I should put up with this all the time.  I cringe when she just pops over without calling first.  What can I say to her to make her stop telling me all the time how she thinks things should be done in my house, without her son getting his back up?

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
Your husband is suffering from the familiar problem of divided loyalties.  He does not want to be critical of his mother.  He tries to smooth things over by asking you to understand her.  In this case, you could go directly to the mother-in-law and tell her as diplomatically as possible that she must respect your boundaries.  You could say something like: "I'm very pleased when you visit, but I do need to know when you're coming."  You could also explain to your husband that you understand he loves his mother and that he is used to her, but that you need to set some rules in your own home.  Assure him that this can be done without heated arguments, and that he will not be disloyal to his mother if he supports you.  Together you could work out a way of establishing home rules.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Here's the situation, (this could be more of an etiquette rule).  A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went out with his parents to a Chinese Buffet.  During the course of the meal, I would go up to the buffet "by myself."  After the dinner, my husband tells me that his mother considers this to be rude and thinks that I should only get up from the table when my husband does, even to go to the washroom.  I think his mother's manners are quite questionable; she talks with her mouth full of food, elbows on the table, and brings up stories about bodily functions during the meal.  I believe I have fair manners and feel embarrassed to have offended his mother's beliefs.  Should I?  Is this a rule?  How do I approach this at other outings?

Dr. Terri Apter Responds
Different families have different rules about how to behave.  The problem is, many families think that their rules are absolutely right.  Your situation is complicated by the fact that your mother-in-law does not confront you directly, but complains to your husband, who then complains to you.  I think you could explain to both of them that if your mother-in-law has any criticism of your behavior, then she should address you directly.  Tell them both that you are happy to hear what she has to say, but that this must be a conversation - not something whispered behind your back.

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
What do I do with a controlling Mother in Law?  She insists on controlling everything.  What I think, how I raise my son, my cooking skills, cleaning techniques, nothing is ever good enough.  Since I have had a son who is going on 18 months, my life has become a living hell.  My son chokes on everything, so what I feed him must be monitored carefully.  She gives him anything she wants.  He almost choked to death this past Christmas on celery.  I have no voice in my own home.  Not to mention the fact that she is the cheapest woman alive.  She was doing a load of laundry and took her clothes out and told me to put my dirty stuff in to save on laundry soap.  She said, "I can get 80 loads of laundry done out of a 40 load box of detergent."  How's that for cheap?  I sent her a picture of me (alone) without her son to show her how much weight I had lost.  And when I went to visit her in Canada I noticed she used the frame with my picture to display another picture.  I was so hurt, but was always told to never confront her, by my husband, because of the consequences we all suffer when anyone crosses her.  Is it okay for her to belittle me in my own home, and basically call me a bad mother and I am not allowed to speak in my defense?  Actually, I know the answer, but it does feel good to get this off my chest.  Thanks for listening.

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
What strikes me most about your question is your statement: "I have no voice in my own home."  This must change, and I think you can work to change it.  First, the fear of her that your husband has (he's told you there will be dire consequences if you cross her), is his problem.  To him, she is still a powerful mother.  But to you, she is simply a relative and you are the woman and mother in your home.   Focusing on the issue of your son's diet, explains clearly and firmly that you have to control this.  If she belittles you, say, "I'm really sorry you feel that way, but unless you have a specific complaint that we can discuss, I don't want to be spoken to like that."  Of course there may be "dire" consequences.  But show her that you are not afraid of her anger.  She may be so used to controlling others by fear.  It's up to you to break that pattern.

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
I'm about to get married in less than six weeks and have had nothing but problems with my future MIL.  Is there anything that should be done or said to my fiancé before I take the big step?  My fiancé doesn't ever stand up to her; in fact, no one does in their family.  They've all told me to just ignore it.  But how do I ignore her complaining when it involves me and my child?  My MIL complains about everything and anything.  She has tried telling us what is acceptable at our wedding and what isn't.  She tells me that how I raise my child is not right, and she knows what's best.  But, to top it off, my fiancé feels bad about what she says, and then he argues with me after every conversation with her.  She even gave him a guilt trip saying he's not thinking of them and therefore should not be included in their will.  She will actually get on the phone and start a crying routine.  Whenever my fiancé and I make a decision about doing something she will complain about it until she gets her way.  I just don't know how much longer I will be able to handle this before giving my fiancé an ultimatum between her or me.  What should I do?

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
Your fiancé's family is used to your future mother-in-law's behavior.  And perhaps they are afraid of her - a fear that is based on their childhood need for her.  You don't have to follow their way of dealing with her.  Her crying routines are manipulative, but she probably is also genuinely hurt.  Try to respond to her pain, without allowing her control.  You could say (or suggest your fiancé say) "I see you're upset, and I'm very sorry.  I don't think you should be because we really are thinking of you."  But this doesn't mean you have to do things her way, and you can simply say, "This is what I think is best for my child" (rather than "You're wrong.")

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I got married in Europe seven months ago.  My mother-in-law wanted me and her son to stay with her for two weeks right after the wedding.  To top it all, she took all the money that people gave us at the wedding reception and put it a bank account for my husband.  She consulted my husband and not me.  She did send us the money to my husband's bank account five months after the wedding.  Her actions have been bothering me for a while.  I am afraid of what might be in store for me with this woman.  I cannot trust her anymore after what she did.  Many thanks for any explanations or suggestions.

Dr. Terri Apter Responds:
This problem should be addressed by your husband - though he may need your help in confronting it.  It sounds as though he is just letting things slide.  After all, that's easier than arguing.  I suggest you say you are pleased the money is now in his account, and that his mother eventually did the right thing, but that it makes you uneasy that she takes control.  This may seem like a small issue to him, but you could explain that it's something that really matters to you, that it's a symbol of interference and control, and that it would be better for everyone if it didn't happen again.

 


The Sister Knot, Apter
The Sister Knot
Why We Fight, Why We're Jealous, and Why We'll Love Each Other No Matter What


Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
Secret Paths
Women in the New Midlife


Working Women Don't Have Wives, Dr. Terri Apter Working Women Don't Have Wives
Professional Success in the 1990'S


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Dr. Terri Apter
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