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3/31/01
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am an American, married to a German and living in Germany.  His family immigrated from Eastern Europe 20 years ago.  The family is very close.  I, on the other hand, have always been extremely independent.  I have a good relationship with my parents, but have never allowed them to meddle in my personal affairs.  Likewise, they have never tried.  My MIL, however, meddles constantly.  They live 15 miles away.  Before we got married, my MIL used to visit my husband every week, do his laundry, and bring food in little tupperware containers.  Since we've been married (3 years ago), the laundry has stopped (under protest from her), but the food-bringing has continued, even though she knows I don't want her to.  Now I am expecting a baby next month.  My husband, a doctor, has been unemployed for 4 months.  We had planned that I would stay home (day care in Germany is very limited) and he would work.  His chances of finding a job without moving away are very slim, and we originally agreed to move wherever he needed to, at least for a few years.  This possibility, of course, has upset the MIL, especially because of the baby.  She has laid a massive guilt trip on my husband ("So far away ... but we wanted to help with the baby!").  First of all, "far away" is about 100 miles.  Secondly, the thought of her "helping" makes me want to cringe.  She is not nasty, like many MIL's, but I am not the type of person who tolerates someone else telling me what to do.  I am 35 years old with 2 college degrees.  My husband is 42.  The main problem is that now my husband suddenly doesn't want to move away, even if it means he will remain unemployed.  He claims he can drive a taxi at night.  This means I have to go back to work full-time, although this was not what we agreed to.  This means I cannot nurse my baby, and will only see him when he sleeps.  He will probably see more of my MIL than of me.  I feel like my husband's family is taking my child away from me.  When I try to talk to him about it, he clams up, and either drinks a beer or goes to the pub.  He says I am the one with the problem.  I know this sounds terrible, but I find myself wishing my MIL were dead.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I understand your reluctant wish for your mother-in-law to be dead.  In that way, you feel your husband would not be cowed by her wishes.  Difficult though it is, there must be another way.  It is clearly in your husband's and your long-term interests for him to be sufficiently flexible to find a job that makes use of his high quality skills.  But to move, he must defy his mother's wishes.  He probably drinks rather than talk about it with you because he cannot focus on his dilemma.  Perhaps you could make this easier for him.  He needs a lot of support in confronting his problem.  He needs help in believing that he can act in his own interests, and against her wishes, without really being disloyal to his mother.  Perhaps you could find some way of reaching him.  He will probably avoid confrontation with you, but if you assure him you are genuinely seeking a positive solution, he may open up.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for 13 years, have 4 children, and a great relationship.  However, my children have never been able to go to their grandparent's house because it is too messy.  Growing up, my husband could never have anyone over due to the messy house.  As you can see, this has been going on for over 20 years.  My MIL has a serious problem.  I think she is an obsessive compulsive hoarder.  There is stuff piled up everywhere, and just a little space to walk between all the crap! The thing is: I really start to resent them when they visit us, because I have to do all the work (get the house clean, make all the meals).  I want my kids to have a relationship with their grandparents, but I'm sick and tired of waiting on them when I've been teaching school all day, and she doesn't work outside the home at all.  They see us twice a year, live too far away to drive home, so must stay with us.  My husband does not want to suggest they stay in a hotel.  They would be insulted if we suggested that.  It just about kills her to help with a meal too.  Also, my parents take two of my kids to stay with them for 2 weeks each summer.  My husband's parents have never done this.  They have never lifted a finger to help us out, yet expect all the good things that come from having grandkids.  I'm just so tired of this.  What advice do you have?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that some serious compromise is necessary here.  Your in-laws are unlikely to change.  In all probability, they do not see themselves as having a problem.  Perhaps, especially as your children get older, they would be willing to put up with the mess.  Or perhaps you could find some neutral territory where you could all visit.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter, thank you for taking time to review my circumstances.  I'm a 36 year old American woman who, 18 months ago, married a 38 year old British man and moved to England.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I've had difficulties with my mother-in-law.  At first, her meddling seemed mildly irritating.  But, now it is such a trigger for me, I am enraged.  The first time she meddled was: I was on my way out one day when I encountered her and a man out in my garden.  I asked my husband what she was doing, and he said she was buying a new shed for us so that I could place a piece of exercise equipment (which I had brought from the States) and exercise out in this shed.  Her and my husband were concerned that the machine would crash through the ceiling if I exercised on it.  I found that to be very rude, since no asked me if I wanted to exercise out in the shed in the garden, and neither I, nor the machine are that heavy.  I told my husband at that time, "Please do not go to your mother to discuss and decide issues that should be discussed and decided between ourselves."  He agreed.  Since then, I have received gifts of stationary from her when we had a big long distance phone bill.  I have had countless discussions with her in which she has brought up subjects from conversations I had previously with my husband, even after I had asked my husband to keep our conversations private between us.  She has wrapped up secondhand merchandise she has bought at boot-fairs and has given them to other family members in our name for their birthdays.  She tries to monitor what we buy.  She questions us if we bought something new, i.e. where, why, how much, what for? She will become visibly upset if we don't want something secondhand from her, and we would like to buy it new.  I tell my husband she belongs to the shopping police - she thinks everything should be purchased from a boot-fair.  She speaks to me and my husband like we are children.  She never tells us how she feels, directly.  She always speaks in third person, and she always tells us something in story form, and we are left like little boys and girls to figure out the moral of the story.  I can't help but feel really angry at her and my husband.  I feel like my husband is giving her the bullets, and she is firing them.  I feel that he is giving her the information, the ammunition, to meddle in our affairs.  If he would keep our private lives to himself, then she would not be able to think where to begin to meddle.  He is always going to her for advice.  If my husband and I disagree on something, then he goes to her, and then she will come back to me, and in story form will tell me why she disapproves and disagrees.  I feel that every time I want something in my marriage, whether, abstract or concrete, I need her permission.  I'm careful what I say to her, because I'm so angry, and I'm afraid it will come out too strong.  I once had words with her, but she denied it and came across as only being concerned for my well being.  She never tells me how she feels directly, 'cause all of her stories are in third person, and indirect of how she feels.  It is really hard to confront someone like this.  I'm so frustrated.  My husband and I fight frequently.  We have rehashed this so many times, and it still reoccurs.  We have tried to stay away from her, but I feel guilty.  She is my 5 month old daughter's grandmother, so she has to see her.  But every time we reacquaint ourselves these things start to reoccur.  I don't like her myself, but I'm sure she wouldn't harm my daughter.  However, I do feel that if we don't resolve this situation soon, the strain on my marriage and the relationship I have with my mother-in-law will affect my daughter, because I am very seriously contemplating divorce.  I could go on to write a book on other mother-in-law incidents, but I'll stop here.  I was wondering if you could recommend a book or some support?  I would extremely appreciate it.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that though your mother-in-law is the focus of your problem, a lot of the difficulties do involve your marriage.  Clearly, you have cause for anger not only towards your mother-in-law, but also towards your husband who seems to betray your needs and your confidence.  In his mother's presence, your husband may lose the ability to be appropriately loyal and discreet about you and interactions between the two of you.  A few marriage therapy sessions may be able to improve the situation.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My future mother-in-law is having a difficult time letting go of her 25 year old son, my fiancé, and I am worried about how to go about gracefully cutting the apron strings.  Although he lives some 200 miles away, she calls several times a week and is interested in affairs which I consider only our business.  My fiancé's family is extremely small and close knit; he grew up in the same town that his mother did, and both of his grandmothers live within minutes.  My family is very large and spread out across the country.  I feel suffocated by the numerous emails she sends to me, and her constant questions about the upcoming wedding; my own mother and I don't communicate as much as my mother-in-law communicates with me.  How can my fiancee and I successfully let her know that we will want more privacy than she has thus far been willing to grant us, once we are married?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It sounds as though your fiancé is on your side and willing to tackle the problem with you.  I suggest you answer her emails infrequently.  If you find them particularly annoying, then just skim them quickly for any essential information, and delete them, without replying.  Once you have established this pattern, you could explain to your future mother-in-law that you would prefer not to have daily emails.  Once you set boundaries in one area, you will have set an important precedent.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for 6 years (we're both in our late 40's, no previous marriages).  I am finding it exceedingly difficult to accept the relationship my husband and his mother have.  My husband goes over to her apartment every Saturday (she lives 20 minutes from us) and does the cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. - takes her for excursions - that part I don't mind, however.  He also phones her several times a day, every day (she does not have health problems, she gets around very well, and she has a social life).  He insists that she comes on vacation with us (even sleeps in the same bedroom as we do), wants her to spend the majority of weekends at our house.  My husband also expects me to pick up after her when she is at our home (which I don't do - I politely ask her to clean up after herself - sometimes it works).  To put the icing on the cake, she refers to my husband as her "baby boy".  I'm about ready to toss them both out on their fannies ... any suggestions?

Dr. Apter's reply:
You have a lot of work to do, so I suggest you set yourself specific targets, be both patient and persistent.  The first thing to keep in mind is that you are fully justified in setting limits to the time and energy you give to your mother-in-law, and also, in this case, that you are justified in asking your husband to do the same.  Perhaps you could make a list of things you/your husband do for her or with her that are tolerable, and distinguish them from those that are most distasteful to you.  In a sense, you have already begun that: the visits your husband makes are ok, but the phone calls are intrusive.  I suggest you insist that she not come on vacation with you (if you don't want that).  You could explain that you want to have this particular vacation without her (rather than insist that she never come on any vacation again).  Also, you can change your husband's expectations of how much you pick up after your mother-in-law.  You could say simply and calmly, "That's not what I see as my job."

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for several years, and just had a baby.  My story is that my husband seems to be controlled by his family.  It got started 5 years ago when I introduced one of my friends to my BIL.  He started talking behind my back to my husband, telling me that I was creating problems, and I am separating the family (without any evidence of such act).  The truth was that she was making hurtful comments, and I decided I would ignore her.  We argued 2-3 years over this issue, and clearly crippled our marriage and my health.  I left him after receiving yet another rude comment from her, and my husband siding with her again.  We got together again because he agreed to change and seek counseling.  After a year of counseling, we decided to get pregnant.  He no longer was protecting his SIL, (I guess he figured out she was at fault) but it seems that he is always looking out for the best interest of his family.  Regardless of what I say or do, he will do things to make them (his two brothers and his mom) happy.  The list is endless, but for an example, he took his family to Las Vegas and left me at home six months pregnant (a pregnancy with complications).  I have talked to him, his brothers, and his mother about this, but they get defensive or just blow me off.  His mother lives with one of the sons at any given time, because she would be too scared to live alone, and that by itself caused problems, because she was always putting her nose into things and controlling the house/our lives.  I went back to work six weeks after delivery, just to get away from her.  These problems seem to be a common problem among men and their weakness.  However, I am very tired of defending myself and my rights as a wife/equal partner.  Could these behaviors be caused by up bringing? Could he think that, since his mom had a passive role, therefore his wife should do the same? Somehow I do not think so, since it seems that she controls two of her three sons, through her personal so-called weakness of not being able to stay home, or guilt trips.  My husband's father died 16 years ago, and my MIL blamed him for his death, saying the distance caused his death (my husband was abroad for college), but he really died of heart attack.  Again, the stories are endless of their control over him, and he does not see it.  We could argue for months, but he does not see it until he they act unkindly or unjust.  Even then, he will take their side until he gives up, or will go ahead and let them do and say as they wish.  It seems like an endless circle of guilt, manipulation and control over my husband's lifetime, and consequently mine.  His response is, in general that it is, "none of your business," or, "I want to do it this way." Talking to my in-laws is meaningless.  There is little communication outside of, "How was your day," and, "How is life?" They do not seem to respect women, and their position in their husband's life, but everything evolves around my MIL's needs.  What is the truth? Does he want a passive wife that would take anything they dish out.  I have told him I can not handle these types of behaviors, but, again, it seems the manipulation does not stop, and he falls for it every time.  What can I do? Is there hope? Is there any end to this type of manipulation? I am very tired, and I want to get on with my life, instead of waiting to see what she wants to take now: his time, his money, his relationship with his wife ...

Dr. Apter's reply:
This does seem like something that has to be negotiated with your husband.  You can explain that it is your business because his behavior with his in-laws affects you.  Whether or not he expects his wife to be passive, you are now his wife and he should learn to listen to your needs.  Are there some situations in which he does listen to you? Is there any way you can see of opening up the doors of communication? He may, at present, be reluctant to find out how you really feel because he is afraid of criticism, or afraid that acknowledging your feelings will create a dilemma for him.  Would it be possible for you to go with him into counseling again to address these specific matters? I agree that talking to your in-laws is unlikely to get results.  Persuading your husband to appreciate your perspective is the best route to resolving these problems.

 


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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