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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am about to be married in 5 mos., and my fiancé and I do live together already.  His mother has come to us (knowing he has a lot of debt, and that we are saving for our own wedding) and asked for $150.  He does not have it, and it would essentially come from my pocket.  I have only known her 6 mos., and she has 2 other daughters and 4 other sons besides my fiancé  I have also found out why she hasn't asked them.  It is because they have told her "no more" after seeing how unwise she is with her money.  Do we sacrifice our savings, or paying off debt, to give her the money, when even her other 6 children won't give because they have had enough?  (I think she asked us because I am new to her game, and my fiancé is the most tenderhearted of the bunch.)

Dr Apter's reply:
I rarely give straightforward advice about what or what not to do, but in this case I would strongly suggest you learn from your mother-in-law's other children and say "No".  It is unlikely that she will handle it more wisely than she has handled money in the past.  Though it may seem to strain your relationship with her, it will probably make it easier in the long run.  Your husband may need some reassurance that you are not rejecting his mother by refusing her request, but acting for the good of everyone involved.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband of three years is an only child.  My MIL seems to go constantly back and forth between my not being good enough for her son, and wanting me to call her "Mom".  I'm not comfortable with either.  My own mother passed away 6 years ago when I was just 21, and if I could ever contemplate calling anyone else "Mom" before that, I certainly will not now.  MIL knows how I feel, but persists.  Hubby tries to tell me its a British/Scottish thing, but I'm not fully buying it.  On our mutual birthday (how I HATE that happenstance), MIL gave me a knife (OK, a letter-opener) and proceeded to go into a half hour diatribe about how, when SHE first got married, she called her MIL at least once a week.  As far as I'm concerned, that's her son's sole responsibility.  I'm a junior associate at a major law firm working 70 hours a week, and I struggle to find the time to keep my relationship strong with my husband, and squeeze in time every once in a while to talk to my dad and sister.  My husband is pretty good about seeing his parents regularly, but that isn't enough - if I'm not there, comments are made, and if I do show up, I get the pleasure of her constant barbs.  MIL keeps a perfect house, and also works outside the home.  She will come over to our house and start tidying things, even though I make a point of never letting her see it when it's actually messy.  I resent this.  MIL also likes to make negative comments about my family, my job, what we spend, or anything else that comes to mind.  She can't go five minutes without launching into criticism.  Which is why I don't have any inclination to hang out with her and call her "Mom".  Hubby says she's just like that, which is true - she also constantly belittles her husband and criticizes her son - but this makes it no more endearing.  The final thing is the relationship between my in-laws.  They've been married for over 30 years, but they carry on a running sparring match like they hate each other and keep secrets from each other, in particular about finances.  This has created problems for us, because his dad will borrow money from us (or, once, my dad) and not tell his mother, who then accuses us of being financially irresponsible because, "Surely you ought to have saved for a house by now."  Hubby will not countenance any comments made by me about either of his parents - he'll always retaliate with an attack on my family, usually my flighty and sometimes irresponsible younger sister, and her outstanding loan (which I gave her out of my personal account, and which is smaller, by far, than the perpetual loans we have to his dad out of joint funds - I really do believe we owe it to our families to help financially where we can - it's the SECRECY I hate).  Most of our fights (which are fairly infrequent) are about our families.  He doesn't deny that his mother isn't always very nice to me, and that it's a bad thing that his parents aren't open with each other, but he just doesn't want to hear about it, and reads that I'm saying my family's better and my parents had a better marriage (and frankly, I do think that).  I'm paranoid about little signs that he's picking up on their way of relating to each other, like when he stays out late with "the boys" even though he and I have way more common interests, including the very things he's doing with the boys - watching football, etc.  His parents make every effort to avoid each other socially, except for weekly movie dates and trips to the market.  What do I do about any of the above?  I've gone on and on, but if you want to pick even part of this to comment on, I'd be truly grateful.

DR Apter's reply:
There are a number of different problems here - many of them common themes in in-law relationships.  Your mother-in-law herself probably does not know what she really feels towards you.  Perhaps she wants to feel close to you.  Perhaps she thinks she does feel close to you.  On the other hand, you probably pose a threat to her as someone who has more control of her finances and a strong career and a greater sense of independent worth.  It is those assets which she tries to undermine by criticizing you.  It seems that your husband is reluctant to voice any criticism of his parents.  He may benefit from your assurance that you will not reject them by criticizing them.  (You could offer your willingness to help them financially as a sign of your commitment to them as family.) He may be persuaded to understand that you simply need him as a sounding board for your discomfort at their behavior.  You could explain that you are willing to respect them, and consider them as family, but not as you would a real parent.  Also, you could remind him that his mother does need care and attention, and therefore he should be the one to phone her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL likes to lay guilt trips on my husband (he's 38) all the time.  If it's not about how he has to enable his addict brother (he's 40), then it's about how he has to be there for "the family" (which means his parents and his brother) when they need him.  Lately, it's been that she feels that she doesn't get to see the grandkids enough (they are 3, 4, and 8).  She also feels that the only time she does get to see them is when we need a baby-sitter (apparently she resents this).  I'm so fed up with her.  She sees our children just about every other week, sometimes every couple of weeks, and rarely does three weeks go by that she doesn't see them (this includes holidays, birthdays, and get togethers).  What's interesting is that when we ARE there, she spends her time around me and my husband rather than the children.  What's even more interesting is that MY mother just about only sees them when we need a baby-sitter and NEVER complains, NEVER says she doesn't see them enough, and actually spends less time around them.  I'm so frustrated with my MIL and the guilt trips she puts on my husband!!!  Are we doing anything wrong here?  I'd really like your advice on this.

DR Apter's reply:
You might try asking her precisely what she wants (instead of listening to her complain about what she doesn't get).  When she does complain, you could ask her to make a specific request, and then discuss whether or not to accommodate her.  This may assure your husband that you are responsive to her.  My best guess is that her actual requests for specific meetings will be far less than her general complaints.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I just need to vent, and maybe get some advice.  My brother-in-law has been living with us since Christmas.  He moved here from the west coast to "get his life back on track", get a fresh start in a new place, etc., etc.  Mind you, my husband and I are newly married, in our early twenties, and this is his older brother - in his thirties.  He was supposed to stay with us for just a few weeks, which has obviously extended into months.  He pays nothing - no groceries, no rent, nothing.  This is a problem enough on its own, but the problem that has me irked lately is this: he is a LARGE man - 450 lbs plus.  He does very little when he is not working, aside from sitting and watching TV.  In the process of doing this, he is breaking all of our NEW furniture - I cringe every time he sits down or moves in my new chair as it creaks and cracks.  I can't imagine that he does not realize the damage that he is causing.  What am I supposed to do??  Tell him he has to sit on the floor?  We just bought our first home, and do not have any extra money to be replacing brand-new furniture!  He is moving out at the end of this month, but will still be nearby, so it's not like my furniture would be safe even after he is no longer living with us.  HELP!!!!

DR Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could sacrifice one chair and designate it "his" and direct him to it whenever he visits.  At 450 pounds, he should be aware of the effect his weight may have on furniture.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter, I feel like I am going to explode.  My problem isn't just with my MIL, but with my husband's whole family, practically.  I don't know how to describe the problem accurately, but I will try.  Any decision that my husband and I make is scrutinized and analyzed by the members of his family.  We are constantly being told if we don't do "this", then "whomever" won't be coming for the holidays, or won't be speaking to us.  I am so sick of it!!!!!!  I am sick of trying to please everyone except myself.  I am outraged that my husband tolerates this treatment.  I am sick of subjecting my children to the constant silent treatment routines that my husband puts up with.  The things that his family gets mad about are either very childish, or just plain none of their business.  The best part is, once the family member is done being mad at us for something that was none of their business anyway, then we are expected to just smile and act like nothing happened.  I think that this behavior is sick, but my husband is so used to it it doesn't phase him.  I don't know what to do.  Should I speak up to these people myself?

DR Apter's reply:
Yes, you should speak up to your in-laws, but most importantly, you should be assured yourself that what you feel matters, and that you can trust your own judgment and that you should brush aside the fear of others' disapproval.  I'm well aware that this is more easily said than done.  It is hard to tolerate relatives' disapproval and it often seems easier to try to please and placate them.  In the end, it is far better to accept that they will sometimes be threatening and that they will sometimes sulk, but that you should do what you think best. If your children see you withstand your in-laws' disapproval, then they will be less daunted by it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter, My fiancé's parents and mine are going to meet for the first time in June.  We are supposed to have dinner with them and my fiancé's stepmother, and then later all attend an engagement party.  All of our parents, to varying degrees, have the habit of subtly and not so subtly putting us down, which is something both of us have recently started coming to terms with -- meaning we're still quite sensitive about it, and not always equipped to deal with them effectively.  With my parents, it tends to happen much more in private (usually it's during one-on-one phone conversations, as they live several states away) and I've addressed the problem with some success.  His parents tend to be more public with their comments.  His mother is the queen of the subtle put-down ... but given that her comments are often veiled, they are easier to ignore. (Not that that's always the way they should be handled.)  His father, on the other hand, is much more aggressive.  He'll make fun of my fiancé, call him names, all in the name of "good fun".  He's the kind of person whose so-called humor has a very hostile edge.  During one extended-family dinner, he dredged up stories about my fiancé's past that put him in the worst possible light and made everyone at the table extremely uncomfortable, to the point where my fiancé's grandmother had to put a stop to the storytelling.  Naturally, sometimes parents tell stories about the wrongheaded things their kids used to do, but believe me, his demeaning tone makes the difference.  It was all I could do not to leave the table.  His father almost never fails to work in some cutting remark about my fiancé that we're supposed to view as jokes.  I am dreading a repeat performance at the upcoming dinner, yet feel powerless to halt it.  We rarely see his parents beyond holidays and birthdays as it is, and, as you can imagine, there's already a lot of underlying tension surrounding our relationship with both our parents (his live much closer by, however).  I have felt like confronting them for a long time, but have put it off, and now that the wedding is upon us and both parents are contributing substantial amounts to it, I feel like I can't make waves.  I am curious to know how I/we should handle it if his father acts up during the dinner.  (by the way, my fiancé does his best to tune the abuse out, but I know it affects him, and it certainly affects me).  I would appreciate any advice you could offer.  Signed, Dreading It.

DR Apter's reply:
It is good that you and your fiancé share awareness of your respective parents' strategies for putting you down.  This common experience (though implemented differently in each family) may be part of what has brought you together.  The best way to handle the put downs is on a case by case basis.  For that reason, I would not recommend that you confront them about their habits.  In all probability, they would declare that they did not know what you meant, that you were imagining things, that you were oversensitive or twisting their words.  Therefore, your best strategy is to address each put down as it come.  You could ask, pleasantly but firmly, "What are you actually saying?"  You could show, by body language or facial expression, that you definitely do not think that your father-in-law's "jokes" are funny.  You could even tell him, quietly but directly, that you find such remarks painful.  You could make this easier for your father-in-law by assuring him that you understand that he does not mean to be hurtful.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has not yet adjusted to the fact that her only son is now married.  My husband and I were married six months ago.  From the time we came back from our honeymoon, my MIL has made it very clear that she wants to be a very important party in our marriage.  She arrived at our house two days before we did, and she insisted that she be given a set of the house keys in case of emergencies.  She told me how to carry out simple household chores as if I had no clue whatsoever how to carry out simple tasks.  For example, how to heat food in the microwave, how to wash the toilet bowl, how to operate the washing machine.  She even told me how to dispose of sanitary napkins!!!  I related things to my husband the moment she did or said anything that struck me as odd, but he brushed them aside saying that I should not take offense, my MIL did not mean to belittle me, and they were only trivial things, don't be so fussy.  He even told me, "And, how would people know you know the proper method of disposing sanitary napkins?"  I am at a loss of what to do.  My MIL visits every three weeks, and every time she stays for around ten days.  She did not even want to ask us first if the timing of her visit is convenient.  In her opinion, parents can drop in any time.  The first thing she does when she arrives is to check if the house is properly maintained.  She checks our wardrobe, went through our clothes, went through my husband's correspondence.  I kept mine locked.  She stripped our bedsheets and sent them to the laundry, even after I told her that I preferred to wash them myself.  After that episode, my husband would complain that the bedsheets that I washed in the washing machine looked dirty.  My husband and I cannot have any intimate relationship whenever she's around because she goes in and out of our room even when the door is closed.  She even entered our bedroom one early morning while we were sleeping.  She was quite embarrassed when I woke up, and shouted at me to wake up one hour before I planned to get up!!!  The problem is that my husband does not see that what my MIL is doing is not acceptable.  He even kept quiet when my MIL told me, "I will not allow you to ask my son to do housework.  If you can't manage, I don't mind if you get a part-time help.  But you must be at home to watch her.  And you must not ask her to come on Sunday morning. My son has to sleep on Sunday mornings."  After I failed to get my husband to tell my MIL not to interfere in our marriage, I brought up the issue with my MIL herself, because I just could not stand it anymore.  The day after, we had our talk, I never raised my voice at her, even though she was shouting and hurling insults at me - my husband accused me of making my MIL's blood pressure shoot up and her hands to shake.  I feel that there is no hope of my husband and I ever being able to form our own family unit with him being so closely tied to his mother.  Please advise. Thank you.

DR Apter's reply:
This is a classic mother-in-law problem.  I wish it were as simple to solve as it is to recognize.  There are two problems: your mother-in-law needs to be taught to accept boundaries, to respect your privacy and acknowledge your competence.  But your husband cannot accept giving her (or allowing you to give her) the necessary lessons.  Instead, you are positioned as the harmful one because you are trying to prevent her from harming your marriage.  Can you talk to your husband and assure him that you are not trying to reject his mother and that it is not disloyal for him to show his mother that he does have a private life with you?

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I can't stand my in-laws.  I think that they make excuses for everything.  My MIL and FIL are divorced (in a really nasty divorce).  I know this is a MIL page, but I have a question about my FIL.  My FIL was accused of sexual molestation of his daughter and another little boy (about twenty years ago).  Although he was never charged, there was significant evidence against him, and he has admitted some of the accusations are true.  I was told this prior to really getting to know him, and it really painted a negative picture for me towards this man (not that it shouldn't have).  Now, my husband and I are talking about having kids (we have none now).  Under no circumstances will he be allowed to see our children without either my husband or myself around.  I want to be far stricter, I want him to attend a treatment program before having any access to my children whatsoever.  I believe he is capable of molesting again.  My husband disagrees.  He says that my FIL will not sexually abuse again, and that giving him supervised visitation is harsh enough.  My husband says my FIL will not attend treatment.  My FIL feels psychiatrists and psychologists are rip offs.  Well, maybe taking his grandchildren away will be inspiration enough.  Am I being too harsh, or is my husband right to give my FIL the benefit of the doubt?  Other than my hatred for his father, my husband and I get along just fine (he doesn't get along with him either, but he feels he has to try because it's his dad).

DR Apter's reply:
It is very difficult to assess the risk your children may face since so much time has elapsed.  However, your measure of comfort is very important, and you could explain that you need your father-in-law to attend a program because only then would you feel comfortable with him seeing your children, even on a supervised basis.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for almost a year, and my husband and I have discovered that his father was previously married over thirty years ago and has two other sons!  My FIL made light of the whole situation and refused to give any explanation as to why he has not seen these sons in thirty years.  My husband is devastated, because he cannot believe that his father would hide something like this from him for so long.  My MIL has had nothing to say except that, "It's your father's life, and it happened before he met me."  These are her stepsons!  My question is, I have tried to locate these brothers and have had very little luck, since they were adopted by their mother's second husband.  Should I continue to search for them and let them know that they have a half-brother?  Or let them live out their lives and not bring all of this back to the surface again?  Part of me wishes to show that we acknowledge them and would like a relationship, but the other part of me wonders whether they would even want to hear from us after being abandoned by their father.  Any suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

DR Apter's reply:
Women are sometimes called the "kin-keepers" of the family, and I can see why!  You seem the one person who wants to forge links with your husband's half brothers.  There is no hard and fast rule about what you should do.  The best approach is to find out what your husband wants.  Perhaps he is still too upset by the revelation of a family secret - or perhaps dealing with the real people involved would help.  It would also help him to have you listen to him - and I'm sure the involvement you clearly feel is a comfort to him.

 


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