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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Am I wrong to deny my MIL access to our children when she cut herself out of our lives 3+ yrs. ago?  She has sent nasty letters to us, claims people are out to kill her, accused me of trying to steal her other son (just for inviting them to dinner in our new home).  She wants us to visit her & wants to see her grandchildren.  I say she needs serious help & don't want our kids hurt if she pulls another "Don't talk to me ever again!" stunt.  She did it because she wanted apologies from us & party guests who bumped into her.  Am I being mean?  I believe I'm protecting my children.

Dr Apter's Reply:
Your question touches on a very important and very current topic.  Grandparents have recently been lobbying for a right to visit grandchildren even when the mother is not in favor of such visits; but the Supreme Court recently denied them out and out visitations rights.  In other words, mothers are legally protected from having a mother-in-law visit children, if they themselves do not wish it.  In some cases, I would support a mother's right to refuse such visits.  But I think each case has to be carefully considered, and you are right to reflect on it so deeply.  What I feel in this case is that you have been greatly hurt by your mother-in-law and want to protect your children from the same painful rejection.  But I think it is unlikely that your children would be as hurt and confused by your mother-in-law's inconsistent behavior as you have been.  And remember, you will be there to help them process their confusion. ("It's not you, that's just how she is," you'll be able to say to them.)  So I suggest being generous, and giving her the opportunity to see them - at least from time to time.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Why is it that when your mother in law has a drinking problem ... why is it so difficult to live with her?  She says negative things to my children, who don't need to hear lies!  Please give me advice on what I should do about my situation.  Thank you.

Dr Apter's reply:
Anyone with a drinking problem causes difficulties for the entire family.  People who abuse alcohol cannot function sensitively and responsibly.  They often cannot judge the difference between truth and lies, and may be totally unaware of the effects their words have on others.  I suggest that she either seek help from a professional program for abusers of alcohol, or she move out.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mother in law makes very inappropriate sexual comments about her son and me.  She does it in front of the whole family, asking about our sex lives and so on.  It is totally embarrassing.  My husband seems to think it is harmless and even defends her when she makes comments about the size of my breasts in front of him and my father in law.  He says that picking on me is her way of showing affection; however I find it disturbing.  Please help ASAP!!!!!!

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law's behavior may be her way of showing affection, but it is nonetheless unacceptable.  The common saying, "She/He is only teasing" does not excuse the pain and embarrassment and anger teasing can cause.  Your sex life, and your sexuality, are private.  I suggest that you explain to your husband that his mother's behavior cannot be called harmless because you feel harmed by it.  Perhaps he could explain this to his mother.  If not, then you can calmly and clearly tell her - when she next makes offensive remarks - that you respectfully ask her to stop.  Giving her the benefit of doubt, you can say that you understand she does not mean to be offensive, but that you are very uncomfortable with what she is saying, and you hope she will respect your need for privacy.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dr. Apter, I am truly becoming concerned about my MIL's psychological destructiveness towards her family.  I have come to understand that she's emotionally unbalanced, and that I can't expect her to behave within comfortable social norms.  She has always been prone to inappropriateness and countless affectations, but they were basically harmless until fairly recently.  Recently, she phoned, telling me she was eager to dispel any notions that my hubby or I might have gotten from her "interfering sisters" that she's indulging in dangerous cybersex, and she wants to "protect her children" (who are all married and parents, the youngest in their mid 30's) from such "outrageous" claims.  We all know she spends a lot of time online, and that she does tend to get caught up in some of her somewhat flirtatious relationships (and flaunts them to her husband, my husband's step-dad), but we all just roll our eyes and stay out of it.  Well, when she called me with this, I knew what was coming . . . she was going to indulge herself this diatribe with my husband.  The problem is, he is undergoing a very painful and tenuous time in his life; he's in therapy right now, and is coming to grips with very difficult realizations about his parents and his sadly deficient upbringing.  The last thing he needs is more of this idiosyncratic, inappropriate, perverse behavior from her!  I told her that we had NOT heard any such rumors from her sisters or anyone, and that if she chose to discuss it with her son, he would only first be hearing of the subject from her, and that if she wants to protect him, she might consider not bringing it up at all.  Two hours later, she called him anyway, unable to contain herself.  He told her he felt this was a very inappropriate topic for a mother and her son, and they exchanged some heated but controlled words (on his end, she was nasty and defensive on hers - as always, she CLEARLY did not like having any limits imposed on her, as she is a child).

Dr Apter's reply:
Your question is interesting because your complaints about your mother-in-law really stem from your desire to protect your husband, rather than from her effect on you.  You are asking a lot of yourself, but perhaps if you explain your wish to him, you can work together.  Perhaps you could sometimes find a way not to take her calls.  It may be better not to argue with her, but just to disengage from the conversation.  Sometimes you could try repeating, "I see you're upset," or "I'm sorry you're upset", without actually getting involved yourself in her fantasy battles.  It seems that your husband would be most protected if he felt that you both had techniques for avoiding involvement in her anger.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mother in law thinks she owns the holidays.  4 years ago I finally talked my husband into going to my sister's.  (My parents are deceased)  Mother in law called Thanksgiving eve asking when will we come.  I said we were going to my sister's.  She slammed down the phone.  She hasn't spoken to me since.  And now she makes holiday plans in Feb. so as not allowing us any chance of going anywhere else!  My husband says he'll talk to her, but hasn't .  This resentment is eating me up.  I keep quiet for the sake of the kids and my marriage.  But I'm at the end of my rope.  What can I do?  Any advice would be appreciated.  I'm not interested in spending another holiday with her talking around me or just sitting there in silence glaring at me.

Dr Apter's reply:
I think your resentment is towards both your mother-in-law and your husband, who refuses to speak to his mother as he promised.  I also think your problem could be resolved if your husband were to take some action.  Remind him that he said he would speak to her.  If he puts it off, then tell him you will have to do this yourself.  Perhaps you will find it easier simply to refuse to spend another holiday with her.  Remember, you have a right to have your wishes influence family activities.  Your marriage involves both your happiness.  Keeping quiet may preserve superficial harmony, but not the real quality of the marriage.  And I think it will set a good example to your children if you are able to speak out.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Last week my Husband I and got in to a bad fight about the MIL.  My Husband left and didn't return until later that night.  I have been dealing with his Mother for four years now.  Things are not getting better.  I hope that you can help.  My MIL lives in an R.V. so she can move wherever we move.  She has been living a mile away for three and a half years.  We live in a gated community.  So she can't just come by.  She feels that she has a right to know about everything we do.  When she is over to our house she goes through our drawers and filing cabinet.  She demands to know my Husband's schedule at work.  If she calls and we are not at home she leaves a nasty message for us saying to call her immediately, or else.  If we don't answer her questions when she calls, and we are home, she tells my husband or me that she has a right to know these details of our life because, she is his mother and she gave him life.  My husband does nothing because he does not want to make waves.  He tells me to not take it personally.  Since this last fight, I need to do something to help us deal with this better.  I want to know if it would be okay to sit down with her and set some ground rules for her, and to tell her how we feel about the way she treats us.  I hope that you can help!  Thank You! 

Dr Apter's reply:
It must be very frustrating not to have your husband's help in setting ground rules for the way his mother treats both of you.  I suggest you explain to him that you accept that he is not willing to confront his mother, but that you have decided it is really necessary for you to do something.  It would certainly be okay for you to sit down with her and explain that some of your life really is private.  You could begin on a positive note and say that you appreciate her and respect her as your husband's mother, but in order for her to be welcome in your home, you need some private space.  When she asks inappropriate questions, I suggest you simply say, without rancor, "I would rather not answer that."  Keep repeating this - calmly, like a broken record.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
One day my MIL is nice to me, and the next day can't stand me.  I've been married to her son for 7 years, and altogether 13 years involved in this family.  She does have a younger son, but doesn't have much to do with him and his girlfriend.  What seems to be her problem?  It's driving me nuts.

Dr Apter's reply:
It is confusing and upsetting when someone is inconsistent.  You can only protect yourself by taking her kindness with a grain of salt - because you know it will be replaced by hostility at any moment.  This isn't easy - you probably do respond to her on her warm days.  But I see some kind of mental distance from her as your best protection.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married 6 yrs and have 2 kids.  My in-laws have always been very overbearing.  (They expect us over every weekend, etc. - husbands an only child.)  Anyway, when my son was born (a couple of years ago) they used to beg me to leave him there any time.  Now that I have 2 kids (had a daughter just over half a year ago) they want my son by himself.  I don't think that's fair to him, as he is very jealous of the attention I give the baby, and very resentful of her.  He goes to my in-laws and gets smothered - does anything he wants, and then comes home, and can't get that kind of attention here.  Wouldn't this cause him to resent the baby even more?  Also, what happens when they decide she's at an age where they want her also, and he's used to going by himself?  They had no problem with him being there when he was a baby.  I feel they should have them both.  Any advice??  Thanks,

Dr Apter's reply:
You may be worrying about too many things at once.  It's always difficult to handle an older sibling's jealousy of a younger one. Your in-laws' indulgence of him probably does - as you noticed - encourage some unruly behavior.  How would you feel about some compromise, wherein they only have the two-year-old on his own once in a while.  You can explain your concerns to your in-laws if you want - but don't expect them to accept your views.  However, trust your own judgment.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you deal with a MIL who when she doesn't get her way (for example, a visit to see her grandchildren at dil's house gets cancelled for any given reasonable reason) she gets angry and refuses to speak to us for YEARS!  Until my husband goes to basically suck up to her.  I have been married for 11 years, and out of those 11 years I think we all have been on good terms for a max of 3 years.  Another good example would be that if she throws a party she expects us to show up.  If we have other plans, or decide simply not to go for NO reason at all, she does the exact same thing.  It's irritating, and causes a lot of stress and tension between my husband and I because she is the only family he has.  Any suggestions?  So far, I've left well enough alone this time.  Prior to this, I've spoken to her directly, solving each problem, but it seems the same problem arises every time over and over again.  So, this time I've decided to totally disregard that she is in existence. (forever!)  I've totally had it with her.

Dr Apter's reply:
You are facing a difficult situation.  People who behave inconsistently and who are quick to take offence can cause their relatives emotional havoc.  Since it is unlikely that you can do anything to help your mother-in-law change her ways, the most important thing for you to do is make a conscious decision for your own peace of mind:  would you feel easier not seeing her - and therefore avoiding the inevitable ups and down of the relationship - or is the relationship sufficiently valuable so that you put up with its considerable downside?  It's not an easy decision, but only you can make it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Although I have searched the site and the archives, I have not found anyone with my problem.  My MIL lives half-way across the country, and that is the only positive thing that I can think of to say about her.  My husband of 3 months is a VERY BIG MOMMA'S BOY.  I didn't really know this until we got engaged and I met her, because she lived so far away.

The problem is not solely with her -- he is to blame too.  They have these day-long e-mail conversations every day while they are working.  He confides almost everything in her, asks her advice and opinion about almost everything, and does not in anyway try to include me in their relationship.  An example is when he recently asked her about which mattress she would suggest we buy -- COME ON!  I feel like a total outsider.  She never calls the house when I am here, and basically ignores the fact that I exist.  It is hurtful.  I tell my husband, and he doesn't see anything wrong with it.  When I finally nag to get him to say something to her, it ends up with her being the good guy.  It all ends up being a big misunderstanding.  She is manipulative and he falls for it, hook, line and sinker.  When we were getting engaged, she cried and whined to him that she was so distraught that she was going to "lose her little boy."  She also tells her daughter to cheat on/divorce her husband and I don't trust her.

My family raised me to be strong and independent.  It is hard for me to accept all of these gifts she constantly gives to him in secret.  I feel like she does it because she wants to keep us, and especially him, under her 'power.'  She has negative things to say about my family, because they are not financially able to provide college money, etc. for me like she does for my husband (he is in his early 30s and working on his third degree, courtesy of her).  When she met my mother, who is considerably overweight, she asked her if she wasn't supposed to be on a diet for her diabetes.  Before our wedding, they left the minute my family came to set-up the night before.  At the wedding, she refused to sit at the head table.  She edited out almost all of the parts of me and my family in the video she took.  And she insisted on having her own reception at a different site in a different town, and allowed me to invite only 6 family members.

Needless to say, I really cannot stand this woman.  The stories could go on for days.  My husband and I are both in law school full-time, so the time we have together is limited.  I don't want to always bring this up when we are together, but it is really driving distance between us.  I don't want to make him choose, but I find myself thinking that this could really cause our marriage to fall apart, and that scares me.  There is no way that I would let such a nasty woman, who doesn't respect me, be around any future children we may have together.  Some friends think I am overreacting, and others agree with me.  I am at a loss.  HELP!

Dr Apter's response:
I do not think you are overreacting.  I think you are facing a very difficult set of problems.  It seems that your husband's dependence on his mother (which she so clearly encourages) is on many different levels - financial and emotional and practical.  There are two very different tacks to take at the same time.  The first is to find some way of persuading her to keep her distance, and the second is to wean your husband away from her.  Her financial involvement (by her contributing to his education and giving him presents) seems to him a way of life, and it does give her power over him.  Yet it clearly would be very difficult to confront her and decline her money (especially if she is supporting him in law school).  Such support from a parent does not really give the parent a right to control her son's life - but that may be how both of them see it.  The most important thing is to convince your husband that his attachment to his mother, and her behavior, really is a problem.  I agree that you should avoid asking him to choose between you and his mother.  Perhaps you could persuade him that you do not want him to choose, but that something has to change if he is not to lose you.  A man who is so dependent on his mother may be insecure, so when you talk to him emphasize your love for him and your belief that the most important thing is to find some way of staying with him.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL seems to be constantly competing with me for the affection of my children.  She has made it patently clear that she wants to experience all their "firsts" by herself, and is planning the next few years for them when she takes them on holiday (by herself) and looks after them.  My mum has always been told that MIL is the favorite granny, and that she shouldn't bother about my sons so much because she already has other grandchildren.  I have disappointed her in lots of ways because I love looking after my children, and I feel I have scuppered all her plans about what being a grandmother would entail.  I know you're the psychologist, but I feel part of the problem is her volatile relationship with her husband - they have argued constantly for 35 years, and not in a bantering way - their relationship is filled with venom and aggression and periods of not speaking together for weeks.  I have tried to explain to her that our new little family needs time to grow and be together, but she seems totally unable to comprehend my point of view, and tells me that I am stupid (the first time was when the first baby was just 6 weeks old when I was stopping her from bonding with him).  She constantly tells me that my children will "choose her" when they are older, and it makes me feel very insecure and threatened.  I don't want to stop her from seeing her grandchildren because I think they need as much love in their life as possible, but her emotional neediness and competitiveness scares me.  She seems so desperate for them to love her, it's smothering - she always says things to them  like, "If you don't love me, Santa won't bring you any presents".  My husband constantly supports his mother, and tells me that I have psychological problems, and that I should be letting his mother take our children whenever she wants.  I counter that I am a woman in her mid 30s, and I can make my own decisions.  Additionally, my husband is suffering from serious depression, and is being treated by a psychiatrist, which again is my fault.

Dr Apter's reply:
It sounds as though your position in the family is lonely and frustrating.  When you try to make a valid point about your mother-in-law, your husband points to you as the one who has the problem.  If somehow he could give you support, your position would be much easier, and I think you would find your mother-in-law's behavior much less threatening.  After all, anyone reading your description of your mother-in-law saying that your children will choose her when they are older would see that this is an absurd prediction.  Your special position as their mother is far more assured.  It may well be, as you suggest, that your mother-in-law's unhappy marriage makes her need excessive affection from her grandchildren.  But your children will soon see through her attempts to manipulate them (her declaring that they won't get presents from Santa unless they love her is manipulation).  It may be helpful to set very clear boundaries over visits.  Her neediness should not bully you.  Explain that you do want her to see her grandchildren and that you are pleased she is so attached to them.  You could take the initiate and say you know how fond your children are of her.  But at the same time, you may need to limit her visits, just to set a precedent for your own control.  She may become abusive (by calling you "stupid"), and I suggest you tell her calmly that you cannot accept being called that.  She may then become aware that she is in danger of losing ground if she does not respect you.

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
Dear Dr. Apter,
My mother-in-law is very bossy, and very manipulative.  Even though she lives very far away, and I have not seen her for almost year, I keep thinking to myself how I am going to handle her subtle, hostile behavior the next time I see her.  (I will have to stay with her for almost a month each time I and my husband visit her; staying somewhere and not in her big house will probably kill her).  What bothers me most is that I let her control me and my husband the last time we stayed with her.  Just to give you few instances of her controlling behavior.  The day of my wedding, when we were driving to the restaurant where the reception was to be held, she sat next to my husband in the car, and I, the bride, had to sit in the back!  She collected all the money that people gave us at the wedding and put it in a bank account for my husband, without my consultation.  She tried to control all of our movements and gestures, while with her in the house.  No honeymoon allowed.  I was forced into giving her my clothes, including my underwear, to wash, which I thought was a big time intrusion into my privacy.  I did insist on washing my clothes myself, and she was insulted.  Because she washed my clothes, she was making comments about how much of a bad quality my shirt is, and how I should not buy color underwear next time!  I was really shocked by her comments, and at the same time I knew that she was trying to see how much she could get away with, controlling me.  What makes me still upset is that I let her get away with many offensive things she said and did, with a smile, out of fear of confrontation.  She definitely made me feel weak and vulnerable.  I am afraid that her controlling behavior might get out of hand once me and my husband have children.  I did talk to my husband about how his mother made me feel by what she did, and he said he was sorry.  I am in desperate need of help and suggestions about how to handle this woman in the future, for the sake of my sanity.  My fear is that I might give in to her offenses

Dr Apter's reply:
Your question shows how deeply a mother-in-law's behavior can affect us, even when we don't see her very often.  Your thoughts about how you are going to handle her when you next see her are really attempts to prepare yourself and gain control over the difficult situations.  Probably, her intrusiveness takes you by surprise, and you are worried that you will not be able to handle it.  Often, we are so primed to be agreeable during a family visit, that we let ourselves down by letting others get away with more than they should.  The way to manage your problem is to slow down your responses.  When she makes a suggestion or request or presumption about who does what, take stock, and find some way to assert yourself.  A favor - such as doing your laundry - can easily open you to criticism (about the color or quality of your clothes).  So try to assert your independence at every turn.  This will make you feel less exposed to her and more in control.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I'm not sure who is crazy - me or my MIL.  I'll try to keep this as short as possible ... I readily admit I am a private person who does not care to have a "best friend" relationship with my MIL.  That being said, I just plain old can't make her happy.  We've been married almost nine years, after a short courtship during which my husband's father died. During his illness, my husband and I visited frequently together, only to find out later I was not welcome (I'll be honest - I wasn't entirely comfortable with it either.)  After we married, my MIL called my husband to tell him I was going to end up just like a mentally ill family member, all because I wanted some time alone with my husband the day after we got married, and did not feel like spending it with his extended family.  Since that time, she has not been able to accept that I am not a "talker" (this woman talks everything to death, from the color of peanut butter to how a town will be destroyed by over commercialization) and thinks that, because I am quiet, this must mean I am rude.  Over the course of our marriage, she has called my husband at least three or four times in complete tirades about how awful I am, and how awful my family is, and how she can't stand anything about me.  In the past, I have been the one to go crawling back and apologize because I wasn't affectionate enough with her, or because I didn't thank her immediately, etc.  SHE HAS NEVER APOLOGIZED. (I am told what everyone else is - that she'll never change, so accept it.)  This time, I just don't know if I can do it - the insults thrown out at my family are just too much.  Just because she is my MIL, do I have to get along with her?  I think she's got the whole town where she lives hating me (she's told everyone that I hate the town, which of course, I've never said), and I just dread going back.  My husband so desperately wants everyone to get along, but it seems no matter what I do, I'm screwed.  If I do open up to her, she says I'm faking it, and it's all a big game

Dr Apter's reply:
I think your situation is very difficult one.  You have clearly shown respect and care (through your visits to your husband's ill father), yet you are rejected and criticized for simply being yourself, with your own temperament.  Also, you have fallen into a pattern whereby she abuses you and loses her temper - and then you apologize!  This confirms her belief that she is right and you are wrong.  It is time for your husband to learn that keeping silent or letting her have her way is not the way to maintain harmony in the family.  Explain to him that you think you and his mother have very different personalities, and that you are willing to accept this, but you should not have to tolerate her criticism.  Explain how hurtful it is to be called mentally ill just because you are more reserved than she is.  You could also explain that he should respect his mother enough to protest at her unfair behavior: he should have higher expectations of her.  If things do not improve, then I would indeed avoid her and refuse to visit her.  You could explain that you honor her position as your husband's mother, but you also feel loyal to your own family, and do not wish to hear criticism of them.
 


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