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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I are at a loss about what to do with both his parents.  I am 33 and my husband is 31.  We have been together for 7 years as a couple, and married for the last 2 1/2 years.  The problem is that his parents refuse to treat him as an adult, and rarely acknowledge that he is married.  They never ASK him to do anything, they order him to do it.  For example: If Grandma needs her lawn mowed, his father will call him up and TELL him what day and time he needs to go there and cut her lawn.  It doesn't matter if we might have plans for that day and time.  In the past, my husband has even broken plans we've had, just dropped everything, and did his father's bidding.  Now, he is finally starting to assert himself and he is learning to say no, and forcing his father to compromise.  However, every time my husband doesn't follow his father's commands exactly as he wants them done, his father will seek revenge (he will do something mean to get back at him) and/or will have temper tantrums and tell my husband how disrespectful he is.  And now, my FIL is telling my husband that he doesn't show them any respect because of me (because I don't like them), and that I'm to blame for how badly my husband has been treating them.  I know that this is just another form of manipulation, but it really gets my husband upset, and in turn, it upsets me.  It's getting harder and harder to show any type of respect to either of his parents, considering they have never shown any to us, and they are getting worse.  They lie, play games, and manipulate every situation just to get their way.  It's their way or no way.  For example: One Christmas, I had to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that I could have off over the New Year's Holiday.  I needed off to attend a wedding out of town for someone on my MIL's side of the family.  Anyway, I had already spoken to my family, and made arrangements to celebrate with them and my husband on a different day than the actual holiday.  Then, it was my husband's turn to arrange a day to celebrate with his family.  Well, his mother started having a temper tantrum because she wouldn't be seeing her son on Christmas Day.  It didn't matter that she could see us two days before or a day after.  What mattered is that she wanted to see us on Christmas Day and wasn't about to change her mind.  She even accused me of trying to keep her son away from her.  Then, my husband's grandmother called us crying.  Apparently, my MIL told Grandma we hated the family and didn't want to see any of them for Christmas.  It felt like we were dealing with a spoiled 6 year old brat.  My husband tried to explain that he wanted us ALL to celebrate the holiday together.  But she wouldn't hear of it.  He ended up spending that Christmas with his family, while I worked so that I could attend a wedding for one of THEIR family members!  In addition to their frequent temper tantrums/manipulations, they also like to lie and play games to get their way.  One example: My MIL's extended family was celebrating Christmas one year about 6 hours away in another state.  My husband's cousins had asked if we would like to drive with them.  We said we'd get back to them, as we had to find out when we would be able to get off from work, etc.  Anyway, his cousin was going to call me back and give us the details.  In the meantime, his parents individually had asked him if we wanted to ride with them.  He told his father no.  Then, his mother asked, and he told her no as well.  He explained that we were driving down with his cousin.  Well, as soon as he told her that, she gave his cousin a call and told her we were driving down with them.  So, his cousin didn't call us.  A few days before the trip, I called his cousin and asked why I hadn't heard from her, and if we were still riding together.  She told me that they made other arrangements because my MIL told her we were driving with them.  Needless to say, my husband and I drove down alone.  This is just a small sampling of the ridiculous behavior of his parents.  Additionally, his parents have an extremely bad marriage.  I have never (in 7 years) heard his father say one kind word to his mother.  He belittles her constantly, and they are always in an argument over something.  I don't think I can recall a time when we've been with them that they haven't been fighting.  Also, they are both alcoholics, as were my FIL's father and my MIL's father.  Please, do you recommend we go to counseling, or do you have any books you can recommend?  I know there isn't a chance in the world they will change, and I just don't know what to do anymore.  We've tried confronting them about the lies, but they just lie about the lies - even when it's blatantly obvious.  If I had my way, I would never see them again.  But my husband, raised on guilt, would naturally feel too guilty to tell them to shape up or ship out.  Please, I hope you are able to find the time to answer this.  Thank you.

Dr Apter's reply:
Fortunately you are able to see the gamut of your parents'-in-law behavior and the ways in which they try to control you and your husband when you don't follow their lead.  Counseling could in theory help, but would they be willing to engage with that kind of self assessment?  It seems to me that your best move would be to find ways of protecting yourself from their demands and their anger when you do not comply with those demands.  One way would be to state clearly whether or not you can accede to their demands, and then ignore any tantrums, or simply express regret that they are upset, but state your position firmly.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I used to get along with my MIL, but not anymore.  I am American and my husband is British.  We live in England.  The trouble began when we bought a house in conjunction with his mum and step-father.  It is a large, older house that needs some renovation, which we were all going to do together.  We thought it would be a good investment, as well as providing my husband and me with a place to live (ILs live about 15 miles away).  However, MIL has completely taken over the whole show.  She decides paint color, decoration, organizes the builders, what goes where, etc.  I appear to have no say in the matter.  When I do voice my opinion, she flies off the handle and has a tantrum (which is so embarrassing).  And the worst is that she runs me down to anyone who will listen.  I am never at home now.  I spend all day, every day, at work because it is preferable to being at the house, especially when MIL is there.  Now she is complaining that I never do any work on the house, and she has to do it all at her age (she is 64)!  And she says that I am just an ungrateful b!tch.  She has made so many catty remarks and put downs in my presence, and I have always just swallowed it, because I feel that to argue with her is undignified.  When I do make an effort to stand up for myself, she suddenly becomes the poor down-trodden MIL who does her best for us, but gets no thanks in return.  I desperately wish we never got involved with this house, but they would never sell, and would refuse to give us our 1/3 share.  So, we are stuck here, and life is hell.  My husband is so easy going, and sympathizes with me (MIL never criticizes him), and has stood up for me on several occasions.  When he does so, she starts crying and asks him how could he be so horrible to her, and that she will just have to accept that her son will always put me first before her.  No one is asking him to take sides though!!  Grrrr.  Can you see how she twists things??  These mind games are driving me insane!  My question is: Should I stand up to her more?  Be firmer?  At the moment, I do everything possible to avoid her.  I just hate confrontations with her, as she is so unreasonable and throws tantrums just like a spoiled child.  It is awful to behold.  How should I handle this, bar moving back to the States?

Dr Apter's reply:
The best option is no longer to swallow her remarks, but to challenge them.  Try to avoid being angry an defensive.  If she calls you names, say that you are sorry she feels obliged to say such things, but you are acting according to your best judgement.  If you continue to avoid her, the interactions which occur when you do see her, won't improve.  But above all, don't let money or the fact of co-ownership keep you tongue-tied.  Whatever the financial situation, you have a right to be treated with respect, and a right to respect your own feelings and interests.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have had diabetes for two years now, and my mother-in-law knows this.  On Easter she invited us to dinner.  She told us 1pm.  I scheduled my breakfast and medication to accommodate this time.  By 3pm, dinner was still not ready.  I was not feeling well by then, and asked my husband to find out how much longer it was going to be.  She said it would be another 45 minutes to an hour.  I could not wait this long.  She said she would warm some leftovers up and I could eat.  I did not want to do this, as all the kids were hungry and I would have felt uncomfortable eating by myself in front of everyone.  Instead, my husband told her we had to go.  By then, I was in pretty bad shape and just left without saying anything.  I have never done anything like this to her before, and instead of her calling to see if I was Ok, she called and said she was tired of being treated like sh!t, and we needed to talk to about this.  I agree that we need to talk, but how do I make her see that I cannot wait to eat like that?  She has done this before.  Each time it was because my brother-in-law's wife asked to change the time, but we were not notified of the change.  This time, they were not even going to be there.  They decided to come the night before.  I feel she was the one who was inconsiderate, and she has no reason to be mad at me.  How can I make her understand this?

Dr Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could begin by saying you regret the incident.  (That's different from offering an apology.)  You could request that you be given an opportunity to put it in the context of your condition.  Explain how serious diabetes is, and how careful you have to be.  After you have explained this need, perhaps you could ask her how she thinks these family meals should be handled in the future.  And then make sure her suggestions accommodate your needs.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Am I being too sensitive when it comes to my child calling my mother-in-law "Mom", instead of "Grandmommy"?  I feel that this is VERY inappropriate.  Here is the background:  My husband is the youngest of four, and all the other grandchildren (ages 14-32) call my MIL "Mom."  That is what she wanted to be called.  I am pregnant with our first child, and, while I know it will be several years before he/she can even say the word "mom", etc., I want to get this taken care of!  Unfortunately, this will be the first grandchild to not call her "Mom".  Do you think that I am being unreasonable?  Thanks for your assistance!

Dr Apter's reply:
Surely you can suggest to your own child an appropriate name for her grandmother.  It may be a good idea to run this by your mother-in-law in due course.  Perhaps she could suggest a different name - but "Mom" is for you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I would like to know if you had any book suggestions for being a great Mother-In-Law.  My husband and I want to be the best we can be, and want our son-in-law to love us.  And we hope that his parents will do the same for our daughter.  Please help us, as our daughter just married a week ago, and we want to do and say the right thing and be very supportive and loving.  All suggestions you have are in order!!  Thank you.

Dr Apter's reply:
This is a great question.  There should be a book on this topic, but I don't know one.  My list would include Responsiveness to a son or daughter-in-law's needs and feelings, Patience in face of a son's or daughter-in-law's coolness or suspicion, and Sense of humor at family dyanmics.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How to deal with a greedy and manipulative MIL?  She wants our financial support by asking my DH only.  Without discussing the issues, my husband said yes to the request.  Now, my MIL is not poor.  She has an inheritance from when my FIL died.  She spends a lot of time on vacations and expensive meals with her friends.  Is it our obligation to satisfy her expensive lifestyle?  My DH's only reason is that his mom is getting old, and it's now his turn to take care of her and to repay her for raising him.  This is ridiculous.  We have a young girl, and she can make use of the extra $$ for her college funds.  What about our retirement?  How can I get my husband to think for our family first?  Signature: Unhappy Wife.

Dr Apter's reply:
Try explaining to your husband how important it is to think of your and your child's financial future.  Suggest that you both keep accounts of gifts to family members, and assess whether you can actually afford this, or consider whether this money would be more wisely placed elsewhere.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
We have been married for 13 years.  My husband has one sibling, a brother.  We used to be close to his mother, until 1994.  After that, her visits to our home stopped, yet she still visits my husband's brother.  He and his wife have a little boy.  We do not have children.  My husband cannot have them due to a rare disease. This will sound strange, but we think my husband's mother is holding a grudge against us for getting rid of a car that she gave us.  She makes little comments (to me) about the car all the time (when my husband is not around).  My husband is hurt because he hears about her frequent visits with his brother, knowing that she does not visit us. Also, she talks highly of his brother all the time. My husband sees a psychiatrist, and one of the reasons why he does so is because of his mother. She doesn't treat her children equally. How should we handle this?

Dr Apter's reply:
Rather than worry about what she might think, ask her.  Explain how important it is for you to feel that she understands and appreciates why you have acted as you have.  If you think she will listen, you could go on to explain your concern about feeling less accepted than her other children.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dr. Apter, I read all of your nice advice and now I need it too.  I got married 2 years ago (no children) and moved to the town where my husband's family lives, which is small and not qualified.  They are kind of a tribe family and different from mine.  We lived next to their house for 8 months, and then moved to our house (which is when the problems started).  My MIL is thrifty, jealous, and controls every step in our lives.  My husband has a strong relationship with them, and went to them every day. I cannot make a relationship with them at all. I feel that I lost my family (I'm the only child), job, hobby (piano class) and my friends, and that I have nothing here.  I don't know what to do!!!!  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Dr Apter's reply:
Moving is difficult.  You need support from your husband.  Ask for it.  Also, try to keep up contact with your family and former friends, and to extend your friendships in your new home.  This will probably take a while.  As I've already said, moving and leaving a place and people behind is difficult.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
First, here is a little background.  My husband and I have been married for nearly 8 years.  He has two children (who live with their mother) from his first marriage, and we have a child together.  My relationship with my own mother is not the best - the fault is both of ours for not trying hard enough.  We have a loving relationship, but she has her life and I have mine.  I am a pretty independent person (stubborn, my mother would say).  My MIL is just the opposite - she would love to see every one of her children, in-laws, and grandchildren every day.  And she often does.  She would love to have a big estate and have all the family live there.  Like that would be a lot of fun, because then she would complain about the work, laundry, electricity, and so on!!!  Now here is my dilemma.  I am a pretty private person.  My parents do not know the financial details of my life, or things like that, unless I choose for them to know.  My MIL inherited 10 acres of land from her father's estate.  She has chosen to give 2+ to my husband and me.  I am very appreciative of that.  If it were not for having that land to use as equity, we would never be able to afford a house.  She is going to build a house on the remaining land.  We are going to be neighbors!!!!  She has offered to watch our son before/after school rather than send him to a daycare (for which I will insist on paying her).  So, on the one hand, I am very grateful to her for all she is doing.  On the other hand, a couple of things have happened recently that I am bothered about.  She talked about putting a vinyl picket-type fence up around her lot - and thought she would just extend it around ours too.  We haven't finalized the construction loan or the contract with the builder (who is building her house too).  Today, I found out she went ahead and paid the builder the amount he needs to start digging the footer (which we will pay back when the construction loan is finalized).  And, yes, the end result is that it is best for the builder to do both at once - for time and money reasons.  I told my husband that I feel bad - I already feel beholden to her, and I don't like that.  I also feel like I am being considered a child - I have no sense of accomplishment from this whole house deal - no pride of doing it ourselves.  My husband doesn't see anything wrong.  If he had his way, we would be living with her right now - he thinks we could be saving our rent money.  How can I communicate that this is something I want to do with my husband without hurting anyone?  Thanks for any advice you can give me.  Signature: Always The Bad Guy.

Dr Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could explain to your husband how important it is to retain some sense of independence and to protect your personal boundaries.  You could assure him that this does not diminish your appreciation of his mother's generosity.  You could also explain that you want to protect her from her own generous impulses, and express concern that constant input might damage this valued relationship.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
This is actually a FIL story.  I'm seeking advice as to how I should handle this both with my FIL and with my husband.  This is a long story.  I've been married for almost 7 years.  My husband and I have a close relationship.  We have a 3-year old son who is beautiful and the love of my life.  We married late, had problems conceiving, and finally had this great kid.  We're all really happy.  Enter the problem:  My husband's parents divorced when he was a 'tween.  His dad remarried a few years later.  The woman had two children my husband's age.  Her son passed away.  Her daughter is a chronic drug abuser, and got pregnant at the same time we did.  She had no husband.  Her baby's father is in jail.  After the baby was born, social services took the little girl from her (we believe she abused her).  FIL and Step-MIL went to get the little girl from social services and become her guardians.  Please understand that my husband and his father did not then, and do not now, have what most would term a close relationship.  They speak once every 2-3 months.  Mostly, my husband calls his father, and not the other way around.  When they're on the phone, they speak at length, however.  It's just not often, and his father doesn't pursue a relationship with us on any consistent level.  Anyway, by the time my son is about 18 months old, we're planning on attempting a second pregnancy.  FIL asked us to adopt the little girl.  I said no.  The situation was very bad.  My husband wanted to do this because he told me, "That's what families do for each other."  The fact of the matter is that to me, his family isn't really a family, and certainly his stepsister is not a sister to him (he's even said this numerous times).  So, my husband and I went to counseling.  We worked through this.  My husband ended up supporting me.  I feel quite strongly, from conversations with my FIL, that I'd sort of be "keeping" the baby until the real mommy is no longer a drug abuser (this is highly unlikely - she's basically a lost soul).  And, besides - I want to be a mom again, not a guardian.  And it's been made clear to me that, upon adoption, she should refer to me by my first name, not "Mommy."  Because, after all, step-sister is her mother.  And these conversations led me to the absolute conclusion that adoption within this family is just not going to work, because FIL obviously has a lot to say about a lot of things, and it's our family (dh's and mine), not FIL's.  We, or rather I, told FIL that I am not comfortable with the situation, and politely declined.  I'm always very polite - maybe I'm too polite.  The following Christmas, FIL, Step MIL, and the then 21-month old came out to visit (we live 3,000 miles away).  My niece was truly uncontrollable.  Examples:  At my aunt's home, the child broke my cousin's children's presents, took a magic marker to my aunt's sofa, and hid my aunt's miniature china.  This all took place in a room that is off limits to all the kids in the house - it's a plenty big house, and there are many other rooms, and all the other children (5 of them around the same age) found other things to do and other places to play.  She would not listen to any of the things that were told to her.  FIL couldn't control her.  I became pretty worried that something was going on with her that went way beyond poor discipline, especially since her mother lost all her teeth to drugs and alcohol one month after she was born.  So, all's quiet on the home front.  They left.  We went on with our lives.  The following January, I began more IVF treatments.  Two IVFs later, we got a miracle and I was pregnant.  Unfortunately, I miscarried at 8 weeks, and was completely devastated.  Twentyfour hours after the sonogram showed no heartbeat, I was on the phone with his dad, who was supposed to be expressing his condolences.  After a few, "I'm so sorrys", he basically told me that his offer is still open to adopt his granddaughter.  "She's so wonderful, marvelous, such a joy, and such a perfect little girl.  It would be great for me to do this."  I was speechless.  I couldn't open my mouth.  When I finally got off the phone, I ran into my bedroom crying.  My husband thought I was overreacting.  "He had the best intentions," is what I was told.  To this day, I don't particularly care what his intentions were.  He's an adult, and should know better.  We're halfway through now, if you're still reading, thanks so much.  One month after miscarriage, he wanted us to put our names on his adoption documents (they say they will be raising her) as the "back-up family", able to step in if they become unable to care for her.  I said no again.  My husband felt bad.  I said that the document doesn't say, "In the event of their death", but it says, "if they become unable to care for her."  I do not want to parent this child.  We talked to husband's real mom.  She felt the same way I did, and told my husband she believes his dad is just looking for a way out of this situation, and a way to make us responsible for a decision he made.  We told FIL, "No," again.  By Christmas time this past year, FIL seemed to have found another adoptive family.  FIL and Step-MIL are giving her up completely.  It turns out this adoptive family was, in fact, the family that agreed to put their names down as the back-up on my FIL's adoption papers.  It seemed to confirm my concern that once they found someone as back-up, they would back away from raising her.  Fast forward - the little girl has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder.  A combination of a drug-addict mother during pregnancy, and abuse as causes.  She'll be in serious therapy, maybe forever.  I'm under the impression, from reading various documents, that a sibling situation is not what's best for her.  P.S. Her new adoptive family now backed out.  So now FIL and SMIL are back to the adoption process.  FIL is still trying to get us to change our minds, regardless of the current situation.  And it has now taken a new path.  He simply talks badly about us to whatever relative he can find.  Most often, it is my husband's mother.  This hurts her a great deal.  She agrees with our decision, and thinks that we are under no obligation to take the child.  Unfortunately, she keeps us up to date on her conversations with my FIL.  And, two nights ago, I heard that my FIL thinks that I (me) just need to get over the fact that I can't have children.  I'm furious.  My husband does nothing about his father's behavior.  He'll say that that's just how his father is, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.  I say this whole situation is out of control.  His father thinks we are obligated to him by virtue of his parenthood (he was never really present in that capacity as it was).  My husband is not a blood relative of this child.  My husband was never a close step-brother to her mother. In fact, my husband has spoken to the child's mother once in the last 20 years.  I think the decision as to how to build a family is between a husband and wife, and my FIL is neither of those.  He's treated us both with absolutely no respect.  He complains about us to other people, and then acts like he's not angry in front of us.  Do we all just continue to live in denial?  Is it my place to bring this up and put an end to it?  And, last but not least, should I expect my husband to step out from the cloak he's lived under most of his life and get angry at his father for what he's done and continues to do?  Thank you.  Signature: Concerned For My Family.

Dr Apter's reply:
Adopting a child is a serious step.  It will affect you and your family long term.  It is also something that would require your full commitment and involvement.  Your own feelings are paramount.  It is not something someone else can tell you to do.  You have been sensible and strong to have held out so long.  I suggest that you continue to do so.


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