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My question for Dr. Apter is: 
How do you deal with a mother-in-law who criticizes everything you do with your newborn infant son.  I am doing my best, but she has been on me about everything since the day he was born 4 months ago.  To boot, when my husband and I said we were going to have the baby, she said, "I'm not thrilled to be a grandmother, couldn't you have waited?"  (And the woman's close to eighty).  My husband is her only child in this country.  His brother moved to California years ago to get away from her.  Her husband is deceased.  She has no one to focus her energies on, but my husband and son, both of whom she tries to control.  Of course, my husband sees nothing wrong with her.  My friends and relatives all say that she would drive them nuts.  Help!  The baby's christening is this Sunday, and I know she will ruin the day for me.

Dr. Apter's Reply:
One possible strategy is to ignore her criticisms by neither replying to them  nor changing your behavior in accord with them.  These criticisms are no reflection on your  skills as a mother.  Your mother-in-law may simply be expressing her involvement, and describing what she would like to do with her grandchild.  Her remark that she is not ready to be grandmother (at  eighty) may be telling: she may be thinking that she is still in "mother" mode.  If you show her you are in charge, she may eventually end her attempts to be the primary caregiver of your son. 

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I don't have a good relationship with my MIL.  My husband doesn't have a great relationship with her either.  They argue so much with each other, and it makes me feel very awkward.  She would then tell me (more like yell at me) what she wants to say to my husband, and always try to get me to agree with her (which I don't).  Then, she gets mad that I don't take her side.  Then eventually, the whole event will somehow conclude to "It's all that evil DIL's doing", yep ... my fault.  I don't get it.  She has accused me of stealing, cheating on my husband, being sneaky (since I'm Asian-don't ask me why, but that's her reasoning), and anything and everything you can think of.  The other day, she lied to me about what my husband said, but when I confront it to her, she turned it around to "you think so because you are twisted." ????  I don't get her thinking pattern.  I told her that I didn't want her in my house, and that was the last I saw of her, but I know she is going to come back (she always does).  How do I tell her that I don't want her around and I don't appreciate the way she treats me without having her twisting it in her own way?  I really think (and more than a few agree with me) that she needs professional help, but, of course she will probably tell me that I am the one that needs help.  I am so tired ...

Dr. Apter's Reply:
I would try to avoid all discussion about your husband with your mother-in-law.  When she tries to draw you onto her side (against him), say firmly and calmly, "That's between  you and him.  I won't get involved."  When she tells you anything about your husband, remain  calm, but say that you can't listen to what she says. (There's no point in confronting her with any lies she has told.  This will simply arouse her anger at you.)  If you are willing to have her visit from time to time, then tell her how welcome she often is in your home, but at the same time you do not want to hear anything bad about your husband.  It is difficult to know whether she is angry at her son, or whether she  wants to make you angry at him, so that you won't be so close.  In any case, I would simply  refuse to get involved with her in this matter.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Well, this is more of a FIL question, but it involves MIL too ...  FIL is very verbally abusive and aggressive, and he and MIL have spent the past 35 years arguing constantly about absolutely everything, each looking for power and control in their relationship.  I also know that FIL has been abusive towards MIL (although I believe not violent).  Anyway, every time we see FIL, he is rude and picks on me and my children, however this weekend he went totally too far, and verbally abused me, telling how he was going to teach me how to be "a proper woman", whilst restraining me by tying down my arms.  I felt totally humiliated and very upset.  Apparently, this is his idea of a joke and, "that's the way he is," and, I've got no sense of humor, but I feel his behavior is total abuse.  Since then, I've avoided the IL's because I need some space, and I am worried about his treatment of the children.  MIL, however, is furious, and feels that she and FIL should be seeing the children whenever she wants, because I've got a psychological problem.  My husband is a total mess, and is being treated by a psychiatrist, but he too thinks that I'm the one in the wrong.  Instinct tells me to keep my IL's away from my children, because I see my husband displaying behavior demonstrated by his father - should I break the cycle by leaving?

Dr. Apter's Reply:
Your question about whether to leave your husband is one only you can answer after some reflection, but I readily confirm that your father-in-law's behavior toward you is  totally unacceptable.  The fact that he cannot see that using physical restraint is wrong is very  disturbing, and I understand your hesitation in trusting him with your children.  Perhaps he could be allowed to see them, but only under supervision.  It might be a good idea to avoid being alone with him yourself.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Please help.  I am in love with a man in his mid twenties.  He has a 3 1/2 year old daughter.  She is precious.  He is too.  I have been dating him about 2 1/2 years.  We have been engaged about half a year now.  We are  planning for a September 2000 wedding.  Our wedding plans are all complete.  Everything has been going so smoothly, up until now, two months before our big day.  He is a wonderful man.  I love him so much, and I can't imagine spending the rest of my life without him.  When we are together, things are wonderful between us.  We are even great all together with his daughter.  The trouble is his mother.  She is very controlling, mean, and unpredictable.  I have known her longer than I have known him.  In fact, she and I used to be real close.  She owns her own business.  I worked for her for a couple of years before leaving to go to college.  I am in my mid twenties now.  I knew her son briefly back then, but at the time I had a boyfriend.  Then, I was invited to a company Christmas party.  His Mom and I didn't really keep in touch, but she did invite me to this party.  It was fun to see all the people I used to work with.  Anyway, my fiancé and I hit it off great.  We started dating soon after.  We were just real close friends in the beginning, companions would be appropriate.  Neither one of us expected a long-term relationship.  We never expected to fall in love like this.  He was very protective of his daughter.  He is such a great Dad.  He didn't want me to meet his daughter until after we dated for at least six months.  He told me that I was the first serious person that he dated since her mother.  He didn't want a lot of women in and out of his daughter's life.  He also said that we needed to develop our relationship first.  He has NEVER been married before.  He and his girlfriend got pregnant together.  They got engaged, and she broke it off because of two reasons, his mother, and the fact that they didn't really love each other.  They were going to get married for the child's sake.  Sorry, this is such a long drawn out letter.  I just feel that if I don't tell you enough information you won't be able to give the best possible advice.  This child is being raised primarily by the mother and her parents.  My fiancé has weekly visitation.  Since his daughter was born, he would visit with his daughter weekly at his Mother's house.  His Mother helped him care for his daughter twice a week, during visitation.  She took control of the situation for her son.  She was really wonderful.  She helped him get back on his feet, and loved his daughter.  When I came in the picture, she didn't like it.  She liked having her son and grand-daughter all to herself.  I didn't know my position.  So, throughout this whole relationship I have taken on many different roles.  I would constantly be in and out of the situation.  If I got too involved with the child, she (MIL) pushed me out.  If I wasn't involved enough, she would complain to her son.  I can't seem to develop a relationship personally with this child.  My fiancé moved out of his parent's home over a year ago.  It was the best thing for us.  We started to visit with his daughter once a week on our own.  It was great.  His mother, up until this point, was real supportive of our wedding.  She picked out my wedding dress with me, and helped make all the other arrangements.  About three weeks ago, her son and she got into a fight about his daughter.  His mom is too involved with his life, and enjoys always telling him what he needs to do about everything.  I can't stand that.  She was telling her son that he needed to fight for custody.  As always, their discussion led to a fight.  I tried to stay out of it.  I was walking away 'til she started attacking me verbally.  She said this was all my fault.  She said that her granddaughter was none of my business.  It was awful.  She basically chewed me up and spit me out.  I stood there like a dumb fool.  I didn't say a thing.  I didn't know what to say.  Anyway, my fiancé had enough, and took me out of their home.  She called a couple of days later and apologized to him, but not me.  She is not speaking to me at all now.  She doesn't say hello or anything. It is so uncomfortable.  She told her son that she no longer supported our wedding.  She also said that I wasn't mature or responsible enough to be a step-parent.  She told her son that she could do a better job.  Once again, my fiancé took my side.  He thanked his mother for helping him for the past 3 1/2 years with his child.  He said that he was getting married, and that she would have to hand over her control.  The question is, what on earth do I do now?  Do I cancel my wedding, or leave him because of his mother?  Why doesn't she think I am capable of being a step-mother?  Why is she so overpowering and possessive?  She tells everyone she can't cope with losing her son and her granddaughter.  I am not taking anyone away from her.  I really care about her.  I can't just leave this relationship.  I love her son too much, and this isn't his fault.  Please help soon.  I hope I don't sound selfish to you, but things are complicated enough being a future step-mom.  I don't want to have to deal with his mother, too.  I also don't want to complain for the rest of my life about her and be miserable.  Do I make him fix things with his mom, since she won't talk with me?  I already told him that his mother and I don't have to be friends, but I would like to be treated with respect.  Thanks.

Dr. Apter's Reply:
Your mother-in-law is probably threatened by her son's attachment to you and blames you for what she feels as the loss of her special relationship.  After all, you say he did not love the mother of his child, so you may be the first woman he really does love - besides his mother.  Fortunately, he stands by you and sees that she is being unfair to you.  While this helps both of you, it may further anger his mother.  This anger has nothing to do with what you have actually done or said, but arises from her fear that her son is so close to someone else.  She may be refusing to apologize to you because she is ashamed of her own behavior.  My best guess is that she will get used to the changing family relationships.  At this point, the best you can do is persuade your fiancé that  he will not be being disloyal to you if he mends things with his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter, I really appreciate some advice you gave me a few months ago on my SIL.  I have realized that we will probably never again be close.  However, I now have another problem.  Actually, two with my MIL.  I have only noticed it on Father's Day.  My MIL is a very controlling woman (as is her own mother).  I understand this is her personality, and I have learned how to handle it.  However ... every single holiday we are expected to spend with MIL and her family (her mother and her sister, etc.).  I had gone along with it for a while, thinking it was just an adjustment period.  A little history ... on Mother's Day my husband and I were "invited" to her (MIL) mother's house for the day.  This, however, took away from spending time with my own mother.  I agreed to that (under the condition that Father's Day would be spent with my family) and spent the entire day with the family (which is still very uncomfortable to me) and did not see my mom.  When Father's Day was around the corner, my MIL told my husband (not me ... which she usually does) that we were all going to her mother's again for Father's Day.  I reminded my husband that we were supposed to spend the day with my dad, and suggested maybe taking his dad to breakfast (which we did).  Well, since then ... my husband is told weeks in advance (they used to tell us days before) that there is a family function being planned for a holiday (which is the case again for the Fourth of July).  I have also noticed that she has slightly cooled to me ... (which could also be because her daughter ... her favorite child, is home) ... but I am going, knowing that it is now expected that we show up.  I am really upset by this.  I feel as though I am being punished for wanting to spend time with my own parents on certain holidays ... but she only spends one holiday with her own MIL (Thanksgiving).  How do I handle this?  It is very uncomfortable for me, as I said, to be around his mom, his sister and his grandmother.  His mom and grandmother dote on his sister (as I said, my MIL's favorite).

Dr. Apter's Reply:
I think you should act on your wish to spend your holiday time as you want.  This may offend your mother-in-law, but this should not discourage you. Though it is upsetting to  feel that someone disapproves of us, and is unfair in her judgment of us, we sometimes have to  accept this if we want to be fair to ourselves.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Is living with in-laws (mother and sister) a disaster waiting to happen?  They are both very nice people, independent, respectful, and will give me privacy when needed.  But my fear is that, with all the in-law horror stories I hear, I'm apprehensive.  I'm just wondering, can a living situation like this work out?

Dr Apter's Reply:
In-law stories are often about love and respect.  Living with a number of other people is always difficult from time to time, but it can also have great rewards.  I suggest that  you simply assess your own situation, and not worry about common problems. No two families are the same.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My problem may be a bit different from those you usually see.  I think the guilty party may be myself.  My MIL is, although not perfect (who is?), a very nice lady.  She does have her passive-aggressive moments, but my main gripe with her is that she is incapable of making a decision on her own.  I am a very independent person, and have little respect for wishy-washy people.  So, we were never destined to be best friends.  However, since my husband and I announced our pregnancy a year and a half ago, I have been very defensive and quick to anger around my MIL.  Everything she says sets me off, and I am quick to assume that her intentions are less than good.  I don't trust her (or any of my husband's family, for that matter) to care for my daughter, and this, especially, is really hurting my husband.  He doesn't understand why I don't trust/like his family, and although I do have some valid complaints (his family drinks alcohol more than I am comfortable with, and my FIL has been known to get behind the wheel while intoxicated), I'm having trouble defending myself.  My question for you is, how do I get over this senseless defensiveness toward my ILs and come to a meeting of the minds with my husband?  It hasn't caused much of a problem yet, but I can see it bubbling beneath the surface.  Thanks for any insights.

Dr. Apter's Reply:
It sounds as though you value your independence.  Sometimes, when we have a skill or quality we value, we can feel irritated by someone's (apparently needless) refusal to  develop those qualities herself.  You could try to avoid situations that increase your annoyance.  For example, if your mother-in-law seeks your help in making a decision, you could either refer her to someone else or say, "This one is really up to you."  If your in-laws drink too much in your estimation or drive while intoxicated, you are justified in refusing to trust them with the care of your daughter.  They could see your daughter, but only when another responsible adult is looking after her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What should my husband and I do about a mother in law who says she doesn't want us in her life?  Much has led up to this point.  My relationship with her has never been great.  We are not like (similar) people.  Recently, however, there was a major blow up.  My husband and I told her something in confidence.  She made it clear that she did not want to keep that confidence.  A blow up ensued, and now she has cut off contact.  My husband and I certainly don't want her out of our lives for good.  We tried to contact her to discuss it, and she proceeded to call us names and tell us she didn't need us in her life.  We are upset about this situation, and need some advice.  Please help!

Dr. Apter's Reply:
I am glad to have this question because it is so different from many questions about how to keep the mother-in-law from being too involved in one's life.  But being cast out hurts, too.  I suggest that you be patient and consistent in your messages of willingness to see her and share things with her.  You could tell her that you continue to value the relationship and that you hope she will help you repair it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
When I first met my husband, he lived with his parents and his sister and her daughter.  He was constantly asked to buy expensive gifts for her, and shower her with all his attention.  When I came into the picture, I received rude comments from his mother, or she would toss his niece between us somehow when we were together.  She makes everything a competition between his niece and I.  Now that we are married, I have spoken to him that these expensive gifts that his mother expects for her granddaughter are not normal, he now buys gifts that are appropriate.  My question is -  Do I bring up the issue (of his mother throwing his niece between us) so close (recently) after I just talked to him about his spending on her?  And, especially since I don't think he has a clue on how they manipulate?

Dr. Apter's Reply:
Your husband seems willing to listen, so I would keep the conversation flowing.  Try to be as specific as possible.  Instead of saying something like, "She always does this," try  saying, "When she said such and such I really felt she was setting up a competitive situation."  Then, discuss what you both may do to discourage this. (Pointing it out to her may be effective.)

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I've been married for 8 years now.  The first 6 years of our marriage, my husband and I lived out of state because my husband was a military man.  After my husband got out of the service, we decided to move back to his home state ... five miles away from his family (two sets of grandparents, mother, father, and a sister).  At first, we got along just fine because I kept my mouth shut.  I would ignore rude comments, and accommodate their needs before mine.  Well, it was okay for a while, then I just couldn't take it anymore.  Every weekend, his family would expect us to be there with them.  Every time I wanted some time alone with my husband, they would get angry and tell my husband I was taking him away from them.  (This is totally false because I would be the one to suggest to my husband to have them over for dinner or plan a gathering.)  Well, I decided to stop going, since I felt like I was wasting one-third of my life with people who do not care about me and who I do not care about.  Well, this created a really big problem in the family because, according to my in-laws, my husband has not "put me in my place".  Well, as can be predicted, my husband and I experienced a lot of stress as a result of this.  Then one day, my husband decided to accept another position in another state.  Well, this was totally my husband's decision.  I told my husband we did not have to move, since I thought I could handle my problem with my in-laws.  Well, now, they are telling everyone that I'm controlling my husband, and that I forced my husband to move to another state to take him away from them.  It really upsets me that they treat me this way.  I still do not visit them, and my husband and I still get into a big argument every time he decides to visit his family, because I do not want to go.  I think it is my decision to visit or not, and I will go when I decide to go.  It hurts me when he leaves me (usually on holidays) to go to his family.  I feel like he is choosing them over me.  Plus, he nags me about being a hard person.

Dr. Apter's Reply:
Would you be willing to visit your in-laws from time to time, but not keep your mouth shut?  In other words, could you tell them, when they are rude, that you think their behavior is unacceptable?  Could you speak your mind and "be yourself"?  Would your husband be willing for you to visit them on these terms?  You could assure him that you won't pick a fight, but you will stand up for yourself.  If these terms are acceptable to both of you, then you could visit sometimes.  If not, then I would continue to stay away.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Dear Dr. Apter.  My letter to you was printed on 5/25 -- I was the one asking what to do about my soon-to-be fiancé, who understands our problems with his mother, but is fearful of confronting her with them.  I mentioned that I had some success dealing with her & setting boundaries, and you suggested that perhaps eventually he would be comfortable letting ME deal with her.  I have seen you suggest to other women that perhaps they should take the lead in in-law relations when the husband seems unable to, and wondered if you could explain more fully your position on this ... I thought that conventional wisdom had it that wives should avoid tangling with their in-laws directly. (Same goes for husbands, really.)  In any case, thank you for your input.  I've learned a lot from the responses you've given to others, as well.

Dr Apter's reply:
I believe that it can be more efficient for a wife to address the mother-in-law directly.  There are several reasons for this.  First, the husband/son may be uncomfortable  criticizing his mother.  He may end up displeasing both his mother and his wife if he doesn't get things right.  A husband may not fully understand what the problem is, and how it might be solved.  Also, it is good practice to speak up for what you want in your family without asking someone else to do  battle for you.


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