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8/19/01
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am a new mother with a six-month old baby.  My in-laws are struggling in their marriage (my father-in-law is having an affair), and there are also problems with alcohol.  However, my child is the first grandchild, and both of my in-laws want to see her whenever possible.  They have expressed that they "love the baby more than anybody else," and they act funny, almost jealous, when my mom or my family spends time with our child.  When my husband and I went away for the weekend, my in-laws wanted to call my mother to make sure the baby was alright.  How insulting!!  Aside from this, my mother-in-law wants regular visits with the baby.  While, at times, it is nice for me to run errands, I don't like feeling that I have to accommodate her.  I will be home from work for the entire summer, and I know that my MIL will want to come over at least twice a week.  I have come to feel very resentful of her and her ambition to become the "favorite" grandmother.  Her comments are hurtful to me, especially since my mother continues to work, and does not have the extra time that my MIL does.  My MIL often ignores me, and doesn't look at me when I explain things concerning the baby, and this all hurts my feelings also.  Then again, sometimes she can be very nice and thoughtful of me, and then I think the problem is just me.  Every time I try to explain my feelings to my husband, he says that I am "ridiculous", and that his parents are just being grandparents.  The whole situation is difficult, because I feel like a real jerk.  I try to set boundaries, and I don't understand why my husband wants to be so attached to his parents.  Sometimes, I get so frustrated that I can't see the marriage lasting if this continues.  I get very upset when my MIL buys things for the baby, because she keeps them at her house.  She has a whole room set up for the baby, and she anticipates the day that I will work full time!  This all seems strange and almost obsessive to me, because we don't even take the baby over to my in-laws that much.  I cringe at the nick-name she calls the baby, and feel jealous when she tries to teach the baby certain cultural baby games.  What is wrong with me??  I know that it's not healthy for me to dwell on issues, because I have become a very resentful person.  I continue to act pleasant, but I really wish that we could move and gain some healthy distance.  My husband's entire family is now getting to me.  I strongly dislike and resent the things they do with the baby without asking me.  I can't stand it when they take my child out of my arms without asking.  I can't stand the pushiness, and I hate how my MIL insists on doing things to "help" me, when all she really wants is private time with the baby.  Please help me to learn to deal with my personal issues, or the issues of my in-laws.  I honestly don't know if the problem is my own, or if it is the fault of insensitive in-laws.

Dr Apter's reply:
In many ways you are going through very common day-to-day struggles.  You are trying to answer questions about how much distance you need from others, how much understanding you should have from a husband, how to deal with other people's unreasonable expectations, and how to assess one's own fairness to others.  These may seem overwhelming now because you are also dealing with a six-month old baby, and, possibly, some post baby blues.  I suggest that you tell your husband that all this is too much for you at the moment and that you need his help in easing some of these burdens.  You can explain this in terms of your own condition at present, so that he won't feel you are attacking or criticizing his in-laws.  Perhaps together you could work on practical changes that might help you.  Perhaps your in-laws could visit only once a week, or make their visits shorter.  Be firm in explaining to your husband how much some of these things bother you.  They may be insignificant to him, but he is not dealing with the physical and hormonal stress of having recently had a baby.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Did my wife and I make a mistake in kicking my in-laws out of the house when they "crashed" the party on my parent's visit?  Background - My MIL and my FIL dropped-in unexpectedly on my wife's birthday.  They had to drive a day and a half to get to our home.  We have two small boys, ages 1 and 2.  The only problem is that my parents, who see the boys maybe twice a year, were supposed to arrive the next day.  My parents had planned their vacation around everyone else's visit two months in advance.  The house was not ready, and even my wife was caught off guard.  With two babies, hosting four adults would make her crazy, especially with no warning.  Long story short - My in-laws claimed that dropping-in was only part of an extended vacation along the coast.  We "encouraged" them to continue, and to give my parents some space to enjoy the grandkids (my in-laws visit about every 3 months).  Now, they are upset, and they eventually drove hundreds of miles home in a huff.  The underlying motivation to drop-in was my MIL's insecurity about sharing her grandchild with another grandmother.  Her STRONG personality would never blend well with my mother, who would try not to get in the way, and would feel resentful in the end.  My wife and I felt like someone's feelings were going to get hurt.  Do we just grin and bear it?  My wife and I both agreed on our decision, but her parent's anger makes us question whether we did the right thing.  Respectfully yours, Just Wondering

Dr Apter's reply:
Sometimes when we defend ourselves and our family against other family members' presumption, we have to take their anger.  I suggest you let it run it's course, and communicate with them in a friendly way.  You could phone or write or email, and fill them in on ordinary family news, and assure them that you hope they will visit again at some mutually convenient time.  If you always try to avoid their anger, you may end up always doing what they want.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has never liked me, or had an interest in my children.  She has never attempted to have a relationship with my kids.  And, for the 5 years that she told us to stay out of her life, she never once sent them a card or called to speak to them.  She has always treated us unkindly, my husband included.  When they found out his dad had cancer, his mother didn't even call to tell him. We are not allowed to call them.  If our number shows up on their caller ID, they don't answer.  However, she will throw fits, saying we don't let her see the kids, and that we don't come around enough, etc., etc.  Most recently, she planned a big Easter dinner for his family while we were in town, and did not mention this to him.  He found out by mistake, and was still not invited.  They drive past our town on their way to visit his grandfather and brother, but do not call or come by and see us.  I guess my question is this: Are my children and I obligated to go to her house and be subjected to her abusive treatment?  I have tried for years to be kind to her, but she doesn't want to be nice, so I feel it is useless.  Any advice would be helpful.

Dr Apter's reply:
It sounds as though your in-laws themselves do not know what they want from you.  It is probably time to give up trying to please them.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What do you do with a MIL who is constantly (24/7) finding dangerous situations that our children can come across, and potential diseases that she tries to diagnose?  My MIL can find an illness with one of my 3 children if we leave her alone with them for 2 minutes.  Help!!!  How do I tell her she is not their doctor?

Dr Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could thank her calmly for her observations and tell her that if you continue to be concerned you will take them to a doctor.  Be consistent in giving her the message that you are the one to gauge whether there is reason to be worried.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Please help!  My husband and I have been together over 7 years, and married almost 3 years.  He is 31 years old and I am 33 years old, and we have no children.  Our problem is his family (mostly his mother and father).  They are control freaks!  They constantly use guilt, lies, manipulation, temper tantrums, time control, and any other childish technique they can dream up to get their way with EVERYTHING!  Additionally, they are horrible people to be around.  In 7 years, I have never heard either of them say anything nice to each other.  Their marriage is a disaster.  They are very immature, and seem to lack the understanding that their son is married and is an adult (and a very capable one at that).  Any advice on how to stop this ridiculous behavior?  We are at a complete loss.  Ignoring them doesn't work.  Standing up to them and saying no just makes them more unbearable.  And, my husband and I refuse to let them walk all over us anymore.  Please, any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!  We're both at our wit's end!  Thank you!

Dr Apter's reply:
I suppose it would help to take each problem as it arises.  Think about their strategies for manipulating you, and make sure you don't give them more than you want to.  When you find you have successfully avoided a request or demand, then congratulate yourself, explain what happened to your spouse, and do it again.  You could also decide how much you are willing to see them, and make sure you stick to that.  If necessary, write it down beforehand, so you can see whether you gave in to them, or stuck to your plan.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL always interferes.  If she has a problem with me, she cries to her son, who in turn yells and accuses me.  That's 1 problem.  Second, my hubby and I just got married 1 month ago.  My MIL did not think her table at the wedding was close to ours, so she just walked out.  In the beginning of our reception, she just walked out.  Now she is blaming me for seating her two tables away.  She said my mother was closer then she was!!!!  She is sending letters demanding an explanation RIGHT AWAY!  I had a family member do the seating arrangements.  I did not do it.  Anyhow, she is trying to turn this around on us.  I told my dear husband that she is the one who needs to explain, not us.  She is bad-mouthing me to all his family.  He is VERY hurt, and so am I.  We are stuck in a hard spot.  We have not talked to his mother since the wedding (1 month).  How are we supposed to handle this?  PLEASE help!

Dr Apter's reply:
I would ignore her demand for an explanation and just write to her telling her you wanted her to be at the wedding and you are sorry she was disappointed by the arrangements, but that you hope she will nonetheless share the pleasure of your marriage.  More importantly, try to make sure your husband understands what is happening when he shouts at you after she comes sobbing to him.  He is probably trying to fix the problem for his mother, but he should be made aware that he will cause problems in his marriage.  Explain to him that you do want to find a way to handle his mother, and that you hope together you can find a way.  It will be much easier, however, if he offers you support.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am trying as hard as I can to accept my mother-in-law for who she is.  I really can't complain too much about how she treats me - she basically treats me the same as she treats her own children.  Unfortunately, the way she treats her own children is a little shallow.  She mostly views her role as providing clean clothes, but not making any attempt to know or understand the real person.  Anyway, I think that the reason I am having problems accepting her is that I cannot help but compare her (unfavorably) to my own mother.  My mother passed away when I was a teenager.  We had a very good relationship, primarily because she was such an amazing person.  She was affectionate, creative, supportive, and intelligent, among other things.  My mother-in-law, unfortunately, has very few of those qualities.  In fact, her life is so limited that all she can talk about is cleaning (which I do ask her about, if only to have a topic of conversation!).  I honestly feel a little sorry for her, so I really feel guilty about disliking her.  I am not sure of what to do.

Dr Apter's reply:
There are two problems here: your disappointment in not finding your mother again, and your guilt at not liking your mother-in-law.  As long as you treat your mother-in-law decently, as you seem to be doing, and appreciate that she is responding to you according to her limited abilities, as you seem to be doing, then there is no cause for guilt.  It will probably take a lifetime to get over the loss of your mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I handle parents/in-laws that don't get along?  My wife and I have been together for 14 years (married for the last four).  I have a good relationship with my MIL, as does my wife.  She gives us plenty of "breathing room", even though she lives less than two miles from us.  Her phone calls to my wife can drive me crazy, but I suppose that's better than the alternative.  Being the oldest child of a divorced mother, my wife has developed an inseparable bond with my MIL, due to the difficulties they have endured together over the years.  As for my relationship with my parents, it can be difficult at times, due to my mother's need to control.  She feels the need to make decisions for us which can be embarrassing, seeing how liberal my MIL can be.  My parents also live less than two miles away.  During the 10 years I dated my wife, my parents showed little interest in my future MIL.  With all their children (and grandchild) in close proximity, my parents had plenty of quality time with all of us.  Problems started to surface, since my sister (and her family) and brother both moved far away.  Upon their exit, my wife and I were now the sole family members left in the immediate area.  Suddenly, all the attention was placed on us from day to day.  With the lack of loved ones close by (my mother no longer spends time with her side of the family due to her relationship problems - they too live less than 20 miles away), my parents have tried to develop a relationship with my MIL and her family.  My MIL has been invited to my parent's house on at least six occasions over the years, and has turned down every invitation during that time.  My parents feel rejected by my MIL, and feel as if my MIL must hate them.  I have never heard my MIL speak a bad word about my parents, however, there must be some reason she avoids them.  An added point is that my MIL is a divorcee who lives check to check, and my parents are the polar opposite.  They are financially comfortable and retired.  This is possibly very intimidating to my MIL.  This situation has deteriorated over the past two years.  I have made strides to try and mend the relationship between the two parties.  When my parents helped us with a down payment on a house, my MIL suggested we all go together to see the house, and then she wanted to buy dinner for my parents as a thank you for helping her daughter purchase a home.  My mother was furious and refused to go saying, "For 10 years I was turned down by her, and now she wants to be my friend?"  I feel that my mother was mad because my MIL was trying to establish the relationship on her terms.  A difficult thing to swallow for such a controlling person as my mother.  Two years have passed since that dreaded day.  I explained to my mother that all my MIL wanted to do was express her gratitude, for helping her daughter purchase a home, by buying dinner.  She denies that she heard that dinner was a part of the plan.  The reality is that she had no control over the situation.  It wasn't HER plan, therefore, she wanted nothing to do with it.  As a result, my MIL, SIL, wife, and I went alone to see the house without my parents.  Once again, my mother ruined what potentially could have been one of the greatest moments in my life.  I hated the house for some time after that, knowing the pain she inflicted in the process of purchasing it.  The twisted thing is that she accepts no blame.  As far as she is concerned, it was my MIL's fault.  I suppose she accomplished her goal.  At another occasion (a holiday) my parents and in-laws were invited to our house for dinner.  A stressful meal for me turned horrible during dessert.  After a relatively calm dinner, the subject of my mother's pending retirement came up.  She spoke in pride of her 20+ years of service, and turned to my MIL, who will work for many years to come (no secret there), and said, "Boy, you probably won't be able to retire for another 30-40 years at least, huh?"  I just sat there, stunned.  I couldn't believe she said it.  Here I was trying to mend fences, and all she did was tear them down.  I don't think she wants a relationship at all.  She won't even do it for me!  As an added bonus, we are expecting our first child in 5 weeks!  Is there anything I can do to repair this relationship, or is it up to my mother??

Dr Apter's reply:
I think it is now up to your mother.  She clearly feels the need to remind your mother-in-law of her subordinate position - that is probably why she refused to accept the offer to take her out to dinner.  A baby may offer the opportunity of a reconciliation, or it may create more problems.  But for now, you have done all you can.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I put up with my MIL for 12 years (7 as a DIL).  In that last year, my BIL divorced (80% because of my MIL).  It was his 10th anniversary that year!  His wife couldn't take any more.  It was then that I realized I wouldn't make it to my 10th anniversary.  Other than my MIL, we had a very good marriage.  But, my MIL was enough to destroy it.  Out of respect, I never honestly discussed my MIL with my husband.  But, when I told my husband how I felt, he told me that he felt the same way!  We spoke with family counselors, our pastor, friends, and family about this.  Everyone agreed with us.  As a result, we decided that she could no longer be a part of our lives.  It was the best decision we ever made!  My husband's (half) sister disowned us over this.  She wrote us a very nasty letter, and said she didn't want anything to do with us until my husband changed his mind and "did the right thing".  My husband said, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," and that he wouldn't be manipulated any longer.  The problem is that now my BIL has stopped communicating with us.  My husband hasn't spoken with him in months.  We sent him a Xmas card and gift, and there was no response.  He didn't contact my husband on his birthday.  We sent him a birthday card - still no response.  The other day, we received an invitation in the mail from my BIL's neighbor.  It was for a party celebrating my BIL's upcoming wedding!  We knew nothing about it!  My husband said he would not attend the party, and probably won't attend the wedding because, "Obviously we're not welcome, even though we've done nothing to him!"  He won't call his brother to discuss it.  He feels he has tried, and now it's his brother's turn.  I thought maybe I should call my future sister-in-law and speak with her about it, because I hate to see this happen.  This is my husband's only true brother, and they had a great relationship until we stopped speaking to my MIL.  Any advice?

Dr Apter's reply:
Your brother-in-law probably shares some of your husband's feelings towards his mother, but is so uncomfortable with them that he has turned against his brother.  It might help for your husband to try to approach his brother, and say that he has made the right decision, that you are both much happier now, but that he appreciates his brother's loyalty, and he certainly values the relationship with his brother.  This may not work, but it seems your best shot.

 


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