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My question for Dr. Apter is:
My mother-in-law seems to think I am her daughter.  I don't mean she loves me like a daughter, or wants me to call her "mother" as a sign of respect.  I mean, she actually thinks I AM her daughter.  I have been married a couple of years, and probably should have seen the warning signs when she thanked my dad at the wedding for, "Giving her such a lovely new daughter."  She told my husband how lucky he was to have me.  She wanted a million photos of just me and her.  And, she got very upset that I didn't want her other DIL as my bridesmaid (I had my sister), even though she didn't care at all that my husband did not have his brother as best man.  This progressed into her trying to get me to say various things against my own parents, such as saying that I had been neglected by not having a stay-at-home mom (nothing could be further from the truth, and even if it were, I certainly do not need her as my stay-at-home mom at the age of 30!) and even that I should feel abandoned now when my parents go on holidays (they are retired and travel a lot, which I think is great, and of course I do not go with them, as I am grown up, married and have a full time job).  The last straw is that, lately, she as been behaving as if she is trying to "bring me up" all over again, trying to re-teach me all sorts of things I already know how to do, from cooking, to applying cosmetics.  We received a gift from a relative via MIL, and she gave it to us with thank you cards she had bought, and a reminder to write a note (she knows very well that my husband and I had all our wedding thank you notes done 2 weeks after the wedding, because everyone commented on how prompt we were, so this is actually quite insulting).  She has a friend who I have always called by her first name (she introduced herself to me that way).  MIL recently told me to call her Mrs. Smith when in front of this lady, and when her friend said, "Using my first name is fine," MIL said she thought it was nice for "kids in my family" to show respect to her friends.  And so it goes on.  It is as if she thinks I am pretty good, but would be perfect if she just got to bring me up like she would have brought a daughter up.  She also calls me at work a lot, and at home when she knows her son is not there.  She may not be my favorite person, but she is pleasant enough, and I would never be rude to her, but this is getting weird.  I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I don't need another mother.  I am not 8 years old, and she is driving me crazy!  Thank you for any advice you can give.

Dr Apter's reply:
You may be able to find a way of setting limits to your mother-in-law's involvement without being rude.  Perhaps you could talk about your own mother.  Defend her and assert your loyalty to her.  If your mother-in-law criticizes your mother, explain that this hurts up, or upsets you, because you do appreciate your connection with her.  When she tells you how to behave, you could say that you understand she has her own standards, but that you have your own take on what's appropriate.  If you combine reminders that you are a grown-up with reminders of your attachment to your own family, she will eventually get the message.  She may at first appear offended, but don't let that put you off.  Try to remain calm and pleasant - but persistent.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I hope you get a chance to answer this one.  Truly, one of the most hurtful experiences for a woman is the inability to conceive a child naturally.  My loving husband and I have been going through this for almost a year, and will be seeking expensive medical intervention soon.  My MIL, a very selfish and demanding woman, has only added to my hurt.  Knowing the situation, she continues to either inform or remind my husband or me of everyone who is expecting a baby (there seems to be a baby boom in our area, plus when you want one so bad, everyone seems to have one).  Perhaps the most hurtful and embarrassing thing she did was last month.  She asked me to host a Baby Shower with her for a distant relative.  I politely declined.  I gave no formal reasons other than that I didn't believe I could help her during that time, because I had a lot going on, and perhaps someone else could do it (the truth is, my problem has caused me some depression, and my OB doctor suggested that I should avoid baby events that would remind me of my problem).  I didn't want to go, but my husband said it would look bad if I didn't.  MIL couldn't care less.  I went to the shower and held back many tears when they were making such a fuss over the baby and baby stuff.  A few even asked when we were going to have one, or told me that it was about time I had a baby.  My response was either with a smile or a polite, "When God is ready for us."  During the shower she announced that she was the only one giving the party, and that was her gift to the girl, because she could not afford the whole thing by herself.  She also announced that she had asked me, but that I could not do it, but I had time to show up to give a gift.  I simply looked like a heel in front of all her family because I was "too busy" to help plan it.  I even walked into her sister and another relative saying that I was selfish, and that when it was my time, they would make sure they were too busy for me.  We have not publicly announced our situation to extended family, but MIL knows it.  MIL has a very large Xmas party every year.  At this party will be her family, friends (whom a majority are expectant grandparents) and many of the pregnant women she continues to remind us about.  I don't want to go to the party.  In fact, I really want to avoid her, since avoidance has been my greatest protection from her hurtfulness.  My husband says this would look bad if we didn't go.  I suggested that he go and state that I was doing a charity event or something and could not make it.  He says it will make us look like our marriage is bad or in trouble.  He says it will give people more ammunition to talk.  Talking to MIL doesn't help.  Husband tried that route, and she ignored it.  She knows that it is hurtful, and has even said that she is hurting too because WE cannot make her a grandmother.  Should I go?  Should we announce our very personal problem in an attempt to control the gossip and comments?  What do you suggest?  Your thoughts?

Dr Apter's reply:
It would be helpful if your husband would begin to look out for you rather than for how things look to others.  Can you explain to him how much you would appreciate his help?  Could he explain to his mother how much he would appreciate greater tact and sensitivity from her?  I think that his support might ease your depression.  As things stand, not only are you unhappy, but you are also made to feel that your unhappiness is unimportant.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My wife and I are experiencing ongoing problems with her mother.  Ever since the marriage (3 yrs), she has made her daughter feel like a traitor for moving out and growing up.  We have had many fights about this, and I am always accused of "brainwashing".  I've had some marital problems with my wife which they know about.  They now are making her life hell in an attempt to emotionally "break" her until she leaves me.  I don't want her in the middle.  They are in such denial about the reality of this situation, and won't see how they are overstepping their boundaries.  They wont let this go, and are making reconciliation with my wife much harder.  What shall I do?  Stop talking to and seeing them?  There is no rational discussion with them.  Should I just be the bigger person and act like all this is OK?  They don't say anything bad about me to my face, just to her, and then she tells me.

Dr Apter's reply:
I suggest you ask your mother-in-law to name your faults openly.  You could explain how much you value your marriage and your wife's happiness, and that you are willing to listen to their side - but only if they tell you, directly.  This may lead them to reflect on whether their complaints actually make sense.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband is from a different country than mine and is a different religion than I am.  From day one of our relationship, my now MIL has asked my husband to stop seeing me.  At one point she told him to break up with me or move out of her house.  They seem to have a very volatile, all or nothing relationship.  She has told me that her son makes all the decisions for her and her daughter because he is the man in the family (she divorced their father over 20 yrs ago).  Yet, she is very controlling and manipulative.  She refused to speak to me, and said she did not need to meet me to know what kind of person I was.  Therefore, I did not include her in any wedding plans.  I always encouraged my husband to see her and include her and get a list of family to invite, and he said she wasn't coming.  Finally, a week before the wedding, I confronted her and got everything out in the open.  She appeared receptive, and told me her son never passed any of my messages on to her.  She welcomed me, and we had what appeared to be a good relationship, until I did something wrong.  They speak another language, and I asked that my language be spoken in front of me so I could be included in the conversation.  She never refused me to my face, but has never spoken my language in front of me unless it was only the two of us alone.  It seems that we can have a good relationship as long as I do everything the way she wants.  But as soon as I ask her to do something, or I try and tell her I am unhappy with something, she stops communicating with me and starts lying to my husband about things I have said, either making them up or twisting my words to make me the bad guy.  She is sweet as pie to my face, and mean and conniving behind my back.  We have been married now for 11 months, and I feel like I am on a see-saw with her.  I feel like I am in constant competition with her for her son's time and affection.  If she is around, she needs to be catered to and worshipped, and he has no time or energy left to be nice to me.  Every time she promises to do something for us, she starts an argument prior, that is of course my fault, so she can back out of her obligation.  I have tried for almost 3 years to be a wonderful daughter-in-law, and she treats me like I am the evil hell-spawn.  If her son does not cater to her, she lumps guilt onto him, and he gives in, in order not to deal with it.  If he is with her, he is not allowed to answer his cell phone if I call.  She buys him gifts similar to things I have bought him, only more expensive, in order to buy his affection.  On an impulse, she thought her son needed a new car.  So she bought him a very expensive truck, and now is asking us to help her pay for it.  He isn't even currently driving it.  She is.  He feels bad because she was trying to be nice, but we can't afford it.  He gives in to her so he doesn't have to deal with her crying and guilt, and figures I will get over it if he is not home or doing what I have asked him to do.  I am at my wit's end, so that I am actually thinking of keeping score.  I don't know what to do.  I actually get knots in my stomach, and border on hysteria if he hears from her, because I know it will be a major ordeal and I will lose.  I know I shouldn't look at it that way, but when she digs her claws in, he starts to change and believe that I might be the bad guy.  I try not to trash her to him, but sometimes I have to open my mouth.  There is so much more, but this is too long already.  What do I do?

Dr Apter's reply:
It sounds as though your husband needs to understand that he should be responding to your needs - not simply to those of his mother.  Also, he needs to learn how to deal with his fear of displeasing his mother.  Is there any way that you could sit down and explain to him how she manipulates him?  It seems that you understand it fully - but in all probability he does not.  Your marriage is now a triangle.  The problems are not simply in-law problems, but problems with a spouse.  He may need your support in realizing that he can resist his mother without being disloyal to her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My new husband and I live with his mother.  I also have a daughter from a previous marriage.  We live there because the deed is in his name, and he used to live up north.  So when his father died, she moved there alone.   Then, he moved down here for a job and met me.  She was going to move and give us the whole house, but she keeps changing her mind.  We said we were going to move to the east coast (my husband had a really great offer) and she said that she will move with us.  That night, I got in the car and drove around for 3 hours because I was going to explode.  She is constantly telling me what to do and how to do it.  When I make dinner, she is hanging over my shoulder, telling me how to put dinner together.  She is always telling me when to feed my daughter and when to change her diaper.  She always gives my daughter candy, and then says, "Ask mommy if you can have that."  And, sometimes I have to be the monster that says "no".  She is always interfering with things that I want to do for my husband.  She never worked as a mother, and I do.  I have a very good career as a research scientist, and I worked very hard to get to this point.  And she is always telling me that I should quit my "job", because that is all that it is, and take care of my daughter and my husband - that I would be much happier.  My husband loves and respects my career.  He is in the same field, so we both have someone who understands what we do every day.  We never have a moment of peace.  I hate to say it, but there are times when we do have a moment to ourselves, and we are making love, and she comes knocking at our door to tell us to pick up milk at the store (or something stupid).  Then she gets mad at us for not spending time with her.  And, here is the kicker:  I am of a different religion, and she is always telling me to go to church with her, and preaching to me, and running after us and blessing me and my daughter every time we get into a car.  I don't believe in her religion, and I don't like her making a constant show of it to my daughter.  She is all over my daughter, and constantly undermining me as a mother.  She asked if I washed my daughter's hands before dinner, and I said yes.  She didn't believe me, so she took my daughter's plate away from her, took her out of the high chair and washed her hands.  What does that say to both me and my daughter?  That mommy's word is as good as garbage?  Here is the kicker, it's a big house.  My husband and I live in a different part altogether, and she thinks that with my job, my long commute, and being a mom and wife, that I should also clean her house!  I have bit my tongue for a long while, and I feel that I am about to lose it.  My husband knows exactly how I feel, and says that he will talk to her.  But I think every time he does, it makes things more tense.  She is always complaining that my husband makes too many rules for her.  Those rules are basically, "Stay out of our business."  When I get a phone call, she wants to know who I am talking to, and I don't know how to answer that.  I really try not to be rude, but I don't think it is any of her business.  Then, she is always telling me that I didn't make an acceptable custody agreement with my ex-husband for my daughter, and I should change it.  I really don't think that is any of her business, and she really should keep those comments to herself.  We have already decided to move and leave her the house, but we need to get our down payment together, and that will take about 6 months.  So how do I deal with this in the meantime so I don't freak out?  Sometimes I actually feel like running away, but I am 31, a mom and I am so in love with my husband.  HELP!

Dr Apter's reply:
You are lucky to have a husband willing to speak out for you.  I suggest that you let things get more tense.  I also suggest that you stop biting your tongue, but begin to speak out yourself.  This will create more tension - at least for a while, but it may also lead to more comfortable boundaries between you.  It may also be worthwhile discussing with your husband how he feels about living with his mother.  The situation with your daughter could go on and on - or, it could improve.  However, it seems that you see the decision as being your mother-in-law's alone.  Perhaps you and your husband could have input.  Once you are both sure of your position, you can present it to her.  It won't be easy, but it may be worth the trouble.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am miserable.  Is it my own making, as everyone says?  I've been told my MIL will never change, so I must accept things the way they are.  Does this mean she is allowed to hurt me and do whatever she wants?  The problems started when we got married, and escalated beyond control when I had my son.  She is in need of absolute power, and look out to anyone who stands in her way.  The incidents are too numerous to name.  The general story goes that my feelings are constantly put aside to accommodate hers.  "Oh, don't do that.  You'll upset her," or, "She'll be hurt if you don't do this."  My wedding, the birth of my son, his first Christmas, his first birthday, have all had a significant event that revolved around her "getting her way".  I used to be so angry it ate me up inside, desperate to change it.  Now, I'm only sad.  I feel broken.  When we set boundaries, she tells me they don't apply to her, that she can do whatever she wants.  Like, she shows up unannounced at any time, and actually tries walking right into our home without even knocking!  Thank goodness for deadbolts!  After finally confronting her on this issue, I was given the cold shoulder for months, even though she apologized to my husband, and said she was wrong.  I "paid" for it for months because "no one" EVER stands up to her.  She is also very competitive with my parents who live out of town.  Every time they visit, she has to see my son, although she has weeks and weeks in between where she doesn't bother to see him.  Then, she puts on a show worthy of an Oscar.  She used to refer to herself as " Mommy" to my son until I confronted her on that, too (but, of course, it was only a slip of the tongue).  Here is the latest that has sent me over the edge (and I guess I was pretty close, because it didn't take much, as this will sound trivial, as I've already been told).  I bought my son an advent calendar.  He's one, and I was so looking forward to starting this new tradition with him.  Well, my MIL ( who is a fabulous seamstress) made him a very elaborate one and has filled it with all kinds of goodies.  I know it's silly, but it breaks my heart.  I feel like hiding my cheap, 97cent, pathetic little chocolates in shame.  I work full time.  My husband works more than full time.  And we still have trouble making ends meet and finding time to do things like that.  I'd love to be Martha Stewart for my son, but I feel like she is always out to make me look bad.  Then everyone tells me she is only trying to help.  But, then, it wouldn't be accompanied with snide little remarks, would it?  It's like when I decorated the nursery.  She didn't like it, so our gift from her was a new color scheme of "things".  Like I said, I'm no longer fuming.  I just am very depressed.  I having been crying for two days now.  One day, when my son understands more, he will see all that Grandma gets him is better, and Mom couldn't love him as much.  And, as paranoid as that sounds, I think that's what she's trying to do.  How do I deal with these feelings?  Because, as everyone tells me, I have to change, because she won't.

Dr Apter's reply:
It sounds as though you have suppressed your own needs long enough.  Depression is something called "anger turned inwards", and that may be what has happened in your case.  Try to explain to your husband how hurtful it is when he puts his mother's feelings before yours.  Can you tell him, quietly and calmly, that you do want to accommodate his mother, but that your needs should also be important to him.  Give him specific examples of times he has told you not to do something because it will upset his mother.  He may be afraid of his mother, so tell him that you will stand by him if she gets angry with him.  You can also assure him that he can resist her whims without being disloyal to her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
A little over a year ago I became a bride at the age of 19.  My husband is a wonderful, generous person, and our first year of marriage has been wonderful, despite the many obstacles that come with marrying at such a young age.  The only real shadow has been the presence of my mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law's fiancée.  I will start at the beginning.  Before we were married, my husband was accepted into a prestigious program at a college across the state.  Unhappy at my university, I decided that I would transfer with him, and that the two of us would move in together.  At 19, I did not feel that I was old enough to become someone's wife, even if I did plan to spend the rest of my life with that person.  It just seemed too young.  His mother had an absolute fit, and after being made to feel trampy and unworthy for a month or so, we decided to plan a fast wedding and make it legal before the semester started in August.  I was finishing an internship in another city from my hometown, so I had to arrange all of the details at long distance.  My family is very poor, so my mother-in-law offered to contribute to the cost of the wedding expenses.  Little did I know that this would mean being subjected constantly to her "suggestions."  My own mother felt bullied out of the preparations.  In the two months prior to the big day, I was bombarded with 4-5 phone calls a day, constant psychological attacks, and her low opinion of my ability to make decisions on my own.  I cried every single day, and no amount of pleading would discourage her from trying to control everything.  I have never felt so helpless in my life.  In the meantime, my fiancé's older brother had moved back into their mother's house, and brought his girlfriend with him.  Since she still technically had a room at her parent's house (even though she spent about 5 days a week with him) they insisted that it wasn't "shacking up."  I did not care about this choice, but I was infuriated that my mother-in-law-to-be was so ready to allow it under her own roof!  My relationship with the BIL's girlfriend broke down after a series of stupid spats, and finally culminated in a big blowout one week before the wedding.  This consisted mostly of MIL-to-be, BIL-to-be, and his girlfriend screaming at me for being unreasonable and immature.  I cried so much that I woke up the next day with my eyes almost swollen shut.  Now, over a year after these events unfolded, I am still unable to mend my relationship with the three.  My husband's brother and his girlfriend are now engaged, and my MIL swears that she will not subject her new daughter-in-law to what I had to go through.  Good for her, but where does that leave me?  I cried my entire wedding day, and most of the days before it.  I try not to think about it, but when I do I feel stress and frustration instead of joy.  I constantly feel resentment.  Resentment over my crushed wedding dreams.  Resentment that my BIL's fiancée gets as long as she wants to plan her dream wedding.  And, especially, resentment over the fact that BIL's fiancée and my BIL seem to be held to a different set of standards than my husband and I.  I don't want to hurt my husband by harboring all these bad feeling toward his relatives, but no matter how hard I try to shake it, it keeps coming back!  To top it all off, she still does things that drive me completely mad - calling 3 or 4 times a day, gossiping about our personal business to friends, and, of course, offering every unwanted "suggestion" she can think of.  I have talked over my problems with her again and again, but she always returns to her old ways.  What should I do?  How should I handle all the the weird jealousies and competition that seems to exist between my BIL& his fiancée and us?

Dr Apter's reply:
It is hard to forgive someone who has manipulated us.  Also, you probably feel betrayed because you gave up something you wanted in order to please you husband's mother, and as a result you simply suffered further abuse.  Try to take this on board as an important lesson.  Learn from your experience: it doesn't pay to give in to unreasonable persuasion.  If you are able to free yourself from any desire to please your mother-in-law, then you will come out ahead.

The Sister Knot, Apter
The Sister Knot
Why We Fight, Why We're Jealous, and Why We'll Love Each Other No Matter What

Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
Secret Paths
Women in the New Midlife

Working Women Don't Have Wives, Dr. Terri Apter Working Women Don't Have Wives
Professional Success in the 1990'S

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