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12/23/01
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am having a very difficult time with my MIL.  I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby, which happens to be the first grandchild in my husband's family.  Since the birth of our child, my MIL has constantly stepped over boundaries.  It, often times, feels like she is competing for the mothering position of the baby.  She makes sarcastic remarks about the way that I care for the baby (obviously, things have changed in the 30 years since her children were babies!!), and these remarks hurt my feelings and leave me feeling confused.  My question is: Am I overreacting to her sarcasm?  Am I just imagining her jealousy?  I don't think the way that my MIL is acting towards my child is healthy (she smothers the baby to the extremes).  For example, she criticizes me, because the baby has nothing to look at in the car when we are traveling from place to place.  She makes me feel like I am a bad mom for not having some sort of circus in the back seat of my car.  She pressures me to have another child, and assures me that my child will have a place at her house!!  This whole idea makes me so uneasy, angry, and confused.  Why is my MIL latching on to my child so much and wanting to make my child hers?  I don't think this is a natural Grandmother's love.  Dr. Apter, could you please give me some insight into what is going on, and how to deal with all of this??  My husband thinks I am crazy and jealous for feeling like this.  Also, my in-laws live so close.  I must learn how to deal with them.  Please, I would greatly, greatly appreciate your feedback.  Thank You Very Much!!!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is easier for you to address your mother-in-law's sarcasm than her jealousy.  Many people use sarcasm because they get away with it: they can say the mean things they want to say, but hide under the guise of "only teasing" or "not really meaning it".  One strategy you might try is telling your mother-in-law directly and immediately that you find her comments hurtful.  The best way to this is in response to something she has just said.  You could explain to her that you experience her remarks as critical, even though she may not intend to criticize or hurt you.  If she says she did not mean what she said, then repeat that you are hurt by it.  Once you state clearly that these remarks are hurtful, it will be much more difficult for her to pretend that she does not know they are hurtful.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Okay, my MIL and FIL are divorced.  They divorced while my husband and I were dating.  They gave us their house to live in.  I really appreciate that, but it's right beside my husband's grandmother and mother, and her very young, stupid boyfriend.  Now, the major problem is that we have a tanning bed.  My MIL gets in it (and we have one of those push button combination dead bolts on our door).  We just gave her the combination and figured everything would be fine.  Now she has taken complete advantage of the situation.  Every time we leave, she comes over here and opens our garage door and "borrows" things, and that really ticks me off.  My husband explains to her that he doesn't like it, and she just brushes him off like he's a child. The MIL and GMIL both keep asking us when we're going to have a baby.  For God's sake, we're only 20.  Give us time to live!  I really want them to butt out of our private lives and our house.  But I don't want to be a b!tch either.  Please help!  I am getting fed up!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Standing up for yourself is very different from behaving badly.  You may be accused of behaving badly if you insist on stating your wishes, but it is important to keep in mind that your wishes are at least as important as anyone else's, but that you should look out for them because no one else knows what they are.  Think about what would make the situation better.  Would you like to set rules about when she can enter your home, or about how she should notify you of her visits?  If so, lay them out clearly and stick to them.  It won't be easy, but it sounds as though your husband is willing to stand beside you on this one, and that should help.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has a mental illness.  We believe that she is suffering from depression.  She is going to counseling (that is what we are told), which is very good in her case.  But, she does not think that any medication is necessary.  And, she does not seem to be handling the illness with just the counseling she has been receiving.  It has put a strain on all her relationships.  In what ways should we try to approach her about the subject?  She makes every visit with her miserable for both me and my DH.  Should I try to help her out, or just let the family handle the problem that they have just noticed two years after she started showing characteristics of the illness???  My own mother suffers from bipolar disorder, which does help me to empathizes with how both sides of the family feel about this situation.  But, the concern that they show for her just upsets her, and she thinks that they are either judgmental or too controlling.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You might want to say that visits are conditional on her taking medication.  It seems that your family has a choice.  They can either insist on her having treatment, and thereby upset her by forcing her to confront her problem; or, they can protect her from having to acknowledge the problem and watch her condition deteriorate.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Before my husband and I were married, my MIL did many things that were insensitive.  For example, while we were planning the wedding, she constantly expressed that she would like a picture of her whole family - except for me.  I thought this was weird, and I let it go.  For the first couple of years, I stayed busy at work and didn't see my in-laws much.  Then, I became pregnant with the first grandchild in the family.  My MIL was ecstatic.  Before the baby was born, she was already making plans for my unborn child.  She created a room in her home for the baby, and bought a crib, highchair, and swing, even though I was planning to stay at home with my child.  Yet, although she showed excitement for the baby, she was not interested in coming to a baby shower that my friends had thrown for me.  Now that the baby is here, I am having to see my husband's family a great deal.  My MIL is so excited about my child, she often doesn't acknowledge me.  Instead, she will take my child out of my arms and start talking in an extremely high pitched voice that drives me bonkers!!!  My feelings are hurt that she doesn't acknowledge me.  My MIL loves my child, and sometimes I fear that her need to be with my child is unhealthy.  It's hard for me to allow my MIL to have a relationship with my child when my MIL seems so uninterested in me.  I have tried to accept the fact that my MIL prefers it this way, but I only feel insecure and scared that my MIL is competing for the position of the "mother figure" with me.  I don't feel comfortable talking this out with my MIL.  Whenever I try to talk to her, she makes me feel like I am just a kid.  She often doesn't listen or look me in the eyes.  I would like to learn how to handle my feelings and insecurities regarding my MIL.  Is there anything that I can do for myself that would help me to feel better and not so depressed about the whole situation??

Dr. Apter's reply:
No one likes to be ignored, and it is difficult to trust someone with one's child if one feels utterly discounted oneself.  It seems to be that you can either find some way of getting through to your mother-in-law so that she has to look at you and take in who you are, or you can simply discount her and regard her as someone you have a relationship with only through others.  You might want to put this choice to your mother-in-law herself.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for three years, and have known each other for five.  My MIL and FIL are suffocating me.  They do so many things for us, and want everything to go their way.  During my pregnancy (first born), my husband was in denial about all the changes that were going on.  I went to my MIL for advice.  Everything was blamed on my hormones.  They used to drive us to the ob/gyn for my monthly exams.  I was tired from the long trip.  I would tell my husband that I would like to go home because I'm exhausted.  Well, we never went home.  I was forced to go to his parents for an extremely late dinner.  My birthday came up.  I couldn't go out because my OB put me on bed rest.  MIL called wanting to give me a party.  I told her that my husband and I were going to have a little celebration at home, just the two of us.  MIL did not listen.  She bought a cake.  Two months after having my baby, things have changed again.  I sometimes feel like I'm not a good mother.  When we visited them, the baby was sleeping in the car seat, and he looked so cute.  I hadn't been able to hold him all day.  I decided to pick him up and hold him.  MIL said I shouldn't have picked him up because he would wake up.  I told her I wanted to hold him.  And, then, other stupid things happened, like she and I going back and forth about the window shades being to high.  Help me, please!!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is always frustrating when someone blames our hormones for our behavior because that means no one has to listen to us or treat us as though we have a legitimate reason for what we do.  But, if other people don't listen, and don't take our feelings into consideration, then we have to change things so that they do.  You describe a situation in which you were forced to go to dinner at an extremely late hour, even though you were exhausted.  It might be helpful to reflect on precisely what happened.  How were you forced?  Could you have stood firm and explained that you were too tired to go?  Could your husband have gone himself?  Can you stand back and insist that you are a person whose needs have to be addressed, and that your needs and feelings cannot be dismissed as the consequence of hormones?  If you find some means of protecting yourself and standing up for yourself, then others will no longer expect everything to go their own way.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has a good heart, but she is very manipulative towards my husband.  My husband is her only son, and she wants to make sure that he always stays with her.  We don't live with her and my FIL, but we live 10 minutes away.  My husband visits them at least 3-5 times a week.  They are very controlling, but he doesn't realize he is being controlled.  He will cancel our plans to accommodate theirs.  If he doesn't cancel, then he will tire himself silly trying to accommodate everyone.  We have been married around 3 years, and he is still shy to show affection towards me in front of his parents.  So, my MIL takes advantage of this, and is downright flirtatious with him.  She always agrees with whatever he says.  She laughs and coos at him, and she nonchalantly will touch him in a flirty way.  It sickens and bothers me.  She is behaving like SHE IS HIS WIFE.  I know she is effective, because he seems very happy after she does this, and it is beginning to really bother me.  To make matters worse, they are in business together.  She is very professional and strong.  I want to start something on my own with him so that he is not constantly gravitating towards her.  Bottom line - I want my MIL to realize that she can't take my place!  And, she should stop flirting and stroking my husband's ego!  Please help!  How do I make her stop?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It will be very difficult to change your mother-in-law's behavior towards your husband without his support.  If he doesn't want his mother to stop treating him this way, then she will probably continue.  I would guess that your best strategy is to speak to your husband, explain how you feel, and find out whether he is capable of taking your view on board.

 


The Sister Knot, Apter
The Sister Knot
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Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
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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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Dr. Terri Apter
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