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9/1/03
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I get past my DIL's hostility?  She is furious with me for several reasons:  I don't embrace her parents as "best friends".  I took offense to her father's rude behavior to me (he called me a liar), and she claims that I don't fit in with her mother and her friends.  I should say that she brags about her mother being her "best friend" and about the close circle of women friends that she has with her mother and her mother's friends.  I admit that I do not want to be her best friend, but would love to be her MIL.  That's not good enough, according to her.  She just had a baby girl and she refuses to let me hold her or get close to her.  I am totally devastated about this relationship.  I am a good person, a critical care nurse, where I'm compassionate and caring.  I love my two DSs and DH more than anything.  But, this relationship with my DIL is a puzzle.  I've tried speaking with her, but she is hostile and accusatory, and leaves me shocked by her behavior.  What should I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This will be difficult to handle because your daughter-in-law is clearly responding to her fantasies about you - your feelings towards her, your motives - as well as towards your actual behavior.  I suggest two things: first, you try to avoid feeling irritated or angry when she says things that seem to slight you (for example, about how close she is to her own mother).  Second, speak up for yourself, clearly and calmly - not by defending yourself but by simply stating how you feel.  So you could explain that it would mean a lot to you to hold your grandchild.  If she refuses, or avoids answering, then repeat your request, and ask her to explain why she is reluctant to allow you (to hold the child, for example).

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My grandmother-in-law is approaching her final days, and I feel morally obligated to treat her with respect.  However, I feel that I get little respect in return, and feel that, for my own mental health, I'd rather just avoid her.  She's 97 years old and has macular degeneration, so she is extremely dependent on her family.  On one hand, I agree that family should take care of their elders.  And, yet, she really seems to "milk" the situation, and I feel taken advantage of.  I also dearly love my MIL, but they're a package deal.  If MIL visits, GMIL has to come too.  They live thousands of miles away, so they usually stay for several weeks at a time.  I've just spent 4 weeks with them and, frankly, I'm hoping that it's the last time I see them (how awful I feel for even thinking that).  Several days before they were to leave, MIL announced that they'll be back for Christmas.  This was not posed as a question, rather a statement.  I was so angry.  I wasn't given any room to negotiate a tactful refusal of the visit.  So, here I sit.  It is months prior to their visit, and I'm already obsessing about it.  I can't decide if I should just bluntly tell MIL that I cannot tolerate GMIL, or if I should fabricate some excuse.  GMIL won't be around much longer, but I've had all that I can take!  It's even getting between my husband and me.  She calls me "she" or "her", never addressing me directly.  She criticizes every little thing that I do.  She interferes with the 3 children.  Blah, blah, blah.  Same old stuff.  She is the epitome of obstinate.  Help?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Indeed, four weeks is enough for any in-law visit.  I think that you should approach the Christmas visit directly.  If you fabricate an excuse, you will be asking for trouble: it could lead to embarrassment, or simply to your feeling bad about it.  Instead of sitting tight, I suggest you try speaking out.  You can say that you will have to get back to them about Christmas, and you can then say that you wish to have a different kind of holiday.  I think you are obsessing because you feel they have taken the power of choice from you.  It is up to you to get that power back.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My DH and I have a three year old daughter.  Both of our families live nearby.  We are able to enjoy the participation of both families in the life of our child.  However, my in-laws seem to have more time to help out and watch our daughter.  They are very eager to lend their opinions and to step in when I am trying to set boundaries for my daughter.  I have gotten used to this, and have started to ignore it.  When we are around the in-laws, I often let them "go to town" and I let them do some of the parenting tasks - feeding, changing, playing, etc.  I have learned to enjoy this as a break!  I often tell my MIL how much I appreciate how much she helps out.  She often tells me how she gets lonely, and enjoys the visits with my daughter.  Recently, my FIL told me, "You take people for granted."  This bothered me, and when I later asked him what he meant, he said that he was just kidding.  I am very confused.  I know statements like this don't come out of the blue.  And, I am wondering if they feel that I am taking advantage of them and their help.  I've decided to stop leaving my daughter with them when I run errands or when I need a break.  I don't want to put anybody out - especially my in-laws.  Am I doing the right thing?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest you follow up his "joke", and say to him what you have said here: that you are concerned about his interpretation of your behavior, that you do enjoy having a break, but you do not mean to put them out.  Explain that you are now reluctant to leave your daughter with them, because you wish to avoid the appearance of taking advantage.  Encourage them to say what they mean.  Indirect criticism is damaging to the relationship.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL was diagnosed with congestive heart failure around 2 years ago, and ever since then, my husband has made her recovery his very first priority.  I always knew that his mother was important to him, but her health seems to have become an obsession with him.  Once she received her diagnosis, he moved her in with us so that she could go to the doctor in the city where we live (she lives in a small town with poor medical care).  During that time (8 months), I fed her, entertained her, and kept her company.  She never made any attempt to live separately from us in the house, although she had her own bedroom and living area.  She would always sit in the kitchen or living room and stare at me, or try to help (unsuccessfully) in the kitchen.  I felt very intruded upon, and tried to tell that to my husband.  He only said that she was sick and needs special attention.  She finally went home to her own house, but continued to come back every couple of months for a week or two, and again I felt uncomfortable.  We moved into a new house 3 months ago, which is much smaller.  Also, my husband's new job requires him to be out of town about 4 days out of the week, which leaves me alone with my MIL.  He expects me to feed her and entertain her while he is gone.  She is a very negative person, and I cannot stand being around her for very long.  We were not in that house 1 week when my MIL was back.  At that time, I told my husband that she could only stay for 3 days, max.  Well, after 5 days I came home at 8:30, after working all day and then going to my golf league.  She was in tears.  She said, "I guess I'll just go home tomorrow.  I'm not wanted here."  I felt bad and said, "Oh, no, you're perfectly welcome here."  I called my husband, who immediately came home.  He has lost at least 20K in wages taking care of his mom, not to mention getting in trouble at work for taking too much time off.  Last week she came back again.  After 5 days, she went to the doctor, who told her that she gained too much weight (she gained back the 40 pounds that she lost when she stayed at our house), and he told her that she needed to stay for at least another week.  When my husband told me that, I was very upset, and I told him that she could not stay at our house anymore.  I said that I would just have to leave if she stays.  He left, instead, and took her home.  Well, he did come back for a couple of days, but if anything happens to his mom (something is wrong with her kidneys now), I know that he will blame me because she cannot get proper medical care in her hometown.  She has refused to move here, or to go to assisted living, or any other type of medical or group home, although she can afford it.  His brother and sister don't seem to think that there is any problem with her living alone, and they have not helped out at all.  My husband told me that she will probably come back for medical appointments and stay in a motel, and that she will never stay with us again.  He seems to think that it is my duty, as a wife, to take care of his mother, and that everyone has to make sacrifices in a marriage.  I am feeling very guilty about this situation.  Was I wrong to basically kick this woman out of my house?  I know that I could have handled it better.  But, I tried to let my husband know, and he never stood up to his mother or his siblings to demand other options.

Dr. Apter's reply:
My take on this is that your husband has such a deep fear of losing his mother that he cannot step back to consider the effects of her behavior or his responses.  I do not mean that there is anything unhealthy in his attachment to her; it is simply that on a very deep level, he feels he must protect her.  I doubt very much that a discussion with him would help, but it is worth a try.  It is good that you have been able to state clearly what you find intolerable.  Arguments about "duty" run both ways: it may be a wife's duty to help look after a husband's family when she can - but it cannot be her duty to do everything asked of her, to ignore her own feelings, or to have her life shaped by the needs of her husband's mother.  Duty is usually a matter of balance and judgment.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL of twelve years has been overly controlling, demanding, and rude at the same time.  When we were dating, my husband and I were college students.  We were entering into early adulthood, and my MIL would actually call up my mother and complain to her that her son's and my relationship was getting far too serious, and that he and I should break up.  When we became engaged, she lectured me as to what months we should have our children born in.  Along with that lecture, she lectured on how to choose a proper name for each child.  After we got married, she was upset that I did not switch synods of the Lutheran church, and she drove me to each Lutheran church and parked in the parking lot and lectured me as to why I should switch from one Synod to another Synod.  At family functions, she would criticize me and my family.  Her rude behavior is becoming more and more intolerable, and I cannot stand the sight of her anymore.  She had the nerve to go to my children's teachers and ask how they were doing in school.  She absolutely has no care giving responsibilities for my children, and I firmly believe that she was way out of line by doing this.  My children even told me that they had to defend me because, in their own words, "she was saying bad words about you mommy."  In response, my MIL was yelling at my kids for defending me.  My MIL has been extremely rude, and my husband, my kids and I are standing united that when her behavior is like this, we should tell her to go home.  My husband needed good solid advice on how to deal with her.  We went to see a marriage counselor because of her.  The marriage counselor strongly believes that she does have a mental illness along with narcissistic personality disorder.  She refuses to take any accountability for her behavior, and she firmly believes that she has every right to do this to us.  Her own son cannot stand her anymore.  In a way, my MIL is in a downward spiral, and is literally destroying her relationship with us and her grandchildren.  She won't listen to redirection, and keeps insisting on having her way.  I need your advice, please!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It would be worthwhile trying to show your mother-in-law that her behavior is counterproductive.  Instead of alienating people from you, she is alienating people from her.  I suppose you could try issuing an ultimatum: she has to show respect to all members of your family.  If her criticisms continue, then contact is reduced.  You could also try saying, "We're not going to listen to that," whenever she speaks against you - but you need to present a united front with the rest of your family, and she may simply be unable to reconfigure her strategies for dealing with people.  I suppose the best hope is that she can somehow see that she is being destructive, but also she may need reassurance that not everything has been destroyed and that you are willing to preserve the relationship if she changes her behavior.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL recently came for a visit.  Despite the fact that she was meant to stay for only four days, she ended up staying for nearly a month.  Prior to the day of her departure, she had a crying fit over how much she misses her son.  Ever since my husband has told his mother, during this incident, that we will not be moving back to her region of the country, because I am in graduate school here (we live quite far away), she has taken to attacking my character.  She suggests, at every turn, that he should divorce me and move home.  During her stay, she continually engaged in pouting and temper tantrums that were designed to make my husband angry that I had upset her (I did my laundry my own way, cooked meals in my own way, did not purchase what she told me to, and did not let her come up into our bedroom to "sing [her] baby to sleep").  She would behave fine when we were alone (for the most part), only to start demeaning me to my husband the second that he came home!  Prior to deciding that I was at odds with her goal of getting her son to move back home, she had explained to me, in detail, how she is using these tactics to get her younger son to divorce his wife.  And, now I see her doing the same in our case.  Since returning to her home, she has continually called my husband, and complained to her own husband (who called to let me know that her behavior was not my fault) about me incessantly.  She has told them both that I am trying to steal her son away from her, and that I am trying to keep him from her.  I was the one who suggested that my husband invite his mother for a visit to our new home in the first place (a move that I am beginning to regret).  My husband has said that I must stand up to his mother and address these issues with her, which I am hesitant to do (during her visit).  If she even suggested that I upset her, he will get upset with me.  I feel that it is his place to tell his mother that he is an adult with his own family now, that he is not moving home, and that her attempts at trying to convince him to divorce me are inappropriate.  He also feels that her behavior is normal for a mother.  How do I either convince my husband to set boundaries with his mother, or deal with her myself so that she ceases her attempts to breakup our marriage?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law is exhibiting typical manipulative behavior.  It is very unlikely you can change her, but you can change your response to her behavior and perhaps you can work with your husband to determine what is and what is not possible.  You say your husband suggests that you should stand up for yourself.  That is good advice.  But if your husband is also upset whenever his mother indicates that she has been upset by you, then his encouragement for you to stand up for yourself makes no sense: your mother-in-law will be upset, or claim to be upset, if you do not comply with her wishes.  The best way of managing a manipulative person is to show her repeatedly that her behavior does not get her what she wants.  This is very difficult, because she will do everything she can to convince you that you are harming her by not getting in to her.  If your husband feels that this is normal behavior, then the message you must try to get across to him is that it is intolerable for you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have reviewed every current question submitted and all the archives addressing MIL and DIL issues, but I have not seen a situation like ours.  My DH and I have been together for 12 years, married for ten, with a wonderful, heaven-sent three and a half-year-old daughter.  DH enlisted with the Navy twelve years ago.  Unfortunately, my MIL has been difficult when issues and plans do not go her way.  My MIL expects him to cling, call, write and visit as she requests.  It all started with our honeymoon.  My MIL expected us to vacation with them after we were married.  My MIL was so thrilled.  She felt that we had invited her to be on our honeymoon.  Actually, after the visit ended and we didn't have a honeymoon, both my DH and I looked at each other and stated that it wasn't what we wanted to do, especially after being married for 24 hours with a pending deployment.  My MIL has called us every week (especially since we were married).  I am of the opinion that when we married, I did not take on the responsibility of corresponding for my spouse to various people.  It was DH's responsibility.  I did, however, enjoy speaking to my MIL until her manipulation, hatred and blame grew.  My DH ignored my MIL's calls and did not return them.  DH was raised by his grandmother (thank God) for the first two years of life.  DH is a private/independent person and wishes to remain that way.  He graduated from high school and left MIL's residence at the age of 16.  He has not corresponded with her on a regular basis since that time.  She refuses to see this, even when DH points it out to her.  Thinking that I could just correspond with the MIL like I could with my family, I put a call in here or there, which didn't seem to be enough for her.  We then received letters that told of how I've "changed" her son.  "Snared", I believe, was the word used.  And, she stated that he would call her if it weren't for me.  He ignored the letters and calls.  He also has been deployed on various cruises, three six-month deployments and two and three month deployments every few months during those ten years.  I, of course, am being accused of keeping him from writing/calling and emailing her while he is out and at home.  MIL writes that she feels like she has "lost a son" and that I am at fault, and that the son she raised would never disrespect his mother in this manner.  Actually, he would never disrespect his grandmother (and neither would I).  I would think that a mother would let a marriage take place and not attack his choice in a life partner (as DH's lovely and supportive grandmother has done - MIL's mother).  Most recently, there was an incident involving SIL.  She involved MIL in it, and BIL eventually got involved too.  DH immediately called and read both the BIL and MIL the riot act.  He also stated that BIL is too young to get involved, and should not be involved.  My DH does not get mad, and he told me that he felt uncontrollable when he spoke to them, and that the relationship was over.  I've tried, in the past, to get him to keep the lines of communication open, as she is his mother.  But, with her constant ridicule and complaints against me, it is difficult for us to respect her.  DH states that he is not going to respect someone who doesn't respect DH as an adult and doesn't love unconditionally.  The love is doled out "conditionally", but we are not given the requirements to meet the conditions.  God forbid that she actually verbalizes what she expects.  I have a child, and my MIL wants to keep in contact with her.  She thinks that talking to her 8 times over the phone in the last year determines a close relationship.  She doesn't contact her at my house; it is all done through SIL.  My husband and I feel like it is a divorce situation between us and SIL!  Recently, Mother's Day weekend, MIL and family came for a visit (we are in separate states) and stayed with SIL.  She made it clear to me that she and their family were staying with SIL and she wanted to pick up my daughter and take her there.  My husband (who was out on cruise) and I decided that the family visits all of us or none of us.  My MIL was not going to exclude me.  I invited them to each and every activity (sports competitions) that we had previously planned that weekend.  Since it didn't go her way, she saw my daughter for about a half-hour, since we happened to run into each other around town.  We know that she includes SIL and BIL in her conversations about her problems with us.  Due to the most recent decision of DH's to cut all ties, I want my daughter to be included, but only if we are all included.  We can reasonably deduce that she will say negative things about DH and me to our child.  We don't want to put our daughter in the middle of this, and we wish to keep them away from her and explain the letters and our responses and reactions when the time is right (when she is an adult).  Right now she receives email cards from MIL that come to my email account.  They would be more appropriate if they came from a divorced parent to their own child.  My daughter receives birthday or holiday cards with negative comments about DH and me in them.  I have requested that this cease because, basically, I have hardly any cards to put in her baby book from that side of the family without said comments.  Due to the history and relationship, are we justified in cutting the relationship off in its entirety?  I would like to do what is best for my DH and daughter.  However, a parent's job is to protect their child, and I will do so (from MIL) until my daughter can form her own conclusions.  Enough is enough!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems as though the problems here are tangled: your husband is angry with his mother; your mother-in-law knows this and blames you; your mother-in-law tries to form a coalition with the grandchildren by saying bad things about you; this offends you and actually distances your children.  It could help sort things in your own mind to draw a diagram of people's complaints and accusations.  Then you could perhaps think of new ways to address them.  Does your mother-in-law really feel that what her son feels is his wife's fault?  What does that say about her assessment of him?  Could your mother-in-law be brought in on this discussion - after you and your husband have sorted through all the different strands?  If not, then you might want to think about paring down the relationship, expecting less, offering less - this would be easier, in my view, than cutting things off entirely.

 


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