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12/15/03
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH and I spend a lot of time (3-4 days) every other month with his mother.  She makes a lot of biting, harsh comments, such as, "Son, were any of the women you saw today prettier than your wife?", and, "I looked as good as you (that's me) at your age," and, "If you weren't with your wife, I would set you up with this other lovely girl."  She makes these comments in front of me in a very sweet, high pitched, soft tone of voice, with a lovely smile on her face.  She constantly makes references to my age (I am a few years older than my husband).  She stares at me without looking away if I look back.  When we were married, she kept waving to get his attention, and she brings up my mother when we have asked that they remain separate.  I came from a very abusive home (physically, etc.), and the fact that I deal with my mother at arms length fascinates his mother.  We attempted to explain the situation in detail, hoping that she would have some compassion, and respect the boundary, but she seems to want to befriend my mother even more.  I suspect that she wants to "gang up" on me.  I have reached out to her, prayed for her, sent her love and light, played the sweet, non-reactive role, made her a "mother and son" scrapbook, encouraged her son to spend time alone with her, calmly stood up to her - everything.  It is so very painful, and excruciatingly uncomfortable.  My main question is this:  With each comment, stare and weird question, how do I respond?  By the way, the family thinks she is a saint, and are extremely protective of her.

Dr. Apter's reply:
The most important and difficult issue to handle is your mother-in-law's flirtation with her son (as someone who can compete with you in terms of attractiveness, as someone who tries to stimulate his interest in other women by asking about attractive women he has seen, and who promises in a seductive manner to set him up with someone else).  One approach might be simply to talk to her, to point to specific situations, specific things she has recently said, that offend you by calling into question your husband's satisfaction with you as a wife and his commitment to you as a wife.  However, I foresee possible fallout from this.  Your mother-in-law may then report this to other family members, who may be outraged on her behalf.  They may not see the thrust of her tactics because they are used to them, because they are not directed against them.  Also, what you say about her being identified by other family members as a "saint", and their protectiveness of her, indicates that they would not be quick to pick up on your responses to her.  So, if you can, solicit your husband's help.  Explain that you are uncomfortable with remarks about other women, or with constant references to the attractiveness of other women.  You could soften this by saying that you are not accusing his mother of any low motive, but that you are understandably humiliated by these remarks, and that the most effective and least hurtful way for you to deal with them would be to have his help in replying firmly, "This is the wife I chose/ This is the wife I want/ This wife suits me just fine".

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL and I were on good terms at one point.  I met her when I was 17 and not getting along with my parents (as a lot of teenagers do).  I was close to my MIL, but regained my close relationship with my parents very shortly after.  In that time she started treating me like one of her children, and what this includes is nagging, getting in my business, and pretty much not leaving me alone.  DH and I have now been married for over 2 years, and have a 5 month old.  MIL is getting worse.  She seems to not understand that she is the mother of her family and I am the mother of mine.  She has plans for us every weekend!  She is not leaving any time for DH, DS and me to do things, and certainly no time if my parents want to get together.  She has stated on many occasions that we are depriving her of her grandson, even though we still see her every weekend.  DS is suffering from a bit of stranger anxiety with anyone but DH and me, and my MIL insists that it is only because she doesn't get to see her grandson often enough.  MIL also still nags DH and me about saving money, buying a house, fixing our cars - you name it.  If she can find a problem with something, she WILL complain about it.  I have told my husband that she needs to bite her tongue and let us be, but this has caused a great strain on our relationship.  He feels that I should just ignore her, but I have tried and she only nags me worse.  She is not my mother, and I feel that he should take a stand with her, rather than me.  I also feel like I am not enjoying my first child as much as I should because she is constantly in our faces about everything.  I am at a real loss on what to do, and I am afraid that I will either end up screaming at her and really destroy our relationship, or my husband and I will end up divorced.  Please help!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is unlikely you will succeed in getting your mother-in-law to "bite her tongue", but there are steps you can take to resist her interference.  Instead of "ignoring" her in the sense of letting her do her thing, I suggest that you make clear to her that her plans are not your plans.  "I have my own schedule this weekend," you could say, or "I already have plans, thanks."  She will try to resist this: she may express offense, or show that she is hurt that she has gone to the trouble of making plans and yet you are not grateful or disregard them.  You could express gratitude for her concern and help, but indicate that nonetheless you will be following your independent plans.  When it comes to your son, you can explain that you have to respond to his needs, and set the ground rules for visits.  Yes, your mother-in-law will complain, but you will have to weather this.  Your independence, and your control over your own family, may in time become a pattern that she expects and accepts.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I get my MIL to keep her mouth shut?  Every time we see her, even if it is less than 5 minutes, she always manages to get in a question or comment about me getting pregnant or having a baby.  I will tell you about my last 2 encounters:  First, at my SIL's, she walked by me, patted my tummy and said, "Oh, are we pregnant?"  I told her that I thought it was extremely rude, which stopped her for a minute, and she did apologize.  But, that didn't keep it from happening again!  The last time I saw her, we went out to dinner with a large group of family, as another SIL was in town from out of state.  While we were waiting for a table, she was chatting with yet another SIL (I have 4).  And, after looking right at me, keep in mind I was only 3ft from where she is sitting, she looked at my SIL and said, "Well, she's probably already pregnant and just won't tell us."  I am so sick over this.  My stomach is already in knots about being around her for Thanksgiving!!  I have been married for over 10 years, and I am sick to death of the, "Oh, you know, she doesn't mean anything by it," excuse.  She is over 50 and should be able to filter what comes out of her mouth.  I have tried everything from ignoring her to pointing out her rude behavior, and I just don't know what to do anymore!  The fact is that we tried to get pregnant 3 years ago, and it just didn't happen.  I haven't used birth control since, either, so it may never happen.  I have, as clearly as possible, communicated that I find this upsetting, uncomfortable, and extremely rude, but nothing seems to stop her.  What do I do when she makes whatever comment that comes this holiday?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I agree that "she doesn't mean anything by it" is no excuse; so I think you should tell her, calmly and confidentially, that her questions upset you.  This way, you will not be accusing her of anything (such as rudeness), but will be explaining the effect of her words, and appealing to the better side of her nature.  If she responds to say "I didn't mean anything", you can repeat that you are not judging her intentions, but conveying the effect her words have on you: they are hurtful, and on that basis, is she not willing to modify her behavior?

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL often acts childish and selfish.  DH and I have been married for 4 years.  I found out this year that I was pregnant with twins.  My girls were born premature and were in the NICU for weeks.  My MIL lives 2 1/2 hours away from us, and was up to visit EVERY weekend while the girls were in the hospital.  It was ok then, but when we brought them home, they simply slept and ate all the time.  The doctor gave us strict orders not to over-stimulate them.  My MIL and FIL were up EVERY SINGLE weekend for over a month.  They shot off flash cameras at every opportunity.  I would apologize to her about the state the house, to which she would smile and say, "Don't worry honey, we're not here to see you anyway.  We're here to see the girls."  Although she said it jokingly, I knew it was true, since she hadn't been up to visit this much since I had met my husband!  It was a little frustrating not having any full days alone as a new family.  We finally had to sit them down and tell them that we would appreciate it if they would only visit twice a month, and we would like it if the four of us agreed on the dates.  My MIL burst into tears and ran out of the room yelling, "I can't believe I have to SCHEDULE time to see my own grandchildren!"  It was very awkward!  We finally got the situation under control.  We set up a family web site that we keep updated with pictures of the girls, and we call every Sunday with updates on them.  I thought that she had moved past being so childish, until a few weeks ago.  She and my FIL were coming up for the weekend.  The girls had just had their "well checks" at the doctor - receiving 4 (!) shots each.  She wanted to come by and see them.  She called the house, and I told her that I would like to feed them and let them settle down before having company, because they were cranky and sore from the shots.  I told her that I would call her when they were up and feeling better.  About 5 minutes later DH's cell phone rang.  It was her, asking him when she could come see the girls!!!  Today, we had Thanksgiving at my sister's house.  We went upstairs to feed the girls.  I told everyone I would be bringing the girls down after they ate.  On the way upstairs, my MIL stopped DH and me and asked if she could come up and see the girls.  My sister had made it clear that she didn't want guests up there, since she hadn't cleaned.  DH told his mom, "No, we'll be back down."  About 2 minutes later, my MIL appeared in the doorway where we were feeding, smiling and saying that she "couldn't resist".  HELP!  Signed, DIL To A Selfish Lady.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It sounds as though you have your husband's support in dealing with this, so you have an excellent start.  You can explain to your mother-in-law that it is not outrageous to have to schedule time with her grandchildren.  Remember, you have the power of response to what she says; so you can say, "I see that is disappointing/inconvenient but we all have to schedule our time around one another."  When she runs upstairs to "help" you can express appreciation for her wish to help, but explain, also, that the most helpful thing she can do at present is to leave you alone.  As things are, it seems that when she passes judgment on a situation, or defines her intention (to be helpful), you feel trapped.  You can explain how you see the situation, too.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Over the years, spending time with my son, his wife, and my grandchildren meant always having them over my house for holidays, or my spending a fun day with the children outside their home.  Two years ago, they even stopped celebrating the children's birthdays with me.  And, each Mother's Day I do receive a card from them, but they do not want to spend the day with me.  I do know that they often celebrate this day with my DIL's mother.  When I mentioned this, my son said that his MIL is not too well, and that I should understand this.  Also, I have never been invited to his home when they celebrate Christmas Eve with my DIL's mother and brother.  Yet, her mother has always been invited to my home for dinner and holidays, or my other children's homes for celebrations.  I have told my son many times how hurt I am regarding these issues, but he just does not care.  He says that I have other children to be with - that I should accept this situation!  Yesterday (Thanksgiving), we had an argument because, again, I said how hurt I felt that he spent Thanksgiving with her mother and brother, and excluded me.  His response was one of resentment and disrespect.  I told him that he no longer has any obligation to me, nor I to him.  After this undeserved treatment, I no longer want to acknowledge his children's birthdays or holidays by sending them gifts by mail.  As I said, I am not invited to their home, therefore I have to mail their gifts.  After they receive their gifts, the children send me an email thank you, not a phone call.  This cool response hurts me.  At this time, I truly feel that I need to cut off all communication with them for my peace of mind.  I also told my son that it takes more than one person (me) to keep our family relationship intact.  I am very fortunate to have two other children and four more grandchildren with whom I spend time.  Am I doing the right thing by cutting off all communication?  I am tired of being abused by my son and his wife.  Your advice would be most appreciated.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is clearly a painful situation.  It is difficult to see what is going on here, and I think the first step is to tell your son that you really do want to understand why his family seems to be reluctant to spend time with you, and to explain to him how important it is to you, and how much you value that.  One thing I would advise against doing is telling him, as you report doing in your question, that he "has no obligation to you" or following through with your idea of cutting off all communication with him and his family.  I understand that you are thinking of rejecting them because their behavior is hurting you, but your rejection will make matters worse.  They will be hurt by that, and so feel less inclined to spend time with you, and so on.  So, my suggestion is that you show them directly you are hurt, express your wish to improve the situation, ask what you can do to help, and make specific suggestions about what they could do to help.  These could be small things: you could explain that a phone call from a grandchild would mean much more to you than an email, for example.  I can see that in many ways you have already done many of these things: you have explained that you were hurt when you were excluded from Thanksgiving; but I suggest you keep trying, and aim for a quiet conversation, explaining you want to understand and improve things, rather than cast blame on anyone.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH and I both feel that my MIL is controlling and manipulative.  Ever since we moved out of state to an interesting city, it seems that she is always making plans to visit.  Since past visits have been disastrous, she knows that she's not welcome in our home.  But she insists on making vacation plans that involve her staying with us.  Her latest manipulative ploy is to get a family member whom we care about involved in her plans.  That way, if we say "no" to her, we risk hurting the other person's feelings.  For example, she and her friend wanted to go sightseeing in our area.  Because she knew that we did not want her or her friend to visit, she also invited my BIL and my husband's grandfather over.  She promised them that DH I would take them around town to see the sites and even help with a genealogy research project that my husband's grandfather was working on.  Basically, she volunteered our home and our time for one week so that she and her friend could have their vacation, complete with free accommodations, meals and chauffeur service.  By the time she got around to telling us of her plans, she had already invited everyone and purchased the plane tickets.  At that point, feelings are going to be hurt if we said "no", but a lot of money had already been spent.  How does one put a stop to this sort of thing?

Dr. Apter's reply:
The only way to put a stop to such things is to risk hurting some feelings.  If you feel constrained by others' expectations and hopes, then you will continue to comply with them.  If someone has spent a lot of money, then that is indeed a waste, but it could be a useful lesson, and would go some way towards establishing a pattern.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH and I built a house a couple of years ago.  MIL did make the 20% down payment.  She came to us and asked us if she could move in with us if she made the down payment.  Well, we agreed to this.  Since then, my husband and I have been the ones who pay for everything.  She has her own phone line that is paid for by us.  Every 2 months or so, she gives us a small amount to cover groceries.  She does not help clean the house very often.  She still works full-time, and spends most of her free time sleeping.  On the weekends, she goes to her daughter's house to help her daughter clean the house, and then they go shopping together.  Now, MIL does wash dishes every now and then, but I have a dishwasher that I can use.  She used to live with her daughter and her husband, until their marriage broke up.  That is when she moved in with us.  MIL is only in her 50's and she does still work.  I feel that it is DH's place to talk to her, since she is HIS mother, but he won't do it.  DH and I do NOT make a whole lot of money, so it is a financial strain to pay for everything.  She does eat, and she does use water and electricity, so am I wrong to expect her to help out more, both financially and around the house?  Please help!

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest you make a list of expenses that could reasonably be shared.  Your husband is clearly uneasy about confronting his mother, so you could assure him that you will do the initial list and calculations, but that you will require his support and approval.  It would be best to look forward to how things should be in the future, rather than back to all the expenses incurred in the past.  Have things written down so that if your mother-in-law agrees, you can return to the schedule of expenses and remind her what is due.  You can explain, as you have to me, that carrying the burden of supporting another person is just too much for you.  You can express gratitude again for her help with the down payment, but explain these expenses are continuing, and an agreement to "move in" does not entail a commitment to cover living expenses.

 


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