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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am not sure what I ever did to my MIL to have her not like me.  She has 6 boys, and 5 of them are married.  She shows her favoritism towards one in particular.  His wife is her favorite.  She always makes excuses for her.  If I don't show up to a family function, DH and I MUST be having marital problems.  But, if anyone else doesn't show up, it's because they have a legitimate excuse.  I guess it wouldn't be so bad if she didn't ignore our children, too.  She doesn't even know when their birthdays are.  Yet, she will go on and on about her other grandchildren.  I guess my main question/problem is that she acts perfectly fine in front of others, but when it's just us, she manages to say things that stun me into silence.  She accused me several times of "hitting the bottle too much", which shocked me, because I'd only had 1 glass of wine.  Or, she tells me about things that "Dr. Laura" said, which means that DH and I must be ready for divorce.  We have told her repeatedly that we are fine.  Why does she do that?  And, how should I handle this?  When I tell her that she is out of line, she laughs and says that I am too sensitive, or maybe I had too much to drink that day.  On several occasions, she has brought up my husband's ex-girlfriends.  I finally lost it at Thanksgiving this year and told everyone that I was tired of hearing about all of DH's ex-girlfriends.  After all, we have been married for over 11 years, and have 3 kids together.  I would prefer never to show up for another family function again, but I know I that won't be able to do that.  Any suggestions?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a very difficult thing to handle.  Your mother-in-law insults you, and then, when you respond to these insults, first says that your response is wrong (you are over sensitive) and second, goes on to give a reason for your "wrong" response in terms of having too much to drink.  One thing I would suggest is, when she says something to you in private that "stuns you to silence", say to her, "You clearly feel strongly about this.  I think it would help us both if you repeated what you just said in front of someone else." Say something like that every time she says something to you in private that is out of keeping with the things she would say to you in front of others.  She will probably refuse, or deny she said anything; but, she will soon become more careful about the public/private distinction in her behavior.

As for her apparent disregard of your children, or her quick assumptions that your marriage is in trouble:  how does your husband feel about this?  It would be more effective for your husband to discuss this with his mother.  Perhaps you could suggest to her that she does so.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I feel foolish complaining in some ways, since many of the stories that I read on this site are more horrifying than my own, but I still need advice.  My MIL is controlling, but not in the way that others seem to experience where their MILs take over the household by "helping".  My MIL takes over the household by expecting service, demanding that everything be done for her "when it's convenient, but NOW" and then complaining about everything not being "the way it is back home".  She doesn't drive when she's here, so I have to play chauffeur to all her needs, as well when I get in from the office.  The fact is, her place is filthy.  I'm afraid to eat what comes out of her kitchen, much less allow my children to crawl on the sticky floor, etc.  But, I do it to keep the peace, and to not be an ungrateful houseguest.  I'm even expected to do all the washing up at her house.  Yet, when she's in my home, which I pride myself in keeping quite tidy, she demands fresh towels every few days, makes me run to the store to get certain items when we have 5 suitable alternatives, etc., and basically treats me as her maid.  I have made a few inroads by insisting that she learn how to make her own cup of tea when she wants one (since she drinks about 10 cups a day) and after 9 years I have even managed to teach her how to use my washing machine to do her own laundry this last visit.  These are big steps, but just not enough to make her visits anything short of pure he!! for me.  I am the "withdrawn" DIL that many MILs describe on this site because I have temporarily lost all joy in my life when she's around.  I've put up with so much for so long because they live overseas, and only visit once a year, but for quite a long time.  I just tell myself to suck it up and it will be over in a couple of weeks.  The problem, now, is that I'm soon to have a second child.  I have no guestroom, and no more strength to work, raise 2 kids and be her servant for the weeks that she's here.  I just can't do it all anymore.  Her last visit ends today with my being heavily pregnant, working and raising a preschooler.  This is as bad as it's ever been.  DH and my BIL both tried telling her that it was not a good time for her to come for so long with my being due ANY DAY now.  She didn't care about what was convenient for me, only what is convenient for her.  She was an only child, and I think that sometimes this selfish and immature behavior comes from that, but I don't know.  I'm exhausted, both physically and emotionally.  I suggested that, with our growing families, that we start seeing each other in a neutral place, where we can rent a large house and have my BIL and his family come stay as well, and she'd get to see her grandchildren play together (which she doesn't get to observe often at all).  That way, neither my SIL nor I have to play hostess, and it might ease the strain of her visits.  She was willing to do this in ADDITION to coming to stay with us, not in lieu of.  She wanted one week with us altogether, then she wanted to come back home with us for another week or two.  DH and I said no, but she's not having it, and I just can't handle another visit with 2 children to care for as well as a job.  Am I being a wimp?  Am I being unreasonable?  Helpless and Hormonal.

Dr. Apter's reply:
You are not being unreasonable.  I think one important rule for health in pregnancy should be:  No house guests after the sixth month!  What you leave out in your account of your mother-in-law's demands is the fact that you give in to her.  Try to keep your mind focused elsewhere and repeat, in the same detached tone, "I'm not going to the store now.  Use what we have instead," and, "Now is not a good time to visit.  You cannot visit now."  If you can get your husband to use this "broken record" approach too, it might do some good.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
A few months ago, my MIL's middle-son died suddenly.  Up to and immediately past that point in time, I had a terrific relationship with her, my SIL, FIL (divorced), and my BIL's.  However, a month after this tragedy, my husband and I were involved in a terrible car accident.  I was released early the next day from the ER, but DH was admitted.  That evening, in the ER, his mother stuck to my DH like glue.  She told me to go to her house (it was closer and I didn't have a car) and to rest.  At this point in time, my DH was still undergoing a few small tests, and was about to be put in a room (no known room #, though).  Thanks to IV pain meds, I have been told that I deeply offended my MIL by saying something like, "No, I want to stay.  Someone has to talk to these people (RN's, MD's)."  I don't remember making this comment, but it could have happened.  Needless to say, MIL took great offense.  But, instead of saying something to me, she called her daughter (my SIL), crying, and from that point I became public enemy #1.  I didn't know that this had happened, and I let them convince me to stay at her home.  The next morning, my SIL drove me to the hospital, but had a lot of attitude, and was downright mean to me over the next few days (comments, etc.).  While at the hospital, my MIL, SIL, and MIL's sister never left my DH and me alone (not for a second!).  They critiqued everything that I said/did, and ganged up on me with a nurse who didn't like me.  At one point, before my DH's surgery, I asked his cousin to help me write him a new living will.  She agreed to help.  However, her help was to sneak into the hospital at 6am the morning of the surgery and talk my drugged-out DH into signing a living will that put his oldest brother in charge (DH and I have always agreed that we were each other's decision makers).  Basically, his whole family had convinced him that I was "off my rocker" due to the stress of the accident.  Later that night, in the car, his mother actually said, "I don't care what any piece of paper says.  I have the final decision."  I do admit, I probably was acting a little wacky, but that was due to the mean comments and overbearing antics that I was putting up with from his family.  Upon his release from the hospital, they took a "divide and conquer" approach, calling me on my cell and saying, "We think our house (MIL/SIL's home) would be the best place for you two to recover for a few days.  DH said that it's ok with him if it's OK with you."  I said OK, so as not to look "unstable", and went to visit a coworker (also a friend of my DH).  While visiting, he let it slip that my SIL had been saying nasty things about me at work (DH, this friend, SIL and I work together) and that his family was planning on keeping him at their home for a while.  I became infuriated, and called my DH, telling him that we had to have a discussion immediately.  Later that day, at MIL/SIL's home, I confronted his sister, who denied everything.  She also commented, "You may not be around in 25 years, but we will be.  We're blood."  BIL chimed in, "You married into a big family.  When things like this happen, you have to step back and let us take over."  My DH was still doped up, and just sat there.  I decided to stay the night (so as not to look like a crazed lunatic pulling my limping DH into a car at 9pm).  The next morning, I thanked everyone for their help and took my DH home.  My DH came to know of all of these events the during next few days.  Mostly, it was because I was crying all of the time.  I was extremely upset at the way that they had treated me.  I never stayed one night in the hospital with my DH, as everyone kept pushing me out, saying that I needed rest!  My DH finally had a phone conversation with his sister, brother and mother, but all he stressed was the living will fiasco.  Since then, no one has said a word about what happened, but I am still deeply upset.  I have never received an apology from anyone for what happened.  I want DH to sit down with me and talk to his mother and sister (the worst offenders).  Note:  We live within 15 minutes, and see each other 3 times/week.  I can't continue to see them knowing what happened, and that they don't realize how much they hurt us.  It's been months since this happened.  How do we approach them?  Is it too late to approach them?  How do we tell them that they hurt us, and that their behavior was rude and will not be tolerated ever again???  Please help!

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a tragic situation which has arisen from grief and stress.  The death of her son has probably caused a profound personality change in your mother-in-law.  She is taking at least some of her anger out on you.  Calling someone "unstable" is a common move to dismiss legitimate complaints against one's behavior.  It is important that you do all you can to resist this move to dismiss your thoughts, feelings and decisions.  You can say, "Yes, I am under stress.  This sometimes makes me difficult.  But I know what is rightfully mine, and I know what I think.  We are all going through a difficult time, and if we cannot be fair to one another, then she should keep away from one another for the time being."  (Of course keeping away from in-laws is always difficult, because then questions arise as to whether your spouse sees them or stays with them.)  If the bad words have died down, then I would suggest you do not press for an apology.  Then, think about what you want: do you want to see them?  If so, you could simply approach them by saying that everyone has been deeply hurt - both by circumstances and by one another.  If not, just let things go for a while, and see how you feel in several months' time.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have seen many questions on this site regarding pain in the neck MILs.  My problem is that I don't have one.  DH's mother died 4 years before we married.  Like most mothers, she was the communicator.  DH still has his father and one sister, both of whom live close to each other.  DH and I live out of state.  Here is the problem.  Ever since his mother died, DH has not felt like part of the family.  She had a long illness, and his sister helped out his dad.  And, understandably, the father/daughter relationship grew closer.  It doesn't help that DH was closer to his mother, and felt that his father favored his sister over him.  But, his reaction to all of this is to put distance between him and his family.  I have to remind him to call his father, and I try to remind him to call his sister.  His sister is an entirely new problem.  She treats him with such contempt and rudeness when we do see her.  DH doesn't want to have anything to do with her.  And, then she complains to my FIL, who in turn calls DH.  DH then feels as if FIL is taking his sister's side, and that they are ganging up on him.  I know that it is common, when you lose such an important part of the family unit, to have troubles adjusting to the new situation.  And, I have explained to DH that his lack of communication is part of the problem.  I have encouraged him to talk to his family, or, at the very least, write each of them a letter explaining his feelings.  But, he is afraid to do it.  Instead, he does things like not returning calls, or ignoring his father's reminders to call his sister.  I really don't think that my in-laws realize the pain that they are causing DH.  His sister does behave in an appalling manner towards him.  She talks constantly about herself, and is always giving him advice, because she knows everything.  That type.  But, from being around her, I don't get the feeling that she is malicious.  DH is very quiet, and I think that the talking comes from filling in the silence.  I really want to have a normal relationship with his family.  As it is, our visits are nerve racking, because when his family riles him up, he keeps quiet until we are alone.  Then, I have to comfort him, as he cries and misses his mom.  It's not making it easy for him to move past his grief, either, because at this point he feels that she was the only one who loved him.  What can I do?  Should I talk him into going to a therapist?  I know that I am the outsider, and I feel that this should be resolved between the 3 of them.  But, if this keeps up, I can see him walking away from his family entirely.  If my FIL were to die tomorrow, I doubt that DH would ever speak to his sister again.  My FIL is now engaged to a woman whom I can talk with.  Should I talk to her?  Should I talk to my FIL directly?  Should I leave it alone and let DH deal with it?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Of course you could try talking with your father-in-law's fiancé.  Hopefully, she will have registered the different ways grief has struck the family, and she may have an interesting take on your difficult sister-in-law.  Your husband is clearly still in mourning for his mother, and clearly is comforted by you.  He may feel some guilt that his sister cared for his father when his mother died, and this may make it difficult for him to confront her.  I would just continue to offer him support, and also to explain that whenever he would like you to help him confront his sister, you'll be at his side.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you get a son not to be so dependent on his mother for everything?  If we go out to eat, he has to call and tell her first.  Then, in the car, he may call her on the way to the restaurant.  When we finish our meal and get back in the car, he calls her again.  He gets up and leaves the house every Saturday morning to go and get their breakfast.  We have been married for a little under 2 years, and this has been going on ever since we got back from our honeymoon.  He has never asked me if I want anything during these little jaunts with his mother.  Every plan we have has to be approved by her.  And, he will lie about what he is doing so that he can spend more time with her, and I won't know it.  I tried to let it pass to begin with.  Then, we started having huge fights.  Now, I'm just tired of what seems like a really sick relationship.  If he doesn't do all this, she calls wanting to know when he is coming.  She is very insulting to me, and I believe that she is jealous.  He is older, and has never been married before.  She had him all to herself until I came along.  I don't want to interfere in their relationship, but I would like to have a DH to have a relationship with.  What do I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is the classic question posed in mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships.  A start is to tell your husband how you see his behavior.  Explain how deeply it affects you (and try to avoid condemning or even criticizing him for it).  He will have difficulty talking about: that is why he lies about seeing her.  Your fights are a symptom of his inability to even begin to moderate his attachment and your understandable frustration.  You may want to work with a marriage counselor - just because your husband is so threatened by these issues.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I married my DH 4 months ago, and I am now regretting not listening to all the advice that I heard before the wedding.  We dated for 6 years, and I have gone through the worst he!! you can imagine with his mother.  I thought that love conquers all.  I think I may have been wrong.  I can't remember when she started to verbally and emotionally abuse me, but I feel like it's never going to stop.  As a counselor, I empower women to make safe and healthy choices in their lives, including their relationships with their MIL.  I try to be as nonjudgmental as possible.  I find myself comparing their situations to my own, often feeling jealous of their relationship or always thinking, "I can top that."  I often find myself daydreaming of telling my MIL off.  I do defend myself with her and can be assertive at times, however, she can be very draining and I give up.  I have tried to have DH support me, but he just gets upset with me for bringing issues up about his mom.  Too often I have cried as a result of her cruelty.  I don't want to waste any more time thinking of her and building up anxiety about her.  How can I handle this situation, and how can I separate how I am feeling when I am in a counseling session?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think this is taking up so much of your mental energy because you are thinking (daydreaming) about various scenarios and trying to find verbal moves to counter her abuse.  You keep mentally reenacting scenes because you are worried that you won't be able to manage what she throws at you.  The best defense is to tell her, when appropriate, "This is abuse, and I will not tolerate this."  Don't try to answer her words, or her specific complaints or criticisms: she will only come back with more.  Don't try to justify yourself, because she will undermine that justification.  You can save your mental energies by refusing to engage with any verbal abuse.  But, this is not easy to achieve, and the anxiety generated by abusive people - especially those within our own families - is huge.  Naming behavior as "abusive" is an important first step.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My relationship with my MIL began well.  However, the year before we married, she began drinking heavily, an issue that was completely ignored by her family and friends.  She made the engagement very difficult and very sad at times.  What should have been the most fantastic day of my life is soured in many ways by her attitude.  She even made phone calls to my mother, calling me names and insulting my entire family.  About a month after the wedding, she hit rock bottom and stopped drinking.  However, I've never received even the slightest apology for anything that was said to me or my family since then.  I'm finding it very hard to forgive without an admittance of what really happened and how hard it made our lives.  Should I confront her and see if we can get past this?

Dr. Apter's reply:
If she really has stopped drinking, then that is a great success.  I do not think it is realistic to expect an apology - first, because people who have been drinking do not remember what they said; and second, people recovering from alcohol abuse find it extremely painful to confront the damage they inflicted on the people around them.  But, you should have your pain acknowledged, and you might simply want to say, "I'm so glad you've stopped drinking.  I hope we can have a good relationship, but I have been deeply hurt by you (the drinking you), and it may take me some time to overcome it."

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What do we do about a MIL who pays no attention to our kids?  She dotes over her other 2 grandchildren, and sees them at least 4 times a week.  They spend the night about 2 times per week.  She even moved into their neighborhood last year.  Our kids have noticed the favoritism, and we have asked MIL to spend some time with them.  Our kids feel like outsiders in her home.  She won't let them play with the other kids' toys, and she will specify things like, "That is X's bed (or, toothbrush, toy, etc.)."  She gave us clothing one time, and told us that we have to give it to the favorite one when our child grows out of it.  Of course, the clothing had the favorite one's favorite character on it.  MIL did initiate visits to her house twice, but that's it.  Two weeks ago, she called our 6 year old to wish her a happy birthday (5 days after the child's birthday) and she told her, "I expect you to be at my house Sunday to get your present."  Well, our daughter was spending the night at her friend's house, and told her that she could be there at 2:00.  It seemed as if MIL was not happy about the time, because the favorite grandchild's nap time would interfere with our daughter's arrival, but she agreed anyway.  Sunday morning came, and MIL left a message on my DH's cell phone that she couldn't see our daughter that day.  She never even bothered to give a reason why, or to reschedule.  So, we were left to break the news to our daughter, who, surprisingly, was not too upset (she seem to be embarrassed).  DH didn't want our daughter to call MIL, because he said that MIL will blame our daughter somehow.  This is what she always does.  She blames everyone else.  I want to stop trying with this woman, because, at this point, I think that she is doing more harm than good for the kids.  DH thinks that this is a natural consequence to MIL's actions, and he would agree with whatever I decide.  I really need help.  I don't know where to go with this.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your daughter was not as upset as you expected, because she has already taken a shrewd measure of your mother-in-law.  Sometimes, it takes more energy to cut all ties with a relative than to reduce the contact and your expectations of that person.  So, I think the most emotionally efficient thing to do would be not to invite her to events involving the children, but accept her presence if she initiates it.  Also, it would be helpful to have her plans clear ahead of time, and to ask her whether she feels responsible for keeping her word.  Remind her of this (if she says "yes") so that it will be a little more difficult for her to blame anyone else.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
What is a reasonable amount of visits for a MIL per year?  I realize that this is a cold question, but my relationship with my MIL has been reduced to this.  I have a fabulous, intelligent DH.  I have witnessed him struggle with his own relationship with his mother, and try, though unsuccessfully, to get her to reform.  She is really caught up in competition (usually with, but not limited to, women), mostly stemming from her own mother's death very early in life (when my MIL was a teenager), and her father's remarriage one year later.  Of course, that was forty years ago, but it is still very fresh in a psychological way.  I do believe that my son (her grandchild) would benefit from a relationship with her, and I do not want to be cruel, but I "lose the will to live" when my MIL is in my home.  Two other family members (her brother's wife and her husband's sister) refuse to speak with her anymore, so it is not just me.  Although, I am sure that as the DIL of an only child, I probably get the worst treatment, and they marvel at my ability to put up with her.  Is calling once a week, plus an in home visit twice a year, plus a one-week shared vacation, plus alternating Christmases "enough"?  She wants more, and I am tapped out.  I cannot give more, and I think that is a pretty good package.  I just received the computer camera in the mail that I am supposed to set up so that she can see her grandchild - at least online.  Now I have to look put-together so that I can turn the camera on and she can see my son.  The phone was hard enough.  Am I being unfair?  Thanks for your time.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is perfectly reasonable for you to decide what you can take and stick to that.  There is no answer to the question of what is "enough".  The issue is what suits you and what is decent behavior. I think you have got that balance right.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am a MIL with a "boundary issue" that I haven't seen described yet in these questions.  My stepson and DIL recently moved to my town from another state.  Both stepson and DIL believe in big "clans," i.e., large extended families who live with or near one another and share virtually every aspect of daily life.  Although I can admire and enjoy "visiting" such families, I cannot live in one.  I am a writer.  I love and need my solitude.  I live alone, by choice, and I enjoy my family connections in time-limited doses.  How do I find the words to tell my stepson and DIL that I cannot be the ever-present, all-giving mother-figure they both want?  I helped raise my stepson, and his father and I are now divorced (amicably).  Life has been difficult for my stepson (he has a severe learning disability), and I have given him financial and emotional support in the past.  My DIL has two children from a former marriage, in addition to the infant they have together.  DIL is a "hard-luck kid" who grew up in foster homes, and works hard to give her children the stable family that she lacked.  Although I admire her for this and many other reasons, I am disturbed by the assumption (shared by her and my stepson) that my home is now theirs if they need it, that I am suddenly "grandma" to two older children I barely know, and that I am being somehow "unloving" by establishing some boundaries around my solitude.  I sense that my DIL and stepson are projecting their "good mother" and "bad mother" fantasies onto me, and I don't know how to stop it without hurting them and their innocent children.  Help!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Mothers and mothers-in-law are frequently subject to the good mother/bad mother fantasies of others.  But, this does not mean that we are responsible for them.  Surely, you can speak your mind, explain your needs, and challenge this rude opposition by explaining that you love them and enjoy them, but have your own needs - just as you have done to me in this message.  It is good to have here expressed a mother-in-law's wish to preserve her boundaries and needs!


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