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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have a problem regarding my MIL and her dependence upon my DH and me.  It started before we had even met, when MIL was literally stranded after a terrible divorce from FIL.  She moved in with DH and lived with him for 3 years before we even met.  He has the utmost respect for her; she's a very nice lady, and deserves respect.  However, she is not capable of surviving on her own, or, she has made the decision, with the blessing of my pre-marriage DH, that she won't ever have to survive on her own.  The reasons for her inability to function in society stem from many reasons, but her view is that, since she spent her life from 24 years old on staying home playing with her children, she never gained any real-world work experience.  So, now she does not work, and DH has been supporting her.  Before we were engaged, DH had to move out of his house because it was being sold.  MIL volunteered all her money from the divorce (down to the last red cent) as a down payment on a house, which they found together and purchased and moved into.  This was the house that they were living in at the time that we got engaged.  The plan is that we will eventually buy a house in the same neighborhood, which is fine with me.  However, she is locked into a really bad real estate deal (which is what happens when you buy a house with virtually no real down payment) and we have to all put forth great effort just to pay the mortgage, which is here for 30 years.  I am not happy living in this house, mostly because it's a very old house, and will require a lot of work for it to be halfway decent, and also because it's too small for a child to really enjoy.  Not to mention, there's no storage.  Anyway, the problem is that this was all arranged before I came into the picture, and so I was expected to be okay with the current situation.  Admittedly, I didn't really rock the boat too much in the beginning.  However, now, 2 years into the marriage and the situation, I'm very tired of it!  I love my DH with all my heart, and cannot imagine what my life would be like without him.  He does, for the most part, put me first with everything, and he is sensitive to my needs.  He has pledged to do everything in his power to make all my dreams come true.  The problem is that I'm worried that the only way that we will be able to afford to have a nice house with room for all of our (future) children will involve cutting MIL loose.  We cannot shoulder her debt on top of what we need.  She would probably end up a ward of the state or something, which just won't happen if DH can help it.  I don't want to ask him to choose me or her, but I'm so sick of this living situation.  My ultimate question is:  At what point do I put up and shut up, since this has been the living arrangement since I met my DH, and at what point do I get to say, "When you get married, things have to change,"???  Thanks!

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is reasonable to ask, and expect, that things change when a new person joins a family, as you have by marrying.  So, to answer your question about whether "to put up or shut up" on the one hand, or expect things to change, on the other, I would say that you can say things must change.  The question, then, is how.  It seems to me that a significant issue is financial, and you might want to take professional advice on what the overall situation is and what are various possible solutions.  Apparently, you have your husband's support, and you could ask a financial advisor what your situation is and what would be the outcome for you and your husband and your mother-in-law if you were to seek some other living arrangement.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Three months ago, DH and I had a falling out with my MIL and her DH (a 2nd marriage after FIL).  They have insisted that I am lying to DH about a serious health problem.  They even called my parents to get the truth, and when they didn't get the answers that they wanted, things got worse.  We didn't hear from them on DH's birthday.  MIL emailed DH, telling him that this is not what she wanted for him.  MIL and SFIL had kicked out both of her sons (one of whom was 11 years old), and I feel as if she doesn't even have a say in DH's life.  We have mutually decided not to speak to her anymore.  DH's uncle will not respect things when he comes into our home.  He comes with "messages" and tells DH that his mom called and wants his new number (we changed our cell numbers).  How do we tell everyone our wishes without offending people?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is rarely possible to tell a relative that you do not want to speak to her, without offending her and other family members who have different loyalties and a different point of view.  I suggest you think about re-framing the question, which may be something like, "How do I make my wishes known, and how can I ensure that other family members will respect them?"  As long as you and your husband are clear in your minds what it is you want - at least for the time being - then you can state this clearly, and repeat it as necessary.  There is no need to express anger or annoyance; simply repeat what you have to say, and explain that the implication of this is that you do not wish to give out your new phone numbers.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been with my DH since I was 16.  We are now 27 and have been married for almost 7 years.  MIL has never accepted me.  I was always courteous and well mannered towards her.  I tried to talk to her and be nice, and I felt as though she was pushing me away.  When DH and I got married, she didn't even give us a card or gift.  I felt awful that she couldn't give us a card to show her acceptance.  She would never call before her RARE visits to us after we were married.  She didn't visit us when we had our first child until I was already home for 4 days (6 days after the birth).  We now have two children and are living on a farm in a house next to her.  I thought that our relationship would get better if we moved here.  I was wrong!  Now, I cannot get her to stop coming to my house all of the time.  She shows up at my door unannounced, 3 times a day.  I miss my privacy.  My DH hints to her that she comes too much, but she doesn't get the hint.  She makes snide remarks to me that make my DH and I fight.  I am finding it very hard to talk to her.  I love my DH dearly, and the only thing that we fight about is MIL.  I have tried for 11 years to be a friend to this woman, who has pushed me away.  And, now it is awkward for me to even talk to her.  I don't know how to go about it.  I feel that the best way to solve this problem is to move.  This is where my DH grew up, and this is where he farms.  How do I understand this and learn to deal with MIL?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think your mother-in-law needs to be told clearly what it is you expect in terms of frequency of visits and advance notice of visits.  You could explain this in the context of living so close that it is necessary to outline procedures for visits.  It would help enormously to have your husband on your side.  He may be concerned that in some way he is being disloyal to his mother in setting down rules, so it would be useful to explain to him that the purpose of setting out rules of etiquette is so that you can continue to live near her and see her.  Since she does not pick up on hints, you will have to be very clear and direct, and then will have to remind her of those rules if she breaks them.  Of course, you can say that you, also, will abide by these rules, and you could ask her whether she would like to suggest rules for you to follow.  In that way, she may feel that she, too, retains some control over the "contract".

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My son got a woman pregnant - they are both 25.  They come from different cultures.  My son just graduated with an MBA, and can't seem to find a job.  DIL's family is very poor, and they don't have a house where she can stay.  My son assumed, and I agreed, that they could stay here for awhile (I assumed that it would be for about 6 weeks) till they could get on their feet.  The child was born this past summer.  Here is the problem, if I can define it:  Her mother picks DIL up EVERY MORNING by 8:30, with the baby, and comes back about 10:30 at night.  The drive is 50 miles round trip, on curvy, narrow roads.  I don't get to see the baby, nor have I had dinner with the little family since a few weeks after the baby's birth.  Odd - the last time we had dinner together we all had a wonderful time.  Son had baby in a carrier on the table.  The next day, she announced that her family would come get her every morning, and that she would return at night.  My opinion - unexpressed till now - is that her family feels threatened by our traditions/way of living, and they are concerned that she will start to prefer our way of life.  They are very controlling and mean.  Before she had the baby, they did not let her stay with them.  She was homeless, and would stay with friends, or she would stay here when DS was home.  She was fine, then.  Even if she happens to be here, she refuses to sit at the table with us to eat.  When she leaves, or comes home, she goes straight to her room, shuts the door, and doesn't even ever say good-bye or hello.  I can't even glance at the baby as she is passing.  She stays barricaded in her room with the baby.  My son carries her food to her room, and carries the dirty plates back out.  He strives to keep up - dishes, laundry, etc.  She even calls him to remind him to do the baby's laundry while she is off with her mother.  I love my darling GD, and I would like to develop a relationship with her now that she is gurgling and trying to talk and laughing (so I hear).  Last weekend, I approached my son and suggested that I be able to see my GD a couple mornings a week - for at least 1/2 an hour.  I also requested that the family eat dinner with me at least a couple of times a month.  I asked him if I should approach DIL, or whether he would prefer to do it.  He talked to her, and she blew up.  She had her father come to get her, and she has not been back since.  Before she left, I asked her if we could talk, and she said that she didn't want to talk to me.  My DH, son's dad, works away from home during the week.  Sunday night, he took DS with him to his work place.  Therefore, he and his DF have not talked.  I have asked her if/how I have offended her, and she cannot communicate about it.  I have talked to my son, and I told him that they MUST find their own place to live if he wants to make a go of it with the mother of his child.  He has some savings, but he is concerned that he won't be able to keep up expenses.  Well, welcome to the world!  I feel that I have made every effort to be civil with this woman, and she hates me.  Her mother suggested that we have her father's birthday dinner here, so we did.  And, we did all the cooking.  However, DIL, sat in the living room to eat, even though I put leaves in the table and there was ample room for 14 people to eat together.  She looked at me and dared me to say something.  I kept quiet.  They also invited us to a cookout for Labor Day.  When I asked them where it would be, they told me, "Your house."  I graciously agreed, and provided the dinner.  Yet, I can neither look at or hold my GD, nor can I ever enjoy a meal with them.  Her father used GD's health (she was in the hospital briefly, shortly after being born) to borrow $500 from me.  I don't expect that it will ever be paid back, and I don't even care.  I just want to be able to see my GD once in a while, since she *technically* has been living under the same roof as me.  What's up?  Thanks,

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is very difficult for me to answer the question, "What's up?"  The behavior you describe is rude and, to most people, would be unacceptable.  It seems from what you say that your daughter-in-law is living in your house, presumably at your expense, and yet behaving in a way that implies that you are unworthy to connect to her or your grandchild.  If your son does not want to move out, and if you are willing for him to stay, then it seems essential you find some way of explaining to him that his and his wife's behavior must change.  I would suggest making a list of some of the things you want: dinner together once or twice a week; time alone with your grandchild.  These can be conditions of them staying with you.  But in any case, whether or not they remain in your home, I suggest you be much more proactive in demanding acknowledgment and respect and your rights as a grandmother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL is like a broken record.  At every opportunity she makes comments about how she never gets to see her children, and how her friends' children and spouses "drop by" all the time.  My DH and I are both professionals, and work very long hours.  We often go several days without having dinner together.  MIL knows this, yet she continues to try to make my DH feel guilty because she says that her children are so important to her and she never gets to see them anymore.  She says this even though we've seen them at least once a month for the past two years.  I've tried to make her understand that she isn't the only one who doesn't get to see my DH, and that I don't even get to see him a lot of the time.  Telling this to her doesn't work.  I've also had FIL tell me, to my face at a family get-together, that he and MIL never get to spend time with their kids alone anymore.  MIL and FIL constantly infantalize their children.  All family get-togethers involve stories about the childrens' childhood and the past.  MIL often makes comments to my DH about how she never hears from me, and that I'm her DIL and so I should email and call her.  She says that she wants to have lunch with me and chat with me on the phone.  She emails me three times a week, and is constantly inviting me/us to do things.  Yet, when we get together, she treats us like we're twelve years old, and tries to control everything.  I have many friends who are older than my MIL, but I can't stand to be around her.  I don't want to be her best friend, because I know that she uses me to interfere in our lives.  My MIL doesn't appreciate the fact that my DH and I spend most of our free time with his family or my family.  Not to mention, DH has several other siblings who are always dropping into town or inviting us to do things.  It is driving me crazy!  I don't feel like I have a family of my own with my DH.  We have only been married for two years, and I am very worried about our future together.  I didn't get married so that I could be an adopted child in his family.  We have tried counseling, but I don't think that it is helping us deal with it better.  I can tell that it is making my DH very unhappy, because his family makes him feel as if he has to choose between me and them.  What should I do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
The first thing I suggest is that you accept you cannot be responsible for how your husband's family makes him feel.  You can offer to talk about this, and tell him that you think there is nothing wrong with his behavior, and that you think they are being unfair.  But it is up to him to find ways to deal with his responses to his mother.  At the same time, it would be useful for you, also, to find a way to resist what you describe as the infantilizing behavior of your mother-in-law.  Sometimes it is very difficult to break the habit of seeing oneself as the matriarch, even when it is no longer appropriate.  If you and your husband could talk about it freely, even laugh about it, then you might both find some release.  As for the family members who drop in uninvited: it would be useful to tell them directly that this is not acceptable.  You could frame this with assurance that you like seeing them, but that your lifestyle does not permit this kind of behavior, and that you want to set limits in order to protect and maintain the relationship you value.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How can I make my DH understand how INSULTED I am by his mother?  Every time I bring up a situation where she is rude to me, he either says nothing at all, or just rolls his eyes.  I feel that I must at least let him know how I am feeling.  We recently had our 1st child, and the insults are getting worse (I'm a bad mother, I'm spoiling the baby).  Each time I bring up a rude moment to DH, he says that he didn't notice or didn't hear her say that.  He doesn't think it's a big deal.  How can I make him understand that it's a big deal to me?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I suggest that you confront your mother-in-law at the time she makes the comment that insults you.  You can say something like, "I feel insulted when you say that," and explain why.  It will be far more effective if you pick up a comment she has made in the past few minutes than if you refer back to something that happened last week or last month, because then it will be more difficult to argue about what was actually said.  If she denies that she meant her remark in the way you interpreted, then you can say, "I'm glad of that." But, every time she does insult you, tell her she has.  I'm not sure why you are focusing on your husband's understanding of the insults.  If you want him to understand that you are hurt, then I hope you are simply able to tell him.  Perhaps he is worried that in admitting you are hurt, he is being disloyal to his mother.  In that case, you could explain that you simply want him to understand how you feel, and that you are trying to work things out with his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
We have a problem, and we're hoping that you can really help.  It's a very bad situation, and we really, really need some advice.  To give you a bit of history, DW and her mom have always had a distanced relationship.  Her mother has refused to put a picture of her out, and she has also refused to let my wife go shopping with her and her other sister because she was embarrassed by the way that she looked/dressed.  Needless to say, DW has a lower opinion of herself than she should.  In August, we had our first baby.  My MIL came up for the delivery.  She was told well in advance that she was to be in the waiting room during exams and during the delivery, as everyone else was, too.  This is what my wife wanted, and I agreed that if she did not want her mother there, that we'd just let everyone know that they were to stay out unless my wife asked for them.  From the onset she did not listen, and one of the nurses even had to block the door from her mother while we were in the shower trying to soothe my wife.  At one point, there were a few complications, and my wife was going to be shipped to a city hospital.  I had told everyone that it was time to get out of the room because they were doing tests and getting her ready.  My MIL did go out of the room, but seconds later she sneaked behind the curtain and came in behind the equipment.  I told her that she needed to be outside.  She simply said no, she was not getting out.  To this I forcefully said, "Yes you are, get out!"  She went out, but when they were putting DW on the stretcher to take to the ambulance, I told MIL that she was to stay in the waiting room at the new hospital.  She again refused, and then looked at my wife and told her that she'd be in the room with her.  DW was on drugs, but not too tired or drugged to say to her that she wanted her at the hospital, but she was to be in the waiting room, like I had said.  When we got to the other hospital, things corrected themselves on-route.  The MIL was very upset, and could not stay around.  From what we hear, she was talking with nurses and whomever would listen about how controlling I was (she brought this up before the labor, too, but DW told her that she was wrong and to end it).  Finally, I told her and my sister that she was welcome in there, but not during exams and delivery (my sister made me feel guilty, so that is why I broke).  Her mother took off and came back a while later, like she belonged in the room.  She was very rude in the room, and refused to help, she just stood there.  When DW's delivery was coming, I told everyone that it was time for them to mosey on out.  Her mother again refused, and told my wife that she was staying.  This all started Tuesday morning, and now it was Thursday morning.  There were now two days of no sleep for my wife and me.  Plus, DW was on drugs and nitrous.  DW answered, "I don't care what happens."  I give thanks to good nurses, as one of them saw all this and ended up asking the MIL to leave the room (apparently, she tried to sneak a peek of the delivery past the curtain and, again, the nurse blocked her).  After this, literally hours, she confronted DW, alone.  She told her that I was controlling, and asked her if she felt afraid of me.  DW told her that she was crazy.  In response, she told DW that she makes good family, but a wonderful enemy.  She went home, and came back 2 weeks later with her DH and her other DD.  All was fine till she got upset because we wanted to bring our DD upstairs, out of the basement, because they were putting in a bathroom and using gas.  She lifted my DD up (3 weeks old) by the waist and lifted her above her head behind the chair that she was sitting on, with DD's eyes facing up and her head dangling back.  I was so upset that I left.  I went back, as I figured, "1 more day, and they would be gone."  That night, though, when we said that we'd wait till we drove to my sister's to change our DD's diaper, she got upset and continued on.  Finally, I said, "We're waiting till we get to my sister's.  This is what we have decided, and so that is what will happen."  To this she responded, "Unfortunately, I have decided something else.  So what you want does not matter."  Needless to say, I blew up and told them that I had been dealing with this for 5 weeks, and I was not going to deal with this for a second longer.  After a fight that I refused to be involved in (and DW told her mother what she made her feel like and what she did to us), they left.  What is happening now is not good.  They are back home (a neighboring country), but for some freaked out reason she has refused to acknowledge what she did.  In fact, she is saying that she felt that she was welcome in the delivery room.  I assume that she is saying that she thought that my wife wanted her in there, and she refused to acknowledge the fact that I told her to get out multiple times.  So, she refuses to acknowledge what she did to us.  And, now they are emailing and calling us to say that I am controlling, and that I have an anger problem (yes, I may have an anger problem, and may not have dealt with this the best way, but I was trying to do what DW requested throughout the process, and before).  Now, we're really not sure where to go.  We told them that we needed time and space (which they have ignored), and we told them that we needed the MIL to acknowledge what she did to us, which she refuses.  DW has told her father all of this stuff, and he even continues to email and say that I am the one with the problem.  BTW, our doctor backed us up in the hospital, and my sister was also involved (she is a nurse).  She has even talked with the MIL.  My sister thinks that if she cannot remember conversations and events that have happened, she needs to see a doctor.  So, everyone is backing us up, except the for PILs.  And, now, DW's sister is just telling us that, yes, her mother is cracked, but we should just apologize and give up because her mother will not change.  WHAT DO WE DO?!?!?!  So, we really need some advice.  Can you help with some basic advice, PLEASE?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems to me that you know how to handle this and that others around you - the medical staff in the hospital, your wife and other relatives - give some support.  This of course doesn't mean that it is easy to handle, and there is nothing I can say to make it easy.  I think it is extremely unlikely that your mother-in-law would ever acknowledge that her behavior was unacceptable.  Indeed, if she were capable of that insight, then she would be unlikely to behave as she does.  But, this does not mean you should apologize to her, or give up.  My best suggestion is that you continue to be firm with her.  She will complain about this, and she will complain about you - but I do not see a way of stopping that.  The aim here is to make life bearable for yourselves, and to continue to tell her when her behavior is unacceptable.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am 24 years old, and I have a 2.5 year old DD from my first marriage.  That marriage ended right after my DD's birth, when I found out that my ex was gay.  I have been with my 2nd DH for over two years now, and we were married last winter.  I am pregnant with another DD, and due soon.  Our marriage is wonderful, with the exception of Dh's mother.  Any source of friction that we ever have is related to her.  His parents divorced when he was very young, and both of them remarried.  His mother is now on DH number five.  His father has been married to the same woman for almost 20 years, and I get along great with her.  In fact, I consider her to be one of my very best friends now, and we are naming our DD after her.  My MIL is the most controlling, manipulative person whom I have ever met in my life.  She has, from the very beginning of our relationship, tried to control my DH.  She has said some of the most hateful and hurtful things to me in these past few years, never once saying that she was sorry.  She questions my DH repeatedly about why he was with me, and even asked him if it was for the sex.  Mind you, the only man whom I had ever slept with was my first DH, so I don't know why she would say something like that.  She insulted the way that I dressed.  I just let it go, and never said anything.  Last year, before we got married, she came to our home and started screaming at me.  She said that I was destroying their family and making everyone miserable.  She told me that I was nothing until her son came along and found me, and then she demanded that her son not pay a single penny to support my DD, unless I was going to let him adopt her, because she wasn't his responsibility.  I was sitting there sobbing, and then she told me that my family was selfish, and that I was selfish because we celebrate holidays different from the way that they do.  DH, at that point, never said anything to defend me.  I was sick for several days after that.  I still married him because I love him, and he is not his mother.  However, she got what she wanted, and we indeed spent our first married Christmas at her house.  And, we have been there every holiday since.  Even on Mother's Day, when my DH insisted that we spend the day together with our DD, she called, crying and throwing a fit, and we ended up going to her house for dinner instead of going out, like we had planned.  DH has finally begun standing up to her.  She tried to come over to our house for one of her talks, and he put the clamp on that right away.  And, he has told her flat out that our children and our marriage are the most important things in his life.  He asked her to just be happy for him.  I have tried to get along with her.  I even decided to go visit her one evening when my DH had a meeting.  She started in on me about my ex-DH not paying enough for all of the things that he did wrong, and all sorts of other nasty things.  Again, told me that I have to let her son adopt my DD, and that she isn't his burden.  She said all of this in front of my DD.  She was on a rant, but as soon as my DH showed up, she stopped and changed the subject so he would not hear any of it.  I cried the whole way home and the whole evening.  Now the holidays are coming up, and she is in full mode again to get her way, even though we have already agreed to spend Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my DH's dad and step-mom, something that my DH has not done since his parent's divorce over 20 years ago.  She has also planned a vacation with the rest of the family (aunts, cousins, everyone) and never told us, but she told them all that we'd be there.  How do we stop this behavior, and how do we take control from her for our own lives?   She is one of the most negative people whom I have ever met.  She says bad things about peoples' economic status and appearance constantly, and she lies all of the time.  Those are things that I do not wish to have around my children.  My DH agrees, but he is easily made to feel guilty, and she knows just how to scream and yell and get her way.  My DH is miserable around her, and doesn't even act like himself when we are around them.  Please, help me!!!! Before the new baby arrives.

Dr. Apter's reply:
The most difficult thing is to overcome the guilt she she instills.  If you can talk to your husband about this, you could tell him that he is a wonderful son to do what he does for his mother.  This does not mean, however, that he has to do everything she asks, or that he cannot say "no" to her.  If your mother-in-law continues to criticize you, I suggest you ask her to stop immediately.  Do not try to answer any specific criticism; simply say, "That is not something you can say to me."  Or, you could take control and say, "I'm leaving the room/house now.  Let's continue to talk another time."  You ask me how you might gain control over your lives again.  I think the important thing is to agree with your husband on the the limits of what you can take from her, to set out those limits clearly, and monitor them.  It will not be easy, and your mother-in-law will resist, but on the basis of the information you give me, that seems to be an essential part of any solution.

 


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