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04/24/05
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Why would my ILs never include OUR family in vacations, trips, etc.  Her other son is divorced and his kids live out of state, so when they are here she lavishes them with trips, gifts, outings sleepovers, etc.  Her DD lives with her and her family is included.  However, ours never is.  My nine year old children are devastated.  They are so upset.  They don't understand.  Heck, I don't understand.  I can't even make excuses for them anymore.  DH won't say anything to them.  I have tried several times, but I get denial and blame reversal.  It seems that they only include us when it is someone's birthday and they want a gift from us.  These outings always come out because my BIL tells us (he is vindictive).  Why would she exclude these kids?  When she sees them, she sincerely seems like she loves them.  But, outside of that, there is no effort with them or my DH (their son!).  I have lost all love for them, and I have no respect for DH for not speaking up for his family.  Any ideas as to why they would always exclude us?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that the point to address is the "denial and blame reversal" you get when you try to discuss this issue.  Somehow, you need to find a way to get your parents-in-law to address the questions you are asking, rather than the counteraccusations they may offer in response.  Perhaps you could make it very clear in your own mind what question you want them to answer.  Try to frame this question in a way that does not humiliate them.  After all, if they feel under attack, or if they feel undermined, they will continue to come back with denial or blame.  So, you could frame your question in terms of how much the children would enjoy having holiday time with them, how eager the children are to be included, how much they appreciate many of the things their grandparents have done for them, and then go on to ask whether they can find some way to extend their generosity.  The point about your husband's support and your respect for him should perhaps be addressed separately.  I suggest you find some way to tell him how important you find his input, and ask him whether he sees how important this is to you.  You can explain that you do respect his loyalty to his parents, but that he can remain loyal to them and supportive of you.  In asking for his help in this matter, you are actually highlighting the contribution his parents can make to the family.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I get to a "good place" with my MIL when I have lost so much respect for her?  My DH and I have been married for almost four years, and I have managed to coexist with her well enough, that is up until my pregnancy and the birth of our first child and her first grandchild.  As if having a child isn't stressful enough, her actions and reactions have added a whole mountain of additional stress.  And, now I've lost any ability to reason with myself.  I will admit that some of this stems from my own insecurities, but I really just want to understand where she is coming from so that I can move on.  Here are a few of her actions/reactions:  1.  Began reading every parenting book that she could get her hands on early in my pregnancy because she was "afraid that she had forgotten what to do".  Why parenting and not grandparenting books?  She's the grandparent - not the parent.  2.  I had a hard pregnancy, which resulted in bed rest.  And, while I didn't want/need anyone hovering over me (except my husband and/or my own mother), she was so upset that I didn't "need her".  3.  When DH called to tell her that we were in labor - she hung up on him multiple times and refused to come up.  When she did come up, she brought two of her girlfriends (FIL was working) and then proceeded to tell DH that "they had to drag me up here".  She created such a poor environment for our delivery that I swear I will never be able to think of that day without raw emotions of disgust for her on what should have been a completely flawless and beautiful day.  4.  I wrote her a letter several weeks after, explaining my emotions during pregnancy and apologizing for any actions on my part that could have caused her reaction on our delivery day.  She has NEVER ACKNOWLEDGED my letter.  5.  Since then, when we do have to get together with them - she brings our baby gift after gift, card after card, and stands outside the door if I am breastfeeding, waiting to hold the baby, and won't stop talking to her when she gets her.  UGH!  I am so short with her, and have no tolerance for her anymore, and I hate this for DH and for FIL (neither of whom will touch the issues with a 10 foot pole).  It's really causing some serious strain in our marriage, and I hate being in conflict with anyone, little less family.  How do I resolve it with myself, as it seems pretty obvious that MIL isn't going to, and she isn't going away anytime soon?  Thank you!

Dr. Apter's reply:
As I read your question, you are saying that the relationship with your mother-in-law keeps short-circuiting to irritation.  This is a tragic consequence of many frustrating interactions, and is unlikely to be easily addressed.  I suggest that you focus on the distance you require.  Many people will be very upset to read about her intrusion during your pregnancy and labor; but the problem you can address is how to manage a comfortable distance between you, rather than try to change your mother-in-law.  In the first instance, you could explain to your husband how important it is for you to have privacy with your child, to be able to relax.  Perhaps you could set very clear limits on the amount of time you need alone, or with just your child, or just your husband and your mother.  These are understandable needs, and you should be able to make them known.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has some serious mental issues.  She's a literal hypochondriac.  It's very difficult for my DH and me to deal with.  Every time she calls or is around us she's talking about what's wrong with her.  She's always looking for sympathy from someone.  She tells other family members that my DH would be more sympathetic if it wasn't for me.  She then turns around and tells me that my DH doesn't care about her and gives me her "woe is me" story.  It's been a constant headache in our marriage, and I'm really not sure what appropriate action to take.  Should we say something to her, knowing that she has a mental illness?  Should we ignore her?

Dr. Apter's reply:
There is nothing you can do to prevent your mother-in-law complaining about you.  The important thing is to behave well according to your own standards.  So, I suggest you offer brief sympathy for her complaints, without encouraging her to elaborate.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL loved me before DH proposed.  After that, her whole attitude changed.  I went to her house to show her the dress that I bought, and she said that I should wear hers.  I said, "My mom had a beautiful pearl set that I was going to wear," and she said that I should wear hers.  When I declined both, she said that I was pushing my DH into the marriage and that we shouldn't get married anyway.  Drama ensued up to the day that we got married, including her saying that we wouldn't let her be part of the wedding.  Then, when we tried to include her more, she said that she didn't want anything to do with the wedding.  She wouldn't speak to me the entire day of our wedding, and she walked around saying to our guests, "I can't wait until all of this cr@p is over."  A couple of days after we were married, we informed her that she was going to be dropped from DH's bank account, and I would be added.  She freaked out, and said that I shouldn't be added, and that she should stay on.  Fast forward to Christmas.  We live 1000 miles away from home.  We told her that we would spend half of Christmas Eve and Day with my family and the other half with her.  Her first response was, "Do what you've got to do."  The second response was, "Why don't you just go to your house, and DS can stay here?"  We told her when we would be there on Christmas Day, and when we showed up at that time, she freaked out and asked why we weren't there sooner.  She then played nice with DH, but wouldn't speak to me for the rest of our visit home.  This feud has been going on for about a year now, and I'm sick of it.  Do you have any suggestions on how to end this controversy and get a truce?

Dr. Apter's reply:
The only way to end this feud is for you to disengage from it.  Divide what you think is appropriate, whether it is about money management or time allocation over the Christmas period, and stick to it.  From what you say, it seems that your mother-in-law has not accepted that you are your son's wife and that she is no longer the closest relative.  I doubt that anything you say will allow her to cope with this shift in bonds and duties; but the important thing is that you and your husband offer mutual support, that you resist any attempt to make either of you feel guilty about your commitment to one another.  A united front just may persuade your mother-in-law to adjust to the reality of your marriage.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DF and I have been together for 2.5 years and engaged for 6 months.  From the beginning, my MIL seemed a little possessive of her only son, but it was made bearable by the fact that they live 8 hours drive away.  We live in an apartment that my DF's parents own.  It used to be their home for a long time, and now we happily pay rent.  When MIL and FIL come to visit, they treat it as if they never left, and I really feel out of place.  They unnecessarily spring clean it while they stay (even using my toothbrush to scrub) and I feel a little uncomfortable about this, as it doesn't make me feel very worthy.  I mentioned this to my DF and he asked them not to do this, but they still do.  Whilst they are staying (which is 3-4 times a year for a week long stay), they take over our house.  I never get to get into the kitchen.  They invite friends over, and unfortunately my MIL smokes like a chimney.  This really offends me and makes me feel physically ill.  I have asked my DF to put a stop to it, but he said that they he won't because MIL would get too upset.  When we are together, they address my DF in conversations and leave me out.  When I do try to get in and take part, they undermine me and put down comments that I make.  On their last visit I had explained to my DF that I would probably make myself scarce for the time that they are here because I can't stand the smoking (even when I am having breakfast) and I feel uncomfortable.  He said that that would be fine.  I did still do a lot of things with them, but I still had to go to work and such.  On the day before they left, they abused me in a drunken rage and yelled at me for not spending more time with them.  A lot of nasty things were said to me.  To keep the peace, I took it all and said that I was really sorry that I made them feel this way.  She went on to add drama and say that she would have to sell the apartment and get a divorce because of what I had done.  It really was irrelevant.  MIL is very jealous when my DF and I do nice things together, and is constantly ringing him and putting her problems on to him.  She just isn't the type of woman that I like.  She drinks a bottle of wine a night, yells at children who are too loud for her liking, and thrives on power.  I have still been upset about the abuse that was thrown at me that night, and I regret not sticking up for myself.  My DF tells me to get over it, and I have been trying.  I haven't seen her since, but am going with my DF to stay with her next week.  I am sick thinking about it.  I don't have my DF's support, and I would really like to make life easier for all of us.  I am willing to be civil, but also to take a stand for what we need, and to be respected in our home.  How do I gain my DF's support without siding him against his mother?  He gets treated like a baby in their company, too.  How can I make him see that at 32 this isn't normal and it's time to be independent?  I am 24 and independent, and would like him to be, too.  We are getting married next year, and I truly do not want to go into our marriage with these problems. Thanks so much, DIL.

Dr. Apter's reply:
It does seem important that you stick up for yourself without being abused for doing so.  I suggest that you talk to you fiancé and seek his help in addressing this situation: there must be, you could argue, a way of making your needs clear to his mother without leaving her devastated.  You could list the most important problems, and divide them into different categories.  First are the problems that concern their behavior in your apartment.  To set out rules about smoking and kitchen use and visitors seems fairly straightforward - which of course does not mean it is easy.  But you and your fiancé could tell his parents that you appreciate living in the apartment, but that you need clear guidelines when they visit.  Either you are in some way legal tenants, or you are not. If you are (and this is supported by the fact that you pay rent), then you have right of occupancy and need them to acknowledge this.  The other issues involve civility and respect.  It would be wonderful if your fiancé could also take note when you are being excluded from the conversation, or when you are being criticized.  I think your fiancé may need your help in seeing how important it is that he show you respect in their presence, and the reassurance that he can stand up for you without "upsetting" them.  They may be initially upset, but he can explain he wants to create a family environment in which he can have a good relationship both with his fiancé and with his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been with my DH for 20 years now, and I am still no closer to being accepted into his family now than I was when we first got married.  But it goes back farther than that, too.  We have known each other for years.  I can't ever remember not knowing him.  His family is a really tight family.  He wouldn't have ever married me if his mother hadn't died.  That is how close he was to his mother.  But when she died, his sister took her place.  You might say that he couldn't make any decisions or anything without her approval.  He would even cancel our dates if she said that he had to do something for her or one of the other family members.  After we got married, she kept trying to control my DH, and of course he would want to do what she said to do, until I got tried of it and started saying something about it.  After we got married, she would come over when I was working.  That is the only time his sisters or family members would come around.  They all felt that I took him away from them, and his cousin never wanted him to marry me because he told my DH that he would go to he!! if he did, because I had been married before.  I have put up with a lot of stuff from this family.  My DH used to run to his sister for everything that concerned us.  He would always say, "Let me talk to my sister."  We could never make decisions on our own because he didn't think that I was capable to make decisions without her approval.  Right after we got married, she told us that his younger sister was going to move in with us.  I got really mad.  I had a young daughter and we both worked, but it was a struggle just getting by.  I wasn't about to let her move in with us (she does not work and DH would have wanted to support her).  I said no, that she couldn't.  His sister got mad at me about it, but I didn't care.  She wasn't going to tell me who would or wouldn't move into my house.  She didn't have any say here.  But, my DH wanted to go along with his sister, of course, and it killed him that she got mad at him and wouldn't talk to him for a year.  But, we were the better for it.  They have meddled in our marriage ever since we have been together, to some degree, and he never stands up for me against them.  If I disagree with anything that they say, I am being petty and jealous, and am a bad person because I don't go along with what they do or say.  I have put up with this for 20 years, and I am almost to the point to where I am ready to leave him.  We had Christmas at his sister's house, and I know that I don't fit into this family, never have, and my DD isn't their blood.  They never included us (my DD and me) in anything, but the other SIL is always included because she has children by their brother, so she is part of the family.  I feel as if they go out of their way to make me feel that I am not a part of the family, too.  DH said at this Christmas that he was so glad that all of the family was there together, but he left out my DD.  He never even mentioned that she was missing, and that hurt me terribly.  I am just writing to ask what I should do?  Move on and just tuff it out?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Whether you leave the marriage and your in-laws or whether you stay is up to you.  But clearly, if you stay, it would be better to change things rather than simply accept things as they are.  I suggest you seek some way of explaining to your husband that you are setting limits, but not totally rejecting his sister.  You could ask whether he and you could talk over the issues he brings to his sister, and discover why it is he seeks his sister's input.  Could you work with him to give him confidence in his own decisions?  Does he need his sister's approval for what he decides?  One way forward may be to work at reminding him that you and he together may be a center that hold firm.  When you are missing someone in your own family, and he does not miss her because he feels the important family members are present, it could be useful to speak to him in private, as soon as possible after he has expressed this view, to explain that you have experienced the family gathering in a different way, that you have been missing your daughter, and that you would appreciate his acknowledgment of your feelings.  You could say this without accusing him of anything; you are simply indicating your need for his understanding and support.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I just recently got married, and my wife is pregnant (due in a few months).  She said that she wanted to move in with her parents, in another city, so that we could save money and so that she could go back to school after the baby is born.  Let me start by saying that she made this decision after we had already put a deposit on an apartment and after she told me that she wanted to be a SAHM.  This decision was also made after she finally told her parents about us moving out.  So now where am I?  I left a good paying job to move to a city that has a higher cost of living and for a much lower paying job.  DW seems to be all talk to action.  She says that she was going to find a job and go back to school, but she has shown NO effort in any of it.  I feel like it was just said to get me to move there.  This is my problem.  I feel like we may actually have a chance at our marriage if we move out of her parents' home, but she refuses.  She always make up tons of reasons why not.  She comes from a very well off family and I came from an average family.  Her mother has convinced her that we can not make it on my salary.  I know that it would be a little tight, but it is doable, and then she could finish school or go to work.  And we would be that much better off.  She seems to do whatever her mom says.  The whole reason why she changed her mind to begin with is because her mom threatened to take her car and never to help out financially.  I say, "So what?"  I am the man of the house, but she keeps listening to them.  My question is this:  I have tried leaving a few times, as I can still get my job back (at least for now).  But, every time I try, her family somehow talks me out of it.  They make me feel guilty.  I am just trying to do what I feel is best for my unborn child and my wife.  I am almost to the point of leaving without her.  I kind of feel that she is choosing her family over us and our soon to be family.  What are your thoughts?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that your wife is not sure what she wants to do, and she is caught between you and her parents.  Clearly, her parents are highly persuasive, and possibly manipulative (because they can talk you out of leaving, and because they make you feel guilty).  So, your wife may need your support in explaining and identifying what she wants.  The fact that your wife has a ton of reasons why she does not want to move out of her parents' home may indicate a great anxiety about what to do.  If you take a stand based on authority - as, for example, being man of the house - she is not likely to feel she can open up; but if you were to explain that you have a great problem with the way things are, that you feel your needs are being cast aside, and that you are seeking a genuine understanding on which to base an extremely important decision, then she might respond to that sincerity and work with you towards a solution.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
When my mother got engaged, she had a horrible relationship with her SIL and her MIL.  She speaks of it to this day, and still refuses to speak to my aunt and grandmother (including my aunt's children).  The problem is that my brother recently got engaged, and my mother is determined to have the type of relationship with my new FSIL that she never had with her own ILs.  In fact, they get along great - my mother loves my SIL and vice versa.  I love my SIL, too (I was the only girl with four brothers, so I'm thrilled to have a sister).  So, what's the problem?  Well, this has been driving me nuts, and I don't know how to deal with it, but my mother is so determined to have a good relationship with my SIL that I fear she's forgotten about me.  As childish as this sounds, I feel replaced in my mother's eyes.  My SIL is all those things that my mother wanted in a DD - she's very feminine, tall, voluptuous, and pretty.  I, though not unattractive, am short, very thin, and prefer pants to dresses.  I have never really been into all those girly things that my SIL and my mother bond over, so, I feel passed over a lot.  I've already tried talking to my mother about this, but she dismissed my feelings and even made fun of them in front of other people.  My mother and I used to be very, very close.  Now, I'm so hurt with what's happening that I can't bring myself to visit her anymore.  Please help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
My guess is that your mother is being very positive about your sister-in-law to make sure she avoids any of the messages her mother-in-law gave her.  But she is your mother, and you could tell her that you feel "replaced" by this other woman.  Odds are that she will be amazed and will quickly reassure you that as her daughter you are irreplaceable.  As long as you explain how you feel, this problem could be rapidly resolved.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Do you think that it is normal for a 41 year old man to get a back-scratch from his 80 year old mother in front of his girlfriend?  And, is it normal for the girlfriend to get upset over this matter?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I'm not sure the issue of normality is the issue.  If this behavior bothers the girlfriend, then she should tell her boyfriend.  Is this the only thing that bothers the girlfriend about the mother's behavior, or is this symptomatic of other behavior that bothers her?

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I've been married for ten years to a great guy.  The only problem is his mother.  She has done many terrible and hurtful things over the years, and cannot fathom why I do not wish to speak to her.  She has even enlisted the help of other family members to make me "make a list of all the things that she needs to apologize for".  Passive Aggression is her hallmark, and I'm having difficulty with her denial.  It is an insult to my intelligence, and an even greater reason why I wish to keep my distance.  She has been consistently inconsistent and luckily my DH supports me 100%.  Oh, don't worry, I have told her exactly why I don't speak to her.  I'm a tell it like it is person.  My background is from an alcoholic family, and I had longed for a close relationship with his family, dreaming that we could all be one happy family.  My attempts at reconciliation have been futile, and so, I no longer speak to my MIL.  My problem is that I have so much anger towards my MIL that it's eating at me constantly.  I've increased my workouts at the gym, but nothing helps.  I don't want to burden my DH with this any longer.  It's not his fault.  Any suggestions on ways to manage my anger better?

Dr. Apter's reply:
It seems that your anger is linked to your high hopes for a good relationship with in-laws, as though that might compensate for the difficulties you had with your own family.  Now that you see you cannot have a good, close relationship with your in-laws, you may feel doubly let down.  Some of your anger is probably frustration at being unable to fix either your in-laws or your own family.  Perhaps identifying the problem may help you, and then just accepting that you cannot compensate for all disappointment.  But you can enjoy your marriage, and you can look for other support and affection networks, and that is a success.

 


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