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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Before DF and I met, his mother moved in with him.  They lived together in a house that they own jointly for about 10 years.  I moved in about a year ago, and we are to get married in 2 months.  Despite the fact that DF is 32 years old with a life and a soon to be wife of his own, his mother refuses to take care of herself.  He has told her that he wants her to move out once we are married.  She lives in total denial that we want a life for ourselves WITHOUT HER LIVING WITH US.  She even treats ME like a child, expecting me to do things her way, as if it is HER house and not DF's.  I'm sick of living like this.  How can I convince my DF that this situation needs to change SOONER rather than LATER???

Dr. Apter's reply:
It is often difficult for a mother and child to change habits of response - no matter how old the child!  But in this case, on the basis of your description, the roles seem reversed.  You say that your fiancé's mother expects him to look after her, and yet she treats you like a child.  You are facing a significant challenge.  It will be difficult for both your fiancé and his mother to change.  One way to start, to assess how big a challenge you are facing, is to sit down with your fiancé and ask him what he really wants.  If he does want his mother to move out, then together think every step through.  Where will she go?  When will the move be?  Will she need help settling in?  Without a very clear plan, including a timeline, on which you both agree, this move is unlikely to occur.  Then you have to ask yourself whether you are willing to live with your husband and his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DH is an only child.  His mother left his dad when he was a baby, and she never remarried.  Therefore, DH feels that he owes his mom his life, and lets her order him around.  Right now, she is living with us, but sometimes I cannot stand it.  I feel bad for wanting her to leave, but I feel that I am not respected as his wife, nor as a mother.  We have two DDs, but she is particularly fond of my oldest (2 years old).  She says that she always wanted a DD, and that it's the only thing she ever envied other women for.  She constantly asks my DD who she belongs to (almost as if she were trying to brainwash her).  She tells my DD that she is her mother, too.  She wants her to sleep with her every night.  Sometimes DD wakes up during the night.   Instead of having her go back to sleep, MIL gives in, turns on the television and they both stay up until 4 am.  If DD whines or cries, MIL screams, "What's wrong with the baby?"  She completely ignores the fact that I'm with my DD.  The list can go on and on.  I used to be able to keep my cool when she would make comments or do things I did not agree with.  Now, every little thing she says or does irks me.  You can hear it in my voice.  Is it me, or is she overstepping her boundaries?  What can I do or say?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Yes, I understand a situation in which someone annoys you over such a long period of time that you feel irritated as soon as that person speaks, because you associate that person with strong negative feelings.  Managing that problem is a matter of self-management - taking deep breaths, ensuring that you can take time out of that person's presence, and thinking of positive distractions to avoid feeling overwhelmed by that person's presence.

But, the other matters are very different problems.  It may be very nice for your daughter to be close to her grandmother and to feel that so many people care about her.  Children generally benefit from a close relationship with a grandparent.  You might try telling your mother-in-law how much you value her love for your daughter, but at the same time you need to establish and maintain your parental authority.  This won't be easy, because a pattern seems established whereby your mother-in-law takes over.  Perhaps you should not "keep your cool" but instead make it very clear how you feel, and why.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DW and I have been married for 3 years.  DW had two boys, ages 10 and 8, from a previous relationship.  We also have a 19 month old son together.  The boys' biological father has abandoned them, and there is no contact from his extended family.  My mom did not want me to marry DW because of her previous children.  I did so against her wishes, because we were in love.  Together, we could provide a family life that the boys deserved - a life that both DW and I had growing up.  At this point, I have adopted the boys and we consider ourselves a family.  We are financially secure, with both of us contributing roughly equally.  The trouble between DM and DW has persisted throughout our relationship.  DW's view is that DM should respect the boys, provide gifts, and generally be nice as any elder adult would be to a child.  My mom views the situation as this:  The boys are not her GC and she does provide gifts.  At times, she has been warm to them, although, at times, she has been cold and does not even acknowledge their presence.  DW retaliates against my DM by not speaking to her.  DM takes it offensively, thereby doing some rude gesture in return (like not letting my parents see our other son, my parents biological GS).  In the past, I have negotiated a peace between the two.  DM guaranteed that she would treat the boys properly, so long as my wife respected her and they got regular visits with their GS.  It fell apart with some rude gesture from either my wife or my mom.  We have gone from periods of things being pretty good with my mom, to periods of not speaking to her.  I want to put an end to this ongoing drama and the up and down relationship.  I want DM to respect the boys and give them love.  I also want our third son to know my parents as well.  DW has faults with the rude gestures, as does my mom.  Both claim to be hurt and victimized by the other.  All of the accusations, complaints, and negotiating is done through me.  DM and DW don't speak directly to one another about this situation.  Both leverage my relationship with them to try and sway the argument to their side.  I asked DW if we could communicate in a three way sit down, but she feels it is my job to resolve this with my mom.  I was thinking of going to a family therapist to come to a lasting resolution, although DW is lukewarm on the idea.  I know the relationship will never be perfect or close, but reasonable adults should be able to come to an understanding.  Please help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a very difficult situation, and it seems you have managed it so well that your wife and mother-in-law are able to act out their anger towards one another with impunity, leaving you utterly exhausted.  One strategy you might consider is actually stepping out from between them and asking them to sort it out, so that it is not a three person discussion but a two person discussion.  It might be effective to tell each of them that you love her but find her behavior to the other unacceptable, that you are hurt when one disrespects the other, and that each should respect the entire family.  Blended families can be difficult, and your wife clearly worries that her two older sons may be excluded from the heart of the extended family.  She may need reassuring that this won't happen.  Your mother may need to hear from you firmly and clearly precisely what you have told me about your commitment to your adopted sons and to the family as a whole.  But, until your wife and mother agree to show civility to one another, there is nothing you can do to repair the situation.  It is up to them - but perhaps a few sessions with a family therapist might help them see themselves through the other's eyes.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do you think I should handle this situation gracefully?  My first DD is 3 months old, and up until now I have been able to avoid letting my MIL take her for a long period of time at her house.  Now, she is suggesting that it would be nice to baby-sit one night so my DH and I can get a night out on the town.  This really is a nice suggestion, which is why I don't know how to get out of this.  MIL's house is filthy, and I consider it unsanitary for my baby.  Believe me, I am not an unreasonably clean person to the point where a little dust would keep me from taking her up on her offer.  When I say filthy, I mean 3 big dogs that are allowed free reign, and tons of dog and cat hair on all surfaces (which, when I am there, I can control because I don't put baby down, etc.), dirt, animal food on counters and all over, filth in fridge (where bottles would be stored), etc.  We don't mind bringing the baby over when we are there, because we don't have to set her down, but now we are in this dilemma.  DH agrees that it's not fit to leave the baby with her to go out.  We just don't know how to approach it without saying, "Your house is filthy."  To make matters worse, MIL does know that we have left DD with my parents to go out, and we feel that she would be insulted.  Any ideas?  Her coming to our house is always an option, but I think she will question why we have left DD with my parents, and not at her house.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think your own suggestion that your mother in-law come to your house to baby-sit is an excellent solution.  You can explain to her that you are not comfortable leaving your child in a home with several dogs.  You can repeat that, calmly and firmly, if she asks for reasons.  It is often easier to keep explanations simple and similar than to elaborate when someone asks for an explanation.  You can speak to her with respect and firmness.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL is obsessed with my DH.  She has gone as far as introducing him as HER husband.  People have brought this to my attention, but my husband says that I have to live with it.  What can I do, short of divorcing him?  He does seem to feed the problem by calling her and seeing her EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Could you think about which bothers you more - your mother-in-law's comments or your husband's attachment?  Her comments are so bizarre that, indeed, you could ignore them.  Claiming to be her son's husband puts her in a poor light, not you.

What may be more upsetting is that it seems, if I have understood you, that your husband does not seem concerned about your feelings.  That is another issue, and you might want to address that.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL and SIL are very critical of weight.  Every time I am there for family gatherings, which is often, my MIL will ask me, "Are you gaining weight?"  I've gained maybe 10 lbs up and down over the years.  I weigh 155 and am 5'4".  Last Thanksgiving was the worst.  I was double-teamed.  MIL asked, "Are you gaining weight?"  SIL (her DD) joined in with, "What is this?", referring to my little roll from child birth.  I can't get rid of it, short of a tummy tuck.  I told them this and MIL said, "Well, X doesn't have one, and she's had children."  BTW, their comments are made when others aren't around.  My SIL is a closet anorexic.  She is sickly thin, and after meals she disappears.  The family ignores this, but I am certain she is throwing up somewhere.  I have told DH (a wonderful husband, but he just doesn't get it).  He told his mother not to say anything to me anymore about my weight, but I refuse to go there again or have them over.  I feel too uncomfortable.  I am afraid this will cause difficulty in my marriage, but I dislike her!  What to do?

Dr. Apter's reply:
You could try telling her, quietly and steadily, that, though she must be unaware of the effect of her comments, you find them upsetting.  She may say that she did not mean anything, or that you shouldn't be so sensitive, and in response you can simply repeat that you find the comments hurtful, and since she now knows this, you hope she will desist from making further comments.  Another tack might be to ask her why she is concerned about your weight.  Does it offend her?  And you yourself need to make no excuses for it.  "Yep, that's my shape," you might say, "There it is.  It's not a problem for me."

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I deal with my passive-aggressive MIL?  My DH and I have been married for almost 10 years.  During those 10 years, we have visited my ILs almost every Sunday.  When I had morning sickness with my 1st pregnancy and she was serving pancakes that Sunday (my least favorite food), I kindly let her know that I just couldn't stomach anything, and I'd wait and eat later.  She just kept pushing until finally I had to run to the bathroom.  DH informed her then that I hated pancakes.  Needless to say, almost every Sunday since then, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, you guessed it - she serves pancakes.  The list of passive-aggressive things she's done over the years is endless, and the strain it has caused on my marriage is a lot.  I have tried dealing with her by taking her aside and trying to level with her.  At the same time, I am very firm and stand my ground (it is almost always regarding issues with our 3 children).  I make sure to let her know how much we appreciate what she does, and what a wonderful grandmother she is.  But, I also let her know that if we have specifically asked her to discontinue doing something with our children that we feel is inappropriate or unsafe, she needs to respect that.  Some of the things I am referring to are:  Do not drive the children anywhere without car seats; do not give the 18 month old marbles; when riding bikes, the children must wear helmets; do not place the baby in the badly broken crib we've told you isn't safe; do not give my children medicine, vitamins or your herbal pills without asking us first; and, do not cut our children's hair - especially after we just told you we were growing it out).  Asking her not to do these things usually has the opposite effect.  It seems to make her more determined to do what we've asked her not to do, or to find a loophole somewhere and do something very similar.  For some time now, we haven't let her baby-sit (for obvious reasons), but she still manages to pull this kind of cr@p while I'm busy in a conversation with other ILs, or otherwise occupied with another child.  I've confronted her on the spot, written letters, pleaded discretely, and had my husband talk to her.  When she doesn't listen, we've stopped visiting for long and short periods of time.  She's great for one Sunday, and then BOOM - she gets us back the next.  I have regular nightmares about her.  I get anxiety before our visits, and I feel an enormous amount of anger at just the thought of her.  She's obviously NEVER going to change her behavior, no matter how we deal with her.  I want her out of our lives!  Holidays - maybe, but I can't do this anymore.  HELP!

Dr. Apter's reply:
From the distress these visits cause you, and the grounds they give you for worrying about the safety of your children, it seems that you could decline to visit her.  It's up to you to think this through.  How much a strain would this put on your marriage?  Would your children be disappointed not to see their grandmother?  It might be less stressful on you if she were the one to visit your home.  It might then be easier for you to manage your children in your own home.  From what you have said, this might be a reasonable compromise.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have a MIL, who, since the birth of our child, has done some pretty questionable things.  At a month old she decided to feed my child cake.  Thank god I was there to remove it.  I have a picture that she took of my child in the kitchen sink.  She removed herself from his care to take that photo.  He was only 6 months old.  At DS's 1 year birthday, she decided to feed him a handful of peanuts, after she was asked repeatedly to stop.  She just found more food, of various kinds, and kept stuffing it his mouth.  I asked her to stop, and she wouldn't until I removed him from her care.  She has been constantly overfeeding him, and feeding him foods that she shouldn't.  My problem is that I don't have a supportive DH.  I am no longer in contact with, nor do I see his family because of these situations.  But, DH takes DS there, and I found out that she is doing this more and more.  It is to the point that, the last time, DS had horrible diarrhea for days.  What should I do?  DH constantly has an excuse for himself and her.  He has not asked for anything to stop.  She is getting worse.  Is there any legal recourse for me?  Any suggestion on how to get DH to take my side (or at least understand that all that she is doing is wrong?  Please help!  Thank you.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a disturbing story.  Have you explained to your husband what you are worried about?  It seems that he us unable to care for his son when he is with his mother.  It is your husband who must be the trustworthy one in this situation.  The best approach is to make sure he understands how important it is to you to be able to entrust him with the safety of your son.

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