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9/4/00
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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am newly married and have a newborn son.  Since my son's birth, I have been plagued with anxiety concerning my mil.  This is her second grandchild and she is very much a psychotic baby lover.  So much so, that when we go over to the house I have the mother, sister in law and my niece all pulling my baby out of the car before I can undo my seatbelt.  They are all like vultures when I bring him over to the house, and grab him away and barely breathe a hello to me.  The three of them live together, and the mother has created a situation that the daughter and granddaughter are so dependant on the mother they could never leave her.  My sister in law has not worked in two years, and my mil has her doing all the cooking, cleaning, and household duties while mil works part time.  She takes credit for raising her granddaughter, who also lives in the home.  My fear is that eventually she will try to create this dependence with my son when I am not around in order to be adored by him.  My mil and sister in law compete for his attention.  They keep track of how long the other has held him.  They even fought about who would feed him in front of me.  Our mothering ideas are very different, and she will do things her way regardless of my wishes because she is a "good mother."  I feel she has created the situation with her daughter and granddaughter so that she will never have to be alone.  Our relationship has always been cordial.  I genuinely like her but don't want to develop as close a relationship with her as she would like.  She knows this, so since we have been married she pursued a relationship with my mother.  She has never pursued an interest in me.  When she does ask a question, she never listens long enough to hear the answer.  When she calls, she talks about herself and her life the entire conversation, and rarely inquires about our life.  She is very much into tradition and routines.  Her days are always planned months in advance, even to the hour, so plans are always on her terms and convenience.  My anxiety has resulted in my completely avoiding any contact with her.  I am fully aware that I am starting to create hostile feelings towards her.  I have spoken to my husband and he understands my point of view.  He admits to helping create my paranoia about her.  He has presented her to me as a manipulative, controlling, spoiled woman who always needs the upper hand and to control her environment and situation.  He has been covering for me and my feelings towards his mom.  I know it is not fair to him to be this way.  I need to know how to get over my hostile feelings towards her so that we won't live like this, and my feelings won't be influencing my son.

Dr Apter's reply:
It seems that, at the moment, you and your husband have things under control.  Your husband clearly does not want to be as dependent on his mother as his sister is: this is why he has presented his mother to you in such a negative light.  In all probability, one of the things that attracted him in the first place is that he saw you were someone who would stand up to his mother!  Your mother-in-law may eventually try to take fully control of your child, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.  In this meantime, you can pace your visits to the in laws carefully, and cut them short by explaining that the baby needs a rest from all this attention.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
If my mother in law treats our adopted daughters different than her other grandchildren, at what point (age) will our children begin to understand they are not given the same gifts, are not part of the grandchild headcount, and are not treated the same as the other grandchildren who are biological children.  Our daughters are still young (the oldest is very early grade school).

Dr Apter's reply:
Your children probably notice this already.  I would make sure your mother-in-law is herself aware of what she is doing.  Try to explain how this upsets you, and how much it would mean if she could respond to your adopted children as her own grandchildren - which is precisely what they are.  She may not realize how her behavior differs. 
If this does not have any effect, then perhaps consider some of the advice given in the following questions, which is an interesting variation of your own.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My fiancé and I have been engaged for about a year, and dated only a short time before that.  I have a (not yet school aged) child from a previous marriage (first child).  We also have a baby together.  The thing is, my mother in law and two sisters in law refuse to accept my first child as part of their family.  There have been several occurrences, and I feel it best to start from the beginning.  When we first started visiting his mother and sisters they were nice to me and my son.  I had noticed though that they loved to gossip.  I never participated, for I don't like gossip.  I also noticed that my fiancé's brother's stepson was always ignored.  They also would buy gifts for their biological grandson/nephew but not for their step-grandson/nephew.  When I asked my fiancé about this, he said that's just the way they are and not to expect anything for my son either.  Well, when we went to their house for xmas they bought all kinds of gifts for their biological grandson and hardly anything for the two stepchildren.  This upset me, although I am not usually a materialistic person.  Then, to top it off, his mother kept telling her biological grandson that he was her favorite (he is the same age as my son).  I was very angry.  My fiancé and I got in a huge fight.  He said that I should be grateful they bought him anything at all.  The next incident occurred a few days after our baby was born.  His mother called and was very angry at him for allowing me to smoke while I was pregnant.  Our baby had complications when he was born.  The doctor assured me that it was not from the smoking.  It was Mother's Day, and we were going to take her out for dinner.  I told my fiancé I no longer wanted to go.  This caused a fight, but we went after all.   She ruined my Mother's Day.  She didn't even acknowledge me.  Recently, she has said some very awful things about me and my son to my fiancé like, "they are not my blood and I don't have to treat them like they are," among others.  She called my son a brat and refused to baby-sit, but said she would watch her own grandson.  I have since refused to go to her birthday party, and I will no longer go to her house.  My fiancé is fed up with all the fighting.  He told his mother why I no longer want to associate with her, and she thinks I'm being ridiculous.  She and her daughters then said some very awful things to him about me.  He told her to talk to me and try to get it resolved.  She completely denies calling my son a brat, and refuses to talk to me.  She says I'm a liar, and that I'm immature.  I honestly feel I have done nothing wrong.  My fiancé is fed up.  He now goes over to his mother's alone with our baby because I refuse to go.  I thought about writing them a letter to explain how I feel, but my fiancé thought that would be a bad idea.  He has since left it up to me and his mother to work things out.  Obviously it is getting nowhere because I feel she owes me an apology, and she refuses to even talk to me.  All I want is for them to treat my son equally and fairly.  To buy him a gift when they buy his brother one.  To treat him like part of the family instead of an outsider.  Is that really too much to ask?  I really don't care how they treat me, but I will not stand for my children to be treated this way.  Please help me.  I don't know what to do.

Dr Apter's reply:
It is always painful for a parent to see her own child being treated as second best or even second rate.  I think you have two choices.  You could explain to your mother-in-law that you want both your children to be treated the same.  Try saying that she gives the younger child "too much", rather than that she gives the older child "too little".  However, it may be more realistic to lower your expectations, and accept that she is not willing to be fair.  In that case, you could try giving your older son special attention, or time or praise before and after visits with her.  Your mother-in-law is unlikely to apologize for the extremely distressing things she has said to you.  It is up to you whether you think you and she can still be cordial.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I could literally write pages of difficult times with my in-laws, beginning with the fact that my MIL drove off the road the night before our wedding and refused to let me near her to let me tell her I was glad she was alright.  Instead, she and my SIL just sat and cried throughout my entire rehearsal dinner.  Then she wore white to the wedding on the following day.  Every visit with them has ended in disaster, until my daughter was stricken with a devastating illness that left her physically and mentally handicapped.  My MIL/FIL flew out to the hospital when the doctors thought she might not make it, and when she came out of her coma they left, and I thought things would be better between us.  But when I asked them to come out the following summer because I was feeling overwhelmed with the immense rehabilitation work my daughter needed, they said that they couldn't because they had already spent a fortune going to see her in the hospital.  Then, my MIL proceeded to go into great detail about how their entire family had gone to Alaska for three weeks on less than the air fare to go see my daughter.  A few weeks later, I got a postcard from the East Coast from my MIL/SIL letting us know that they were all having a wonderful time at the beach in the condo they had rented for the week, and that my SIL was pregnant, and that they were certain that nothing wrong would happen to her baby because she had got the baby blessed by their priest before it was born.  When the baby was born, my husband, daughter, and I flew in for the baby's baptism, and the way my in-laws treated my daughter simply broke my heart.  I can't go into very much detail, but they ignored her, or treated her like she would taint everything she touched.  They were always too busy with the new baby to give her any attention.  And when they announced to everyone at the baptism that my daughter was retarded because she got encephalitis, it was all I could do to keep it together.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your in-laws want to distance themselves from the tragedy that has befallen your daughter.  This is their way of pretending that she does not really belong to them and that, therefore, no one who really does belong to them could suffer as she has.  Try not to be hurt by this, because it cannot reflect badly on you or your daughter.  They have chosen to freeze their sympathy in order to protect themselves.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary about two months ago.  Our son was born (6 weeks premature) about three months before that (healthy, but with a 13 day hospital stay, causing a good deal of stress).  My MIL, before and after the wedding, seemed very sweet and loving towards me and her family.  I learned throughout this first year of our marriage how controlling, dishonest, obsessive and emotionally manipulative she can be.  I also learned that my husband, whom I love dearly, is very manipulated by her --- or else he just puts my needs second to her wants.

I requested my husband help clean out a bedroom to become my son's room just after we found out about the pregnancy --- the room is still full of junk.  My MIL requested several weekends worth of my husband's time working in her garden (an over-grown hobby of hers --- meaning she cannot handle it without enlisting my husband's efforts) and she got them.  Her back is bad and she wasn't feeling well.  MY SON STILL DOES NOT HAVE A BEDROOM!  My husband wanted to name our son for his deceased father.  I like the first name, but did not like the middle name, and do not like II's or III's or Jr. or Sr. to follow a name -- personally.  My husband's name is different from his father's, but he wanted my son's name listed as [father's name] last-name, II.  I didn't.  I tried every compromise I could think of to no avail.  I wanted to add a middle name to give my son a middle name to fall back on in case he didn't like the one being passed on to him.  Before my husband and I settled anything, my MIL spoke to me in confidence telling me that if I loved my husband I would do this for him.  The day of the birth -- which was an intense and dangerous sort of day, she informed my family that it had "been decided" that the baby would be named in the way I described my husband's preference above --- even though everyone knew that we were still debating it between us.  When we had it out, I told him that I never wanted him to tell anyone that an argument was won or lost, because I always want us to come to a mutual agreement.  She didn't speak to me for weeks because I added a name to the one my husband chose.

Since then we have had a power struggle over making decisions regarding the baby's diet.  She was helping us by taking care of the baby while my husband and I worked.  My husband and my SIL (in her 40's and never married, and with the exception of college, always lived with my widowed MIL) would not let a family meeting take place, as I requested, so we could speak honestly and air-out our grievances and iron out some clear policies in taking care of our son --- namely, telling me about a problem and suggesting a solution and letting me make a decision rather than doing exactly what she did with her three children and NOT, I REPEAT, NOT TELLING ME ABOUT IT!  Things, by the way, that our pediatrician did not recommend, and all of the articles suggested not to do, and in my heart I felt were a threat to the health of my child.

I agreed to continue leaving our son in her care only because I was told that she promised she would communicate with both my husband and me about anything she would like to do that we had not discussed beforehand.

She has failed to live up to this promise.  She has done things where I feel my child's health could be compromised and the doctor suggests
another method of treatment.

I agreed to a meeting between my husband, MIL, SIL, and myself.  She left when she found out I was coming over, and has refused communication ever since.  She stated that she did not want to keep my son any longer because it was causing problems between my husband and I.  I have since made arrangements with my family to keep my son, and I will be cutting back my hours.

My husband and my SIL treat me as though I am being unreasonable because I don't just do what she wishes, even though I feel it would not be in the best interest of my child.  I have told my husband how very much I love him, but that I cannot, and will not, back down when it comes to making sure our son has the best care we can provide.  She has been unwilling to comply to my request to tell me what she has fed him (i.e. cereal before it was approved by me and the pediatrician - she started him on cereal feedings at 2 mos, and recommended age is 4 mos.  Also, she used CORN syrup --- which could have caused an allergic reaction, which, if he had reacted, I wouldn't have been able to tell a physician what he had consumed).  She always wanted to have him sleep on his tummy despite the national warnings against this in order to reduce the risk of SIDS!

I am exhausted with worry and frustration over this, and don't know how to mend fences so we can at least have a family relationship.  I don't feel that I can trust her to take care of our son and let me make the decisions in his life that I feel are a mother's right (to, at the very least, be informed of).  My husband's view seems to be that I am rocking the boat and she would never do anything to harm our son.  But her methods are very out of date, not to mention this is not her child!!!

Please provide me with some justification, if there is, to my feelings and also some coping suggestions to deal with her --- she uses the fact that their (my husband and SIL's) father died and left her to her emotionally-manipulative advantage also.

I think my husband should help his mother and visit his mother, but I don't think that her garden needs should supercede our son's need for
his own space in our home.  I also believe that she should be able to visit with our son, but I don't feel that she should be his caregiver for any period of time.  Am I wrong in feeling this?

Dr Apter's reply:
It is understandable that you want your husband to respond to your wishes and are frustrated when he ignores them, but responds to his mother's wishes.  Explain as clearly and as calmly as you can to him that you would appreciate his help in providing your son with a room.  You could tell him that this is not simply a household chore, but an expression of his care for both of you.  The issues with the baby seem clear cut.  Your mother-in-law has shown that she is not a reliable (or even tolerable) carer for your baby.  I am delighted to hear that you have made other arrangements.  Explain to your mother-in-law that she cannot care for him unless she is willing to follow your instructions.  It will take some time to rebuild the relationship with her, but if you stand firm, she may accept that the only way to see her grandchild is to respect his mother.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have two mother in laws due to my husband's parent's divorce and re-marriage.  Every year when it comes time for Christmas his parents fight over who is going to get the most time with the children.  Neither is very flexible, and it makes the holidays almost unbearable.  To add a new element, my mother is wondering when she is going to get our share of attention.  We now have to divide our time in thirds, which isn't enough for any of them. (They all live within 10 miles of each other - thus not very easy to avoid this problem)  My husband's mother is already asking what we are doing this year.  What should we do?  Thank you.

Dr Apter's reply:
I suggest that you and your husband discuss between you how you want to spend your time this Christmas.  Explain to your in-laws that you do not yet know what you will be doing, but you will inform them when you have decided. (You might want to do something entirely different - that's up to you.)  You can express sympathy for their anxiety ("I know it's difficult for you and you want to plan ahead, but we just haven't come to a decision yet"), but stand firm.  And when you do decided, stick to your decision, no matter who complains.

 


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