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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I would be so grateful for some good outside advice!  My MIL didnít really like me from the start.  She is usually nice to my face, but even when my husband and I were dating she would have pretty nasty discussions about me with the entire family (even him) after I left.  When we told his parents we were getting married, it was like announcing that my husband had a terminal illness.  However, I just smiled and played nice regardless (but it sure would make me feel better to get some sort of apology).  The problem came when my son was born.  She completely ignores a great deal of our wishes for him.  I even invited her to stay with me a week while my husband was on a business trip because she was depressed about how she might not get to know my son very well, since she lives four hours away.  At the time he was an infant, only three months old, and the doctor told us (as well as all of the books) that covering them with blankets was a SIDS hazard.  So, instead, I dressed him warmly and comfortably at night.  Every morning, I would go into his room to get him, only to find him covered in bulky blankets.  One morning I found him tangled up in one, crying!  I was outraged, but I did not want to cause problems (even though my husband and I had told her EVERY visit that we did not cover him up and why).  So, instead of confronting her, I began to hide every blanket in the house when she came to visit.  (She only sleeps with a sheet, so this was possible.)  We have another rule about candy, we just donít feel it is necessary or beneficial, once again going on our doctorís advice and the advice of books we have read.  Our fifteen-month-old son has no idea what candy and sweets are, and instead he absolutely loves fresh fruit and veggies, which we are thrilled with.  However, whenever she comes over she gives us the standard lecture about how we canít keep candy from him forever, and she always manages to feed him something that I object to.  Sorry to ramble, I just wanted to give you a little background.

Last year was my sonís first Christmas.  We opened all of his gifts from Santa on Christmas morning, and Christmas afternoon my mother in law arrived with twice as many things as we had purchased for our son.  Also, very few, if any, of the toys had any educational value.  And there were several things that werenít age appropriate (i.e. a backpack for a five month old?).  We are not as financially well off as my in laws are.  We have purchased all of my sonís Christmas gifts for this year, and my MIL, as well as my parents, asked for a list of things that we would like them to get our son.  So, I gave them a list (I would never have done so if I hadnít been asked) of the things that my husband and I felt he would really be able to use and learn from as well as things that we had room for in our rather small house.  My MIL said she was going to spend about fifty dollars, and my mother did too, so I made sure they each had about the same number of things as well as the same price.  My husband also talked to my mother in law and told her that we wanted Santa Claus to be the main event on Christmas morning, and that we were asking both sets of grandparents to please not buy more than four or five gifts (which I feel is more than enough).  We strongly feel that we donít want our son to be spoiled and too materialistic (which will be quite a challenge as it is).  However, my mother in law is very materialistic.  She honestly lives life as if she believes that "the one with the most stuff when they die wins".  My mother in law is not an outright mean person, she is mostly kind to my face, and I really donít care what she says or does behind my back, but I do mind her constantly ignoring my authority as a parent.  We would love so much for a little cooperation every now and then.  Anyway, I found out from my sister in law, as well as from my mother in law, herself, that she is planning on bringing just as many gifts this year as she did last year, and even a stocking for him filled with more gifts.  I donít want to have to be mean.  My husband says he will try to talk to her again about this, but I donít know when he will.  I thought about suggesting that she send some of the gifts ahead of time for him to open and then there wouldnít be so much at Christmas, but is this rude?  Not that it is polite to override parental authority all of the time, but I donít want to be impolite.  She is the kind of person who gets hurt feelings at the drop of a hat, so that doesnít make matters any easier.  I would truly like to have a good relationship with her, and I have this small hope that if I were to just sit her down and tell her, point blank, that she needs to abide by our wishes regarding our son, that everything would get better.  I am living in fairyland.  What do you think we should do regarding this Christmas?  Should we let her show up one more time and then absolutely put our foot down?  Or should we suggest (or politely insist) that she send some gifts ahead of time, or save some for after the holidays?

Thank you so much for all of your time!

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law is probably unaware of her own hostility towards you.  She wants to relate to your son as though you did not exist.  It may be difficult to persuade her that this is impossible, but you could begin by setting out clear (and not too drastic) guidelines.  Your own suggestion of asking her to send some gift ahead, so that you can distribute them when you see fit, is an excellent one.  In this way, you remind her that, however generous she wants to be, you are the one with a mother's authority.  I would persist in setting out minor reminders of this.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have an 18 month old son who is being taken care of by my MIL, who lives with us.  This is a temporary situation until he is old enough to go to pre-school or kindergarten.  My MIL is NOT evil, manipulative, or controlling, i.e.. not your stereotypical MIL.  She proves to be of tremendous help (cook, clean, laundry) to my husband and me since we both work full-time.  My problem: I am constantly feeling guilty about the sacrifice that she's making.  She is still relatively young (late 40's) and had a life before she offered to take care of our son (she, my husband and I did not want to put my then 12-month old son in day-care).  After 8 months of living with her, I still do not feel comfortable being in the same room with just her by myself.  I do not feel like making conversation with her.  When she goes out, I always dread the time when she comes home.  Let me repeat this: She has done nothing to provoke these feelings of mine.  Yet, after a long, tiring workday, I do not look forward to coming home.  I miss my son during the day, but I still feel the need to stay away longer until I know that my husband is home already to provide a "buffer" for me.  I feel like we have "company" all the time and I have to be on company mode.  I am exhausted and resentful toward her and my husband because of the guilt.  I feel that it is my sole responsibility to make her life comfortable, active, and fulfilling because she has sacrificed greatly in order for me to pursue my career.

Please, please help me understand and resolve my tormented feelings toward my MIL, who is a saint (no sarcasm intended).  Signed, Evil Daughter-in-law

Dr Apter's reply:
It might help you to be aware that many grandparents are looking after their grandchildren, and taking them (and sometimes their parents) into their own home.  This results from new working patterns: not only do more women work because they value a career, but also they work because family support often depends upon two incomes.  So you are not being selfish or presumptuous: you are simply a woman of your time.  Most grandparents feel they benefit from this role.  They enjoy being useful to their children, and they enjoy the special bond with their grandchildren.  I hope that easing the guilt will help you relax - but it often is difficult to relax in someone else's home.  However, for the time being, this is your home, too.  If you cannot relax at home, your stress and fatigue will increase.  Try to find something that does relax you.  Perhaps you could explore the effect of relaxation exercises.  In any case, give your own comfort priority.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My husband and I have been married for 4 yrs.  My MIL was kind until the day my husband and I told her we were going to be married.  Since the marriage 4 yrs ago, my MIL has been inviting my husband's ex-wife and his children to family get-togethers, and not my husband and me.  My husband and I would gladly bring the children to these family functions.  She attributes all the problems to me, since before our marriage everyone was one big happy family, even with my husband's divorce from wife no. 1.  Help!  Am I wrong to think that, as a new wife, that the 1st wife doesn't have to be at all family functions?

Dr Apter's reply:
Anyone reading your question will see the answer immediately:  No, you should not have to tolerate the presence of your husband's former wife at every family function.  Unfortunately, your mother-in-law's sense of what's right is what is now governing your family's sense of what's normal (in this particular area).  I would challenge it directly, and simply state that this is not something you should have to deal with.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
This is not a question, as there is NO way for you to resolve my "problem" with my mother-in-law.  My problem is that she is dead now, and I miss her very much.  She was probably one of the dearest mentors and one of the dearest friends I have had.  I expect you get many negative mother-in-law submissions, and I just wanted you to know that some of us have/had wonderfully, loving, adult relationships with our mother-in-laws.  Thanks.

Dr Apter's reply:
It is good to be reminded that mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law can love one another.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I wrote to you about a month ago, about how badly my in-laws have treated me, then how badly they treated my daughter, who was left handicapped after an illness.  You explained that they want to distance themselves from the pain of having a handicapped grandchild, and that their behavior is not a reflection on me or my daughter.  But I would like advice on how I should act toward them.  Currently, I never want to speak to or see them again; but they are my husband's parents, and he loves them.  Is it unreasonable for me to state that neither I, nor my daughter will ever go back east to visit them?  They are welcome to come out here, and stay in a hotel, but not with us.  And my husband is welcome to go back by himself.  How can I overcome my feelings of hurt and resentment toward them?  It seems that I will have to see them eventually, and I'm not knowledgeable on how much should be expected of me in this disaster of a relationship with my in-laws.

Dr Apter's reply:
As long as you continue to feel so hurt and offended by their treatment of you and your daughter, you should not feel obliged to visit them.  After all, traveling for you both must be difficult, and if you are not treated well when you arrive, there is little point in putting yourself out for them.  How you overcome your resentment is a difficult question to answer.  Maybe you could see whether your in-laws show any greater responsiveness towards you and your daughter.  If so, you could build on that.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My boyfriend and I are from different countries, and met while we were both studying in the US.  We are very much in love and have a wonderful relationship, and when his studies are finished we made plans for me to move to his home country so that we could continue to be together.  Unfortunately his mother does not agree.  She is convinced (having met me only once, briefly) that I am terrible for her son, and the relationship is doomed.  We are both in our 30's, and approaching this relationship with a huge amount of maturity.  And yet she insists on undermining us on every available occasion.  My boyfriend went ahead to start his new job, so he is now in the direct line of her fire, and I know it is upsetting him a lot.  I am packing up to move, and feel so sad - she is getting more and more desperate as the move approaches, because I think she can feel her control slipping away.  My boyfriend loves his mother and doesn't want to lose his relationship with her, but also realizes that she is being irrational and interfering in this situation.  How can I best support my boyfriend and tolerate his mother once I am on her turf ?

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law's hostility may be resolved in time when she sees that the relationship thrives.  In the meantime, you can offer your boyfriend support by showing how much you appreciate his loyalty to you.  Sympathize with his difficult position, and assure him that he can continue to love his mother, even while he has to resist her interference.  Perhaps you could both tell her that you want a good relationship with her, but you need to feel that she is willing to give you, and the marriage, a chance.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I got married 9 months ago.  My mother in law lives with us because she is a widow and she has been unemployed for the past year.  At first she had a job so my boyfriend and I were thinking of moving in together (getting our own place).  My husband has been with her since his father passed on.  All of a sudden one day she came home and gave us the news that she had lost her job.  She always gave me a strange vibe, but I got along with her relatively fine.  However, somehow I ended up feeling bad for her and moved in.  The bad vibe came true ... We don't get along.  I feel now that was the worst mistake I have ever made.  I can't even stand to be in the same room with her.  I have a feeling she feels the same way.  I just don't understand why she doesn't get a job.  Two months ago we decided to stand our ground and move out ... We moved alright, but she came with us.  She is so manipulative.  I don't know what to do?  My husband doesn't want to live with herm and of course neither do her 4 other grown children.  We have one year of school left.  I decided I would go through one more year until we graduate, but it is so hard for me.  I don't know what to do to make sure our plan follows through and she does not end up getting her way, AGAIN!!!!!!!  She is not, by any means, disabled.  She is surely even more lucid than I am.  I feel like she will destroy my marriage.  The resentment grows each day.  HELP!!!!!!!

Dr Apter's reply:
I think you need to clarify for yourself just how your mother-in-law manages to get what she wants even when you take steps to avoid this.  How did she manage to move in with you immediately after you moved out?  Observe her tactics, and when you see what they are, you will be better equipped to stand firm.  Also observe yourself, and at what point you are likely to give in to her.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have some really big problems with my mother-in-law.  I'm not sure where to even start!!  We got along fine for a the first few months that my husband & I were dating.  However, when we started getting more serious about each other & started spending more time with each other, she seemed to get jealous & turn on me.  First of all, she wanted to hang around with us all the time.  There were times when we would literally spend an entire weekend with her because she would guilt my husband into taking her with us ("I'm old & alone" comes up quite often).  Now, I really have no problem with spending some time with her, but this was ridiculous.  We could not even sit down & talk to one another because she was always around.  So finally, we started "weaning" ourselves off of her.  My husband told her that we need time alone together.  She put up a fight for several weeks, & actually threw temper tantrums over not being included in everything, but eventually she finally got over that.  However, now she seems to hate me, & I think it's because she feels that I took her son away.  One thing that you should know about her, too, is that she has an anxiety disorder & sometimes has panic attacks.  She went to the hospital in May because she had heartburn & worked herself into such a frenzy that she convinced herself that she needed to go to the hospital.  She has done this before.  Personally, I think that she needs some counseling for this, because she is constantly worried about minor things that no one else would worry about.  For example, we went out to visit my parents one day.  She could not get a hold of my husband on the phone, & so she sat around all day worrying about him.  She eventually called me at my place to "track him down."  She always wants to know where my husband is, & he has tried  to explain to her that he is an adult & does not need to check in with her every day, but she does not understand why he finds it irritating for her to call all over town looking for him.  I'm not sure how to handle this myself.

Dr Apter's reply:
Unfortunately this is a common pattern.  Casual girlfriends are tolerated, but not a serious one.  It is also common for a daughter-in-law (or fiancťe) to be blamed for any ensuing distance between mother and son.  However, it would be helpful to all of you to make it clear to her that your lives will not be governed by her anxiety.  She will have to deal with her own panic attacks and worries.  If they are unrealistic, then she should learn how to manage them (as you say, probably counseling would help).  But, perhaps if she realizes they are not going to be effective, they may subside.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Recently I tried to explain to my mil how I felt.  I wrote her an email and explained that she often says and does rude things to me.  I then asked her to treat me with the same respect she would a friend or neighbor.  She attacked me for writing it.  She says I "misconstrue" things, and that I am "sick" and in serious need of help.  My husband and I know that isn't true.  My husband says she has always been the type who says things without thinking first (plus she likes to party and, when drunk, gets really mean).  I really think she crossed the line with me by saying I was mentally ill, and I really doubt if I will ever want to be around her again.  Is there ever a time when it is ok to finally cut someone out of your life?  As of now my husband says we aren't having anything to do with her.  But lets face it, she is his mother, and in time he'll want to see her.  Where does that leave me?  I have never been so attacked in my life, and I do not think I could ever forgive her for it!

Dr Apter's reply:
It is very painful when we voice a legitimate complaint and in turn are accused of mental imbalance.  It sounds as though all positive communication has broken down.  Perhaps you could keep your distance for a while, but continue to communicate by letter (not email) and send her cards and photos just to show you are staying in touch.  If things go smoothly for a while, you could then open up direct communication.

The Sister Knot, Apter
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Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
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