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My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have constantly had problems with my mother in law, not all the time consistent.  She was born in Guatemala, given away by her dad when her mom died at 5yrs old, to live as a housekeeper, and therefore never loved, and developed no values or communication skills.  She came to the USA when my father in law brought her back as a "war bride".  They had 3 children, and he later died of cancer after battling it for 5 yrs, at which time the MIL cheated on him, and the kids knew this but looked the other way.  So she now tries to rationalize her behaviors by saying bad things about everyone else, and lies to her children and everyone else about anything.  You must understand she has become a wealthy woman due to real-estate investments, but claims no one loves her and is always complaining of not being loved by anyone.  I feel she lives in a fantasy world, and will never be happy no matter what or whom she has.  Her value system is messed up.  She will put money before her family and will use her money to get what she wants.  Where in Sigmund Freud does this woman belong, and how can I maintain a positive relationship with someone that I feel is a bad person?  I can understand all that she has been through, but enough is enough.  My husband and I are exhausted at her pathetic attempts at being a part of this family, only if it is satisfying her needs at the the time, and if not she will turn her back on you in a min.  Is there any help for her, Books or any would be greatly appreciated for all involved.

Dr Apter's response:
People who have not experienced being loved do have trouble showing love.  It could be that your mother-in-law's wealth actually increases her interpersonal problems.  Perhaps she once thought that wealth would make her lovable, and would leave her satisfied.  What she experiences, instead, is lack of satisfaction and concern that her money separates her from others.  Dealing with someone who cannot understand gestures of sincere emotion, or is too insecure to trust another person, is very hard.  I cannot think of a book that will give you a list of ways of handling such a person, but you may want to understand more about the role love plays in our lives.  After all, we can tolerate things more if we understand them.  You could try Ethel Person, who writes well on the subject of love.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
In-Laws have been divorced since my husband was two years old (he was raised by his mother).  Since we got married (10 years ago) my father-in-law and his wife come to visit us once a year for two weeks.  In the beginning, as a matter of respect, I tried to be the best host/daughter-in-law and spoiled them with home-cooked meals and care.

Once these annual visits never ceased, I start resenting them.  The reason?  We live in Washington, DC in a one-bedroom apt (rents are very high for our salaries, $1400/month).  We both work, but one salary goes entirely on rent, then food, clothing, insurance, vacations, leaves us with almost nothing.  It is not easy for us to entertain and provide meals three times a day for two people.  My husband has never been very close to his Dad, but since they started spending a vacation every year at our place, it has made us argue.  Needless to say that my FIL smokes at least a package of cigarettes a day, disregarding the fact that none of us is a smoker.  We have tried to suggest that it would be better to meet somewhere in-between (they live in Texas), have tried to take them on a weekend vacation while they were here, just to take them somehow out of the house (all they do is sit home and drink beer, smoke and read the newspapers, watch TV).  This year, we even tried to tell them that we will be out of town ourselves during the time they planned their visit.  They asked for the key to our apartment and stayed for a week without us being there.  They are retired, they are very well-off financially, they are extremely stingy (will never pay for a hotel room) and I feel that we are being taken advantage of.  They do not come mainly to see us, but to spend two weeks somewhere else.  What should I do to give them a hint on giving us a a break, at least for a year?  What kind of excuses can we come up with.  Please help!  Tons of thanks for all your advice.

Dr Apter's reply:
Instead of dropping her a hint, I suggest you speak out as clearly as possible.  You can do this without necessarily causing offence by explaining that you value the relationship with them, and that you look forward to future visits, but you simply need a break this year.  If they are offended by this, then let them have their say, and explain that you are very sorry they are disappointed, but also stand your ground.  These visits are in your home, and there you can set the rules.  If you want your apartment to be a non smoking area, then say so.  If you do not want them to stay as long as they are inclined to do, then say so.  Don't feel guilty, and don't panic.  Your in-laws may protest, but if you remain calm (and don't get offended yourself), then they should eventually respect your strength of purpose.  Once they accept your right to set boundaries, the relationship - and their visits - will be much easier.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for 5 years now, I always thought my MIL and I were close.  I am very good to her.  If she needs anything I am there!  She always remembers my b'day, but for some reason refuses to acknowledge our wedding anniversary.  She never gives us a wedding gift or a card.  She did give me a shower gift, but felt it was not "necessary" to invite her extended family (cousins, aunts, etc.) to my shower which was given by my best friend.  She told my friend that it was too much on her family to go to two showers in one month (my brother in law's fiancé's shower was 3 weeks prior.)  However, my husband and I had to go to two weddings in row (Fri. and Sat. nights in 1 weekend!) for her nephews, she felt that was no big deal to inconvenience us.  But, she would not even allow my friend to invite her family to my shower.  So she never gave us anything for our wedding.  She claims she had no money.  She also never gave my sister in-law a gift when they got married that same year.  Every year on our anniversary, she acts like she forgets it, (no card, she will not even say "Happy Anniversary") ... Well I asked her about it, and she claim she is busy and just forgets!  So this year my sister in-law was at my MIL's house, and right in front of my MIL I wished my sister-in law a happy anniversary.  My MIL said nothing to her.  Then my MIL tried to tell me the next day, "Oh my, I hope my son's wife is not mad.  I forgot their anniversary!! " Then, our anniv. was a few weeks ago.  The day before I said we were going out to dinner for our anniv. she said "Oh."

The day of our anniv. my Father in-law called to wish us a happy anniv. but nothing from my MIL!!  Well, 2 days later she told my sister-in-law, "Oh my, I forget their anniversary?  I guess I am on the bad MIL list with you girls!"  My sister in law and I think she does this because she is so embarrassed that she never gave us a gift or a card from the first year  on.  This is so odd, because she always celebrates her daughter's anniv. but not her 2 sons, and my husband and I are the only ones who recognize my Mother in-law and Father in-law's anniv.  We always get them a card and gift.  Please tell how to handle this weird situation?

Dr Apter's reply:
Your mother-in-law may be unaware of her own reluctance to acknowledge that you are really married to her son.  As long as she treats
you well generally, I would let this quirk pass without confrontation.  Perhaps there is a funny side: many mothers-in-law have to deny to themselves that their son is intimately bound to another woman.  That is why there are so many mother-in-law stories.

My question for Dr. Apter is: 
How do you deal with family members who try to "take over your child" when you are there visiting?  I recently returned from a trip to my in-laws.  The minute we arrived, my son was due for a feeding.  But he wouldn't eat because he is teething.  I gave him some medicine, the whole time with my mil standing over me telling me how to do it.  I'm a nurse!  Then everyone scolded me for getting my son up from his nap, even though he had slept enough in the car on the 6 hour ride to their house.  Before we arrived, my husband asked my mil to please let me be the one to ask my youngest niece if she wanted to hold the baby.   Naturally, my mil asked and ruined the moment for me.  While my husband and I were away to have time together, we called my mil to see how our son was doing.  When my husband handed the phone to me, she acted like she didn't want to speak to me.  Then she started telling me that my son didn't like his formula.  I told her that he spits out the bottle because he is feeding, but you keep on trying after giving him some pain medicine.  Also, sometimes he prefers to eat food out of the jar before he has his bottle.  She got very defensive and insisted it was the formula.  I thanked her for caring for my son, it was all I could do.  In the back of my mind, I worried though, because she couldn't seem to understand my instructions on how to mix his formula properly, even though there were instructions on the container, and I left her with a sheet of information in case she had questions.  The morning we left, I no sooner got out of bed and dressed and my fil is hassling me about feeding my son, even though he likes to play a little bit on the floor before he eats.  I feel that, as my son's mother, that I am the one who decides when he gets his nap, gets fed, decides who will hold him, etc.  I wonder, "do these people think so little of me that they don't trust me to properly care for my son?"  I have a long history of being belittled and verbally abused by husband's family.

Dr Apter's reply:
Your recognition of the wider picture (that your in-laws' response to your mothering skills is a sign of overall lack of respect) means that the battle is already half won.  Another good sign is that your husband seems willing to support you.  The next step is not to be cowed or silenced by their behavior.  Assert yourself calmly and consistently.  You could tell them that you will feed your son when he is ready.  You could say that you will assess his nutritional needs.  Thank them for their concern, but tell them that you will handle things.  If they persist in making suggestions, try to ignore them, or keep repeating, calmly, "I'll deal with it."

My question for Dr. Apter is:
After 8 years of marriage, my husband and I finally confronted his parents on issues that have been bugging me from day one.  I take responsibility for not discussing these problems with them earlier.  I shouldn't have waited so long.

The catalyst was the birth of my son this past summer.  I had HELLP (severe Pre-Eclampsia) and nearly lost my life.  My MIL sent me flowers in the hospital with a card, "You made us so happy" (this is the first grandchild, maybe only one, for them).  No mention of the trauma I was going through was expressed.  My mother was staying with me for 6 weeks while I got back on my feet.  My in-laws were very jealous and made snide comments to her and to me every time a family member called.  ("Why don't you turn your ringer off so you can get your rest?")  My FIL invited a stranger to our house (this was 2 weeks after the birth) whom he hadn't seen in years, and wanted to catch up with.  Fortunately, this man didn't come.  The in-laws also wanted to call my son by his middle name rather than the name I chose.

So finally last week I had it out with them.  I am not white, and when I met my FIL he warned me of the difficulties of inter-racial marriages and
shared with me his concerns that a mixed race child might hate his parents.  I brought this up to him last week.  He didn't remember the conversation, but said even if he did say this he couldn't understand why I would be offended.

After the confrontation (I tried to use all the management techniques I have been taught, never blame or accuse) I felt worse than before.  They
denied most of what I said, and if they remembered, they behaved as if I
were over-sensitive.

I have been giving them unconditional access to my son.  It upsets me to do so, but I know he is as much their grandchild as my folks, and I have no right to deprive my child of the love of grandparents.

I don't expect my in-laws to ever understand their responsibility in this mess.  Once my son is old enough to visit with just his father, I plan on
staying home.  In the meantime, do you have any advice on how to stay sane around them?

Thank you very much

Dr Apter's reply:
It is very hard to be blamed for being "over sensitive" when you are in fact being badly treated.  It seems that you have tried to confront them fairly and openly, but they are unable to gain insight into what their behavior means to you.  When your son is old enough to visit them without you, then by all means stay away, if that is what you still want.  In the meantime, be polite with them, but don't expect much in the way of warmth or understanding from them.  Also, make sure you speak up: if a visit from one of their friends is inconvenient (or too much for you), then make sure they know this.  And find someone to support you - perhaps a friend - with whom you can talk over all the minute frustrations of your time with them.  Recognize that, after or during a visit with your in-laws, you will need some extra support.  Perhaps your husband could take this on board, too, and support you when you voice your needs, and give you special attention.  This will not only boost your morale, but could also send an important message to his parents.

The Sister Knot, Apter
The Sister Knot
Why We Fight, Why We're Jealous, and Why We'll Love Each Other No Matter What

Secret Paths: Women in the New Midlife
Secret Paths
Women in the New Midlife

Working Women Don't Have Wives, Dr. Terri Apter Working Women Don't Have Wives
Professional Success in the 1990'S

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