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My question for Dr. Apter is:
When is it time to cut off relations with the in-laws?  Of course, no matter how rude my in-laws are to me, I realize that it is important for my husband to maintain his relationship with them, if he so chooses.  My husband and I met in college.  From the moment I met his parents, I have been treated with outright cruelty in every way - from being seated on the rickety fold out chair with mismatched plate and odd ball silverware, to having them refuse to acknowledge me if I try to join the conversation.  I was told, outright, that they did not approve of me dating their son, because I was almost two years older than him.  Of course, we were both in college when we met, and my mother-in-law was two years older than father-in-law, but that was apparently okay for them, I guess.  I take so many personal insults when they come to visit that I've actually begun writing them down and making a journal.  They have insulted every aspect of me (from my family, to where I'm from, etc.).  When my husband and I announced our engagement, they got angry, and my MIL cried.  They, also, were angry when we told them we were pregnant (both times), and ruined those occasions, which were supposed to be happy.  They reprimanded me for having a child, and told me not to have any more.  After all, they treat me like trash, and obviously think I'm going to breed like a rabbit (despite the fact that I'm college educated, and come from an upper middle class family).  At birthdays, my husband receives $100.  I am lucky to receive $20.  It's not the money that's offensive to me, it's the fact that they use every opportunity to let me know that they think that I'm inferior to them, etc.  I have had numerous conversations with my in-laws regarding their hurtful comments and behaviors, and they deny having done anything.  And, they would NEVER apologize.  How they can deny outright specific situations, I'll never know.  And, my husband wishes to believe that they are well intentioned.  I feel a lack of integrity every time I am forced to hug them hello, and pretend that nothing has happened.  What should I do?  MIL and FIL have finally accepted the reality that I'm not leaving, and the insults have become less frequent.  Signature: Desperate for Help in Colorado.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your question touches on one of the most important dilemmas in human relationships: should I suppress my own feelings for the sake of an apparently harmonious relationship?  No one can answer this for you.  It is a matter for you to weight up.  You say you feel a lack of integrity every time you are forced to hug them in greeting.  You clearly have high standards for honest expression of emotions.  You could ask for the real distance between you to be acknowledged.  You could say, "Let's just shake hands" or just wave "Hi".  Of course, that may raise the level of hostility.  And, you must consider whether it is worth it.  In the meantime, you could gain your husband's support.  You could explain that good intentions are not enough (saying someone who is hurting you is well intentioned is to miss the point). 
Your implicit hope of getting your in-laws to see their behavior from your point of view, and to hear their apology, is unlikely to be realized.  The way forward is to take on board their lack of insight, their wish to keep you at a distance - and then ask whether you are still willing to see them.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
How do I stop/cope with my fiancé's parents' constant nagging about us having children?  My fiancé and I do not want any.  The nagging started six months after we had met, when we were engaged.  I was still in college.  His parents seemed to seriously think that I was going to quit college immediately to bear their grandchildren.  When I graduated two and a half years later, his mother said that she didn't really think I needed a job; that we should get a bigger car to accommodate the pram, and actually expressed hopes that I would become unemployed when I got a job.  His father is much the same way, for instance, he told me to pull up my shirt so that they could get a closer look at my stomach, after we had told them that we had some news (incidentally, not the kind of news they expected).  They are also getting other people they know to go along with the nagging.  They have even tried to drag my parents into it.  Luckily, they know better.  My fiancé and I had planned to get married soon after I graduated and had found a job, five years ago.  Since the nagging got so intense, the idea of a wedding with just "baby talk" disgusted me, and I have refused a wedding.  My fiancé has tried talking to his parents; in vain.  The nagging has not stopped, and two years ago, I stopped seeing my fiancés parents altogether.  I would still like to be married, but not for the purpose of breeding.  My fiancé's parents have grandchildren now, but that has not stopped them from craving more.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Perhaps you could ask them whether they really want you to have children to satisfy them.  Surely they would not be so pushy or selfish?  Or, less confrontationally, you could acknowledge their wish to be grandparents, and accept that they would have much to give to any children you were to have, but explain that this will not be enough to make that important decision.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
Recently, I have returned to work, and have arranged for my MIL to watch my toddler.  My daughter enjoys my MIL, and MIL is doing a great favor for us.  But, I can not help feeling resentful of my MIL's time with my daughter.  Every time I go to pick my daughter up, my MIL seems to brag about all the fun things that they did during the day.  Recently, my daughter has latched on to my MIL, and will not come to me.  This leaves me feeling very upset!!  To top this off, I have this strange feeling that my MIL likes the way all of this makes me feel.  Additionally, when we visit the in-laws on the weekend, MIL will not let me "be a mom".  She, literally, takes over, and I don't feel like competing with her.  Any comments or ideas would be greatly appreciated.  Also, I will be quitting work to be home with my daughter soon, and my MIL has requested that she get the baby on set days.  Is it OK for her to put me on the spot like that??  HELP, PLEASE!!

Dr. Apter's reply:
The bond between mother and child is so strong.  It is unlikely your daughter is more attached to your mother-in-law.  She may be enjoying a little innocent power-play in seeing that you are worried about losing your primary position with her.  Your mother-in-law can put you on the spot if she wants, but you can learn to stand up to her.  It is totally up to you as to whether you allow her set days for the baby.  If a request is sprung on you, get into the habit of saying, "I'll have to think about that."  If she continues to press her point, just repeat that you need time to think and cannot give her an answer right away.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been reading the questions on the web site, and I am now encouraged to submit my own.  My DH and I have been married almost two years, and we have been together for over three years.  We now have a month-old son, and we live in the same town as my MIL.  MIL divorced her husband (DH's dad), when DH was seven, because of his drinking, and he died when DH was 17.  DH became the "man of the house" when the divorce was final, because MIL and SILs (there are three of them) clung to him as the only responsible male in their lives.  MIL never remarried, and does not date.  She was, and still is, extremely attached to DH, and uses guilt trips to get him to do whatever she wants.  He responds to this, not only because of the guilt from her, but because of a promise he made to his father when he died, to take care of the family.  MIL calls when one of her daughters is in trouble, as if DH is their father.  She only calls DH at work, claiming that I do not talk to her on the phone at home.  She encourages DH to visit without me or our son, which I find strange and irritating.  She insists that DH, who has an injured back, come and do things around her house which she could handle herself (such as yard work), but objects to him doing them at his own house "because he might hurt himself".  She tells DH that I hate her and her daughters (not true).  This stems from the fact that I do not socialize with her the way his ex did (his ex spent almost all of her spare time with MIL, and they became best friends).  She says things to me that are hateful and sarcastic, and sees no reason to be polite.  She is extremely self-centered, and will not spend any money on anyone but herself.  Instead, she brings all of the old junk she no longer wants over to our house, even if we say we don't want it.  And, any time she doesn't get her way, watch out!  For example: I decided that I only wanted my mom and DH in the birthing room when I labored with our son.  DH agreed, but apparently did not tell MIL (or she did not listen).  When the time came, she strolled in, sat down, and began telling us a story about one of her friends.  When DH got up the courage to ask her to leave, she pouted, sulked, threatened to leave entirely, and made everyone feel awful.  DH felt so guilty that he would leave the room to check on her.  She did what she always does - she made everyone pay attention to her on a day when I needed support!  I am really beginning to hate her, and I am obsessed.  Every time she touches my son I want to scream.  DH and I have discussed this several times, and he is beginning to see her for who she is, but not quickly enough for me.  Is there any hope?  Please help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dr. Apter's reply:
Yes, there is hope, because you and your husband will be able to work together.  You won't be able to change her personality, but gradually you will be able to show her that her usual tactics (making you feel guilty by sulking, for example) do not work.  This won't be easy.  It will be a matter of deciding that she can sulk (and make you feel awful) but you will not give in.  You could explain that you are very sorry she feels as she does, without withdrawing your request.  If she threatens to leave entirely, when you ask her to leave a room, then you can say you really want her nearby, but you do want her to leave the room.  If she persists in sulking, then let her carry through her threat (to leave, to cry, to be very unhappy).  After all, she is the one who is terrified of losing contact with her son.  If she sees that you do not cave in when she tries to make you feel bad, then eventually these tactics will decrease.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have never asked my in-laws to baby-sit for me, and it has been a constant fight.  My MIL was a real nightmare when my son was born, and I have a horrible resentment against her.  My in-laws live right across the street, and they make no efforts at all to make their home safe for my son.  I am really frustrated.  They gripe and gripe that I won't allow them to baby-sit, and that they never get to see DS (even though my DH brings him over at least once a week, if not twice a week).  We spent Christmas with my in-laws, and I asked my FIL if I could move their coffee table because my son was a year old and still wobbly at walking.  The coffee table has very sharp corners that my DS could fall on and really hurt himself.  My FIL was offended by this, and informed me that his kids survived in this house with this coffee table, and so would my son.  Well, needless to say, I moved the coffee table anyway, and we got in an argument later that evening about car seats (FIL does not agree that children should be in car seats).  So, the following day, Christmas day, the in-laws had several guests at their house.  I laughed so hard when 4 out of the 5 adults that walked by the coffee table remarked about how it should be moved because it was too dangerous for a child to be around.  My FIL moved it, and said, "You are probably right," even though the day before, he felt it was rude of me to ask any such thing.  There is this constant battle of wills between my in-laws and me.  It was OK for someone else to tell them that their coffee table was dangerous, but it was not OK when I did it.  My brother is getting a divorce, and I am losing him as a baby-sitter.  I know my DH is going to press the point again that his mom wants badly to baby-sit for us.  I know that it is something that is very important to him, because he loves his mother.  But, I was just at their home two days ago, and MIL had a tub of bleach on the floor, right next to a canister full of weed killer and plant food (that she made no effort to move while my son was there).  They believe that if you tell a child, "No, don't get into that," the child will listen.  They also have a split-level home, with wide rails, on a 4 or 5 foot drop to the next level, and two staircases that they refuse to block off.  I don't want her at my home, because she is nosey, and would rifle through my personal things.  I don't understand why my child's safety is not their top priority, and why they can't respect my wishes (or even that I am his father).  How do I resolve this issue?  I do need a baby-sitter, and I want my son to know his grandparents, but anything that I suggest or do differently than they did is offensive to them.  I want my son to form his own opinions of his grandparents, and not dislike them just because I do.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your concerns for the safety of your child should be taken seriously.  I think your discomfort with your in-laws is linked both to their dismissal of your maternal judgment and your concern for safety.  It seems that you need support in your attempt to focus on the obvious: your assessment of what's good for your child comes first, and cannot be brushed aside just because your in-laws will be offended.  You can explain that you value their relationship with their grandchild and you will always try to foster that, but you and they have different views on day-to-day child care and, in your view, you need a baby-sitter, and that's that.  Well, stating your position and keeping to it won't be easy, but you are fully justified in protecting it.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My problem is with my own mother, rather than with my mother-in-law.  I like my MIL very much, and I think it bothers my mother that I do.  I have never talked about anything negative to my mother about her, nor have I gone on about how great she is.  I have only made references that I think she is pretty nice, and I guess that I'm lucky.  I do have a healthy and close relationship with my mother, also.  But, on several occasions, my mother stated that I "put my MIL on a pedestal".  She has asked, "Why don't you ask your MIL - since you already ask me for a lot."  Or, if we ask her for something, she states, "He (my husband) has a mother too."  She also tries to do things like cook big dinners, which she never did much of before she found out that it is something my MIL likes to do.  She also seems to get upset when it's our turn to spend holidays with my husband's side (we try to evenly split up holidays).  What do you think?  I am very hurt when she makes these references about my MIL, and I do not want to make her feel badly, but I almost feel that I shouldn't discuss anything we do with my husband's parents, for fear that she will feel we enjoy spending time with them too.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Your poor fragile mom!  Maybe she could use some reassurance that she has a very special position in your heart.  You could even tease her about those large dinners she cooks to compete with your mother-in-law.  You could ask her whether she seriously think she needs to do that to keep your love.  Or perhaps there is something else going on in her life that makes her feel insecure.  You could ask her whether there is anything she would like to talk about with you.  You could explain that you are concerned because her rivalry is, in your view, so unrealistic.

 


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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Dr. Terri Apter
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