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My question for Dr. Apter is:
Luckily, I have a very supportive DH, who backs me where his mother is concerned.  Things came to a head two days before Christmas when we had an almighty fight, with her swearing at me in front of my children in my home.  I had decided that she should spend Christmas with us, as my parents and sister were coming to stay with us, and I did not want her to be alone for Christmas.  I had her best interests at heart (as I always do), thinking that I did not want her to be alone for Christmas.  I told her that I would fetch her on my way through her town after visiting family one week before Christmas.  She agreed, and was quite happy at the thought.  We generally get on quite well, but there is always an underlying vibe going on, though nothing is mentioned.  Three days before Christmas, I requested that she move out of the guest bedroom and into my DD's bedroom, as she is the only single person, and the other bedrooms had double beds in them to accommodate my parents and my sister and BIL.  After that, she stopped talking to me.  I did not know what was going on, and mentioned to my DH that something was not right, and requested of him to ask her.  He didn't want to, and said that he wasn't interested.  He does not make an effort where his mother is concerned, and unless I organize flights, etc., to visit us, she would never come to stay.  This carried on for 2 days, and on the morning that my family was due to arrive, she exploded!  She swore at me and told me that I had not told her that my family was coming, and that I had made a mess of everything.  I had not hidden the fact that my family was coming, and my 2 children had even mentioned it during the week leading up to Christmas (talking about how excited they were).  I told her that I thought it would be wonderful for us all to spend Christmas together, and I felt sorry for her sitting at home by herself, which was why I had offered to drive 4 and a half hours to bring her to our house.  She told me that she doesn't need anyone to feel sorry for her, and that she disliked my family.  This was news to me!  I have been with DH for 16 years, and this is the first time that she has ever said this.  I felt so affronted.  She said that she wished she could go home.  When my family arrived, she totally ignored them and was so rude.  She kept telling my DD that she wished she could go home.  DH wasn't at home at the time, so I called him to tell him what had happened.  He was livid, and said that he would phone her to find out what was going on.  He said that if she was going to carry on with this attitude, she must go home.  If she wanted to stay, she had to change her attitude.  She decided that she would rather go home, and so she was booked on the next flight, which was on Christmas Eve.  I had so much anger in me, but I hid it.  I didn't tell my family what had happened until after she had left, although they knew that something had obviously happened.  My family has always gone out of their way to be pleasant to her, and I don't understand why she feels that way.  I felt so hurt because I have always looked after her best interests, and helped her out in any way that I could, including suggesting to my DH that we help her out financially, which we do every month.  Just a month before, she was telling me that I was more of a DD to her than her own DD, as she lives overseas and MIL hardly ever hears from her.  I had felt that we were really turning a corner in our relationship, and then everything blew up.  We haven't spoken since.  She hasn't even contacted her son, let alone phone her grandchildren on Christmas Day.  Do I leave things as they are, or do I phone and try to patch things up?  Although, DH is adamant that she will not set foot in our house again until she has apologized and is remorseful for her actions.  Thank you.

Dr. Apter's reply:
A good place to start with this difficult situation is identify possible explanations for your mother-in-law's behavior.  This doesn't excuse it, but it may help you decide how to respond.

While you see your behavior in terms of your concern for her, your mother-in-law constructs what you've done on her behalf in a very different way.  (As you say, "there is always an underlying vibe going on.")  She not only denies that you have been generous in inviting her and driving her to your home, but she actually disallows any feeling of gratitude, blaming you for "feeling sorry for her".  She is probably uncomfortable with needing you, both emotionally and financially (you say you regularly give her money), and so she makes you feel bad for being generous.  Yet, at the same time, she cannot tolerate sharing your generosity with other people, particularly your family, and is offended when you ask her to make reasonable accommodation for them.  Instead of acknowledging what you do for her, she makes it very clear that, in her view, you have not done enough.  Indeed, in her present mindset, you would never be able to do enough.

Next, is your husband's response.  You say that his mother would never come to visit unless you arranged it.  Well, in many families, women arrange social events, including any family get-togethers, but there may be something else going on.  Perhaps your husband is looking for some excuse to distance himself from her?  Certainly, he finds it difficult (well, anyone would!) to manage his double loyalty - to you and to her.

Clearly, your mother-in-law will not apologize without some kind of intervention.  Perhaps apology is not to the point here.  Apologizing will make her feel even more subservient (in a step down status position) than she already does, as a recipient of your generosity; so, demanding an apology, however reasonable that may be, is likely to make the situation with her worse. 

I suggest you approach her with a wish to solve this problem that has arisen between her and her son and daughter-in-law.  You and your husband could explain that you are hurt and confused, and that your intentions were good.  You can express your concern that if this problem is not resolved, then your relationship will suffer, and that won't benefit anyone.  It is reasonable for you to state clearly that any disrespectful behavior towards your own family cannot be tolerated, but that you want to find some way of welcoming her back, and that you hope she helps you find this.

The process won't be easy, and it is unlikely to be resolved in one go.  It is comforting, I am sure, to have your husband's support, but this support might be more effective if he shows flexibility - so you could assure him that you do not need to punish his mother for her behavior, that you simply need her behavior to be acceptable in the future.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL went to graduate school and began an intense, high-powered career shortly after.  I am in graduate school, but I am not certain that such a career path is for me.  In addition, I would like to stay home at least half-time (and possibly full-time) with any future children we might have.  I have never stated this outright to my MIL, but I have expressed doubts about my future career path  The other night, MIL was telling me stories about tenuring faculty in her department.  She said that women who go to graduate school and then don't take full-time tenure track positions afterward are stealing from their universities and deceiving their advisors, not to mention wasting their brains on something as mundane as child-rearing, which should, in her opinion, be handed off to hired help.  Can you advise me about possible reactions she might have and how to handle them if I decide not to pursue full-time work?

Dr. Apter's reply:
I think that there is no reason to worry about your mother-in-law's response to your legitimate personal decision about work/family balance.  Just do what is right for you.  If she does challenge you, then it would be useful to have prepared a simple statement as to what you yourself have gotten out of graduate school and how you want to make use of it in the context of other priorities.  You could even practice saying this, and fend off any criticism with something like, "These are difficult decisions for anyone to make.  It's a personal choice."  I suggest you basically brush aside any possible criticism rather than counter it directly.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I don't know if I am acting entitled or if my concerns regarding my MIL's lack of involvement with our family are justified.  When we had our first child, my MIL was very involved, offered to help whenever needed, and even asked to have our son overnight just to spend extra time with him.  Then, I started nursing school, and she started baby-sitting one unrelated child.  Things changed drastically.  Now, there are no invitations for my son to come over.  In fact, now she can only help on the weekends when she is not baby-sitting.  MIL lives 1.5 hours away.  We were slightly offended by her choice, but decided that she has a right to do what she wants to.  We got full-time daycare for our son.  Also, we never expected full-time care from MIL, just occasional help, which was now few and far between.  Our next surprise was one event when DH had to travel for work for a couple of days.  We asked MIL to take our son for two days to avoid extremely long daycare days (he was 3).  MIL said that she couldn't have her GS at her house because she didn't want to upset the parents of the child she was baby-sitting.  The next event was when MIL came to the birth of our second child and did take a couple of days off from baby-sitting.  But, to our surprise, she darted out of our house within 30 minutes of our second child's homecoming from the hospital, because she had to go baby-sit.  Now, a key piece of information is that FIL is retired with a good pension and savings account, and MIL never worked before this "baby-sitting job".  We mentioned to MIL and FIL that we felt that our children were not their priority, and that they seem to be so involved with baby-sitting that our children aren't thought of much.  MIL would say, "We love you and you are most important to us."  But, whenever we were in a bind, MIL would say, "Oh, I wish I could help, but I have to work."  So, I ended up working weekend nights, while DH works days during the week to keep our three kids out of daycare.  At times, the father of the baby-sitting child did not have consistent work, and MIL would still make herself available every day to the other family in case she was needed.  MIL asked me one summer, "Is it OK if I call you some mornings if I find out I don't have to baby-sit, then I could come visit?"  At one point, the father of the baby-sitting child lost his job completely, and I was in desperate need of help because we were saving money to move to a new house.  DH asked MIL if she could help us temporarily and we would pay her, and she said, "No," as DH's sister would be getting pregnant soon, and the baby-sitting father will get a new job soon.  So, I was working nights while pregnant with a 6 year old and a 2 year old, and getting by with catnaps for a 48 hour stretch every week.  Currently, MIL now watches two kids from the same baby-sitting family 53 hours per week, for hardly any money because, "They can't afford much."  We have had many birthday parties, school events, etc., that have taken place during the week, throughout the years that have been missed because of the baby-sitting.  We told MIL and FIL that we don't feel they have any time or energy left for our children after practically raising other people's children.  We even said, for argument's sake, that we would pay her baby-sitting salary so that she could be more involved with the grandkids - baby-sitting optional, we just wanted her to be more involved.  MIL said that she could not do that because she doesn't want to leave the other family in the lurch.  She likes to be busy, so feels that she would be too bored if she did that.  We said that we could really use help a couple of days a month so that DH and I could actually spend a day together.  How about reducing baby-sitting to 4 days per week?  Then, MIL said that the other family could not find someone for one day per week.  Ironically, I have a baby-sitter one day per week now so that I only go 24 hours without sleep instead of 48.  The GKs suffer because we are working so hard to raise them with so little help.  How could GPs be so uncaring about their children and grandchildren?  What can I say to them?  Do I have the right to expect some sympathy and support from them?

Dr. Apter's reply:
This is a sad case of mismatched expectations.  You heard your mother-in-law's general offer to help out in a way she clearly did not intend.  The only way to solve this is to sit down and ask, "What can we expect from you in terms of baby-sitting?"  Or, from her behavior, you might already decide that you cannot look upon her as a resource for childcare.  In fact, her behavior is not unreasonable, but since you expected something different, it is confusing.  So, perhaps the best thing is to decide how you can best organize your life without your mother-in-law's help.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I have been married for 5 years.  Shortly after our wedding, DH left me with his mom and came back to the US.  I was in applying for a visa, and making arrangements to come back to the US.  At that time I used to constantly chat with my DH by going to the internet center, since my MIL didn't have a phone at home.  One fine day, she asked me to get out of the house, saying that this is not a dorm room where I can come whenever I want.  I quickly made arrangements and came to the US.  I told DH about this, and he didn't say anything about this to his mom.  On another occasion, I was walking down the street, with BIL and MIL, and one of the neighbors stopped to say hello.  They asked her who I was.  MIL replied that I was a distant relative.  I was surprised at her response, and even my BIL did not say anything.  Since coming to the US, I have complained to my DH so many times.  MIL acts nice to me in front of DH.  My problem is that I didn't get any closure out of all this, since DH didn't do anything.  I have so much anger against MIL and my BIL.  DH wants me to forget everything, and he promises that he will stand up for me when she says anything in front of him.  How can I deal with all of this?

Dr. Apter's reply:
Refusing to be acknowledged by your mother-in-law as a member of her family is an insult.  I suggest you say this to your husband, and that he ask his mother, preferably in front of you, why she refers to you in public as "a distant relative."  She may deny this, so you'll have to brave to remind her, quietly and firmly, that this is what she said in front of you, and that it is an insult, and that you are a close relative, and that has to be acknowledged.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL, a single woman with 4 previous marriages, all ending in divorce, is the worst.  She has other kids, but nobody wants her to live with them.  When I dated DH, she was living with him in his house.  Then, he sold it, and bought another bigger one, with me, after we got married.  MIL wanted to move in temporarily (2 months max) until she found her own place.  That was 9 years ago, and she still won't move out.  She comes out with, "Poor lonely, helpless me," and, "You are replacing me.  You don't love me anymore," and all the other BS.  DH just got weak, and it continues year after year.  Of course, I wanted to move out, but my name is on that house, so I am tied up financially.  Please help.

Dr. Apter's reply:
This situation is particularly difficult because it has gone on for so long.  Your mother-in-law clearly knows how to manage things so that any change in her living situation is difficult to achieve.  Also, your husband may want his mother to live with you.  What were the plans when he sold the house which they shared?

I suggest that you tell your husband that she must leave and that you would like his help setting out a clear and feasible procedure for her moving elsewhere;  if he cannot offer help, then this is something you'll have to do yourself.  Does this mean selling the larger house in which you all live, and finding two separate homes?  If so, then take steps to do this.  Outline the practical steps that must be taken, and ignore the emotional blackmail.  But, you will also have to consider how your mother-in-law is helped in the transition from living with you to living on her own.  Will she live nearby?  Will she still have your company and some practical help?  It all needs to be thought out in detail before anything will change.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL has boundary issues, anger issues, emotional instability, etc.  DH does see this.  I am trying to live near her and make her part of our lives.  She is, after all, family, and my DH's mother.  However, I sense that she is manipulating her way around any boundaries that I've set in order to gain access to my children.  She is about to apply for an administrative job that will allow her access and involvement with my children from grades 4 through 12.  The very idea of this is making me ill.  I don't think that we should have to move, but I also think that I can't say anything without making tensions worse.  I don't want to see my home or marriage wrecked over this.  Please help me.  Thank you.  One very sad mum.

Dr. Apter's reply:
A MIL with boundary issues, as you refer to them, makes life difficult for the people who do want to make her part of their lives.  You will have to be prepared to make the boundaries you feel comfortable with very clear, and enforce them firmly.  You will need your husband's help with this, and you will need to confer when she makes any move to challenge those boundaries.  To achieve what you want - acknowledgment of her as part of the family and your own personal comfort - you will have to be brave and firm.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
My MIL lives with my DH and me.  She will not get a job to help us out with the bills.  She is perfectly capable of working, but she baby-sits her other GC.  To make a long story short, not only do I have to see her every day, because she never leaves the house or gives my DH and me any privacy, but I also have to see my BIL and his wife every other day.  BIL's wife works at night, and when she gets off in the mornings, MIL allows her to sleep at our house while we're not there.  Sometimes, I'm not there and my DH is there.  I feel very uncomfortable with this situation.  I was never asked if my BIL's wife could sleep over, and I sure don't like it when I'm not at home.  My MIL thinks it's okay, since she's sleeping in her bedroom.  How do I confront this?  I am not a person to speak up for myself, so I usually take things like this to my DH.  But, he seems to think nothing is wrong with this situation.  Am I overreacting?

Dr. Apter's reply:
In order to deal with these problems you will have to become a person who speaks up for herself.  This doesn't mean you have to shout or be aggressive, but you can say, firmly and repeatedly, what you expect from your mother-in-law in terms of financial contribution and guest rights (her inviting people to stay) in your home.  I suggest you write down what you expect and what you think are the most important points.  You can practice saying what you want to say to her.  It would also be helpful to involve your husband in this and to make sure he will support you.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
DW is in constant contact with her mother; running her mother's errands, working out, having lunch 3-4 times per week, and talking on the phone several times per day.  MIL knows more about our schedule and what's going on in my family than I do.  Not to mention the numerous dinners, vacations (which are all about them, and miserable, at best, for me) and constant invitations and requests that my wife can't seem to refuse.  I have spoken to my wife about the issue and told her that I am overwhelmed by this (and treated rather poorly by the ILs), but I get no real support, as she is either afraid, unwilling or unable to address the issue with her parents.  What can I do to get DW to understand that her refusal to cut the cord is hurting our marriage?  Need help in Texas.

Dr. Apter's reply:
Does your wife know how miserable you are on vacations?  I suggest you tell her - not in a way that accuses her of anything, but in a way that shows you are trying to communicate your experiences.

Your wife may be responding to her perception of her mother's needs, so she may be bewildered if you ask her to "cut the cord".  Or, as you say, she may be afraid to decline any request (or even suggestion) from her mother, and in that case, you can offer to help her.  I suggest you ask her to think about how much her mother needs, and whether her interaction with her mother could be reduced.  You could explain your concern: perhaps you feel neglected?  Ignored?  Or put in second place?  You have a right to get her attention, to focus on this, and to work with you to find a solution.

My question for Dr. Apter is:
I am a working woman, and have been married for 8 months.  DH is a middle son.  Both my BILs don't live nearby, so DH and I are the only ones staying with MIL.  MIL is very bossy, and DH is a mamma's boy.  MIL never lets both of us go out together alone.  She always tries to accompany us, be it shopping, a movie, an outing, anything.  Since I have been married, we must have gone out alone only 2 or 3 times.  And that, too, created problems.  When we return, she has a swollen face.  She will not talk properly, and on top of it, I have to do all the household work.  DH also doesn't want to go out without her.  He says that he has a feeling of guilt, as she is alone at home (she is a widow).  In spite of talking to him and telling him that I need my share of personal time, all he says is that he will try.  But, then he says that he has all the responsibilities and a mother to take care of.  I don't understand what to do.  MIL does not even give me my space, even in the bedroom, as she starts knocking on the door in the morning, again and again.  Only a month after marriage things started becoming difficult.  I never argue with her, even if I don't like something.  But, she tries to act bossy and makes me do whatever she wants.  She does not even give me my space in the kitchen.  She always wants her food cooked her way.  DH doesn't understand all this.  Please answer my question.  I am facing real problems, and feel like leaving everything and running away.

Dr. Apter's reply:
I agree that you are facing real problems.  The first thing to try is speaking out.  You say you never argue with your mother-in-law.  I think it is time to risk arguments by setting down clearly what boundaries you need.  Think through your life in the home and decide what five things (for example) are most important to change.  Is it the intrusion in the bedroom?  You could say that your bedroom is off limits to her.  You can tell your husband that "trying" is not good enough; he will have to support you more firmly.

It sounds to me as though your mother-in-law is well cared for by you and your husband, socially and emotionally, and being left on her own for an evening when you go out will not do her real harm.  Her response seems to be manipulative, and I suggest that you ignore it.  Your husband will need support (and perhaps some pressure) to ignore it.  Unless you take deliberate and persistent steps to change the balance of power in your home, it will not improve.  So, I suggest you think about that.  You could explain to your husband that you need his help in order to secure your well-being and your marriage.


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