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         Mother-in-law Advice

The Art of War

My husband and I have been married three years and have one child. Problems began when we started planning our wedding. I am Catholic and he is Jewish. All of a sudden everything was an issue, from the wedding location to the bridal shower. Although his sisters were bridesmaids they did not show up for the shower.

Neither did my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law also wore a white gown to the wedding. They used to have us over for family get-togethers, but when I tried to talk, she would start crying, the family would console her and I was the bad guy. My husband will fight with her, but nothing ever gets resolved.

While our baby was in the hospital, my mother-in-law got mad at us for letting her mother see the baby because they were not talking. She said we should have been more respectful of her before asking her own mother to visit.

Now my husband is about to turn 30. I want to throw him a surprise party as his gift. The location will be my sister's house because it is big enough. I originally wanted a date in February, but they didn't like that, saying it was too close to his cousin's birthday who is also turning 30 in March. They didn't want to rain on his parade.

They wanted the party in June, so we compromised on May. They asked me to change the location and I said no for the reason above. My mother-in-law then sent me an email accusing me of "plotting and planning" the party and warning me she is also family and should be included in all the plans.

She claimed she didn't want to turn my husband's and her son's birthday party into a day of sadness, but she is, she said, an afterthought when it comes to the son she gave birth to. She concluded by saying how little respect I show her and how much she is hurt.

Feigning magnanimity, she stated she wouldn't mention this again but would provide the pictures and addresses I had requested. How should I respond?

Regan

Regan, no one refers to organizing a birthday party as "plotting and planning." No one uses plotting as a positive. You plot and plan a crime, you plot and plan a murder, but you don't plot and plan a birthday party.

You picked the place and date, and she changed the date. Now she is furious she didn't get to decide on the place as well. She has taken the party away from you. This is becoming an occasion for celebrating your husband turning thirty and one-third years old, and for discomfiting his wife.

Move the party back to your husband's birthday, or the nearest weekend. Tell her, "I want to celebrate his birthday on the date you actually gave birth to him, or as close as possible to it. That would best honor him and the day of his birth."

Don't think a grown woman in her 50s doesn't know she is hurting you. Apparently, you are not the girl she envisaged her son marrying. You will never be that. Don't think you will ever have the position that phantom girl would have in her life.

Was your mother-in-law raised in a cave? What was her excuse for the wedding dress? She didn't know any better? She didn't have another presentable dress? That was an intended insult, no matter what silly excuse or lie she told about it.

Treat this incident as practice for what you will need to do to stand against her as your child grows. With this woman you need to forget Emily Post and Miss Manners and turn to Sun Tzu, who said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles."

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Name That Tune

I have been married to a wonderfully grounded woman for nine years, and we have two young children.  The problem?  My mother-in-law lives from crisis to crisis.  She claims to have a "plan," but it is always the wrong plan and my wife and I are constantly picking up the pieces.

A one year experiment of her living with us turned into a stressful five year stay.  We are financially stable, but our oldest child is a special needs child who is draining our financial resources at a healthy clip.  When our second child was born, we gave my mother-in-law an ultimatum, and she moved into a house with a female roommate 15 minutes away. 

The arrangement lasted two years before the roommate had enough and booted her.  She then traveled to California to stay with my wife's older sister and her family.  That arrangement didn't last six weeks.  According to our family in California, she showed more interest in her hair curlers than in her grandchildren. 

My wife's mother is well-educated and in good health.  Her first love is writing.  She has been working on her "masterpiece" for 25 years, and I am sure it will never be submitted to a publisher.  She refuses to pursue financially rewarding work, but she is a great talker.  If she were paid by the spoken word, she'd have more money than Bill Gates.

If my mother-in-law knows there's a safety net, she'll use it.  My wife knows this, too, but in the end she feels obligated to be her mother's savior.  I've given plenty of warning in the past by saying if preventable "situation X" recurs, I will not be a party to it.  Sure enough, situation X repeats itself, and I'm asked at the last minute to drop everything and provide a solution.

Just yesterday my mother-in-law enlisted our help moving again.  She didn't ask until the moving deadline was less than 48 hours away.  I want to support my wife, but I can no longer condone her mother's behavior.  The one blessing is that my marriage is on a solid foundation.

Nathan

Nathan, whether it's heaven and hell, karma and rebirth, running a prison, or teaching a child, the one idea that runs through all life is that behavior has consequences.  When behavior doesn't have consequences, disorder prevails.

As long as your mother-in-law doesn't bear the consequences of her behavior, you and your wife will.  The problem is this.  Your wife feels obligated to meet her mother's demands, whether those demands are legitimate or not, and your mother-in-law is a master at pushing her daughter's buttons.

In her book Emotional Blackmail, Susan Forward writes, "Every time we capitulate to emotional blackmail, we lose contact with our integrity, the inner compass that helps us determine what our values and behavior should be."  This is why you feel you have had enough of your mother-in-law's behavior.

Children learn by being given responsibility and suffering consequences when they don't act responsibly.  But your mother-in-law, a grandmother, isn't learning anything.  All these years she has been getting away with it.

Your mother-in-law doesn't feel bad about the repercussions to you.  She is like a gambler gambling with someone else's money.  She is like the teenager whose parents bail her out of every situation.  The fewer the repercussions to her, the more destructive and thoughtless her actions can be.

In the old television show "Name That Tune," contestants competed to name a tune in the fewest number of notes.  That is also the key to understanding people who manipulate us.  When we can name a manipulator's tune from the first few notes, we can stop their controlling behavior the instant it begins.

The book Emotional Blackmail teaches you the blackmailer's tunes.  It is the perfect antidote for people who feel they have lost themselves in trying to please others.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Standing Alone

My mother-in-law of 17 years is a nasty, difficult European woman who has been in America for 45 years.  I don't know if we're having a culture clash, a personality clash, or both.  For starters, in the beginning when my husband and I lived together she called me a whore, then the day after the wedding she asked me to call her mom.  I refused.

We've been having loud arguments ever since.  This upsets my children, so three years ago I stopped talking to her.  It took her two and a half years to figure out that's what I was doing.  She causes major marital problems as my husband refuses to protect me from her.  He says she's always been that way, so tune her out.  That's what he's done since high school.

Well, I can't tune people out.  She criticizes my cooking, states I shouldn't have married her son, then denies it all when I confront her.  I am considering a divorce over this as I can't live with someone who doesn't support me.  Yet I don't want to break up the family.

Marianne

Marianne, G.K. Chesterton wrote, "There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally.  It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two.  But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one." 

Sometimes a man doesn't realize a woman values him for his ability to protect her from harm.  If the man won't stand up for her, she will lose respect for him.  When your husband was growing up, he treated his mother like annoying music on the radio.  He couldn't turn her off, so he learned to tune her out.

It's not that he disagrees with you.  He knows she's a problem.  The dispute is how to react to her bad behavior.  A book we recommend is Susan Forward's Emotional Blackmail.  It is a primer on how to handle annoying people like your mother-in-law. 

In countries where women are free to initiate divorce, divorces are usually initiated by women.  When a woman gets to the end of her rope, it no longer matters if her husband is finally ready to act.  It is as if a switch has been thrown, and there is no turning back.

If your husband doesn't deal with this problem, then he's left the choice up to you.  He needs to realize this.  The Susan Forward book can help you both, but if he won't confront his mother, then in six months we may get another letter from you.  That letter will begin, "I met this man…."

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Myth And Reality

I am at a complete loss about what to do with my mother-in-law to be.  In a nutshell, she's verbally abusive.  She treats my fiance like a child, and yet he is 30.  She calls me stupid.  He has put up with this behavior all his life and won't stand up to her.  I love my fiance, but if this is how it's going to be the rest of our lives, I'm having second thoughts.

She's an unreasonable person who throws a fit whenever people don't do things her way.  I've done my best to keep peace with her.  I treat her kindly and do my utmost to be respectful and listen to her.

I know I need to be more assertive and set some boundaries, in a kind manner of course.  I believe in treating others with respect no matter the difficulty of the situation.  Sadly, she could care less about others' feelings.  My fiance's a wonderful guy, but how do I deal with his mom?  When we announce our engagement, she's going to go ballistic.

Danielle

Danielle, in mythology Venus was Psyche's mother-in-law.  Venus decreed she would not accept Psyche as a daughter-in-law unless she performed several preposterous tasks. 

Great quantities of wheat, lentils, peas, poppy seeds, barley, and millet were mixed together, and Psyche had to sort them by nightfall.  Aided by an army of ants, Psyche did it.  Another task required Psyche to fetch water from a mountain spring guarded by dragons.  Again Psyche succeeded, this time helped by an eagle.

You are writing to us as if we command magical power.  We don't.  You want to treat this woman as you have been, yet you want her to change.  The first time "stupid" came out of her mouth the issue should have been addressed.  Ground rules need to be set from the start.

Pretend you are her.  Why should she change?  You treat her with respect.  She is doing a better job of teaching you than you are of teaching her.  Turning the other cheek is not appropriate because it will not stop or correct her behavior.  When the food is unpalatable, you send it back to the chef.

Have your boyfriend agree to stay on the sidelines, then confront his mother each time she crosses the line of acceptable behavior.  If this problem isn't solved before you marry, heed your second thoughts.

Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Center Of Attention

My mother-in-law is a hysterical, manipulative, two-faced woman who thinks she is the center of the universe.  Her three children adore her and won't confront her even when she is wrong.

My mother-in-law tops any story people relate with one of her own.  She makes vague promises, then doesn’t follow up.  Not getting her way, she throws a crying fit so everyone feels sorry for her.  My problem is she wants to displace me as the mother of my child.

At my baby's first birthday party she had him in her lap, and when I came to take him away, she shoved me off.  I walked away for a few minutes not to offend her.  When my son began to cry, I took him to give him some juice.  Not 30 seconds passed before she tried to snatch him from my lap.  When I told her to wait, she cried hysterically, and her daughter drove her home.

Her family gave me nasty looks as if I disrespected her and made me feel unwelcome at my own party!  She always has to get her own way.  Her behavior is creating animosity between me and other family members.  My husband doesn't want to interfere because he says she has always been like that, and they have always given in to her.

My husband says I should be the mature person and let her act that way, but I'm 26 and she's in her 50s.  I've tried to confront her in the past only to have her throw more hysterical fits.  Help!

Kayla

Kayla, your mother-in-law is not stupid, she is very clever.  She knows she could never pull this kind of behavior on a job, in a store, or with other people.  But she has latched onto a technique which works on her family.

Misbehavior given into, only becomes worse.  Your husband is right in saying you need to be the mature one, but he is wrong about what that means.  The mature parent doesn't let a child misbehave, even though it is easier to turn a blind eye.  The mature adult knows misbehavior must be corrected.

Not making a scene when a scene is called for doesn't express good manners.  It is foolishness.  The only way to confront a drama queen is with more drama.  If you can't do it for yourself, do it for your son.  There is no reason he should be brought up in a world ruled by a crazymaker.

Being big, while allowing another to act small, only leads to being surrounded by small people.  How different this world will be when good people learn to stand up for themselves.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Beating A Dead Horse

I am American and my husband British.  We met while he lived and worked for two years in the US.  When we became engaged, we discussed where we wanted to settle and that place is America.  We both feel strongly about this.

We did, however, decide to move to the UK for two years for him to finish a few things and get his US green card.  That is much easier to do abroad than at home, and we told his parents we would only be in the UK a short time.

My mother-in-law is a person who uses mind games to get her way.  She has directly insulted America to me claiming everything from American greed to gun problems.  She whines that her grandchildren will not be close to her, and she has even hung up the phone on my husband.  She is a right brat!

I know it must be hard for her, and I understand, I really do.  But we can't always live around the corner, and I am starting to get angry.  My husband told his family they are welcome to come stay with us for a month or longer at a time, but my mother-in-law said, "I don't like to fly, and I don't think I'll like Texas!" 

My husband knows his mother is a difficult woman, but he hates conflict and wants to keep the peace.  My mom says keeping my cool is the best thing to do.

Kay

Kay, before you insult the royal family or British cuisine, remember your mom's advice and keep your cool.  Don't argue with your mother-in-law.  By the very act of arguing you are giving substance to her wishes.  Arguing as if it is unsettled may make it unsettled.

When you give in to a difficult person, they don't become more reasonable, they become more difficult.  They think they are entitled to win all the time.  Once you have moved, your mother-in-law can visit you, and if you can afford it, you can visit her.

Maybe she'll even like Texas.  Or maybe she will love to hate Texas.  But either way your mother-in-law's behavior sounds like a better argument for emigrating than for living around the corner. 

Wayne
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

A Bad Move

My husband is a wonderful man, we are in our thirties, well-educated and fairly affluent.  However, his mother has been a stumbling block in our relationship from the start.

While we dated, I thought I would surprise him on his birthday with dinner at a swanky restaurant and a movie.  I dolled up in a black velvet dress, hair and make-up just right, and he was dressed up, too.  Before leaving, he asked to stop off and check on his mother.  She was in a sweat suit, knit cap, house dress and tennis shoes.  She looked like a bag lady.

To make a long story short, she pitched a fit to go with us.  I should have figured it out then, but I kept thinking things would change.  They haven't.  She belittles me and is very demanding of my husband's time.  He sees her during his lunch hour, spends 45 minutes each night on the phone with her, and includes her in our weekend errands. 

This gal could give a good shrink enough work to buy several Mercedes.  Talking to her is out of the question.  I could reason with a doorknob more effectively.  To make matters worse, we are moving next door to his parent's home and adopting our first child in a few months.

I feel myself becoming more distant from my husband.  I'm thinking about throwing myself into my small business, becoming more involved in the community, and doing church activities to carve out a life for myself away from him and his mother.

Monique

Monique, you're moving next door?  Did you have a say in this?  That can only give you more of what you didn't want in the first place.  If she is bad now, wait until your mother-in-law has her son's child nearby.

Dealing with this woman is like a deep-sea fisherman playing a large fish.  You need to keep a constant drag on the reel and never permit slack in the line.  Without your husband's help, it will be impossible.

It is time to tell your husband to choose between you and your child, and his mommy.  In choosing you, he can have you and his mom--his mom within reason and you completely.  In choosing his mom, that is all he will ever have because she does not want him to have anyone else.

Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

Child’s Play

I am a happily married 23-year-old woman with one problem, my husband’s mother.  She was against our relationship as soon as she saw it becoming serious.  Prior to me entering the picture, she gave him assistance for college, but she froze him out financially so he wouldn’t marry me.  When she cut him off, she said he would need her before she ever needed him. 

After we married she still introduced me to people as his girlfriend, not his wife.  When my husband confronted her on this, she got upset and stopped introducing me altogether.  Now when we have family gatherings she doesn’t speak to me, not even to say hello or good-bye.  She told my husband she pretends he isn’t married.

As you can imagine, this has altered my husband’s relationship with his mother.  They used to be very close.  Too close I think.  My mother-in-law stayed in an unhappy marriage and is very bitter.  She latched onto my husband and confided in him as though he was an adult.  He took up much of the emotional slack for his father.

My mother-in-law has no reason to dislike me.  We are planning to have children in the future, but I don’t want them around her.  If she can’t accept our marriage or respect me enough to speak, then I know she would do things to taint my image in front of my own children.

My husband and I have talked to her individually and together.  Each time she proclaims she will get better, but gets worse.  My husband told her, if she forces him to choose between her and his marriage, he will choose his marriage.  I would like to make things better for my husband’s sake.  I don’t want him to shut her out, even if it is her own doing.  What can we do?

Erin

Erin, your mother-in-law is playing the child’s game “Let’s Pretend.”  Let’s pretend my son doesn’t have a wife.  If a child throws a tantrum every time you go to the store, you explain to the child if she has a tantrum, you will leave.  Then you don’t go to the store unless you are willing to walk out, not having made your purchases. 

Make sure your mother-in-law understands what the consequences of her negative actions will be, and don’t socialize with her unless you are willing to leave.  You aren’t asking for anything more than basic human civility.  It is her choice to give it or not. 

That you are willing to give her that choice is to your credit.  She raised a son to grow, move on, marry, and have children, not to take the place of a husband who never fulfilled that role.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

 

One-track Mind

I am lucky to be engaged to the most wonderful guy on the planet.  However, like most men, he has a mother.  And what's more, she lives with us.  It's a long story, but basically times were tough and she didn't have any other options.  So for the past two years we've been one big "happy" family.

At first things seemed good because she seemed helpful and would do anything for you.  Within six months I came to realize, however, that she was not being nice but trying to control everything.

I knew she owned her own cleaning business for many years, but it wasn't until I lived with her I realized how insane she is about cleanliness.  She is quite the middle-class Martha Stewart in these parts.  All she does every day is wash, clean, sweep, paint, fix, mop, vacuum, and dust.

You're probably thinking I should realize I hit the jackpot, right?  No!  It is making me absolutely insane.  If I use the wrong cup for the wrong beverage, she will mention it with a sidelong glance.  If I dry my hands on the wrong towel, she will frantically run over, take it from me, and put it in the laundry room since it has been used incorrectly.

On top of that, she drives me nuts with all her little "procedures."  For example, she sets her breakfast up the night before so when she's half asleep in the morning she doesn't have to think about it.  But if you so much as move something one little inch, she comes over to put it back in "its" spot.

My fiance and I have tried talking to her, but if what you say isn't peaches-and-cream, she is not hearing it and scoots for the door.  Ideally I'd like her to move, but financially that isn't possible.  So basically we are stuck together until one of us strikes it rich or she gets a boyfriend who will take her in.

Josie

Josie, Aristotle looked at every virtue as a middle point between two extremes.  For example, courage is the midpoint between recklessness and timidity.  Honesty is the midpoint between rudeness and a lie. 

You are living with someone stuck on an extreme, and that is no virtue.  Little by little you and your fiance conceded your normal behavior to her abnormal behavior.  Now little by little you need to return to normalcy. 

That means, without concession or apology, living your lives as you see fit in that house.  If there is any way to get her to accept treatment, by all means, get her the help she needs.  But by all means, don't allow her extreme behavior to unbalance your lives.

Wayne & Tamara
(The best of relationship advice from Direct Answers.)

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