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In-Laws Archives

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Dear Mrs. Web,

I have been married for almost 1 year, and am 4 months pregnant. Over 2 weeks ago I fell on the ice on my way to see my doctor and broke my leg in 3 places. I am now in a wheelchair and using a walker. I have a full-leg cast. My mother-in-law flew into help out which we really appreciated because I have another child from a previous marriage and my husband has a demanding job. It was great to have her here.

One afternoon she had been on the phone talking to her oldest daughter. When she hung up, she told me how she and her family felt sorry for her son.  In addition to his new job he now had to rush home from work and take me to medical appointments, as well as take care of me.  It made me feel just awful since I didnít plan on being in this situation. All I could manage to say was that he is my husband and I would do the same thing for him if the situation were reversed.

Then I began to cry. She was very disturbed by this.  I had another crying spell when my husband came homeÖ it was just everything, the pregnancy, and being laid up.  She said I was being a big baby and decided I was crying because I didnít want her there. She also said many other cruel things. No matter what I said, she remained insulted and flew home in the morning on the first plane out.

My husband is feeling  badly about this entire situation since he is very close to his family. He blames me too for being emotional around her and says I hurt her feelings. I phoned just to tell her how sorry I was. She told me to forget about it, but I could tell she was still very upset. She had told me that all the family members now know what happened and they were all upset too. I know they will never want to talk to me again.

My husband hasnít been the same towards me since this happened. He is distant and seems depressed. I also need his emotional and physical support and I feel so alone right now. I feel I have lost a best friend. I just want things back to normal again.

First I want to tell you that you didnít do anything wrong. You are in a difficult situation and crying is a normal response for someone who is feeling bad and pregnant Ė a lot of crying.

Your mother-in-lawís behavior was blaming, callous, and, impolite, to boot. This may be the way she responds to emotion, but that doesnít change the fact it was poor form. It is not your job to keep her from feeling bad; grownups take care of their own emotions and responses. She acted like a spoiled child. 

I would at best, ignore the incident and continue to have a cordial relationship with her. I imagine this is how she deals with everybody and the family members take turns in her doghouse. I am sure everyone in his family is used to this power game. The only way to combat this stuff is to ignore the doghouse, withdraw when you are in it, and ignore her inappropriateness. Always remain cordial, but a bit distant and remember: her inappropriate behavior is about her, not you.

My concern is your husband. His job is to deal with his motherís behaviors. This guy is going to have to clear things up with his mother. If this sort of cutoff is the way your mother-in-law controls her family, this may be a difficult, or even impossible for him to do.  I imagine he is depressed because he is in a tough place, in hot water with his mother and not adequately protecting his wife. He is going to have to learn how to be a different man around his mother and not let her yank him and his family around. That is long term work.

I have a terrific book on my bookshelf called How to Hug a Porcupine. It was made for people who are coping with problem people like your mother- in-law. Buy it and read it. Your husband may not be ready to face the fact his mother is so difficult, sometimes it easier to blame everyone else rather than confront a hellcat. However, make sure you read it to take care of yourself and your children around her.

Right now I would talk to him about the distance you feel in the relationship.  I would talk about your concern for your relationship. I wouldnít bring Mom or the incidents up; I would just talk about the two of you, man and wife and how you as a family will cope with different stresses in your marriage.



Dear Mrs. Web, 

I have been married to a wonderful man for 5 years and we have three children.  My in-laws does not approve of me and our relationship has always been somewhat strained. There seems to be a constant tug of war between us with my husband in the middle. 

We have often had weekend plans and find out that our in-laws have already scheduled and included us in their own plans. My husband has struggled over the decision of whether to honor their plans or our own.

They have gotten right in the middle of our lives and have consistently asked my husband to put me second to their demands. They have even asked me to take a cab to the hospital for the birth of our second child so he could cover for them in their business. He did tell them to find someone else.

They have required my husband to jump through hoops. They have insulted my appearance, slighted  the children in favor of other grandchildren, criticized my choices for my children as well as my care and feeding of them, and insulted my nationality.

When my in-laws insult me, my husband listens to my complaints and says nothing. He has never defended me with them. However, recently  he stopped changing our plans to suit theirs and he did leave the second job he had with his father. 

I am concerned that my marriage may soon be over.  I have told him I'm tired of dealing with them and the tug of war. It makes me want to leave our marriage. He said he feels the same way. I love my husband and we are okay until the in-law factor comes into play. I don't want to come between him and his parents but I don't want them to come in between us either. Any suggestions?

This must be nasty in-law month! My mailbox is filled with emails from frustrated daughters and sons in laws.

Letís look at the facts:

Your in-laws donít give you what you want

Your husband is in the middle.

Your marriage is sliding to a divorce because of the above.

In-laws can bless or curse a marriage. First, you both need to re-commit to each other and the marriage.  This is a top priority in any marriage. Then, (with the help if needed) put together a plan of how much and how often and to what degree you will both permit these in-laws into your marriage. Work on it together.  Write it out. List the holidays you will spend with them.  List out what kind of behavior your marriage will accept and what behavior your marriage will not tolerate from your in-laws. 

I think your marriage needs boundaries. You both need to work together to find them. Your marriage comes first, always.

Next, it would be time for your husband to deal with his folks. They are his parents and his responsibility. Support him about his good choices and successes and accept his failures or difficulties. Rome wasnít built in a day! Finding a voice to cope with demanding and controlling parents takes time. I recommend the book How to Hug a Porcupine for families in your situation.

Your husband should be clear with his parents that he will not tolerate any insults or slurs about his wife. He must make them understand that if it is between wife and parents,  he will always choose his wife. That is the first and best way a man polices his familyís borders.

It is time for you to detach and stop comparing the way they treat you or your family to others. Your arenít a favorite. You know that. Why continue to drive the nails into your head. You donít need to torture yourself by reacting and fussing about their poor treatment of you. It is a given.  Let it go.  Then any positive behavior from them with be an unexpected gift.

Instead, develop polite detachment. The kind of politeness that doesnít react to the slurs and jabs but points out its inappropriateness ("My, that was a painful and cruel thing to say!") and changes the subject. 

The kind of politeness that leaves if people get difficult. The kind of politeness that uses strengths and planning  to leave when situations are too uncomfortable and has several ready-made excuses. The detachment that always protects and defends the couple, and their children. A detachment that can be respectful, polite and kind, and when needed - distant. A detachment that will eventually help you laugh, however ruefully at their predictable, silly, controlling antics.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My future in-laws are buying us a home in time for our wedding this May. His parents have made one condition that the house would be in my fiancťís name only. This makes me feel like they donít trust our relationship.

This is essentially a pre-nuptial agreement. My concern for you is future planning and asset building. Since a house is the one biggest asset most families accumulate, you should not be shut out of it. You and your fiancť should come to a mutually beneficial agreement and your fiancť should deal with his parents.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My new in-laws are very nice people. However, they are cheap. We have not received a wedding gift from one family member. I have talked about this with my husband. I want him to confront his family about it but we just end up arguing. Do you think he should talk to his family?

Dear Mrs. Web, they didnít even buy us a card! I feel as if they are not acknowledging or accepting our marriage. Help!

You said they are cheap. Therefore, it is not that they donít accept you or your marriage. They donít like to spend money. This is a characteristic of the family you married. You need to get over this and realize it is not about you.

Of course, he should not say anything to his family. Pointing out other peopleís deficits in manners is very impolite. It also puts your husband in the odd situation of whining for gifts. Gifts, by the way, although a custom, are not ever to be expected or demanded. They areÖwellÖgifts.

People have different ways of expressing love and happiness to others. Moreover, people receive love and happiness in different ways, too. The Five Love Languages can help you realize the different ways people (including cheap people) express their love.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My wealthy in-laws have once again offered us money to finish another part of our unfinished house. I appreciate their offer, but feel as an adult, both my husband and I should be able without their help to financially support ourselves and our two children. My husband expects them to pay for a variety of things he wants and depends on them to bail him out of financial situations. This is an area where my husband and I strongly disagree. I would rather not accept their money (knowing that if we truly had a crisis, they could be a possible resource). My husband and I usually butt heads over this matter. Am I just being stubborn? Should I graciously accept their offer and let it go? Or should I stick to my guns and encourage my husband to be a responsible, independent adult?

I personally think it is wonderful when family members help each other and the occasional gracious financial gift from parents to their struggling adult children is just fine. Patterns of dependence, however, running deep into a marriage tend to undermine the solidarity, intimacy and cooperative work needed by a husband and wife to sustain healthy family life. Because of the dependence, in some ways your in-laws are in the middle of your marriage.

On the other hand, you are involved with a man who has a long-standing dependence on his parents, something that you may have ignored or thought would change over time. This issue is a core value difference. It may lead to your family living beyond its means or having expectations that do not line up with the reality of your earned income.

A major factor in this problem is that your husband apparently sees no problem with this dependence. Changing long-term core issues is difficult, even when the changing person desperately longs for things to be different. Your husband sees no real problem (except perhaps you) about this issue and has no interest or motivation for the changes you want. Plainly put, your encouragement to change is of little use.

You have a family. You are going to need to negotiate a place of comfort for yourself with respect to your husbandís dependence on his parents. A place that meets some of both of your needs instead of you alternately giving up or getting mad. Graciously accepting gifts from your in-laws, but also living within a budget may be an acceptable negotiation as well as good modeling for your children.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My family is giving me grief because I am pregnant with our fourth child. My husband and I want a big family. However, on both sides of our family the people think three is quite a lot of kids. I donít dare tell them we want six or eight children. They act as though we are insane and say snide things such as "arenít you ever going to stop?" or "Oh, did you have another accident?" My husband makes enough to support us all and I love children. My mother and sister tell me I am wasting my life in diapers and baby-talk. How can I handle this?

Mavericks always take the heat. You are up against their version of "normal." So, you are going to have to develop a thick skin and a sense of humor. When you are confronted with comments about your family size you should smile and say that you and your husband just love the children. Then change the subject. Personally dear, I love children too, and I find big families so refreshing.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I dread my father-in-law coming to visit us and I have to put up with it 4 or 5 times a year for 1 or 2 weeks at a time. I try to get along with him, but he is such a negative human being. He compares me to my husband's ex-wife. He likes her better and nothing I do seems to change his mind. He just doesn't like me and his mean comparisons hurt me.

This is your husband's task. It is time for him to step in and deal with his father. Ground rules need to be laid out that make it clear to Dear Old Dad that he is welcome in your home but is not allowed to compare or insult you. You are his wife. You come first.



Dear Mrs Web,

 My wife and I have been at the beck and call of her mother and uncle recently. They are both in their seventies, live together and want daily visits from us. They have a household staff and anything that money can buy. We have traveled with them on occasion, but they are very demanding, in a very nice way, though. We found them exhausting and have begged off many trips. I feel uncomfortably tied to them, but my wife says that we have a duty to them and there is the inheritance to consider. 

Everyone I know who received a substantial inheritance - earned it - sometimes many times over. Sounds like it's your turn. You and your wife are going to have to decide what is important. You do have a duty to your mother-in-law, and you both need to come to some agreement on the boundaries you need to set.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My in-laws treat my husband and me like children and find fault with every thing we do. We are actually both responsible professionals and doing well in our marriage and finances. Her older son and his wife are constantly broke and looking for handouts. They also are always trying to "one-up" and compete with us. They are snide with us at times.

The in-laws think the world of them and donít understand our coolness towards them. How do I deal with this? I have tried to befriend my sister-in-law, but she is consistently nasty. How can I let my mother-in-law know this in a way that doesn't make it look like I'm trying to put the other woman down and make myself look good? Please help!

You have parents in laws who treat you both in a way you find condescending. You feel you and your husband are competing with your brother and sister in-law for your in laws approval. Your sister in law is fairly nasty and you donít want to have a relationship with her. You want your mother in law to understand this and explain it to her so she will accept it. And you want me to tell you how to do this successfully.

I give advice, not miracles! Your husband should cope with keeping his parents in line. Dear Mrs Webís rule number one for families and happy marriages is if your family is causing your spouse grief, you are to confront family members involved and arrange/request that they stop their grief-causing behaviors. If they refuse or are unable to stop their problematic behavior, you protect your spouse and family unit by stepping away from the problem family members and limiting your contact. Your spouse and immediate family come first.

Now stop competing with your brother and sister in law. Just take yourselves out of the race. Be cool and detached. There is only a competition if you choose to run the race. Whether you like it or not you do have a relationship the sibling in-laws. The best you can do in these situations is distant politeness.

You are not going to change your mother in law's perspective about your sister in law. Your job here is to maintain a cordial relationship with your mother in law. Look for the humor in the way they treat you. Believe it or not, it is there. My husband and I used to place bets on how we were going to be treated when visiting a certain family member. However, it requires the detachment that realizes that her behavior is not about you. It is about her.



Dear Mrs. Web.

I've been married for 16 years to the same man and his family. I have never been able to establish a good relationship with any of my in-laws. There have been many instances of meanness and slights by them towards me. They usually try to make me feel left out.

At family functions they ignore or insult me. I have tried to befriend them individually without results. In between family gatherings, they virtually ignore us. This behavior is beginning to show in how they act towards our children. My in-laws have always been a disappointment.

I always bring this stuff up to my husband but he tells me I carry around too much baggage. He says that I may be the one to be the cause of their behaviors. This angers me, and we generally fight about it. What can I do that will help this situation? I'm at a loss.

I donít know whether there is anything you can do to help the situation. You seem to be expecting their attitudes to change. that they will suddenly accept you. After 16 years, nothing is going to change, except your attitude.

Face it, there is noting much there for you or your children. The well is dry. That is very sad, for family should provide a bounty of love and support for your children and you. However, it isnít. The best thing you can do is to mourn the empty well and focus on your husband, your children, your church, your own family, and other places that will give you the respect and caring we all crave and deserve.

When with your in-laws, try being cool, pulled back, polite and distant. Attend the major family functions you are invited to that you and your husband both choose to attend. Stop turning somersaults to get anything positive from these people.

In-laws can be a difficult issue in a marriage. You and your husband will need to come to some sort of meeting of the minds. You donít mention how his relationship is with his family. Your husband tells you he feels you may be a contributor to the difficulties. I would sit down and listen to him. No anger, no tears, no recriminations. Just listen. Our mates can hold up a mirror and give us information about ourselves that we cannot see.



Dear Mrs. Web,

I am six months pregnant. My mother-in-law and my father-in-law's new wife do not get along. Although I have a good relationship with them both and try to stay neutral, they are putting me under a lot of stress. One wants to give me a baby shower and the other refuses to allow certain family members to attend.

These two were barely civil to each other at my wedding and I am afraid of what will happen at this shower. Some family members have even suggested two showers. The prospect of a war zone at every family function is distresses me.

This is the time to settle this little dispute, can you imagine these two haggling over the baby??? You would need Solomon!

This is your husbandís family. Itís your husbandís job. Dear Mrs Webís rule number one for families and happy marriages is if your family is causing your spouse grief, you are to confront family members involved and arrange/request that they stop their grief-causing behaviors. If they refuse or are unable to stop their problematic behavior, you protect your spouse and family unit by stepping away from the problem family members and limiting your contact. Your spouse and immediate family come first.

Their relationship problems are theirs alone.  And one can imagine and understand the painful feelings that may occur between an current and ex-wife. However, be clear that we are all grownups here and they are expected to behave like grownups in public with each other, for the sake of the family. Even if it causes their teeth to crumble under the jaw pressure of keeping their mouths shut. Their animosities do not have to drip all over you.



Dear Mrs. Web,

My husband and I have been married for 1 year now. He was married to his first wife for 35 years. His sister always brings up past vacations she has had with my husband and the ex.

I have told my husband and his sister that I find it rude for her to always bring up the ex. It continues and when I mention not liking it, I am the bad guy. Please help.

You married a man whoís wife left him after 35 years or marriage. Your sister in law constantly changes the topic of conversation to his first wife Ėeven when you have pointed out your discomfort. When you ask for conversation to change course, the participants become miffed.

This is your husbandís issue. You need to be loving but clear to him about your feelings regarding how his sister is treating you. 

He needs to discuss this privately with her in and explain to her that he will choose you not being hurt, over her, every time. That is his responsibility. 

I believe that spouses need to police their own relatives. Until this happens, I would not spend a lot of time with her.



Dear Mrs. Web.

My sister-in-law is from a different country. When she breastfeeds my nephew she just opens up and pulls her breast out and feeds the baby. My family and friends aren't really used to that method. Whether we are visiting her at home or out and about, she will just pop them out. I have not quite been able to come up with a way to talk to her about this.

Well, before Uncle Henry has a coronary and Aunt Rosie drops her teeth perhaps you could take her aside and kindly explain to her the breastfeeding protocols in you area. You could start with: "You know Inga, here in Grassflats breastfeeding mothers do not exposeÖit makes some people uncomfortableÖand so on." It would help her fit in better.


Dear Mrs. Web,

I have been married 9 years. My husband and I are educated and successful in our careers. We have a daughter, now 15, from my previous marriage as well as two children of our own. My husband loves my daughter and treats her like his own child. My in-laws, however, have never accepted my daughter as a grandchild.

They enjoy our two younger children and play grandparents to them every chance they can. They want to have the little ones sleep-over soon and they always call to ask about them. They never mention my daughter. They never send my daughter cards or gifts but do send them to the two little ones.

On occasion, my mother-in-law  has rudely corrected my daughter for poor table manners. Once she became upset that my daughter had mentioned her biological father during a bridge group. My husband has told them how their rejection of her hurts me. The have been defensive about it, and have not changed.

I've had to bite my tongue for years.  We are moving closer to them this summer.  I want this cleared up before we move back. When we called to discuss this with them, my mother in law started crying on the phone saying that she hasn't done anything wrong. I donít want them in our lives if they canít treat all the children the same.  Help!

As a mother, I can understand your pain at your in-lawís indifference to your oldest child.

Some people can open their hearts to anyone, and some cannot. Your in-laws are people who cannot give you what you want for your daughter. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not consider your daughter their grandchild. Moreover, she isnít. No amount of encouragement or threats is going to change this.

You cannot force your in-laws to love or treat equally someone they do not consider "their own." They are a dry well. To sit there and expect or insist that water flow from this well is futile. You are banging your head against a wall; it hurts you and disturbs everyone involved. You are not going to get your way. It is also unfair to your in-laws and your daughter.

It is time to let go of this issue. It is tearing you apart, causing a wedge in your marriage, and distancing you from your in-laws. Your daughter is not her granddaughter. This is one of the small tragedies of the blended families.  People who "look like family" are not family.  (On another note, I receive a number of letters from parents whose in-laws treat their biological grandchildren similarly.) Instead, you can foster different, positive relationships here. They may never function as grandparents, but they can become friends. 

In your shoes, I would pull back my ultimatums, and ask your husband to negotiate a position so his mother will not criticize your daughter.  That is a boundary-breaker. She is not the childís grandmother. Your daughter also should be able to discuss her birthfather. He is not dirty secret; he is a fact of life.

I would not tell your daughter about your mother in lawís inability. Your daughter will realize it on her own (if not already!). It is your job to make sure she understands that different people have different abilities to love and accept. They are to be appreciated and respected. 

We run into doors that wonít open throughout life, no matter how hard or nicely that we knock.  Acceptance is a hard but worthwhile character trait to cultivate for these times.

As an aside, sometimes, I have found in my life, that the door I am currently pounding is a lot like other doors I tried to open in my past.



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