The Mother-In-Law From Under the Sea



Dear Amy,

I love the way you give such balanced advice and get right to the heart of things. I’m hoping you might be able to help me. My problem(s) might be too hairy for someone else to weigh in on, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just a kick up the backside I need to get my head straight – or maybe not – I don’t know how completely unreasonable I’m being and need some perspective.

I’ve always had a fundamental dislike of my mother in-law, beginning well before getting married. It’s basically just a (fundamental) clash of personality, opinion, lifestyle, values, I guess… the works. She’s narcissistic, self-absorbed, dramatic and ignorant (but confident) and she often uses emotional blackmail (bullying, guilt, acting like a victim) – on her own kids… and me.

From your ‘grandparent field guide‘, she’s part meddler, competitor, and a little bit toxic (I don’t trust her to respect my wishes in terms of what my daughter gets fed, exposure to her second-hand cigarette smoke, etc). She played a big part in raising her first grandchild (our daughter is 4th grandchild of 5) because my sister-in-law had her baby as a very young single mother. Both my sisters-in-law live close to my in-laws and those grandchildren spend a lot of time with them. It seems that my mother in-law expects to assume the same kind of role with our daughter.

I’ve been raised to treat people with respect, and am totally a people pleaser, often to my own detriment – but I’ve lost all respect for my mother in-law’s behaviour and now her as a person. She’s not really a bad person, but maybe because of our differing values, it’s got to the point where I now feel a huge amount of stress and adrenaline when I see her, and I’ve started questioning all the decisions in my life that brought me here.

After discussing boundaries with my husband and agreeing that he’d discuss them with his parents, he failed to do it a couple of times so I did, in a pretty direct and assertive way (she doesn’t understand subtlety). This was a big deal for me, and I was quietly proud of myself for standing up to her. My husband was upset with me. He says he’s supportive of me but just doesn’t seem to follow-through when it comes to his family. I think he also thinks it’s unfair I don’t treat his parents equally to my own. I’d be willing to speak to my parents about any issues my husband has – but he doesn’t have any.

I don’t plan to interfere in the relationship that my husband or daughter have with my in-laws, but in my dream world, I’d send my daughter (who’s still too young to be away from me for long – she’s 10 months old and they live interstate) with my husband for visits and I’d stay away. This seems (even to me) up there with unreasonable – but what’s a compromise that I can live with? How do I prevent my mother in-law from making me feel so powerless and crazy?

Unfortunately, there’s more… Having spent more time with my in-laws since our baby was born, I’ve noticed the same emotional blackmail behaviours in my husband. I didn’t pay it a lot of attention in the past but have realised that it’s a bigger part of him than I realised. The more I see of my in-laws, the more I recognise my mother in-law’s characteristics in my husband. You might think this would make me more accepting of those behaviours, but it hasn’t. I don’t want my issues to affect my marriage but I’m having trouble preventing my feelings for my mother in-law from infecting my feelings for my husband.

I know I’m in control of my reactions, so it’s possible for me to take the power back, but I’m really at a loss for how to do it and turn things around. Please help!

Okay. Bear with me if some of my thoughts come out in fits and starts — this is a big hairy question for first thing on a Monday morning.

*glugs coffee*

A couple things you’re going to need to realize and accept here:

First, your mother-in-law is never, ever going to change.

“But! But! What if I say X, Y and Z and say it SUPER AWESOMELY ASSERTIVE-LIKE?”

Nope. Not even then. This woman is who she is. I do wish (mostly because NOSY) that you could have included a couple concrete examples/scenarios of her behaviors beyond a long list of adjectives and generalization (and the second-hand smoke thing), but even if we take your word for it that this woman would make all of decent society want to peel their faces off in rage, you admit that she’s been this way for as long as you’ve known her. Which means she’s probably been that way since even before you knew her, and frankly, there’s just nothing to be done about it. And I’m guessing your husband knows that, which is way he conveeeeeeeeniently neglected to have that little uncomfy chat with her. (That doesn’t excuse him or anything, by the way, but we’re gonna get to you two in a bit.)

It sounds like, rather than her (long list of adjectives) behavior driving wedges through relationships left and right, that the rest of her family kinda…is okay with it all. They actually sound…close? That doesn’t mean the family dynamic is 100% healthy or anything, but it does put you in the position of being completely outnumbered here in staging any sort of CHANGE OR BE SHUNNED/NEVER VISITED/LOSE GRANDCHILD PRIVILEGES coup.

Which leads me to the second thing you need to accept: Your mother-in-law is a package deal with your marriage. She is going to be part of your life.  You are not going to convince your husband that his mother is evil and terrible and he should declare emancipation from her and start calling your parents New and Improved Mom and Dad. (By the way, I would bet cash money that there are indeed things about your parents that bug your husband. He probably just deems his issues not worth the hassle of confrontation — especially if later he can throw his amazing ability to get along with your annoying family back at you, passive-aggressive MIL-style, right?)

So. Say those two things out loud. She’s not going to change; she’s not going away. In fact, I suspect that the more you fight this situation — the more you needle your husband to lay down the law, the more you explode at her with your list of slowly simmering grievances, and the more you imagine scenarios where your husband and child go off to visit her while you sit at home, alone and smug in your principled victory — that the WORSE things will get. Just reading through the timeline in your letter, has anything you’ve done over the past year actually…helped? Even a little bit? It sounds like your I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS ANYMORE ultimatums have simply given her — the large, Disney-villain version of her  — MORE power over you. She’s an awful person but NOW — holy crap — you can’t stop thinking about how you’re sleeping next to a mini-her every night. That right there is one toxic-ass relationship. And while there isn’t a sure-fire cure (save for getting an acrimonious divorce, petitioning for full custody and spiriting your daughter away to Alaska), you’ve GOT to figure out how to stop letting your poisonous feelings for a poisonous person spread and take over.

And again, I’m NOT saying that you aren’t completely freaking justified in everything you feel for this woman. But I do think at some point the scale tipped and everything became overly fraught and this became bigger than her. The birth of your daughter, I assume, would understandably raise the stakes and make you feel like it was time to demand more control over her behavior. That CAN be true, in the case of certain dealbreakers. Without specific examples I can’t tell you whether or not your MIL has crossed any of those lines — though the fact that you’re fine sending your baby to go spend time with her so long as you don’t have to go too suggests that we’re mostly talking about things of the non-dealbreaker/child endangerment variety.

Grandparents feed kids junk food. Grandparents forget about bedtime. Grandparents get confused sometimes because Stuff Was Done Differently In Their Day And They Don’t Understand The Big Deal About Peanut Butter. You absolutely have the right to demand that she not smoke around your daughter but you don’t have the right to demand that say, she stops smoking in her own house altogether for three months leading up to your visit or something. Running a meth lab in the garage? Dealbreaker. Being a general pain in the ass diva with politics you abhor? Not a dealbreaker. Just smile and nod and be the bigger, more Zen-ed out person. Go fake a phone call or go meditate or put on your running shoes and jog it out around the neighborhood. (And whatever you do, don’t drink too much and start yelling and sink to her level.)

I’m actually tempted to tell you to just drop the MIL issue completely and focus on your marriage right now. Maybe she’s a symptom and not really the cause. I always think in-law issues should be resolved by the child of said in-law whenever possible, but that requires open and honest communication and support between partners. You guys obviously don’t have that now, since he’s placating you and telling you want you want to hear (“Yes, yes, I will tell my mother that tricking mermaids out of their voice boxes in exchange for legs is totally not cool with us”) but then doing absolutely nothing about it. (“But if I actually tell my mother that I run the risk of being turned into a seaweed newt. PASS.”) This is also understandably rage-making, because it suggests that he thinks you’re being unreasonable or unrealistic. And maybe you are! I don’t know! This whole courtroom is out of order!

But he should be able to TELL you that hey, honey, this is who my mom is and I love her anyway and I think you need to accept that. Or he should be able to stand up to his mom, if he really does agree that her behaviors are out of line and unacceptable. He’s desperately trying to not take sides — maybe because he grew up playing the perpetual peacemaker in a big household full of lots of manufactured conflict and drama. We’re all a product of our upbringing, so the fact that he has stuff in common with his mom is not super surprising. But if he completely fails to recognize that those behaviors aren’t cool (and not just because he’s trying to get you to stop bugging him about his mom so FINE I’LL TALK TO HER) (TOTALLY NOT GOING TO TALK TO HER), well…that is definitely something you guys should hash out with a real-life neutral third party, rather than an Internet advice column.

Oh my God, I’ve thrown so many words at you! And I’m still not done. For your part in that open and honest communication, I’m going to assign you some homework. I’m a very visual/list-focused kind of person so this is a little writing exercise a therapist once gave me for anxiety that I’ve adapted for high-stress situations in general (especially those where I suspect I might have lost my perspective or be overreacting). Take your adjectives and general feelings about your MIL and write them down in order of the crazy-making, or just scattered around the page like clouds. Then start writing down specific behaviors/instances as evidence underneath. And I mean SPECIFIC. No “she always undermines me” generalizations. You’re basically outlining your personal legal case against her.

Then cross out anything that really isn’t that bad — the difference in personality stuff that 1) could easily go both ways, and 2) we all occasionally have to overlook in order to exist on this planet without going apeshit at people.  Then for everything that’s left, write what you believe the consequence will be. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you and your husband and your daughter continue to have regular contact with this particular habit or behavior? Cross off anything that doesn’t have a consequence other than you being annoyed by it (“I Will Eat My Own Hand Off During Dinner”) or stuff that’s super unlikely to actually happen (“Daughter Will Become Chocolate Cake Junkie By Age Four”).  Everything that’s left? Those should be your dealbreakers, or the stuff that’s solvable, with an actionable plan supported by your husband for avoiding the undesirable result. Some might require him to put on his big boy pants and talk to his mom. And for others, the plan might be more about you getting the fight-or-flight adrenaline reaction under control or loosening up your need to control your daughter’s diet/schedule/environment to an unrealistic degree.

That stress and adrenaline bit stood out to me, by the way, and if I was a more organized writer I probably would have mentioned it earlier: It sounds like you’re having anxiety attacks around your MIL. That’s why I suggested the layered writing exercise, since it helps unpack the anxiety and break it down from “I’M AFRAID OF DYING ALONE” to what the real, underlying issue and fear is. (Which is often something unpleasant yet solvable that you’re avoiding.) In this case, it could stem from fears about your daughter, your parenting skills, your marriage, or hell, even a general postpartum depression/anxiety issue that you’re looking to pin on something concrete and rational. (If that’s even remotely a possibility, like you’ve noticed a marked escalation in anxiety/OCD/anger-type feelings since your daughter’s birth, please see a professional– like your OB/GYN– immediately.)

Or it could be none of those things because your MIL seriously is Ursula the Sea Witch and that lady is terrifying. 

Either way, tell yourself she’s not going to change. No fight, no flight, just a deep cleansing sigh of acceptance and “Her Behavior Is Not My Problem Or Responsibility And Is No Longer Going to Occupy My Precious Brainspace.” Or maybe she WILL change — it does happen, but it’s best not to count on it in this sort of situation — but she probably won’t change just because you freaked out at her on Christmas Eve and everything got all awkward and weird.

But remember you also have no such peacekeeping obligation to accept MIL-like behaviors from your husband. Nuh-uh, Not even a little bit. If you really are seeing emotional blackmail and a lack of support and honesty from him (MAKE A LIST!), that’s where your focus belongs, because THAT’S got the potential for some real and serious consequences — for you, your marriage and your daughter. Approach his behaviors as HIS behaviors, by the way, and not framed in a “UR JUST LIKE UR MOM” argument. When he does something that’s not cool, call him on the thing that is not cool and leave his parents out of it, because he’s a big boy who can take responsibility for his own actions.

And again, if you sense that your stress and anxiety to the situation is no longer really in proportion to your MIL’s actual behavior and this is possibly postpartum in nature, speak up and ask for help. That doesn’t make any of this your “fault.” (And your MIL can still totally suck as a person. You just don’t need to deal with anxiety attacks on top of her nonsense.)

Good luck! And hey, even if I’ve gotten everything wrong here and said nothing remotely helpful, perhaps just picturing your MIL as a giant purple whiskey-voiced Disney villain the next time you visit will help you smile a little bit. Poor unfortunate soul, indeed.

About the author

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

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Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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32 Responses to “The Mother-In-Law From Under the Sea”

  1. Rachel Oct 07 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    “I’ve started questioning all the decisions in my life that brought me here.” To me, this line is a MAJOR red flag. Amy has great advice, and I would suggest if the lists aren’t helpful enough that a professional counselor might help you deal with this issue. Good luck!

  2. Cheryl S. Oct 07 at 4:08 pm Reply Reply

    I agree that some therapy for you might be in order to get a handle on what sounds like some out of control anxiety. I also like Amy’s idea of the writing exercise to narrow down what’s really a dealbreaker. Since you didn’t give any examples it’s hard to tell. Like Amy said, grandmas have some leeway when it comes to grandbabies. She gives the baby a lick of ice cream? Lets her stay up too late? Buys her needless crap that you then have to put in your house? TOTALLY NORMAL. Feeds her stuff she’s allergic to because she “doesn’t believe” you? Won’t put her in a car seat? Smokes in the baby’s face? UNACCEPTABLE.

  3. Anon Oct 07 at 4:09 pm Reply Reply

    Two thoughts:
    1) Definitely counseling, probably martial counseling with some individual sessions.  I’ve been there in the panic fight or flight with ILs, and it’s not a good place to be, and a professional can help tell you what is normal and what is not.

    2) Withdraw.  Have as little to do with your MIL as possible.  Let DH handle all communication, cards, scheduling visits…just don’t let it be a part of your life.  Set a boundary with your DH about how long visits will be and how often and what you will/won’t address.  Consider staying in a hotel when you visit the ILs, and find time to yourself when they visit you.

  4. Autumn Oct 07 at 4:28 pm Reply Reply

    I have a varient of the OP’s MIL.  I’ve personally accepted that she is who she is, and while it still annoy’s me, I’ve instead almost made it a mental game of What would my MIL do?  in certain situations.  It’s amusing to me, which helps me deal in group settings.  One on one, when she’s not “performing” for the crowd, we get along rather well.  

    My personal rule is she’s not allowed to be alone with my daughter, partially cause not respecting our parenting choices, and some safety awareness (texting to SIL while my toddler runs into the street).  She doesn’t know this rule exists cause we’ve just made sure the situation doesn’t present itself.  

    And my wonderful husband deals with his mom by not dealing with her and minimizing contact.  That’s how he has decided to live with her passive aggressive behaviors.  So while they have paid for vacations and honeymoons for his siblings, we know the price of freedom is inequality.  And that’s okay too.  And I then I make a margarita. . .

    • Magda Oct 08 at 6:26 am Reply Reply

      My mom and I play a similar game with her stepmother – we try to out-placate her by being so sickeningly sweet and then we phone each other and crow about it. My husband thought this was cruel when he first met her (she seems so nice at first!) but has come to realise when someone is that manipulative, sometimes manipulating them is the only way to not lose your temper with her. (And being overly nice to someone isn’t exactly the meanest thing in the world…)

    • Kat Oct 09 at 7:03 pm Reply Reply

      This sounds a lot like what we do with my MIL. We don’t stand in the way of her relationship with her grandson, but we also make sure that certain situations never happen (no babysitting, we don’t visit Grandma’s house, we go out to lunch or have her to our place instead – we don’t make a big deal about it but her house isn’t safe for kiddos). This method works well – really cuts down on any drama that putting my foot down in an obvious way would create but still allows me to control what I need to. She’s pleasant to me, doesn’t feel as though she’s being held at arm’s length (she’s welcome to see our son any time, just like any other family member), and we do our best to include her in family activities. I let small things go (I come from a family that does not give many gifts, she showers our son with toys and such though she knows I would prefer she didn’t), and just remember that the visits are brief, she really does mean well (in most cases), and that my role is to remember who she is and create boundaries when needed but present her in the best light for my son. I also try to remember these things, so that I don’t turn into a bad MIL in the future!! Ha!

  5. Myriam Oct 07 at 5:53 pm Reply Reply

    Did Amy just buy the newly released Little Mermaid DVD like I did? And watched by myself, without my almost 3 yo daughter?

  6. liz Oct 07 at 6:13 pm Reply Reply

    For the first time, I have to disagree with Amy. Narcisstic mothers are toxic to marriages and parenting. Separation is often needed. Google “daughters of narcisstic mothers”. I have seen divorce happen over this.

  7. Autumn Oct 07 at 6:25 pm Reply Reply

    Okay, me again!  

    The one thing I did to help remind my MIL that I am the Alpha Mom (insert trademark here) was to address very specific issues as theyarose.  We are Ellyn Satter devotees for feeding, so we don’t comment typically on my daughter’s eating.  MIL was making little comments, and I calmly flat out told her, we don’t talk about eating here with Kiddo, we eat.  She did her shocked expression, and stopped.  Hasn’t been a problem since.  I’ve done it on a couple of other occasions with similar results.  She still tries to work around me, but she doesn’t mess with food.  We don’t see them often, and they call maybe every other week, so I can handle it.  And then I have a margarita. . .

    Some of MIL’s behavior I think stems from insecurities, wanting to be liked and appreciated and not forgotten.  How her family is perceived so super important to her (I”m the only one overweight and it drives her crazy, she keeps giving me cooking light cookbooks) and she just wants to control everything.  Some people (like our SIL’s) find the advantages (free childcare for OP’s family, Free vacations for mine) outweigh the disadvantages.  

  8. Holly Oct 07 at 8:15 pm Reply Reply

    This sounds very much like my life. My husband and I have been married 11 years, together almost 17. MIL has gotten tamer, but same old passive aggressive manipulative I’d-never-be-friends-with-you-in-real-life, type behavior still stands. I have a 3.5yo and a baby. My 3.5yo was the first grandbaby. We didn’t tell her the hospital I was delivering at because we couldn’t trust she wouldn’t show up – and she tried to. “It’s my right!” what-what? She left a steak knife out on the table 18in from where she set up the toys for my 18mo (at the time) to play. Doesn’t know that you can’t give kids aspirin. Tried to feed my 2yo raw milk goat cheese. Etc etc. Basically, when we visit her house, I shadow my daughter like crazy. She’s never left alone with her. She makes jabs about things I do, or don’t do in regard to my parenting. I ignore it. I barely speak to her. I may be acting childish, but it’s what is working for me. This woman treated me like a piece of trash all the way until I birthed her a grandchild. Sorry, I can’t suddenly flip a switch and be friendly with you. 14years of bad behavior isn’t so easily forgotten. I basically have used my mother-takes-all stance, and have complete control over my kids and their interaction with her. She never babysits, never will. She sees her grandkids, but on my terms. I’ve set up the ‘normal’ habits in terms of holidays, etc, and that’s what we maintain.

  9. Mona Oct 07 at 9:55 pm Reply Reply

    Yes to the Deal Breaker analysis. I, too, have a sorta PITA MIL… Pretty narcissistic, talks incessantly, demands more attention than anyone in the room, etc. Noticed a change in her attitude toward me as soon as I married her only son/child- that’s when sh*t got real for her. Like, she wasn’t the most important voice in his life anymore real. We went through some trials of made up drama / arguments / fictitious insults for a WHILE. Including after the birth of our first child- she stayed with us a week while my first born was in the NICU, I was all tore up from the floor up- and she stomped off early in a huff. Then wrote my husband a long email about what a horrible person I was and I didn’t thank her enough for helping out while my first born was in newborn intensive care for crying ou lt loud. Gah, I still get mad thinking about some of her shenanigans in the early years.
    Anyhow- my husband was very supportive of me- unconditionally. And over time (and other incidents) I just learned to let it roll off. 1- as Amy said, she ain’t changing and 2- she may not do everything as I would, but she loves my kids with all her heart and would never hurt them. So, no deal breakers for me. Just lots of patience! And I’ve actually tried to find some common ground to share interests (I dunno- recipe sharing? And stuff?), and things have been largely just fine. She’s still… Her. But I just had to really (painfully) realize she was a good person at heart and I just have to let the rest go. And I’ve really grown to have some common ground with her. In response, I think she’s mellowed out. A bit.

  10. Katie Oct 07 at 11:52 pm Reply Reply

    I have to agree with Mona. I struggled a LOT with my MIL earlier on in our relationship but over time by trying to find common ground, accepting that she will never change and just generally looking for that good in her I have come to love and appreciate her. She feeds my toddler too much junk food, doesn’t care much about naps and just generally does things differently to what I would. BUT she has a big heart and I have to respect the mother and grandmother she has been and is. I focus on the good and try to let the bad slide and I enjoy her soooo much more than I used to. I also think that she senses more love from me rather than a critical spirit and it helps her be kind to me in return. 
    The MIL/DIL relationship can be HARD- good luck :)

  11. Helen Oct 08 at 5:09 am Reply Reply

    I love the thoughtful responses here. I have a narcissist MIL too, a real piece of work but…she’s not a demon. I spent some time thinking she was a demon, absolutely convinced and trying to convince others. But slowly and painfully (it’s painful to be wrong, or to realize you’re overreacting) I’m learning to just let her love her granddaughter the way she wants, and to let her do what she can for her/us. I still don’t like to hang out with her, but I’ve learned how to be breezy. For everyone’s sake, but especially my own.

  12. Jessica Oct 08 at 7:48 am Reply Reply

    Not my mother in law, but my mother, let my 6 month old play with a power drill.  So I can’t wait to see what my future SIL’s think of her.  

  13. LMo Oct 08 at 2:05 pm Reply Reply

    I think Amy had really great advice, but I would differ in one important respect. I would, in fact, stop visiting. My husband and I had some very severe problems revolving around my relationship with his mother. So severe that we almost didn’t get married. After several knock-down, drag-out fights with my now-husband, stemming from my feelings that my feelings, we ended up in therapy. In the interim, I refused to visit his family, or have more than two of them in my house at a time.
    Therapy was a relationship saver for us. We are now experimenting with visiting his family again, but we first had to deal with all of the problems in our relationship that were causing me to feel neglected and abused. I don’t think you can ignore them forever, but I agree with previous commenters who have suggested taking a break while you get your house in order.

  14. Elizabeth Oct 08 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

    This may also calm down as OP’s kid gets older and everyone CTFD. My relationship with my MIL ebbs and flows. We definitely hit a low patch in the year after my daughter, her first grandchild, was born. Lack of boundaries, pouting, unrealistic expectations. It was messy.

    In retrospect, I see a lot of that bad behavior came from desire to be a big part of her grandchild’s life and her fear that she would not be (we live several hours away by car). It doesn’t make the bad behavior any better, but it helped me understand it. She has a high level of anxiety coursing through her veins at all times, so add something as momentous as family to the mix and I can more easily understand her knee-jerk reactions.

    I think I was also less likely to give her the benefit of the doubt in that first year, as we were obviously dealing with a major life change and who is this crazy lady making a scene again can’t she just back off??? Now I’m more comfortable in my role as a mom and have more energy to extend kindness to her, if that makes sense.

    We’re still not perfect (having a Big Conversation with my husband about how they don’t think I like them, on the day before my Dad’s funeral? NEAT. Totally what my husband and I should be focusing on in that moment.) but I think we’re getting there.

  15. meeshie Oct 09 at 11:35 am Reply Reply

    I had some serious problems with my in laws when I was pregnant and now that my child has been born. Honestly though? They were more my issues and hormones than their issues.

    Yes, I got the odd advice that really really sucked but was normal for ‘their day and age’, It shouldn’t have made me fly off the handle but it did.

    My MIL took me shopping for pregnancy clothes, for baby stuff, took me out to lunches, took me to the doctor when I was on bed rest and my husband was at work ‘just in case I needed someone with me’. She’s controlling and her mother is controlling and manipulative and they can both be really evil at times but……… they love me. They love my son.

    Every time they try to talk me into letting them feed my son something beyond breast milk I totally lose my shit because they KEEP TRYING AFTER I SAID NO. Meh.

    My parents are dead, my grandparents are dead, my older sister is dead and I have no family near me. I have one brother who I barely communicate with.

    I was so angry at them being a family when I didn’t have one or so angry at them ‘trying to replace’ (which they’re not) my family that i couldn’t get past it all.

    Not that my issue is your issue but could there be a ‘your issue’ to deal with too? Maybe.

  16. Sarah Lynn Oct 09 at 12:03 pm Reply Reply

    Funny typo in comments from Anon at 4:09. “Martial” counseling, indeed. Might be just the solution. A lot of good advice here, and I will try to take some of it. I had a lovely mother-in-law but have some relatives who have this effect on me, and I am determined to stop giving them so much power over my thoughts.

  17. Kittin Oct 10 at 8:01 am Reply Reply

    You guys are making me kinda sad. I have an amazing, loving MiL, but she’s in another country… and still hasn’t met her first grandchild.

    My ex-MiL though, was more like the OPs. The only advice I can give is to nod and agree to things, then do it your way anyway. It was about the only thing that worked for me.

  18. Lindsey Oct 10 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

    Oh gracious do I have a horrible mother in law. Using the grandparent field guide my MIL is a toxic. In fact I debated sending that excerpt to her not so she would change but to bolster what my husband and her have already said… Addicts cannot be around children. I have an almost 6 year old daughter from a previous marriage I married her son and we are expecting her first biological grandchild soon. She has a pain pump (implanted for fibro which she insists she has) she has three separate prescriptions for Oxycontin, wears fetnyal patches, smokes weed, and drinks in excess of two bottle of wine. She is not employed and there are days where she never gets out of bed. She recently broke both of her wrists on two separate occasions in one week! My husband and I have told her she will not be around the children till she was sober and had demonstrated a commitment to sobriety. As my due date gets closer it must have dawned on her recently that we are serious and she has started all out war trying to forbid anyone from talking to us we don’t understand that she would never “hurt” the baby. Ugh it is rough everyone with toxic inlaws has my sympathy!

  19. Lar Oct 10 at 4:25 pm Reply Reply

    We had similar issues with my MIL. She’s… tiresome. Always plays the victim… always feels like everyone is against her, woe is me behavior. Guilt trips. Manipulative behaviors. And I was not used to that behavior in my own family and it made me especially angry that everyone just let her do it without speaking up. And I’d get so angry at my husband for not standing up to her.

    It took several years, then I finally realized that she was not going to change. And my husband knew that all along. And it was not worth it to say something to her just to have her be angry at him and give her fuel for her fire. He was in a hard spot – he knew that not saying something would make me upset but also knew that saying something to her would make her upset. He knew that I was the reasonable one and could handle it. It took a while for me to realize that. I always thought he wasn’t standing up for me, but then I realized the terrible position I was putting him in by making him choose sides. And it wasn’t worth it.

    We are lucky because she lives out of state so we do not have to see her all that often. I find that helps a lot. I can usually suck it up a few days a year knowing that the rest of the 360 days of the year, she gets to be miserable far away from us. 

  20. Janey Nov 04 at 3:05 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my goodness! I think I might’ve written this letter while sleepwalking, because I don’t remember doing it, but it sure sounds like my MIL!!
    I like Amy’s advice. We’v been going through a “rough patch” lately where we are just absolutely incompatible. I actually laid in bed one night thinking “the only way out of this is a divorce.” Isn’t that nuts? So I decided to just remove her from my own life for awhile until I can calm the heck down. Using Amy’s list technique, there aren’t really any dealbreakers for me right now. My kids are old enough to fend for themselves and totally recognize when they’re being bribed and manipulated. They can call 911 and avoid sharp obects and call home when things aren’t going well. So I really have no grounds to keep them from her. Likewise with her son. If he can put up with her, it’s none of my business to tell him who he can and cannot spend time with her.

    But what I cannot do right now is be around her and not lose years off of my life from the anxiety and stress that her behvavior causes me. So I blocked her from facebook and email, delete all of her texts before reading them, ignore phone calls, and make myself unavailable when she is going to be around. I even went to an exercise class at the local rec center that I had NO interest in whatsoever because it was the only excuse I could think of for being away from the house when she came over recently!

    I’m definitely not looking forward to the holidays. If things haven’t calmed down by then, I might just have to fake a migraine or something. I know it’s not a long-term solution, but I think it’ll give me a chance to work through my own reactions to her so that I can get back to my previous policy of eyeroll and ignore and secretly pity. Until then, I’m setting my phaser to “shun.”

  21. George Jul 27 at 12:36 pm Reply Reply

    who can I talk to regarding major incompatibility issues with my mother in law??

  22. karissa Nov 04 at 12:13 am Reply Reply

    My MIL thinks she needs to know everything. My kids are going to a new school and she wants to know right away all the details I honestly don’t think she needs to know. But my husband can’t stay away or keep our business to us.

  23. Karen Nov 29 at 8:28 am Reply Reply

    As a MIL, I wonder what some of the MIL’s would have to say about their DIL’s. I’m part of the “I had a bad MIL group”. She had made it very clear from the beginning that I was the wrong choice for her son, to the point of throwing the ultimatum of no contact if my husband stayed married to me. Unfortunately for her this left her out of her only grandchildren’s life. Now 25 years later, I’m the MIL, and I’m doing everything I can to be the best MIL I can be. I hear a lot of comments about “controlling”. Which I understand. It is hard not to feel left out on many levels, and you need to be honest with yourself, are you leaving her out. At the end of the day, what is most important to me is that my DIL & son are happy, and they are, so I’m blessed.

  24. Hambone Jan 12 at 10:44 pm Reply Reply

    your advice was not helpful at all……take on a zen like attitude in your mind dealing with &  spending lots of time and sharing life with a difficult mother in law? I mean are you serious ?? 

  25. April Showers Jan 14 at 7:09 am Reply Reply

    I agree with everything except with smoking…….you do have the right to demand she doesn’t EVER smoke in her home if she wants the baby to visit there. It’s not ok to simply not smoke around the baby. 
    There is something called 3rd hand smoke and it will be layered on everything in her home. It’s what causes the smell in a smoker’s home when they have been away for the weekend and no one has been smoking. It causes the smell in an elevator when no one else is there. 
    In some instances, 3rd hand smoke can be more dangerous than 2nd hand. Ie. the residue that’s left on a toy in the room, then your child puts said toy in her mouth. 

  26. melly Jan 27 at 4:43 am Reply Reply

    My MIL is the same way. I actually had to really debate whether I really wanted to marry my husband because of how psychotic and bitter this lady was. I have had many conversations and tears with my husband over his mother. But you know what? Knowing he is on my side and he letting his mother know that he and I are a team no matter what or how she wants to be is what keeps me going. Your husband NEEDS to stand up for you. Yes her feelings will be hurt but he is your husband. And she needs to respect that. None of this: oh but she’s the mom . No no no. A bitter lady she will always be. Don’t let her bring a wedge between you and your husband. He made a vow love and protect you.

  27. Sweetie Feb 06 at 12:33 pm Reply Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree that the Mil will not ever change.

    However, you can indeed convince your husband that his mother is toxic. Actually she will reveal herself.

    My husband is an only child so his mother is very insecure and uses fear, guilt, gossip, and emotional blackmail to soothe herself.

    Case in point: my Mil likes to gossip and lie about me to family members. Triangulation is her best tactic

    She informs her son behind my back that as his advocate, she must declare that I am controlling him. And that our marriage is in trouble, we need to separate and she will help him raise our children. I need to stop being a sahm and get a job.

    She then tells family members (I know this because her sister approached me with the tidbit) that I am unhappy with my husband and looking to leave.

    When I approach her with the dirty tactics she informs me that everyone knows I am paranoid and too sensitive and that I am just starting trouble. She then acts all self-righteous and is so offended that I accuse her of these hurtful things–even though yeah, I have proof.

    When her son confronts her to knock it off and that she steps over the line and needs to respect our boundaries, she cries of feeling attacked, blames me for breaking up the family and then declares to my husband that he is no longer her son and is banished from the extended family.

    Naturally, she cried of heartbreak, says that we are withholding the grandchildren and using them as pawns (hello–you cut him off).

    She also says that she never cut him off. Even though she did so twice–in writing. And get this, calls me a bitch and a liar for reminding her of this fact.

    So yeah, my husband sees for himself that she is evil, manipulative, and abusive.

    What toxic MILs want you to believe is that they have all the power, that you are the replaceable one, that she calls the shots and that her son is ultimately loyal to her.

    Don’t believe it. It is simply not true. Don’t act like you can not win the fight for your marriage and family.

    Don’t let her disrespect you because then your husband will disrespect you too. Yes, he is in a difficult position. But that does not mean you have to endure her gaslighting, verbal abuse, threats and victim act. Show him the way to have a healthy relationship.

    I don’t play games with my husband like his mother and for that, I have his undivided love, respect and loyalty.

  28. Anna Feb 22 at 8:59 pm Reply Reply

    This sounds remarkably like my situation with my MIL, my husband and I are a team and he does tell my mother-in-law when we are unhappy with the way she is treating our children. We are in a tough situation right now, we rely on my MIL for childcare. These are the concrete details of situations that have come up: MIL feeds children things that we do not want children to have (coffee!) and our baby whatever she feels like feeding her (when we are trying to only indroduce limited new foods at a time) even though we have Told her directly on six or more occaisons that this is unacceptable. MIL finds any schedule feeding/ sleeping otherwise for our children laughable and does not follow our wishes. MIL visits whenever she likes and stays until whenever she likes (often much too late 11:30 at night and much too long). MIL puts our child in the corner as punishments when we have told her we do not want her to use this form of punishment. I feel very frustrated, I need help. How do I deal with this situation without letting my growing dislike for my MIL takeover? This anger is only hurting me.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman Feb 23 at 8:56 am Reply Reply

      You did not specify the age of your children but I am concerned that your children are being fed coffee which contains high levels of caffeine and is a stimulant. You need to put an end to that.

  29. Lee Mar 18 at 3:13 pm Reply Reply

    My mother-in-law is a narcissist through and through. Everyone in her family puts up with het drama and never stands up to her. I won’t let her push me around. We have a new baby and if she does not want to follow our rules she is not allowed to babysit. You can never be overly nice to a narcissist. They perceive kindness as weak so you always have to cool and collected when dealing with them. Sad but it is the most effective way to deal with them. You also have to be very blunt. You say do not feed my child this, if you do, that is deal breaker plain and simple.

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