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Bad Daughter-in-Law...Or Good Wife?

Bad Daughter-in-Law…Or Good Wife?

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

My MIL just threw us an elaborate baby shower and bought us hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars worth of baby stuff. Even though the whole thing has been vaguely sing-for-my-supper-esque, I’m incredibly grateful.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesRecently, however, she’s gotten into the habit of calling me whenever he doesn’t answer, which is often. See, for years she’s had a habit of calling my husband repeatedly throughout the day for nagging/insignificant reasons (btw, she lives like 7 hours away). When I ask him to call her back, he refuses or puts it off for a long time. Furthermore, he insists that if either of us respond in a timely manner, she’s going to “feel like she has the upper hand” and call us both even more…for, again, really annoying reasons (just trust me). She’s kinda nuts that way, and it’s already happening, so I do believe him. He says to just let him handle it. BUT — Should I listen to him, or insist that he deal with her differently? Would listening to him make me a bad (and ungrateful) daughter-in-law? He’s her son, so his actions are forgivable to her, whereas I don’t have it as easy.

I can’t think of what to do! I’m especially nervous about setting such boundaries with a baby on the way. Oh sweet Jesus.

Thank you very much!!!!
M

Let him handle it.

So your husband has years and years of experience dealing with his mother and has come up with a system that — on the surface, probably does sound harsh, yes — works for him, sanity- and boundary-wise. I understand and respect your concerns about being a “good” and “grateful” daughter-in-law here, but…still. It’s his mother. I’d trust his judgment. If he thinks she’s simply, say, trying to rope you into some scheme of non-stop manipulation and nagging after a big showing of passive-aggressive generosity, then personally I’d take his word for it and well, let him handle it. Screen the calls. Tell her nicely that you’ll pass the message on, then politely say you’ve got to go. Find other ways to be a good daughter-in-law than being a phone intermediary between the two of them, like being the one to email/mail baby pictures.

Here’s the thing: My husband has a similar-sounding relationship with his mother. Early on, I felt the same way you did. I wanted to have a nice happy relationship with my in-laws and she seemed thrilled by my efforts to NOT keep her at arms’ length like my husband did. Only somewhat belatedly, did I figure out that…oh, there’s kind of reason why he interacts with her the way that he does. And I quickly had to start spinning wheels in reverse, so to speak. I can’t really go into a lot of the nitty-gritty details, but trust me, it sounds like a very similar situation to yours. I had the luxury of being married for seven years or so before the first grandchild arrived, so by that point I’d had plenty of time to get the boundaries more or less set back up between us and aligned with my husband’s comfort level about how we collectively dealt with his parents.

And the same goes for my side of the family. He’s always let me set our boundaries there, to figure out the best way to walk the line between “involved, happy-yet-complicated relationships” and “OH HI I’M A DOORMAT.” He’s never been like, “You need/should do X, Y and Z when it comes to so-and-so,” unless I’ve specifically asked him for his advice or opinion, and I really, really appreciate that.

I will also say that while my husband’s relationship with his parents isn’t perfect — they drive him insane in that special way that only one’s parents can — I wouldn’t say it’s BAD, either. Particularly now that we have children and I have quietly pointed out that gee, I really hope my boys and I don’t end up with a similar-type relationship to Jason, his brother and their mom some day. You know, with the not calling ever and stuff. But that’s about the farthest I’ve ever pushed, and I have definitely seen some softening and forgiving over time and I have no doubt that he loves and cares about them deeply, but…I just don’t think changes to the day-to-day interaction is something you can or should try to force.

In-law relationships are so fundamentally tough, because they will never, ever be about Your Own Personal Completely Independent Relationship with them. They will always include your spouse and his/her relationship with them and his/her baggage (justifiable or otherwise). Some troublesome in-laws will try a divide-and-conquer approach, either by ragging about YOU to their child or vice-versa, though the goal is usually the same: A level of control over their adult child’s life that they simply aren’t entitled to anymore. Your primary familial responsibilities involve being a good wife to your husband and a good mom to your child-to-be. Let him worry about his relationship with his mom for now, and aim for working TOGETHER on how best to deal with things once that relationship expands to include the grandma and grandchild labels.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

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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lolismum
Guest
lolismum

Spot on advice. I wholeheartedly agree. I have a very complicated relationship with my parents, who are also completely financially dependent on me. My husband lets me handle the best and the worst, and the financial side of it. I shield him from the worst and never make large financial decisions without consulting him and that way my parent’s problems/manipulations do not affect him and our relationship as much. His parents are sweet and uncomplicated, so at least we have it easy with one set of grandparents. Listen to your husband, let him handle it. He is the experienced one. 

EB
Guest
EB

My mother in law, who I totally love and have a great relationship with, does this to me. My husband works long hours and doesn’t have cell phone reception in his office. We email and IM a lot to communicate during the day, but for some reason she’s never picked up on that being the best way to get a hold of him, even though it’s been mentioned numerous times, and even though she uses her email a lot. Add to this: my husband hates the phone, hates talking on it, hates calling people, just hates the phone! So he’s… Read more »

BD
Guest
BD

This exact issue is the reason my dad went and bought my mom one of the first answering machines on the market. His mom was lonely and calling all day and driving my mom nuts. The day I left for college, my mom told me, “I’m not going to call you. If you want to talk, you call me, and that way you can set the expectation and I won’t be driving you crazy.” It’s worked beautifully, and we’re in touch all the time. Separate cell phones and caller ID are your friends – ignore what comes to your phone… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

I have good relationships with all my inlaws (hubby has two sets of parents) and my own parents. I definitely agree with what Amalah said here. His parents, let him be the strategist. but, to add to the discussion.. call your parents every once in awhile, okay? Cause guess what – they love you with the intensity that you love your own kids. They are proud of you and want to hear what you’re doing. Everytime I look at my own daughter, I wonder how my mother can stand the fact that I live 10 hours away. She tells me… Read more »

Christina
Guest
Christina

My experience and EB’s are interestingly similar. My husband hates phones and is unreachable during the day. His father is really difficult in a lot of ways. At some point a few years ago FIL took to calling me at all hours because he thought it was a way to get in touch with his son. I took to ignoring some of his calls but answering while at work and kindly telling him I was at work and couldn’t talk or answering when I knew there was lots of background noise. He realized quickly that I was not useful to… Read more »

JB
Guest
JB

Agreed 100% with this advice! I (fortunately as this doesn’t always happen) heard this advice earlier on and have drawn more of a thick boundary than is probably needed with my S/O’s parents. If I have a question for them (they live overseas and ship us stuff sometimes, etc), I’ll ask S/O to ask them or email them for me. Even though I’m perfectly capable of calling/emailing them myself. They fortunately don’t see this as my being rude. I don’t know if they’ve noticed that I’m “purposely” doing this, actually….Unless they are visiting (obvs), I get S/O to funnel all… Read more »

Kathleen
Guest
Kathleen

Hmmmm…I actually disagree a little bit. My MIL is just like yours — she calls often, for no apparent reason. It drives my husband crazy. When we first got together, we had the “your family, your rules” policy at first. But then I had a baby, and I was at home, and his mom was calling for no reason, and it was really easy to yammer on the phone with her for half an hour. She got grandchild updates, I got contact with the outside world. And yeah, she would ask a ton of questions about my husband. Stuff she… Read more »

EB
Guest
EB

I think I should clarify a little, because it sounds like I just kind of shut down on my in-laws. I didn’t. I still talk to them all the time, but about me, our general plans, and about future dinners and trips and stuff. When they ask how my husband is, I say, “Fine!’ or “Good!” or “He’s good, you know, just very busy. He’s fine. Email him.” Because I do care much more about being a trusted partner to my husband than ‘ratting him out’ to my in-laws. So I do agree with Kathleen a little – it’s fine… Read more »

KateMac
Guest
KateMac

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, to Amy’s advice. I agree unequivocally, because I too lived through it, with pretty much the same kind of mother-in-law. I wanted to be a good daughter-in-law, and I couldn’t really understand my husband’s complicated feelings toward his mother, or the way he ‘handled’ her. It turned out? He was totally right. I should’ve listened to him and I’m glad I eventually did. (After all, I wouldn’t expect him to understand *my* mother better than *I* do.)

APL
Guest
APL

Just as an FYI…MILs like this become decidedly more pushy and willing to ignore obvious boundaries once the baby comes. Be grateful your husband has established those boundaries and has no problem enforcing them. I promise if you interfere with his system now, you’ll eventually wish it was still there…

getgoinggirly
Guest

I guess I am in the minority here but I am coming at it from a different place. I have lost both of my parents and my father in law. When they are no longer here you come to realize that maybe they were so desperately trying feel like they were still a part of their baby’s world they crossed a line but unless they are dangerous I say if you have to set some boundaries then set them but keep in mind some day you will miss them and their nagging. Plus remember our kids will be saying the… Read more »