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Withdrawing from In-Law Guilt Games and Drama

Withdrawing From the In-Law Guilt Games

By Amalah

So I have mother-in-law issues (yay! Sure this isn’t the first letter about that!)

I guess a little background info to start might help. My fiancé is Jewish and I’m Christian, as a couple, we have never had much of an issue, we agree on respecting each other’s religions and would never think of having the other person covert. My in-laws have had a hard time coming around and accepting to the fact that we will be celebrating all holidays and that neither of us is going to give up our own family traditions but find a way to mush them together to create our own.

We got engaged in September 2013 and found out I was pregnant in November and I’m due 7/17/14. We are planning on a small civil ceremony this spring. And to be perfectly honest, we were trying to get pregnant. I have some medical issues, abnormal pre-cancerous cervical cells that don’t want to go away but thankfully haven’t gotten worse either type issues. I had the green light from my Dr’s about trying to become pregnant, as it doesn’t affect the baby only my ability to carry full term. And since the Dr’s have also talked about having the cells removed which would only amplify my inability to carry a baby, let alone the scary cancer aspect where I would then need a hysterectomy (seriously I’m only 30!!!!!). We made the decision to start trying sooner then later. Turns out I’m a fertile-mertile and it only took a month. BUT all has been well, I’m not considered high-risk and am 24 weeks along carrying a baby boy!! My Dr has just been carefully keeping an eye on the cells (talking binoculars/microscope type things up my hoo-ha!) and keeping an oncologist around for referrals. (I love my Dr!) Though I strongly believe that this little boy is determined to keep his mama nice and healthy as it seems as though things are on the up and up. **crosses fingers as I have another hoo-ha watch appointment at 28 weeks**

When we announced that I was pregnant, my family was very excited. His, well… yea that was a fun conversation. This is a first for his family. He is the first to move out (even all of his cousins still live at home,) let alone start a family. My in-laws are in their 60’s and one would assume they would be excited to get a grand child (my own grandparents were the same ages when they passed and there were 9 grand kids so I not comprehending the non-excitement). I do understand the shock, and also saw my FIL have the biggest ear to ear smile when he realized that come this summer there is a little one that will call him grandpa. MIL? Well I guess the easiest way to describe her reaction, especially after they found out we had been trying is: “I would have preferred it (me getting pregnant) had been a mistake, not planned.” I bit my tongue so hard at that, I think it bled. I also promptly let me fiancé deal with them too.

The thing is it hasn’t gotten any better. The shock has weaned off, but they definitely have not warmed up. They act interested, ask about dr’s appointments, how I’m feeling etc, when my fiancé talks to them but never to me, when I’m around they don’t even bring up the baby at all. They have disapproved of the decisions we have made. “What do you mean she is returning to work after he is born and using daycare, that’s not what I did… why does she have to go to the Dr that much, that’s not how it was when I was pregnant…. You shouldn’t find out the sex, because I don’t want to know *gets mad when my family was called before them when we did find out*… why is she going to try to breast-feed, I didn’t… what do you mean the baby won’t be in a nursery at the hospital, why would you want him to room in?” GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Everything with them (her) always goes back to “well when I was pregnant” or “in my day…” AND I CAN’T DEAL ANYMORE! I feel like we have no support from them, so thank god for my family. They disapprove of daycare (which will be secondary as my mom has agreed to be the primary caregiver after I return to work but she also takes care of my Alzheimer grandmother, likes to take vacations, is a very talented artist with an at home studio/business and such, so we need a backup option for 1 or 2 days a week) but they won’t offer to watch the baby themselves. Everything we do or choose is wrong. When my last screening showed that the cells on my cervix seem to be improving, my MIL’s reaction was “see you didn’t have to rush”, not oh glad to see her health is improving/baby is OK/oh I don’t know BE HAPPY?!?!

I know I will never win with her. I know I will never get her full approval but now I’m having nightmares about how they will be around my son, let alone what I will have to deal with from them when I’m in labor. Maybe it’s just the hormones and crazy pregnancy dreams, or maybe it’s a real underlying fear. One dream in particular is that they watch my son so we can go to dinner, only to come home and find them glued to the TV and he was never fed and lying in a crib covered in his own feces. (I banish them from my house and never let them be alone in a room with him ever again)

My fiancé seems to think that once the baby is here they will be different. But I can’t seem to agree. Is there anyway to move past how I feel? I never want to come between my fiancé and his family; I am always encouraging visits and communication. But it’s getting a lot harder to be positive about them. Yes, I have talked to him about how I feel, though I did leave out the dreams. He feels it too. A pulling away by them, that they really don’t treat me as a family member/daughter. So at least I know I’m not imagining everything! (oh and lets not get started on the whole not treating me as a member of the family, his dad had to have emergency brain surgery (he is fine now) and I’m told I have to watch their dog, I’m not allowed to even be at the hospital for my fiancé during the surgery!!!!!!! Fiancé and I have worked through that one, it will never happen again. Yes, the dog was more important to them then me.)

Any advice, coping skills, brick wall to which I can slam my head against is greatly appreciated. I’m so excited to become a mother and have a family I can’t stand not feeling like everyone is on board!

— trying not to be a mess in NY

BOUNDARY TIME.

Listen, as someone who grew up in an extremely religious, conservative household (and married someone who also grew up in an extremely religious, conservative household), let me be blunt: Stop seeking these people’s approval, because you will likely never get it. They might one day come to accept you and the situation, but they probably won’t ever “approve” of it. And that’s okay. It’s really not your problem.

You went and purposely got pregnant “out of wedlock” and that’s obviously a really big sticking point of shame for them. (I got married at 20 because I wanted to move out-of-state with my boyfriend but also didn’t want to get like, disowned. So I get it.) And now they’ve decided that rather than accept the fact that their child has grown up and clearly rejected a lot of the values and morals they hold dear, they’ll just make you the bad guy, the bad influence, the outsider who stole their boy and corrupted him and roped him into an illegitimate child and blah blah blah…and they are determined to passive-aggressively remind you of your unworthy status at every possible opportunity.

You can’t change them. You can’t force them to forgive or accept or open their minds that maybe, MAYBE, there’s no point in having all these values and morals if you mostly use them to justify treating people like crap and alienating your children. (And also: getting pregnant while engaged is okay if it’s an “accident” but “on purpose” is not? Okay then! *flashes big ol’ W hand sign from Clueless*)

What you CAN do is put up some hard and fast boundaries so they have fewer opportunities to be awful to you. Particularly now, when you’re hormonal and emotionally vulnerable. Stop talking to them about your doctor’s appointments and the pregnancy. Stop telling them about your post-baby work and daycare plans. It’s not their decision or their business. They don’t approve. NOTED. THANKS FOR YOUR HELPFUL INPUT. MOVING ON.

And you can enforce your boundaries without “coming between them and your husband.” He knows how you feel and agrees with you (SO IMPORTANT! YAY! VICTORY!), so you don’t have to be all “choose a side! my side! banish them from your life!” Just be honest that you are done dealing with their many judge-y opinions about your pregnancy right now, and he can be a big boy and maintain the relationship on his own terms, from here on out. If your husband is on the phone with them, leave the room, and don’t dig for details on what they said about you afterwards. If he wants to visit with them, FINE— you’re sadly just not feeling up to it right now and send your regrets. If they do suddenly decide to get bent out of shape about it, your husband can certainly call them on their B.S. and point out that hey, you guys are awful to her, what do you expect?

I think your dreams and fears are perfectly normal — which is different than saying they are all perfectly logical and an absolutely true vision of the future. You’re experiencing a high-risk pregnancy and have a strained and tense relationship with your in-laws. Your husband is clearly crossing his fingers and hoping his parents will snap out of…whatever their damage is once the baby is here; your brain is not at all convinced that anything will change and is playing out various worst-case scenarios in your dreams.

If I had to predict the future from over here on the sidelines, I’d guess the reality will fall somewhere in the middle. They will not be neglectful monsters, but they will also never have some kind of “WE WERE SO WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING!!!!” breakthrough and be the loving and accepting family you’re hoping for. Best case, they will love their grandchild and be decent to him, but will probably continue to be judgmental, inflexible people who Just Don’t Like You Very Much.

(I doubt your MIL’s tendency to bring up how things were done back when SHE was pregnant will stop, because things were done differently back when SHE had a baby/toddler/child so she just doesn’t understand why YOU are having such a hard time with nursing/sleep schedules/potty training. That’s like, passive-aggressive MIL 101.)

And so you will continue to draw boundary lines — not in the sand, but with a nice permanent Sharpie marker. They will not come and stay with you postpartum to “help.” There will be topics you just don’t discuss with them. There will be topics your husband will have to flat out tell them are not open to discussion (like daycare, religion, etc.) and that’s that. Promise yourself that you won’t allow their disapproval to influence your parenting decisions. (Like having your overworked/overloaded mom as your primary caregiver — if that’s really the best option for everybody, great! But don’t do it just because you hope that will offend your in-laws less than using a center five days a week.) If they want to babysit, that’s also great! But you have to be able to trust them not to make the whole night an exercise in undermining your parenting. If you don’t trust them — well, that’s not “free” babysitting anymore. It will be totally worth it to find a non-related babysitter and pay them by the hour, believe me.

I’m sorry this probably isn’t as upbeat and encouraging as you’d prefer to read right now, but…these people probably aren’t going to change. At least not all that much. I could be wrong, of course, and the baby’s arrival will change everybody’s perspective on everything. But for now, they obviously see your wonderful, exciting and much-wanted pregnancy as a big Scarlet Letter of Cultural and Religious Shame. That’s really hurtful. But it’s their loss, ultimately. You do not share their worldview, so there’s no reason why you should feel compelled to put up with their weird demands that you be “punished” because of it, you know? I think the sooner you stop trying to win their approval, the better you’ll feel.

If they ask about the pregnancy and appointments, tell them everything is fine. If they snipe at you about how you “didn’t need to rush” or whatever, just be all, “maybe, maybe not. I’m fortunate to have a doctor I really trust for guidance.” Then change the subject to like, the weather. Don’t volunteer info in hopes that THIS TIME, they’ll be happy for you. Make Dealing With Them your husband’s job and feel free to check out of this relationship for awhile, particularly when you’re feeling vulnerable and emotional. And recognize that “you’re” not the one “coming between them and your husband.” They’re the ones doing it. They’re the ones playing weird guilt games. And there’s no unwritten daughter-in-law rule that says you have to play along.

Published March 31, 2014. Last updated March 27, 2018.
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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