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Drama From Your Mama (In-Law)

Drama From Your Mama (In-Law)

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve composed and deleted this email about a bajillion times so I apologize in advance for the ridiculous rambling you’re going to have to put up with. I have an issue with my MIL that I just have no idea how to address. My husband and I have been married for almost three years but together for 10 total years. His mother has never really liked me so much. I’m kind of a tomboy and not the girly girl daughter-in-law that she probably would have preferred. She has never really held conversations with me or reached out to talk to me despite efforts on my part.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesAbout a year into my husband and I’s relationship she got remarried and moved about 12 hours away so the talking to me has pretty much been nonexistent. Until I got pregnant. While I was pregnant with our son she would send me things in the mail and even occasionally call to see how I was feeling (I will stress occasionally though). She scheduled a visit to come up and see the baby when he was about 6 weeks old. This would also be the weekend of his Baptism so things were already going to be super insane. She and her husband insisted on staying with us even though we dropped fairly strong hints about no longer having a guest room and how exhausted I was what with the newborn and the breastfeeding and the blah de blah blah. They stayed with us anyway which might just be my greatest regret right now but whatever.

The drama really started during the 5 days they stayed with us. She acted like she wanted us to entertain them the whole time. My husband cooked meals for them and I brought them and the new baby out to the mall even in my haze of exhaustion. Then, in an effort to “help, she offered to clean up two of our bathrooms and the kitchen before the Baptism. I thought it was awesome of her to offer some help and everyone tells you to jump at the opportunity so I did. She then cleaned those bathrooms and proceeded to never let us hear the end of it. While I was sitting on the couch holding my son she called her sister and told her how atrocious the house was. When my husband got home from work she pulled him in the other room (away from me) and told him how filthy our house was. He calmly explained to her that we have a newborn and we’re, you know, TOTALLY FREAKIN EXHAUSTED. She then proceeded to tell everyone in her family that she saw how terrible the house was and how I made them uncomfortable while they were visiting (I guess by breastfeeding my child in my own goddamn house? I have no idea).

I was upset and really hurt and I told my husband that when she finally left. He was upset too and told her when she called that she had been really unfair. She claimed he was taking my side. My son is now 7 months old and she still brings all this up. She sent us an anniversary card the other day but it was really a disguise for a nasty note about how he shouldn’t have taken my side and I made her so uncomfortable and I was so ungrateful. I’m beyond frustrated with all this. My husband is upset and frustrated and feels bad that she keeps hurting my feelings. I could send her a message or call her to confront her about it but she’s one of those people who wants exactly that. She wants me to get upset and hurt because then she’s won.

I originally thought I was writing this for advice but I guess I just need to vent to someone who is not involved in the situation. I don’t want to badmouth my husband’s mother to him because that’s not fair and I don’t want to drag my own mother into this because she is a great mom and super defensive of me. I just wish this woman could be a little bit less concerned about drama and care a little more about my son. Short of that visit she hasn’t even called my husband to ask about the baby and has ignored every email, facebook message, phone call and text message we have sent to see how she is doing. I’m at a total loss. I don’t want her negativity to be anywhere near my son (I haven’t even delved into the drama that is the divorce and how she still badmouths my husband’s father in front of him and me). I don’t want my son to hear these nasty things about other people and his grandfather. At the same time this is my husband’s mother and I can’t tell him to cut all his ties with her.

I suppose I’m interested to know how you might handle all this and should I bother continuously trying to reach out to her? My husband has already told her she couldn’t stay with us again after how she had treated me and badmouthed the house (that bugged him so much he’s so house proud). Sorry for the rambling length of all this. There’s so much more detail I wish I could add but I don’t want to make this longer and ramblier (that’s totally a word now).

Thanks so much and I hope you’re feeling well!


Ugh. Okay, so anyone who had read this column for any length of time knows that I am super in favor of people sacking up and compromising whenever possible when it comes to ensuring a good relationship between your child and their grandparents. Past snubs and hurt feelings, divorce-related drama, That Time Your Mother-in-Law Said That Thing About You, or even just…loosening your helicopter grip and desire to have things done 100% your way when it comes to small things like spoiling and snacks and bedtimes during visits. Generally, I believe the grandparent relationship is worth letting go of A LOT for.


Grandparent Dealbreakers

There are exceptions. There are dealbreakers. There are things that are not worth compromising for, and there are grandparents who, no matter how much YOU give and budge, are not going to be part of a positive relationship. At least not without major changes on THEIR part. Which of course, you cannot control.

I sense that, even through the hurt feelings and insults and MADDENING lack of respect you get from this woman, you still want to make this grandparent relationship happen. Because…that’s what good, unselfish parents do! Yes. To a point.

Your MIL crosses that point, unfortunately. The sentence about her openly badmouthing her ex-husband — your husband’s father, your son’s grandfather — sent your question from standard “my mother-in-law hates me!” fare into “my mother-in-law is an angry, toxic and unforgiving individual” territory.

I had a grandmother like that. She’s been gone for a few years now and there isn’t enough space on the Internet for me to fully explain the story and the crazy and the pain she put our family through. She was cruel to my mother (her daughter), she spoke openly and badly about my father. She considered me “lesser” than my mom’s children from her first marriage and used money to keep them on “her side”…until they dared marry someone she didn’t like or snub her in some imaginary way and thus got cut out of the will.

My mom did everything she could to shield me from a lot of it and to give me the impression that my grandmother loved me and was there for me. It didn’t work. I knew. Everybody knew. It took a long time, but we all eventually united and collectively realized that SHE was the problem. Not us. Not the lies she’d told us about each other, not our failures to live up to…whatever it was she expected of us.

How to Handle a Toxic Grandparent

I’m not saying that a few phone calls about the state of your bathrooms immediately means your MIL should be cut out of your life post-haste, or anything. Just that…well, sometimes these problems don’t get better. Sometimes there’s no fixing it, particularly if she really IS only after getting you hurt and upset and angry. Sometimes as people age, they actually morph into the opposite of the doting grandma or grandpa that we’d like them to be. And that’s HER FAULT, and HER LOSS. Not yours, and not even your son’s. There comes a point where he is better served by seeing Mom and Dad respect and stick up for yourselves, rather than to see you sit passively by and hold your tongues while she openly disrespects you, your home and your other loved ones.

Again, I’m not saying you have to cut this woman out of your life. But I would definitely disengage. Big time. She doesn’t respond to phone calls, emails, Facebook or text messages? Fine. Stop sending them. She’s a grown-up who knows how to get in touch. If she gets in touch merely to bitch about you guys not contacting her, point out the months of non-responded-to correspondence and that you were still making sure there were plenty of grandbaby pictures for her to see on Facebook. Stick to your guns about the visiting rules — if she dares to bring up the whole “taking sides” with your husband, he should tell her that 1) yes, he IS taking your side, and will very likely continue to take your side in the future and she needs to deal with that, and 2) she insulted HIM as well, by embarrassing you both about the “dirty” house. So. Yeah. There really IS only one side to take.

In the meantime, try to take the focus OFF of every week or milestone or holiday that goes by without interaction from her. Focus on the good family relationships you have. Your son has other grandparents — and possibly aunts, great-aunts, uncles, great-uncles, cousins and close family friends worthy of a honorific title — and even if your MIL was NOT determined to be completely vile, she’s 12 hours away. Sure, in a perfect world that can be overcome by web cams and Skype and frequent phone calls, but your son won’t feel a big grandma-shaped hole in her absence, particularly if you make sure to foster relationships with the family members who deserve the mutual love and respect you so obviously want to give them.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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

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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  • LauraL

    November 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Ohhhh … Yeah. Gotcha. We had An Incident when our oldest was a few months old involving my MIL. And like yours, she was thoroughly enraged that her son took my side – and that I backed him up and called her out on her inappropriate behavior toward him. The fact that we were the primary family unit now? Did not go over so well. But, like Amy said, we stuck to our guns and to each other and said, “Here are the boundaries. Period.” After about six months of not talking (while living about 10 miles away), she finally realized we weren’t going to rush back and enable her behavior, so it’s been a slow process of her adapting and changing. Or not. But even when she doesn’t, we don’t let her rattle us or change the decisions we’ve made in the best interest of our family. In a weird way, her out-of-line behavior actually strengthen our bond as a primary family unit. Good luck with your situation, and may it have as positive of a result!

  • Clara

    November 3, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    This is rough, because you don’t want your kid to grow up and get pulled in the “crazy” and “angry” that people like this create. I have a similar problem with a couple of my in-laws. However, I think it’s AMAZING that you and your husband are on the same page here. It doesn’t make it suck less, well…actually…it does. A little bit.

    I agree with Amy. The more you make reasonable decisions and stick to those decisions, your child will learn to trust the real, the responsible, the kind, the sane. Any interactions your kiddo has with her, or lack thereof because she doesn’t show…will ultimately reflect on her. Which I know to be true because my Dad’s mom is a real piece of work, and I caught on late in elementary school and have spent my life setting boundaries for her, no giving her control over my feelings or making myself vulnerable to her. Which I totally saw my Mom and Dad do forever.

    One thing I do with my in-laws is get pictures delivered to a local pharmacy once a month. (They live across the country.) My MIL picks them up, sometimes I hear about them. Sometimes I don’t. I get miffed that she doesn’t respond as much as I think she should, and sometimes I feel like she doesn’t put effort into getting to know my son. But in the end, I feel good about my efforts to include her and make sure she knows that we’re her for her. On our terms. Not hers.

  • Jill G

    November 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    This is excellent advice, Amy. I have a totally passive agressive family that I am never good enough for and they always make snide comments toward my husband and me. Now that I have a son and the holidays are coming up, I always try to take the higher road and put up with them and ignore their behavior. Thanks for giving me the permission and courage to not deal with their crap, for the sake of my son.

  • Alanna

    November 3, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I still kind of don’t understand why parents of adult married children expect them to side with them instead of their spouse. Like, duh, of course your husband sided with you – you’re his wife and the mother of his child! If he didn’t side with you, you would have the right to be pretty angry with him. We choose our partners, not our parents.

  • SarahB

    November 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    It sounds like your MIL is not worth your time and effort.  I’m very sorry.  Be glad your husband sides with you.  In the end, your relationship with him is what matters.

    Let him seek the level of contact he wants with his mother, and otherwise disengage.  There’s no reason for you to communicate with this woman. You may find your husband only allows her a very small role in your lives because she has so thoroughly hurt him.

    But there’s grief, isn’t there, in being treated so poorly?  In her rejection and unreasonable behavior?  You wanted better, and I think it’s ok to grieve the MIL you could have had, the grandmother your child could have had.  Absolutely mourn that loss.  

    Meanwhile, take some time to think about standing up for yourself and what you want.  It wouldn’t have been rude to ask them to stay in a hotel.  It wouldn’t have been rude to ask her not to badmouth you in your own home.  It wouldn’t have been rude even to ask them to leave if she wouldn’t stop.  Your MIL’s behavior was atrocious, and it’s not rude to say you won’t accept that kind of behavior in your home or life.

  • Trish

    November 3, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Look at it this way… the next time she wants to come to visit, you strongly recommend a hotel for her accommodations in good conscience… especially that one a few miles farther away that has a reputation for being impeccably clean.

  • Trish

    November 3, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Look at it this way… the next time she wants to come to visit, you strongly recommend a hotel for her accommodations in good conscience… especially that one a few miles farther away that has a reputation for being impeccably clean.

  • Christen

    November 3, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    You are so very lucky that your husband sees you as a team and won’t put up with the shenanigans! Amy’s advice is pretty spot-on, I’d say. Disengage, but keep the door open. My friend’s MIL is a lot like this (psycho, passive-aggressive, and sort of thrives on everyone getting upset), but if no one takes her crazy-bait she manages to behave a bit. The crazy comes back out eventually and it’s not a fun cycle, but there are some good moments to be had.

  • Christina

    November 4, 2010 at 10:28 am

    For the most part I totally agree with Amy save for one small detail. My father-in-law can be horribly vicious. My sister-in-law too. When accused of taking my side my husband gently reminds them that there is no side to take because I am just as responsible as they are for all of us getting along. Basically you (in my case I try) have to be above the fray and when they act like jerks husband steps in and reminds them to get over themselves. Sometimes they stop because they know exactly what they’re doing. Sometimes he has to enumerate how they are being awful.

    But generally yes, right on Amy!

  • wallydraigle

    November 4, 2010 at 10:32 am

    First, YAY! for your husband. So many women have husbands who are either too afraid to stand up for their wives against their mothers or who are so conditioned to tolerate this behavior that they don’t even see it for what it is.

    Second, I have a tactic that totally works (well, I’m sure there are a few extremely stubborn people on whom it doesn’t work). She gets one warning. From you or your husband. “Mom, we are no longer going to talk about this with you. We are no longer going to listen to it. This is your only warning.” And then? Hang up, leave the room, or kick her out if she ever starts in again. The key is to NEVER give in. If you give in after the 20th time, she’ll just learn that she needs to bug you 21 times in order to get you to engage. And both of you need to do this. I bet she sees her son as her property. You could be Martha Stewart, and she’d still find something to complain about in your home because her BABYYYYY is not being taken care of by MAMAAAA. You and your husband need to send the message that his first family is now you guys, and she comes second. It may take a while to sink in, but she will eventually get it.

    And if she shapes up for a while–a year, five years, whatever–, and starts back up again, you do the exact same thing: leave the room, hang up, or kick her out. No more warnings.

  • Hannah

    November 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I have this problem…except it’s MY family that’s doing it. They’re incredibly difficult to deal with, and are upset at (and badmouth) my husband for allegedly being the “evil mastermind” that’s thwarting what they want to happen. So stick to your guns, give your husband a big hug for supporting you (I regularly give my husband…um…adult hugs… to thank him for supporting me against my mother’s crazypants) and back way off on the contact with her. Otherwise, I foresee much drinking in your future. And that’s not good for the breastfeeding.

  • kari Weber

    November 5, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Like @Alanna, I never understood the whole “you are taking “her” side argument” of these parents… You can bet that if that MIL’s husband took HIS mother’s side in an argument that that lady would be PI$$ED off! Why is this any different?

    I too have a MIL that would prefer to have a relationship only on her terms… and that usually requires me pulling my hair out.  At some point you have to remember that you need to have a license to marry… not to have children.  The fact that she is HIS mother, doesn’t give her the right to act like this.  Or anyone for that matter.  Toxic people cause waste in their wake… you, your husband, and your son are better off NOT focusing on this all the time.  

  • Ali

    November 8, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Hannah – you’re too funny, I love your comment.

  • Brita

    November 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I’m going to comment from the perspective of a child who grew up pretty deluded about just how crazy my extended family is.  My parents realized early on how toxic certain members of both their families were, so they cultivated the friendships of various friends to have in our lives that played the role of grandparents, aunts and uncles.  They even nicknamed some of them “uncle” and “auntie”.  The family members played a limited role in my life, and it wasn’t until I was an adult and I was exposed to those folks (the were pretty awful and get me very steamed up when I’m around them) that I knew how nuts they all were.  We didn’t ever completely have them out of our lives, but my parents just made sure a lot of amazing people were IN our lives.  I am lucky and grateful as an adult and I hope you get to do the same for your kids.  

  • Bill McNutt

    November 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Just a quick note: I am ALWAYS on my wife’s side. I don’t care if her conflict is with her boss, HER mother, or MY mother. I’m on her side.

    I’m her HUSBAND. That’s my JOB.


  • Lisa

    November 15, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Great advice. Please rise above her behaviour – in that don’t allow her negativity to consume your thoughts. She doesn’t deserve to be part of your happy family and it is truly her loss! Obviously you will see her again and maybe going to her house would make things easier; you know on her turf? If that isn’t a healthy space then by all means do send her cards with pictures and updates. It shows that you care and are very proud of your growing family. If and when you do speak with her and she brings up negative comments, take a deep breath and calmly ask her how you can possibly change the past?!

  • Anne

    June 10, 2013 at 4:11 am

    I have had a very similar experience with my MIL, and 17 years later, she criticizes me, my husband, and my children without mercy and compares us negatively with the children of her friends. She moved in with me IMMEDIATELY after my twins were born for 30 freaking miserable days, moved my husband into her temporary rental, read my diary, and told everyone on the phone how I had left a stain in the bathtub that she HAD to clean with tons of Comet (which is very painful to a new mother)which I told her I would clean as soon as I got dressed. I had just delivered twins for goodness sake. She also drank a case of beer each night and woke me up over and over and told me I was a cow when I breastfed and expressed milk. She would stare at my breasts for long periods of time when I was expressing milk and breast feeding and would walk around naked which made me uncomfortable

    The thing that has changed is that now my husband supports me 100% and rails against her when she criticizes me and our four children. He can now see how he has been emotionally neglected by her all his life, and how much the children and I love and accept him. He likes for me to criticize how she treats us, but be careful, most husband’s are hurt by too much criticism of their mother’s as he was when we first got married.

    We read the book Toxic In-laws and it was awesome and helped him to see that her behavior is destructive and abnormal and the book gives suggestions about how to deal with it. If you and your husband unite and hold your power, there is nothing she can do. My mother-in-law sees me as a competitor and gets furious when anyone compliments anything I do and sees it as a put down of what she does. Don’t stoop to your MIL level by arguing with her though. That makes you look weak and she will really dig her claws in then. I just say “Why do you ask?” when my MIL gets too personal and “Your entitled to your opinion, but it’s not your decision” when she tries to push her awful parenting advice on us.

    One Mother’s Day she said,”This is my day, because I am a good mother and you are a bad mother.” She used to hurt me terribly, but now I see her for the pathetic insecure alcoholic wretch that she is. Don’t let your MIL ruin your family. We went through years of pain before finally seeing the light.

  • Ann

    February 17, 2015 at 3:34 am

    My MIL has been trying to draw a wedge between me and my husband for years it’s been 14 years and three children and she still tries to cause problems because she doesn’t like me, I try to respect her because she is his mother but you have to give respect to get it, it’s sad because he doesn’t always stand up for me like he should because he feels that she will not listen, it just shows me how miserable she is and misery loves company, I’ve decided to stay away from the negative bitter old bat but she will have to answer to God one day about her actions here on earth. I feel sorry for her and my husband