Drama From Your Mama (In-Law)
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.
About 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.
BUT ALSO SOMETIMES THEN!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.