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Issues with late DH's mother (MiL) and her reaction to current DP (Loooooooooong!)

(220 Posts)
HMTheQueen Wed 16-Jan-13 19:39:44

This might be long, as I don't want to drip feed. Also I want to know if AIBU but I'm not brave enough to post there! grin

Quick history - DH died when DS was a baby (4 years ago). Have been with new DP for a year. He has 2 DSs and he is also a widower. So we (unfortunately) have quite a bit in common in that sense. When DH was alive, I had an OK relationship with his mother, with a few issues arising that were usually dealt with by DH - normal MiL stuff - her demanding that we spend Xmas with her rather than FiL (divorced 25 years ago) etc etc. Since I got pregnant and the subsequent birth of DS, we had quite a few run-ins with MiL overstepping the boundaries but DH dealt with them when he was alive and I have dealt with them since. (Search my name and you'll come up with a few threads about minor annoyances!)

Current situation - Last year I met DP after 3 years on my own with DS. We have moved in together and his DSs and my DS get along fabulously and consider themselves brothers. DS calls DP "Daddy".

All the Grandparents - my FiL, my parents, DP's dad, DP's in-laws - all treat all the DS's like grandchildren. The DS's call the grandparents by their names - nanny, grandad, grandpa etc - and generally everyone is happy that they have gained extra grandchildren and that DP and I have each other.

Except MiL. Immediately after the first meeting of DP, his DS's and MiL, MiL called me and the first thing she said was that she didn't want DP's DSs calling her "Grandma". She was quite forceful that she isn't their Grandma - she is my DS's Grandma and that's all. I said that's fine - it's up to her. I also thought (without saying) that it's no skin off my nose and they already have lots of grandparents willing to love them and treat them as grandchildren.

Current issue - DS and I stayed with MiL just before Xmas (overnight) as we were invited to a family friends wedding (DP and his DS's not invited as v. small wedding and didn't know B&G - everyone fine with that). During breakfast/playtime while getting ready for wedding DS was chatting about "Daddy" (DP) and his brothers.

MiL "You mean <DPname>".

DS "Yes, <DPname>".

MiL "He's not your Daddy."

I was fuming. But as DS was there, I didn't want to raise anything and I let it wash over me. In the car later, I spoke to DS about it (bearing in mind he is 4.7) and confirmed with him that DP is his "Daddy" as well as the Daddy he has in Heaven. He said he was very lucky as he had 2 daddies and 2 brothers. I agreed and we went down the 'Silly Grandma got confused' route.

I couldn't get MiL alone at the wedding (and didn't want to ruin B&G's day) so couldn't speak to her about this, so called while I was driving home in the afternoon (It's 2 hours away and DS fell asleep in the car). I told her that it was not appropriate for her to 'correct' DS and that as far as he was concerned DP is "Daddy". He also knows he has Daddy in Heaven and he feels very lucky to have 2 daddies and 2 brothers.

At which point MiL corrected me and called them "Step-brothers". angry

I explained that DS sees them as his family and that is what matters - not names or blood. DP is the only Daddy he has ever known and he is happy. She (half-heartedly) apologised then reiterated that she didn't want DP's DSs calling her Grandma as she isn't their Grandma. I said thats fine and her choice. She then felt it necessary to remind me that DS is the only child of her son who died so he is very special to her. I reminded her that I remembered him dying (what with being there at the time and all!). Basically she apologised (frostily) and we hung up on a very tense conversation.

Since Xmas she has spoken to FiL (remember - divorced 25 years ago - but she still relies on him a lot) and he has (essentially) bollocked her for being an idiot and jeopardising her relationship with her only grandchild.

She then rang me, apologised for the tense situation and said she'd be happy for DP's DSs to call her Grandma and she doesn't want to jeopardise her access to DS - which I would never do anyway - I would definitely not stop access with DH's family.

Here's the AIBU - AIBU to not want to see or speak to her at the moment. I'm still very very angry that she felt the need to correct a 4 year old as well as the fact that she thought it necessary to remind me that DH died. Like I didn't know, or had forgotten. I am so angry, I shake when I see her name come up on my phone and when I tried to call her back the other day, I could feel my heart racing. I DO NOT want to speak to her right now. She may have apologised and think its all better, but to me, she has done what she thinks she needs to do to see DS - not actually thought about how her actions may have affected me and DS. I am also not happy with seeing her or letting DS see her (for now) as I can't trust her not to say these things again, as she doesn't appear to understand why I am so angry.

If I could confirm that she realises the gravity of what she said and promised she wouldn't do it again, I'd be more than happy for her to see DSs. DP has been very supportive in all of this and is happy to back me up, whatever my decision - although we are both hesitant about her seeing his DS's as she will clearly favour my DS over them and we don't feel that is fair on on any of them.

I may potentially see her in the next week or so (great aunt's funeral) so could speak to her then about how she made me feel and the confusion she could have put DS through (but luckily he is a very chilled little boy and not much phases him!)

Do I speak to her at the funeral? Do I call her before hand (which would then create an atmosphere at the funeral)? Do I let it lie for a while and keep ignoring her calls (I answer maybe 1 out of 6 calls)? Am I being totally unreasonable and should let it go? I need MN wisdom as DP is sick of hearing about it and I'm sick of talking about it. Some sort of action needs to be taken.

Thanks for reading.

HMTheQueen Wed 16-Jan-13 20:23:32

I worry that in her grief she is placing a huge burden on DS. She doesn't want us to forget DH (how could we?) but in the process of trying to keep his memory alive, she treats DS as if he is his dad. She buys him presents that DH would have liked, she sings songs from DH's childhood, she knits clothes that she knitted for DH (the woman doesn't ever throw knitting patterns away grin ). Its like she wants DS to become DH. I want DS to be whoever he wants, not who Grandma wants him to be - I also ink that's too much pressure for a four year old!

After 4 years, I don't know what else I can do to convince her that we aren't going to forget DH. We have photos up, we talk about him, we socialise with his school/uni friends who talk about him, we see his family. Despite all this, she thinks we'll forget him? I'm not sure what more I can do, short of bringing him back to life.

slambang Wed 16-Jan-13 20:29:59

Oh dear. So sad. So understandable.

Your MIL isn't behaving well but she's behaving pretty much in the way that so many of us might behave in the same circumstances. She's lost her beloved ds and now she feels he's being wiped from history by the new family and she's also losing her beloved dgs too. Forgive what she said -it sounds like pain talking.

I can understand your anger but I think it's misplaced. Perhaps what she needs is some reassurance as well as some firm guidelines on how to cope with this new world.
a. Yes, I promise ds will always know he is his daddy in heaven's son and that you are very special because you are his daddy's mum. We wont let him forget his father.
b. He also has a daddy in DP and a new family. We want him to be treated exactly the same way as dp's children. Those are the rules and it will help us all to stay part of one big family if we all use the same terminology.

HecateWhoopass Wed 16-Jan-13 20:30:32

God, I haven't got any wise words at all. I can only speculate and wouldn't presume to claim to truly understand how either of you are feeling. I've never lost a child or a husband and I can't imagine how painful those things both are. Yes, she should be happy that your son is happy, of course, everyone should want a child to be happy. OTOH, it's possible to be both happy that her grandson is happy and extremely sad that she's lost her own child, and fearful that he's a fading memory to his son. Or perhaps she feels that happiness is a betrayal (I am thinking of my mum who has lost her parents and in the beginning it was like you were not allowed to laugh or talk about anything happy because she acted like you'd forgotten them or didn't care).

God, that's waffly.

It's just such a difficult and painful situation and it's hard to put anything coherent together!

In an ideal world, you'd be able to sit down with her and talk openly. Not 'pull her up' on anything, but more exchange your feelings and understand where the other is coming from and plan a way forward. Do you think that's something she would be open to or do you think she'd just close off?

I think jo has a good point about talking to her about how your son's father will be remembered. Showing her that she's wrong, and he's not going to be forgotten. While at the same time making sure she knows that she can't do some of the stuff she's doing.

But she's also got to understand that this is hard for you too. You've lost someone you planned on spending your life with. You've lost the father of your child. You've got to keep him alive for your child while building a life with your new partner and balancing all that is hard.

But it sounds like she might be willing to bend and try to meet you halfway. saying the other children can call her grandma was an olive branch.

BettySuarez Wed 16-Jan-13 20:31:23

I think that this is a situation that you both have to deal with in different ways.

You are able to move forward in your life, with a new partner, new step kids and the ability to watch your own son grow stronger every day.

Your MIL is alone and her son is never coming back sad

Maybe she feels that every step you take forward, diminishes the memory of her son even further. Not that this is in anyway intentional, life needs to go on. But it must be very sad and frightening for her. Something she has absolutely no control over either.

I'm trying to imagine how painful that must feel for her.

You absolutely must embrace your new life though, no doubt about it smile

Sorry to you and your MIL for your very sad loss sad

FiveGoMadInDorset Wed 16-Jan-13 20:33:42

But how else is your DS going to know what his Dad was like when he was a child? Do you know? I love asking my father about his childhood. I don't see it as wanting your DS to become your DH but a chance to tell and show your son what his father was like.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Wed 16-Jan-13 20:33:47

I am sorry, what an awful predicament. You were all grieving. Now you have found DP and only MIL out of all the family had until very recently refused to acknowledge DP's children. Keeping contact with her for DS's sake and remembrance of DH has been poorly rewarded.

I totally agree she should not have contradicted DS. I do see why you were and are upset. You hardly need reminding of your loss.

Historically she has never been an easy personality. She needed careful handling by your late DH. Now she's angered you by speaking out of turn. Conceding that she'll let DP's DCs call her grandma is a big climb down. I wouldn't broach this at great aunt's funeral. It would not be the proper time to put things to rights. But afterwards you'd be justified in quietly raising this with her and putting this to bed.

HecateWhoopass Wed 16-Jan-13 20:34:43

x-post.

So you're already trying to show her how her son is being remembered within the family. She needs to know that she has to let your son be himself.

I get that he's the closest thing she'll ever have to having her son back, but she needs to see your son as a person in his own right, with his own likes and dislikes and his own life to lead.

I am so sorry for you all. It is an unenviable position.

izzyizin Wed 16-Jan-13 20:35:16

I understand where you're coming from, but I believe you're best advised to cut your MIL some slack.

Sadly, you lost your dh before ds had time to get to know him and to have a clear image in his head of his df.

You have now created a blended family with a dp who had his own sad loss to bear and whose dc who are happy to be mothered by you - how old are they, btw, and do they call you 'mummy'?

Your mil may not see or be aware of the way in which you and your dp keep the memories of your former spouses alive in the minds of your dc, and she is most probably coming from a place of fear that your ds will lose all sight of the fact that your dp is not his biological father and that this, in turn, will diminish her late son's right to be known as his df.

Although she may only have done so because of your fil's input, IMO your mil has been gracious in expressing herself as willing to be called 'grandma' by your dp's dc and it's to be hoped that, in time, any fear she may harbour of losing access to her dgs will be allayed by your studious attention to maintaining regular contact with her.

I do not seek in any way to minimise the extent of your loss, but losing a child is very different to losing a spouse/partner in that while you have been able to find new hope and cause to be glad in your dp, your mil cannot alleviate the loss of her son and, consequently, looks to her dgc to keep his memory alive in the years to come when she is no longer around to remind him.

By virtue of the fact that you could cease all contact with her thus depriving her of her child's son, you have immense power over your mil and I trust you will use it wisely.

I didn't read that as an 'awful typo' Sara. To me it seems an accurate observation in that the mil's son can no longer embrace life as he once did and as her dil is now doing. Even though she may be self-centred or selfish, or self-absorbed, I feel deeply sorry for the mil and for any parent who has lost their dc.

BettySuarez Wed 16-Jan-13 20:37:54

Try not to worry about traditional nursery rhymes or knitted jumpers. It is quite normal for grandparents to try to inflict pass these things on down the generations smile

I'm sure you will do the same when you become a grandmother.

HMTheQueen Wed 16-Jan-13 20:41:40

Thanks everyone for your input. This is why i love MN. So many differeing views so quickly!

I feel like I'm going around in the same circle since DH died. It's pity and sadness for her from lots of people. And they should pity her. I cant imagine losing a child. But I can't allow her to use it as an excuse to be selfish and say what she wants with no repercussions.

I know she is trying to keep DHs memory alive, and she has extended the olive branch to DP's DSs, which I will gladly accept. However, I will speak to her - nicely!- and reiterate that we won't let DS forget DH, but that doesn't mean she can carry on doing as she pleases while I seethe in the corner. I will let her know what is appropriate, but in a nice way - I promise!

But I won't do it at the funeral - that would be a baaaaaad idea!

millie30 Wed 16-Jan-13 20:43:32

I do agree with FiveGoMadInDorset's last point. Whilst our situation was a happy one in many ways, one thing that still affects me now is that I have very little knowledge of my mother and what she was like. As a child I didn't really think about it as I was more absorbed in the here and now, but as an adult and a mother myself it is a great sadness to me that I wasn't told many things about her, and my grandparents have both now passed away. Let your MIL share her memories and her stories about his father, it will be nice for him and it is something I deeply wish I had.

Ponders Wed 16-Jan-13 20:45:06

the thing that struck me most was how much she will lose if she continues to put up barriers. It's trite to say you have to give a little love to get a little love but honestly, she is in a position to enlarge her own family circle, after the desperately sad loss of her son, if she will accept the new situation & embrace it

if she is loving & generous to her grandson's new family she will be a welcome part of it. if not - not...

her apology, & willingness to let your DP's boys call her Grandma, is a huge concession from her - providing she can maintain that attitude, I think you can cut her some slack

good luck, HM smile

BettySuarez Wed 16-Jan-13 20:47:46

OP is there something that you and DS and MIL can do together. A day out or a trip to somewhere that was significant to your late DH?

Perhaps once a year the three of you go out for fish and chips (daddies favourite meal) followed by a walk in daddies favourite park.

Not these exact examples obviously but something that was special and unique for your DH. A day to remember daddy?

You could then contact MIL and suggest making it a regular 'thing' that just the three of you do together. Your late DH's birthday for example.?

HMTheQueen Wed 16-Jan-13 20:49:16

I do want her to tell DS about DH as a child - I like to hear that too! But I don't want her to try to turn DS into DH. There's memories and then there is a step too far!

But I agee, the apology from her (albeit not for the 'Right' thing) was a big climb down from her, so I will take it in good grace.

DP's DSs don't call me mummy - because they have memories of their mother. They were 5 and (just) 3 when she died, so it's slightly different for them. But I do mother them - complete with kisses and telling off for not removing their shoes! grin.

Alibabaandthe40nappies Wed 16-Jan-13 20:56:59

What an awful situation. sad

I do think you are being somewhat unreasonable to be cross with her for singing songs your DH liked, or buying your DS things that his Dad would have liked.
She would have had dreams of watching them together, and those are gone. She will be heartbroken for herself, and probably for your DH too.

And yes, your dreams were also shattered and broken, but now you have new dreams and hopes - which she does not have.

I don't really know what you mean when you say 'carry on doing as she pleases while I seethe'. She has agreed to let your DP's sons call her Grandma and not to correct your DS when he calls your DP 'Daddy'. What else do you want her to do?

GinAndaDashOfLime Wed 16-Jan-13 20:59:45

Hi HMTheQueen - I could have written your op.. My first DH died 4 years ago too when my ds was 2.5. Late DH was an only child, long divorced parents and I always had a difficult relationship with his mother.

Last year I remarried and my ds was delighted to call my new DH "daddy". It was my ds's idea and instigation to use that term which we happily went along with. We too talk about "old daddy" all the time and like you my late DH's mother has found it v hard to hear my ds call my new DH "daddy". We have had heated rows about this and she has been v upset by it - which I do understand.

BUT (and here's the bit other readers WILL NOT understand unless they too have been widowed with v small children) - in the end I told her to accept my new DH, accept that my ds WANTS to call him daddy... Or I would stop all contact. It might sound harsh but my loyalty above all lies with my ds and keeping him secure and happy. Her constant commenting to him "he's not your daddy" was deeply upsetting to him. It worked and we now get along better than ever bizarrely!

Don't want to give away too much more here but please do pm me if you'd like to chat (although I don't know how pm works but I'm sure I can work it out!)

izzyizin Wed 16-Jan-13 21:04:48

Your dp's dcs don't call you mummy because they have clear memories of their dm and are aware that you did not give birth to them but, in calling your dp 'daddy' as opposed to, say, daddy (your dp's name), your ds may lose sight of the fact his daddy was once as alive and tangible as your dp and is much more than an amorphous 'daddy in heaven'.

To counteract any attempt your mil, or anyone else, may make to turn your ds into a carbon copy of his df, simply teach him to be true to himself - in the fullness of time he will be anyway smile

AmberLeaf Wed 16-Jan-13 21:04:57

DP's DSs don't call me mummy - because they have memories of their mother

Is she trying to give your DS memories of his dad in a retrospective way?

I think she feels pushed out, I can see why she would in a way, her grandson is calling someone else [extra] grandma/granny and your DP daddy.

You have every right to be happy and move on, but IMO calling your DP daddy is a step too far.

I imagine your MIL feels the same?

HMTheQueen Wed 16-Jan-13 21:16:13

Hi Gin - thanks for your message. It's reassuring that others have been through this too. I think at the back of my mind I have your solution kicking about. I'd like to be amicable with MiL and have a nice relationship with her without having to resort to that - but - and it's a big but - my loyalty is to DS not her. I don't think she realises that. I honestly believe she thinks I'll continue to provide DS for visits, and that I trust her to look after him.

I don't trust her. I know that he is physically safe with her, and that he will be fed (copiously!) and watered and will sleep and do fun things, but I don't trust her to look after him emotionally. He has previously mentioned her crying when talking about daddy (which in itself is fine, obviously) but DS was very confused and MiL didn't attempt to explain why she was crying or anything. She does what is best for her - not what is best for him (emotionally).

Gah - this whole thing is so difficult! I'll sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning! Now for wine. I definitely need wine!

boodles Wed 16-Jan-13 21:35:37

My brother died when his first child was one and his second child was not yet born. It has been nearly nine years and still my mum isn't over it, she never ever will be. I do think you are being unreasonable and should cut her some slack. You have only been with your new partner a short amount of time, in the scheme of things, and it does sound, a little, like your sons dad is being replaced by new man. It is fabulous that he is such a good partner but it is very quick.

I also think it is important for your son to have his biological grandma singing songs his dad enjoyed and things like that, it will help your son know real things about his dad. Your mil has rang you and apologised, I think you should be glad of that and be glad that there is someone there, as well as you, who can keep your sons real dad alive for him with memories of him.

boodles Wed 16-Jan-13 21:37:54

Maybe you could explain to your son why your mil is crying? There will be times when your son will want to cry with her for the dad he has lost and will never know. I think it is ok for children to see grief. Your son may need to grieve for the dad he doesn't know.

boodles Wed 16-Jan-13 21:40:19

I also really dislike the term "old daddy", poster above, surely "birth daddy" would be more appropriate? Old makes him sound like something discarded.

LaCiccolina Wed 16-Jan-13 21:40:35

I have little advice really, sorry. My mil is the same. Dh dad was married before and had a dd. We are all in reasonable contact. We have a dd ourselves who is referred to by mil as the official grandchild. All the time. Anything from the 'other' side is nothing to do with her. To the deepest points which I daren't put here. She met the dd when she was 12, i cannot imagine what it must have been like for dd and struggle alot to reconcile this version of mil with tthe person i know. They just aren't her blood, her family or her concern in any sense. Dh of course has sun out of derrière! I find it nauseous, aggravating, insulting, irritating and down right rude. I also hate that they will happily spend time with them, drink champagne etc but she will act as if they are some sort of friend not step mum/sdd.

I don't know if she's jealous of this previous life, if by dealing with it like this it eases some sort of pain for her or if she's the biggest most manipulative bitch I've ever met. I swing wildly on how I view her.
Whatever, it just is and I'm slowly after 11yrs watching it starting to just accept it. Nothing else I can do.

Just wanted u to see other people act similarly. Lord knows why. Weirdos. Hope helps a bit....

Branleuse Wed 16-Jan-13 21:45:32

I think getting them to call your dp daddy which is the same word as for their dead father, in front of their greiving grandmother is actually insensitive, and no wonder shes upset

defineme Wed 16-Jan-13 21:52:06

My inlaws have kept every toy and knitting pattern from dh's childhood. Dh is alive, but dc do love all these things from dh's childhood and often ask to drive past dhs childhood home and go to places he did as a child (eg local caff). I can see how it looks like she's trying to turn your ds into your dh, but I think it's quite normal.
My dm sings the kids songs from my childhood and buys the books she read to me. She also cries in front of them about dead relations and 'Nana gets sad about .... because they've died' has always seemed to suffice.
I think you have reason to be upset about some things but you're lumping other things in with it?

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