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Sorry, it's a MIL issue, but I don't know how to cope with my feelings...

(82 Posts)
ToffeeWhirl Sun 01-Sep-13 11:05:23

I have ruminated over this for months. I know some people on MN have terrible MILs and that's why I haven't felt able to post for advice, because I know I'm lucky really. But I could do with some advice.

I have known my MIL for over 20 years and we have always had an amicable relationship, even though we are completely different. To give you a taste of what she's like - she reads the Daily Mail and believes wives should give up work and look after their children. She thinks divorce is always traumatic for the children and pities me because I am a child of divorced parents. She talks inane nonsense and never listens to anyone else, including her DS. She is very judgemental about anyone who doesn't conform to her limited view of how people should be. She is very needy and tries to win her grandchildren's continued love with an excess of junk food. Anyhow, after a stint in hospital a couple of years ago, when she was 83, she came to us and I looked after her for 10 weeks whilst she convalesced. I may have had to sneak off to the kitchen for a slurp of wine to get me through this now and again, but we both stayed friendly, and the house benefited from the extra housework I did to get away from her.

After her illness and convalescence, she moved nearer to us and now lives five minutes away. This means we can look after her and she can see lots of the grandchildren. She is very generous with babysitting and money and I know we are lucky in that respect.

But now I find myself struggling. She is making me really, really angry and I don't know how to remain civil with her. DS1 has SNs and things have been difficult with him over the past few months. I know this has made me less patient with MIL than usual, as I can't listen to her wittering on about trivial things when I'm so worried about DS. She thrives on stories of death and illness, so she is always telling us about the latest death at her sheltered housing, or relishing the details of somebody's struggle with cancer. She does it under the guise of concern, but she loves it. It's like a hobby for her. If she goes to the GP, it is always a big event. I find this particularly difficult to cope with because several people in my family have had/are coping with cancer. In fact, I think I have just said goodbye to one for the last time sad.

I also don't like the way she criticises everyone. When she left her previous home, she was glad to get away from several so-called friends that she didn't like. Well, surprise! - now she has more friends that she doesn't like confused. She complains about them all the time - how they take money from her, ring her up too much, get her to care for them (which she does because she is just so caring hmm) and so on. I have introduced her to my friends and she usually has a few cutting things to say about them too, which hurts me. And now, after a couple of Christmases with my Mum here too, she has started on her. She doesn't approve of her, apparently. Well, I love my Mum, so I take exception to that in particular.

Oh, and we have recently asked her to stop bringing junk food for the DC. I knew this would be an issue for her, but I was fed up with it. She complains, now, that the DC can't have 'anything'.

And, I know this is irrational, but the gene that has caused my DS's SNs (he has TS/OCD) comes from her and I feel so angry with her for that. I can't justify it because I know that's mad of me, but it's just how I feel.

Unfortunately, my irritation must be showing because last week DH told me that she was in a terrible state after her last visit, saying that she couldn't bear it if I banned her from seeing her grandchildren. WTF? I have never, ever threatened such a thing and wouldn't dream of it. I'm not sure if she is showing early signs of dementia or is being manipulative.

I have to see her today. I now have so much pent-up anger towards her that I don't know how to be civil. How do I get over this?

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Mon 02-Sep-13 11:13:28

That must have been heartbreaking oldgrandma. That was very decent of you to continue to help her despite her behaviour.

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 11:41:19

oldgrandma - as Lumpy said, that was very decent of you and your mother was lucky to have you as a DD. Did you have siblings to help? DH and I are both only DC, so there is no one to share the duties with.

I have to say that MIL never expects money from us (just as well, as we don't have any) - on the contrary, she helps us. I really feel for the DC who have to support their PIL financially as well.

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Mon 02-Sep-13 12:09:01

Dh wishes he was an only. Sil caused nothing but problems when fil was ill. She literally used to sit next him and read aloud all the possible side effects from his medication. Ffs he had a brain tumour, it really wasn't helpful.

It was just like having a mini mil adding to the pressure.

We. No. Longer. Speak. grin

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 14:14:02

I'm not surprised you no longer speak, Lumpy.

MIL phoned this morning to tell me the GP suspects she has diabetes - so she has a real illness to talk about now. However, she will have to lay off the white bread, cakes and biscuits, which she won't enjoy at all. She thinks junk food is essential and once told me that if I didn't eat enough white sugar I would end up in hospital. She is very overweight and blames it all on medications hmm.

DH has been trying to get her to reduce her consumption of cakes and biscuits since she moved here because she has put on so much weight and he was worried about her heart and general health. It will be hard for him not to say, "Told you so!"

At least she may now reduce the junk food she brings for my DC <hopeful>.

chocoluvva Mon 02-Sep-13 14:31:16

I feel for you Toffee - you have such a lot on your plate - and clearly are a patient and good person. I'm so glad you're getting validation, for want of a better word, from many posters.

As usual I didn't express myself well - I think you are very perceptive about the reasons for your MILs horrid behaviour - and don't need my take on her, but FWIW, by way of consolation I was trying to be helpful by venturing the theory that your MIL is probably in such a deeply ingrained habit of spouting her unkind, insensitive opinions that she probably doesn't realise she's doing it half the time. Although she does mean what she says on one level, if seriously challenged on her opinions by an extremely tactful and skilled outside party she probably would grudgingly admit that she is taking an extreme stand on lots of points and her failure to keep her thoughts to herself - a dreadful weakness which would be kept in check if she shared her home with a supportive partner - despite her lack of guilt, will nevertheless not be a source of happiness to her. I'm sure you and others are right about her not changing even if your DH calls her on her 'comments', but it might make you feel a little bit better and have a SLIGHT curb on her attempts to be a bully. (On the other hand, if your DH standing up to her inflames the situation it isn't worth the effort....)

My MIL also makes unkind and surprisingly ignorant comments frequently. (Fortunately, we live several hours away!) She also is never ever wrong. Last year after a particularly upsetting incident I decided to 'give up' with her. I think I finally accepted that she won't change and that I don't 'owe' her anything so I would pay no attention to her opinions - adopt the nod and smile approach as much as possible. I've achieved this to a much greater degree than I thought I would and it has definitely helped me not to be upset by her. Sometimes I actually don't even take in what she's saying at all!

May I offer for your use when with your MIL the phrase, "There's nowt as queer as folk." grin

Disclaimer - DH is one of a largish family, she is younger than your MIL and married and we only see her a few times a year so she her effect is much more diluted than your MIL's effect.

chocoluvva Mon 02-Sep-13 14:32:00

x-posted - slow typist, sorry.

chocoluvva Mon 02-Sep-13 14:36:22

grin at the 'importance' of white sugar - my MIL is exactly the same!

Apparently "children need sugar". It didn't harm her [sceptical]. And the decision to stop dentists administering general anaesthetics in their surgeries after occasional fatalities shock is ridiculous. After all MIL had a general anaesthetic at the dentist's when she was little and she was fine!!!!!

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 18:22:48

choc - nodding and smiling and not listening is the way to go, I agree. I wonder if the sugar issue is something to do with wartime. MIL lived through rationing when sweets were in short supply and now she regards sweets and other sugary foods as an essential food stuff.

<adds "nowt as queer as folk" to notebook>

cozietoesie Mon 02-Sep-13 18:30:12

Maybe that - sugar was a highly prized commodity back then. Also maybe partly a folk memory of eg making cakes many years ago - the richest and most superior cakes had eggs and butter and white sugar and....... There wasn't the casual throwing in of sugar to enhance bought food flavour that we have today - because there wasn't much bought food.

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Mon 02-Sep-13 19:28:02

Mil lived through the war and is also diabetic but still seems to consume vast quantities of sugar. I think you are spot on about it being a generational thing.

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 19:46:06

Am wondering now if her weird paranoid outburst about me was related to uncontrolled diabetes. My mum was just saying that her partner is very bad tempered when his diabetes is out of control.

cozie - MIL is very proud of her cake-making skills. It's the only thing she ever had any recognition for - she has even saved her Women's Institute certificates!

Lumpy - oh dear, your MIL won't be doing herself any good if she is still consuming a lot of sugar and is diabetic.

Tinlegs Mon 02-Sep-13 19:58:09

I think the fact that you haven't blown your top, run away or done something drastic makes you a saint. I know I would not be so kind, generous or understanding.

Something I read on here is to repeat what they say to them. So when she says, "X is a bitch." Repeat it to her, "You are saying X is a bitch". After a while, you can do it without actually listening. Bit like going la la la!

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Mon 02-Sep-13 20:02:04

I know Toffee sad

She always claimed it was for fil but he didn't have a sweet tooth.

If I bump into her when she has been shopping she has baskets of crap, but always makes some excuse. But what can you do, you cannot live someone's life for them. It's impossible to help someone who is just so delusional. She has literally rewritten chunks of her life.

I tried to get her to write what she actually ate but she just won't do it.

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 20:15:26

Tinlegs - goodness, I really am not in any way saintly and my DH would back me up on that!

Lumpy - you're right - it is impossible to help people when they are so delusional. Sounds like you have done all you can and MIL doesn't want to listen.

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 20:15:52

Oh, and I like the repeating thing, Tinlegs.

redqueen45 Wed 04-Sep-13 11:32:37

Toffee - I misread your bit re cake-making skills as "she has even saved the WI" Single-handedly, eh? Now we really are in delusional territory!

There's a lot of good ideas on here, but know from experience that changing knee-jerk response to the unpleasant behaviour is soooo damn difficult. (*Jax*, you sound so calm & together re this!)
However, that's because it's not my MIL, but my own mother who behaves this way, & she knows just how to push my buttons cos she created them!

Where is your DH in all this? & does he think her behaviour is getting worse, or has she actually always behaved like this, just with different preoccupations? I can totally relate to the bit about her dismissing his achievements & interests, the trick is for him to detach sufficiently so as not to care (& don't tell her anything in the first place). He sounds like he may still be holding out hope/trying to get for signs of affection that are never going to arrive; I was a bit saddened to read of his determination to make her life as easy as possible, which really comes at the expense of your blood pressure, & your own family life.

There's a big difference between the occasional careless, accidentally bad-mannered remark we all come out with sometimes, & continual, deliberate unpleasantness. & whilst we can understand and sympathise with the fears & worries that come with aging, I don't think it should be held as a excuse (I still think your MIL sounds on the Narcissistic spectrum - one test is asking for an improvement - to 'have a heart'. If she's genuinely sorry & tries to change, that's fantastic. But if she gets worse... )

Try the gut reaction test; what do you feel at the prospect of -

1) Biting your tongue & carrying on as you are, with a new set of "mmmmnnn" responses (but still seething internally - & probably your frustration bursting out at home with your own family)

2) Not seeing her as often

3) Both you & your DH challenging her behaviour at every turn, in the hope she can learn what won't be tolerated by you.

Though it's going to be impossible to make any changes if your DH isn't on board. Those are prob the only options. Personally, I went for mainly (2), & moved 400 miles away to a different country. ((1) leaves me enraged, & (3) just causes escalating unpleasantness - how dare I set down boundaries!) But visits are horrible & stress-inducing, & now she's following stalking me by moving here, 2 miles away. We may have to move house...

PS. Also only child. Which seems to make my parents think however badly they treat me, I am contractually obliged to care for them in their old age. confused I'm afraid I'm not as decent as oldgrandmama - I know I cannot do it. There's just been too much deliberate malicious behaviour for too many years. I recoil at the thought of having to physically touch my mother.

PPS re the photographs - on last visit counted over 30 pics of grandchildren, 4 pics of dogs past & present, & 1 of me & DH (wedding) tucked away at top of stairs. It's obviously very common!

ToffeeWhirl Wed 04-Sep-13 17:46:55

Have just come off the phone with MIL. She didn't stop talking - all about herself and people I've never met. Funnily enough, she then complained about a woman she knew who never stopped talking! I managed to end the conversation by saying dinner was ready and I had to go. When DH rings her, he just sits there in silence whilst she talks. I don't know how he has the patience, honestly.

redqueen - that sounds so difficult with your mum. At least I have the detachment of it being my MIL.

In answer to your question, my DH seems to have long since accepted his DM's limitations. He says she has been a good mum to him and he loves her and wants the best for her and I respect him for that. He struggled with her character more when he was younger, but he seems to have accepted her for what she is. I try not to criticise her to him too much because I can see that this makes him uncomfortable.

If I try your gut reaction test, I hover between 1 and 2. I think I can manage 1 if I practise mmm-ing and stock phrases. Also, I think I need to keep visits short!

I'm so sorry that your mother is moving nearer to you when you had moved away for peace of mind. I know exactly what you mean about the physical revulsion. I feel that way about MIL - I hate the way she shows me her bad teeth and how I can feel the bristles on her chin when she kisses me hello. Then I feel like a bitch again, but I can't help my reaction and, of course, I don't show it. I know that I won't be able to do any intimate care for her if she ever becomes ill. That's horrible to admit, but it's true.

MIL is coming round tomorrow morning after she's had her hair done and I will have to make her a cup of tea and be a good DIL for an hour or two. I don't want to see her at all.

DH and I discussed Christmas the other day. The last couple of Christmases have been so difficult because we have to have both mothers and they are like chalk and cheese. And, of course, both of them want to see their grandchildren. However, now that MIL disapproves so strongly of my mother, it makes Christmas even more difficult. We were unable to come up with any solution, however, because we can't leave either mum alone on Christmas Day.

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Wed 04-Sep-13 20:00:58

I remember before we went no contact with sil I used to feel physically sick if I had to be in the same room as her, your body reacts for a reason.

Christmas is going to be a hard one. Could you split the day, visit your mum for lunch and mil for tea.

The bottom line is its her behaviour that is causing all the problems and its up to you and Dh how much disruption she causes without being challenged.

ToffeeWhirl Wed 04-Sep-13 20:14:17

That's interesting, Lumpy. I have had physical symptoms with other difficult family members, who basically made me feel ill, but this physical recoiling is a new one and I chastise myself for feeling like it, but can't stop it. Feel horrible about it.

DH and I discussed splitting Christmas Day, but it's not possible. My mother comes to stay with us for the holiday and MIL lives nearby, so we can't avoid having them both round for Christmas Dinner without upsetting one of them.

MIL is really not a bad person at all, which is why I feel guilty about my own feelings. I think she just lacks any self awareness or understanding of other people. DH believes she just can't help the way she is and I think he's right.

Lavenderhoney Wed 04-Sep-13 20:15:28

Gosh, your post reminded me of my late GM. She spent the last few years of her life - (she died at 85, which I assume is the age of your mil?) complaining bitterly about anyone and everything. She was slowly losing her mental ability.

The family ( I was under 10) dealt with it by being very open and honest with each other how difficult she was and arguing from jan 1 who was having her for Christmas. It became an in family joke in the end, and people put up with her because clearly she was at the end of the line, sometimes waking and thinking she was 12 and had to get milk from the cow, then being very lucid and downright nasty to anyone around.

My dm, who my GM treated appallingly and is a whole other thread, took her in when her own family wouldn't.

I think I am trying to say, I agree with the other poster who breezes in and out, listens, doesn't think about it too much, and tbh, my parents took the view that at least she seemed to be enjoying herself. Much wine was drunksmile

Lavenderhoney Wed 04-Sep-13 20:19:09

Toffee whirl, my dm used to give us 50p for holding the phone and going "mmm" whilst she talked and talked. She never realised. God, that woman could talk! But she lived alone, had a very hard life in the war, husband died etc, so she was cut some slack. Not that she ever cut anyone else any, of course.

ToffeeWhirl Wed 04-Sep-13 20:19:15

A close friend of mine suggested that I feel the way I do about MIL because MIL isn't truthful and she had a point. For instance, when MIL talks about a case of child abuse under the guise of concern (she reads the DM, so has lots of nasty material), I know she's actually, bizarrely, enjoying the shock value. It's horrible. I have had to tell her to stop talking about certain things and leave the room. She can't have any real empathy for victims or she couldn't talk like that sad.

ToffeeWhirl Wed 04-Sep-13 20:21:41

Lavenderhoney - your family sound wonderful smile. I love the 50p-to-hold-the-phone trick. Humour and wine is the way to cope, I think.

Lavenderhoney Wed 04-Sep-13 20:50:45

Humour is the best way to cope, I think. Or you will go mad.

Christmas, invite them, stick crap tv on they like, ensure the dc have their own telly, bribe dc to be nice ( after all, it might be you one day smile and think of it as a sitcom. My dm spent all morning locked in the kitchen " cooking" really drinking wine and smoking heavily, and the afternoon encouraging GM to call everyone else in the family who had mysteriously been unable at the last minute to come. She was busy all afternoon and evening, then a bit of crap tv, where she moaned about the crap telly - you couldn't watch for the moaning- and bed.

My dm, in a rare moment, said " I'm so glad I am an orphan"

Plus she also promised to go into a home should she need to. I would have her with us myself - whinging and complaining, reading the gospel daily mail, telling me dh is a wonderful husband and I am not grateful enough etc etc.

It won't be long now. And it's part of being a family and being there at the end , as well as the beginning. Try researching your family history with her. Bet she dishes dirt never before mentionedsmile " more sherry, gran?"

Pilgit Wed 04-Sep-13 21:15:59

Didn't want to read and run and haven't read the whole thread. This sounds similar to DH's grandmother in her final years. She got paranoid, pesimistic and really quite horrible to (and about) all sorts of people simply doing her a kindness. After a couple of years of this she was diagnosed with dementia. These kind of things are quite normal - even if annoying, frustrating and downright offensive at times. My dad displays similar symptoms (alcohol induced dementia...). My PILs handled it by taking it one incident at a time, telling her off for being rude and not accepting being treated like that. It didn't stop her but it meant they didn't constantly feel annoyed with her. Expect her to forget about the ban on junk food....

As to the obsession and relish with death - my observation is that this is quite normal in the elderly (does not afflict all!). Think about it - with the 30+ age group with children we're preoccupied with children and their illnesses (chicken pox parties anyone - ridiculous, but....). All their contemporaries are busy dying so there is a preoccupation with it, just as there is with whatever stage we're at and everything that's happening in our lives and the lives or our friends. It is macabre and I hope I never get like that.

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