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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?

ToffeeWhirl Thu 05-Sep-13 12:17:44

Those are good phrases, Eldritch. Wish I could emulate your father. What a clever man.

EldritchCleavage Thu 05-Sep-13 11:58:29

Phrases for your notebook:

-Fascinating
-And how do you feel about that? [for use only when you have perfected the art of not listening to the answer]
-Well, there we are
-Gosh, it's all so complicated/difficult these days, isn't it?

My English Grandmother adored my father (once she'd got over her disgraceful reluctance to have a black son-in-law that is, not that anyone was ever allowed to bring that up). She had no idea that the entire relationship was based on the fact he honestly never listened to a word she said. He had a special MIL auto-pilot mode that enabled him to read, watch telly and even to doze while saying 'Hmmn' and 'Oh' and 'Really' periodically. We used to snigger away watching him do it. But as far as GM was concerned, he was hanging on her every word, and was a God to her as a result.

ToffeeWhirl Thu 05-Sep-13 11:55:59

That's really funny, Lisa. So many useful coping strategies on this thread, and it makes me feel better knowing I'm not the only one coping with these feelings. Doing an online grocery shop whilst listening is skilled stuff - not sure I'm quite at that level yet grin.

MIL has just gone. Things feel a bit better between us. I made her a cup of tea, then sat and listened politely to her news. She went away happy.

And DS1 coped with his anxieties in the cafe and stayed for the full hour, so he did very well too.

LisaMed Thu 05-Sep-13 09:42:17

Re phone calls - I have gone twice through Plants v Zombies computer game while making listening noises. In my case an uncle. When my mother was in last stages I played computer battle ships for around 59 minutes steady (phone deal was free calls up to an hour) every day. I have also done an online grocery orders (tidied up afterwards), but I can't mumsnet as I 'mmm, really' inappropriately. hth

ToffeeWhirl Thu 05-Sep-13 09:33:26

lotsofcheese - yes, your MIL does sound very similar. I'm sorry she is only in her mid-60s wink. That is so sad about your DS being ignored on Xmas morning. In that respect, my MIL is the opposite: she dotes on both her grandsons and it tends to be us who get ignored in favour of them, which I am perfectly happy with.

You are right that challenging the crap is pointless. In my MIL's case, it will only upset her and probably lead to more of the 'she's going to take my GC away from me' hysteria.

MIL is coming round today for her fortnightly post-haircut cup of tea. Last time, she arrived 20 minutes early and the hairdresser hadn't even opened, so she turned up at our door. We were still in our dressing gowns and half asleep, as it was the summer holidays! This morning, I am planning to take DS1 out for his CBT exposure practice session at a cafe, but, thanks to MIL's visit, I need to fit it in between the hairdresser opening (so that I know she is safely there) and her calling round afterwards (anytime after 10.30). So DS1 and I will have to rush back for her <grumble, grumble>. Then I will need to be a good DIL and listen to her until she goes home again <puts head in hands>.

Yes, you're right - it is 20 years+ frustration coming out here!

lotsofcheese Thu 05-Sep-13 08:48:25

Toffee, I can only sympathise; my MIL sounds very similar to yours. She has the capacity to talk endlessly about herself & people I've never met before, had a Daily Mail/1950's housewife mentality & is incredibly judgemental/critical of others (with rarely a kind word to say). I have never encountered anyone so lacking in empathy or compassion & with such little spirit of generosity. And she's only mid-60's.

Right, now I've got that off my chest, I can share some thoughts on dealing with her. For me, the only way to go was less contact, as I was feeling so resentful & angry. I decided to stop feeling that way. And realised I had a choice about that.

The final straw had been DS being practically ignored on Xmas morning - aged 4, he was bottom of the priority list & didn't get to open any presents till after midday. For me, that was a turning point.

Challenging her on some of the crap she comes out with, while making me feel a bit better, didn't really achieve anything as her mindset is too closed-down to be open to different perspectives.

Don't apologise for your feelings - you clearly have 20 years of built up frustration!!!

ToffeeWhirl Wed 04-Sep-13 23:09:36

Lavender - funnily enough, disappearing into the kitchen to cook Christmas lunch is the way I survive. I can't drink until the meal is on the table or it all goes horribly wrong wink.

Pilgit - MIL has been obsessed with death and illness since I first met her (in her 60s). It's like a hobby for her. However, I am on the lookout for dementia, especially as MIL does say some odd things sometimes. The funniest thing was when she suggested that I wouldn't ever be able to put my Balinese cat into a cattery because all the other cats would think it was a bit 'la-di-da' grin. Still, she's always been a bit daft, so it's difficult to tell.

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.

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?"

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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 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.

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 Mon 02-Sep-13 20:15:52

Oh, and I like the repeating thing, Tinlegs.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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>

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