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My SIL is trying to be the matriarch of the family.

(27 Posts)
Iamsomewhatamused Thu 07-Feb-13 09:24:02

My SIL is trying to set herself up as head honcho, leader of the wolf pack, taking over the matriarch role from MIL in the family.

We have not had a lot to do with her over the past decade, but she recently moved back home after getting divorced. She's 42, no kids. Before this, she didn't really have a lot to do with my children, never sent them a birthday card or even asked after them. She rarely saw her mum and dad and we had little relationship with her. Now she's back and her main irritation seems to be me. I seem to my feet too far under the table and she doesn't like it. Before she moved back I got on quite well with MIL. Now MIL seems to be against me. When we are all together now there is a terrible atmosphere and SIL snaps my head off and shit stirs at every opportunity. On the occasions when I have pulled her up, she then goes off in a massive sulk about how sensitive I am and how I've taken it the wrong way and MIL/FIL get in a huff with me.

She also seems to have lots of opinions on the things my children do and the things they have, saying they are spoilt and badly behaved. She's the only person in the world who thinks so. She won't say it directly, but MIL will drop it into the conversation.

Whenever I turn up in anything half nice I get looked up and down and then she goes in a huff because I've dared to look nice!

Honestly, this is really causing a lot of tension between DH and I. He agrees that she is being a real pain in the arse. I've asked him to ask PIL to come over alone and there have been a few times when I have asked PIL to come and not mentioned her and they say they do not want to leave her out.

I can't explain it, but she really seems to be trying to push me down and position herself as the most important person in the family. I have not tried to do this myself and generally am very laid back and get along with everyone. I don't really play politics or games. We are now at the stage where we can not do anything without PIL saying "we'll have to ask XXXX first and oh, XXX won't like that".

Someone in the know, who understands the psyche of mad SIL's please explain it all to me!

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 07-Feb-13 09:50:33

Sounds like she is a person who needs to be the centre of attention, in control of others and undermining them in an attempt to gain the upper hand. And it also sounds like your PIL enable her behaviour.

You can't change them, all you can do is decide how you are going to cope in the face of such behaviour.

From MN experience, the only options you have are to limit contact, detach emotionally (stop expecting them to behave differently: they won't), learn to be assertive (state your own limits and stick to them, but without telling them what you think of them, and how you think they should behave: just stick to choosing your own behaviour).

What you should realise is that family dysfuction is a system, and every member has a role to play in it. The best - and by far the hardest - thing to do is to remove yourself from this system, to abdicate from whatever role has been chosen for you. The rest of the members of the dysfunctional system will not like this one bit - they need everyone to play their part - and so you will be fending off constant attempts to get you back into line. In this case, it sounds like SIL has chosen you as a scapegoat: someone she can put down in order to feel superior.

You don't give enough detail to say what your husband's role in this system is; how caught up he is in going along with SIL to keep the peace. His support (or lack of it) will be crucial in how well you are able to protect yourself and your DC from their manipulation.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 07-Feb-13 10:03:59

I think you've got in one. Middle-aged woman, bit bored with life, no responsibilities, decides she's going to be 'in charge' of her parents.... do they have a property or any cash? <cynical but seen it happen> .... and everyone else is a bit of an inconvenience/threat in the empire-building, will rewriting process.

If the PILs want her to be an integral part of their lives then there's not a lot you can do about that if you want to carry on having a relationship with them. But do continue to keep standing up to her when she's being offensive.... or channelling stuff about your DCs' behaviour through the MIL. That's never acceptable

Iamsomewhatamused Thu 07-Feb-13 10:10:17

Thanks HotD. I definately do have a major role allocated to me in this drama. However I am playing the part very badly. My expected role is to let her do whatever she wants with my kids and MIL and for me to pi$$ off as they think they can obviously do a better job of it, kowtow to her and tell her how great she is and how nice she is looking today and sit there in awe. The problem is that I have actually done what you suggest above and put a huge distance between us and have a default setting of saying no when MIL/ SIL try and get her own way e.g. we planned on going on a day trip from their house with PIL's and my kids. MIL said, SIL doesn't want to go there, she wants us all to go to X. I then said, fine, if SIL wants to go to X, then go. We are going here and we'll see you all later. I won't give her an inch as she'll take a mile. PIL then get in a huff because "SIL won't like that she was looking forward to a day out with her neice and nephew".

SIL doesn't really have anything to feel superior about TBH.

My husband is very passive, but if push comes to shove he will stick up for me. I've also noticed that he barely speaks to her now. Which she probably blames me for as well.

Flipper924 Thu 07-Feb-13 10:14:46

I can understand why you're upset, I really can, but have a heart.

Is your SiL childless by choice? Or was she perhaps in a difficult marriage with someone who didn't want children, when she really did? Regardless, she's just got divorced, that's not easy. Some people cut themselves off from family and friends when they are in difficult situations, and say and do things that are hurtful because they're hurting themselves. If, as you say, this is only recent, then she's probably still quite raw, and perhaps her parents are protecting her.

She's found herself back at home (in with her parents?) at 42, with no children of her own and little chance of having them. You have a home, a loving husband, and lovely children, by the sound of it, so you possibly represent everything she's ever wanted (even if it's only the husband and home bit). It doesn't excuse her behaviour, but it might explain it, and help you be a bit more tolerant while she's healing.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 07-Feb-13 10:17:02

The problem is that I have actually done what you suggest above and put a huge distance between us and have a default setting of saying no when MIL/ SIL try and get her own way e.g. we planned on going on a day trip from their house with PIL's and my kids. MIL said, SIL doesn't want to go there, she wants us all to go to X. I then said, fine, if SIL wants to go to X, then go. We are going here and we'll see you all later. I won't give her an inch as she'll take a mile. PIL then get in a huff because "SIL won't like that she was looking forward to a day out with her neice and nephew".

You are doing great. Keep it up.

SIL doesn't really have anything to feel superior about TBH.

Well, obviously. If she did she wouldn't need to manipulate others and put them down. It's a display of insecurity - insecurity because she deep down she feels "less than" you, so she is desperately trying to correct that imbalance. Pity her if you will, and keep sticking to your guns.

Your kids your rules. Definitely.

Beware that your husband's passivity doesn't confirm you in the role of fall-guy, blame-taker, and scapegoat. He's conveniently avoiding any flak and letting you take it all.

porridgeLover Thu 07-Feb-13 10:18:20

Excellent advice from HotD (as usual).

OP sounds as if you are on the case. You cant change what anyone else does or how they react to SIL. It's a game you cant 'win' so best to get off the field.

Excellent re taking your trip where you wanted to, in defiance of her power-play.

I think once you have recognised what she is up to, thats half the battle.
You then get to choose if you are playing with her or not; best not.

BTW if she was that concerned with spending time with her neice and nephew. surely what suits them would be her over-riding concern not where she wants to go?

Iamsomewhatamused Thu 07-Feb-13 10:18:49

Thanks Cogito. You are spot on that she has taken over being in charge of her parents which is a bit weird to me as her mum was always a right bossy boots and now it seems she has retired form the role and turned it over to her.

I don't really see why she thinks she is "superior" because without trying to sound up my own.... she's not got anything over me at all on any front. In fact I would say I had a lot more going for me than her, so I can't see the reasoning of her putting me down and feeling superior. They have a bit or property but I don't think that will happen, nor do I care TBH. They are not loaded.

She really is trying to position herself as Alpha Female though. What to do about that?

megandraper Thu 07-Feb-13 10:19:04

She won't say it directly, but MIL will drop it into the conversation.

Are you sure the opinions are all your SIL's? Could your MIL be expressing some of her own opinions but saying they are SIL's to avoid confrontation?

MayTheOddsBeEverInYourFavour Thu 07-Feb-13 10:20:47

She sounds like a nightmare, well done for not laying down and taking it

I think the only thing you can do is what you've already been doing, maybe even try and cut down time spent with her to the bare minimum or none at all maybe then she'll realise she has to stop behaving that if she wants to be included

I think your pils are also being unfair, she's their dd so of course they're protective but surely they understand that alienating you isn't the answer?

porridgeLover Thu 07-Feb-13 10:22:17

Flipper, I am probably the softest person you could meet and I would have thought that too at one point.

However, as SIL's life is a manifestation of her choices over many years, it is sad but not for OP to 'prop up' the deficits.
I'm sure OP would be happy to encourage a loving and supportive role for the aunt of her DC's children. But that's not what SIL is looking for; it sounds instead as if she would be looking to be the 'parent' and queen bee. Which would do OP, her children and ultimately SIL no favours at all.

MayTheOddsBeEverInYourFavour Thu 07-Feb-13 10:25:08

She can't be alpha female of you or your DH don't let her be

As the mother of the only childre in the family you are the one who 'could' be the alpha, because you are the key to family birthdays/Christmas/events with the children. Though having said that I don't think there's ever a need for anyone make or female to be 'alpha' and anyone who does is a bit of a twat, still by removing yourselves and your dc from the equation she can't be in charge because there is no one to be in charge of

porridgeLover Thu 07-Feb-13 10:26:16

IME people who seek to be the Alpha Male/Female are ultimately looking for power as they dont have enough love in their lives.

Power seekers can only get it from others who aren't so sure of their own boundaries, ideas and direction.

What to do about it? As above, it sounds as if you are already on the right track, by detaching, putting some distance between you, refusing to be manipulated by her.
If you're looking to come out of this as the 'good guy' that wont happen. SIL is a product of her family, who will probably accede/support her bid for power.

WinkyWinkola Thu 07-Feb-13 10:32:49

Sounds like you're handling it all just fine.

Don't allow yourself to be bossed around and never, ever bend over to accommodate her petty preferences - this kind of person derives great satisfaction from other people's flexibility and will, as you say, use it for future occasions.

She will never be in charge of you, your dh or your dcs. Just don't let her get to you, don't compete with her and let her boss your pil around exactly as she pleases.

She may actually rage at you once or twice because of your lack of interest but it takes two to argue. Don't get drawn in.

It's a shame but since she's behaving so stupidly - and whether she's had a hard time in life or not, it's not a valid excuse to behave like this - there will be distance between you and your pil. They too have a choice though and they choose to be her acolytes.

Be strong, calm, distant and detached.

Iamsomewhatamused Thu 07-Feb-13 13:03:15

One of the things that MIL says to me when I am not towing the line is "you DO realise that it is SIL that we are talking about, don't you" or "but this is SIL, we must go here/ do this", then she gets in a right hump when I am like "yeah and?"

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 07-Feb-13 13:49:18

"I don't really see why she thinks she is "superior" because without trying to sound up my own.... she's not got anything over me at all on any front. "

People like that are rarely superior... usually they are quite the opposite and very insecure. A person who is confident in their skin and happy with their life does not need to make others feel bad in order for them to feel good. They are pleased at others' success & relaxed with their place in the order of things. An insecure, bitter person with no self-esteem on the other hand has to resort to childish attention-seeking, bullying and similar. Superior they are not.

Adversecamber Thu 07-Feb-13 16:12:31

My SIL has become incredibly difficult, similar circumstances to your SIL . She never married nor had dc. She cried to me many times about it over the years, also to her own Mum and others. She was very sad about it and we supported her. However about a year ago her mood switched from sadness to absolute rage and bitterness. I now avoid her, I do feel sorry for her but refuse to put up with her rages anymore.

ItsintheBag Thu 07-Feb-13 17:57:23

I have a SIL who was very like yours and I didn't handle it well but I am further down the road than you.We moved home from 10 years overseas around the same time as she moved back in with PIL after splitting with her ex.
Things have got a lot better since she moved out of PIL and in her own house.She isn't as angry,so doesn't drip feed PIL her pearls of wisdom of how life in the family should work and who should be doing what.But she is 40 with no partner now or for the last seven years,and while I would be fine with it if I thought she was fine with it,she isn't and I think MIL makes it worse by trying to make it better-much like your PIL.
HotD sums it up perfectly.I could have done with this board 7 years agosmile
From my own experience,she wont change,you have to change how you let her impact on you and the happier she gets the less it will be an issue

WinkyWinkola Thu 07-Feb-13 22:22:29

Op: "One of the things that MIL says to me when I am not towing the line is "you DO realise that it is SIL that we are talking about, don't you" or "but this is SIL, we must go here/ do this", then she gets in a right hump when I am like "yeah and?""

Your nonchalant response is the right one. Sil's strop is not your responsibility. You aren't responsible for keeping her happy.

I can see how stressful it must be for you to anticipate these comments or even rows, but because your sil is being utterly unreasonable, you have to detach yourself and not get involved. You're not dealing with rational people here. You cannot win so just don't get involved.

Let everyone else get in knots about your sil. All you need to know is what you are doing for your dcs and your marriage. Let those be your boundaries in terms of how much you need to be involved.

amothersplaceisinthewrong Thu 07-Feb-13 22:30:26

She is completely jealous because you are the independent woman with your own home, husband and children and she is back living at home with Mummy and Daddy at the age of 42 and is maybe realising that the caring of the parents once they become infirm will fall to her...

My betting is she also has very low self esteem.
Just be cool with her, without giving in to her every need, which it sounds lilke you are doing brilliantly.

EldritchCleavage Fri 08-Feb-13 15:07:29

From my own mad SIL experience I would say setting boundaries in place with your DH is the most important thing.

Having a relationship with me, getting married and having children meant DH was no longer prepared to play his role in the family dysfunction(the unwanted second child, the moody, difficult one, the scapegoat). Golden child SIL (also long-term single, childless) took very badly the fact that he was having a real upturn in his life. Fortunately DH was not prepared to dance to her tune or let her dictate our family life, and in the end he ceased contact.

Not saying your DH should do that, but even if he won't take the lead in managing the situation he needs to agree with you things you won't put up with from SIL or PIL, and enforce that (e.g., she kicks off, you leave and go home. She does not get to dictate when the children spend time with her or MIL, etc.) And a bit of distance from PIL for a short while might be a good thing.

MorrisZapp Fri 08-Feb-13 15:12:59

They're her mum and dad. She is alpha in that sense.

You get to be alpha with your own mum and dad. Isn't that roughly how it works?

Springdiva Fri 08-Feb-13 18:52:10

At the risk of infuriating lots of single 40 year olds ---- Awwwww, poor SIL.

She is a sad person.

Can't you try to win her over, OP, I can see she is a pita and is taking out her disappointment in life on you, but maybe you could make a pretence of liking or respecting her views and ask her advice on something eg to do with DCs(as if you value her opinion then ignore it ) or plan an outing, deferring to her first as she is 'so good at that' or something.

The thing about relatives is that they are around for ever and it is best to have them on your side (or at least not trying to get one over you all the time) than spending decades scoring points.

You, OP, are what she is envious of and wants to be, so try to be kind.

poozlepants Fri 08-Feb-13 19:18:52

It's a territory thing. My Sil who is years younger than DH thinks she is in charge of the family. She rules by manipulation and tantrums. Like your SIL she saw us and PIL rarely and all family things were done by me and DH. It wasn't a big deal until we had a dc. She then ramped up the attention seeking. When she had a dc it was worse- my MIL who is a bit of a loon but whom I got on ok with has now been turned against me and Ds.
SIL has become besties with MIL in order to push her agenda and push us out. MIL is so happy SIL wants to be friends with her after all these years she is doing her dirty work for her. Sounds like your MIL is doing the same.
I have spent a year trying to be reasonable and we have now got to the stage we have totally disengaged from both of them. It's all your can do. If your SIL wants to play games, let her but in the end, unlike me, you hold the ace card of the only gc. Ideally your DH should tell your MIL to wind her neck in but if he won't then cold shouldering MIL will probably work eventually.

WinkyWinkola Fri 08-Feb-13 20:59:51

My sil is the same. She's married with dcs but she's treated her parents so badly over the years that they are grateful for any scrap of attention she gives them.

They will ditch us for her needing to use them babysit at the drop of a hat even if it's a long term arrangement with us.

EclecticWorkInProgress Sat 09-Feb-13 17:18:21

Hi Somewhat, sorry this is so long but from MN experience sometimes a different phrasing or word can make something click in understanding.

First, I am sorry you are going through this. You don't deserve this.

MorrisZapp makes a reality based point. This is your dh's family so you are not directly on the chain of favor so to speak. This isn't because of a fault of yours or sil...imho, it is just part of the natural order of the universe. Sad, but true: your relationship with mil is conditional.

EldritchCleavage's post rings true for a healthy management of the difficult dynamics.

Nice posting/advice from HotD and porridgeLover. And poozlepants and Winkie....lots of experience here. Mine is from my single/no dc sister (rather than sil) She wanted my dc to pledge allegiance to her and render me invisible: not mentally healthy for anyone involved. I am working on no contact-but it is a long process.

ItsIntheBag's post is good too, pointing out that you may be the favorite target simply because something better hasn't come along to either make her happy with herself, or to take it out on someone else, or get a hobby ffs. Problem with that is there aren't many people who will put up with that crap for long. They may feel safe in dishing it out because they presume you wouldn't dare cut contact. The blood tie, marriage tie, family tie...why does that give them a license to emotionally abuse you? Or make a difference to you whether or not you will put up with it? It shouldn't. It doesn't. You don't owe her/them anything (I presume).

Right, so cease being her target as you have been with intelligence, backbone and with not a little grace in there too. You sound wonderfully together.

Somewhat, you wrote "I can't explain it, but she really seems to be trying to push me down and position herself as the most important person in the family."

Look at "in the family" part of that...you are talking about your dh's & sil's family of origin. You have your own family now, and facts will satisfy: sil is not in your family. This is the boundary. Let dh step up and be the diplomat to the family of origin...if he won't, then there's your answer: you shouldn't have to either.

Slugslasher Sat 09-Feb-13 19:05:53

This so resonates with me. My sil has alienated herself from both her brothers once I and her other brother's wife stopped dancing to her tune. No contact has been liberating after years of anguish. I steer my ship with pil very carefully and manage a relationship with them from a distance. Husband and his brother were blind to their sister's manipulation until she turned her wrath onto them once we (the sils) got the measure of her.

She now rules pil with aplomb, they are terrified of upsetting her!

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