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Nothing enough for MIL - now guilt tripping us through DCs (sorry so long)

(43 Posts)
notagreathostess Wed 10-Apr-13 13:19:02

I?d appreciate some (more) help with my MIL problems. Sorry so long and a bit rambly!

MIL is 64, retired and in very good health. She is single, her parents have both died (one fairly recently), she has no siblings and DH is an only child. MIL wants to spend more time with him. We both understand this and have some sympathy for her. We know she gets lonely. The problem is she does not understand that we are very limited in the time we can give. We have 4 DCs (the youngest are still a baby and toddler, the eldest a teen) and we both work. I have posted here previously that we have had problems with her expectation to take extended breaks staying with or near us.

Her journey to us is about a 1.5 hours by train or car and we frequently invite her over for the day. As it is rare for us to have more than one day per week where neither of us is at work at all (and often we don?t get that) it is much harder for us to find time to load the kids up and drive over to her although we do when we can,and prior to her father dying (MIL was his carer) we used to do the lion?s share of the travel as we recognised it was difficult for her. Now she ?has lots of time on her hands? she wants to spend more of it with us, but not in any way which might make it easier for us.

If we do find time to invite her for a few days she always complains she?d rather stay for more and day-trip invitations are always greeted with the complaint that she would prefer to stay over. Her opinion is that it is no extra work for us to just have "another body in the house" but this simply is not true. She is not an easy guest - struggles with the children, doesn't understand our need for privacy (she has walked in to our room before whilst we are still in bed to talk to us), and even if she has agreed to stay in a B and B rather than expecting us or one of the kids to give up our bed etc. for her will expect DH to accompany her back to where she is staying when she is ready for bed where she will then try to collar him for a lengthy chat despite having spent all day with us. To be honest it can be exhausting and I am a naturally private person (DH is too).

After excellent advice here previously I have tried being more upfront about requests for help so that we could maybe find it easier to have her to stay but she can be shirty about us being ?unwelcoming?. When she is over here I would appreciate her just playing with the kids whilst I sort tea etc. more than anything but she lacks confidence with them and even when I've organised games etc. specifically for her to play with the toddler and the older kids she gets bored and demands to been entertained by DH and I.

We also suggested to her at one stage that if she is so unhappy about how little she sees of us that she trial moving closer to us, renting a house, so that she could pop over now and again through the week rather than the less frequent but more intensive visits she demands at the moment. Money is not a problem for her. She dismissed this outright as she did not want to be further from friends. Whilst I think this is the right decision for her (increasingly so as I feel so frustrated and resentful at the moment) but she seems unable to accept that that is a choice she is making and it does mean limitations on her time with us.

I took the advice last time that we needed to be more blunt with her and have really tried but DH and I have made a complete hash of handling the situation as every time we try to discuss it with her it ends up with us apologising for being so busy and trying to defend ourselves against claims that we just do not care about her. Our fault, and I could live with that, except as they get older the same accusations ate being levelled at DCs. Whilst she struggles with the little ones she is happy to have the older children to stay occasionally and we encourage this as it is company for MIL without demanding work/time we cannot give from us. Unfortunately they now return with stories of how desperately sad we are making MIL, as well as other things, attacking them more directly. When DC2 was there last week the day he arrived DH and I phoned for a quick ?love you, be good, sleep well? type chat. It was fairly late and we were both tired so when MIL took the phone from DC2 and tried to engage DH in a long chat he spoke to her for 5 minutes or so, then explained we still had to eat etc. and so would need to go but that as we were due to go over to see her in two days we'd catch up properly then. MIL told DC2 the next day that DH's treatment of her on the phone had been so cruel that she had cried herself to sleep and she wished that we (DH, me and the DCs) did not exist.

She has said other very hurtful things in the past to them and we've been very upset and resolved to pick her up on it "next time". This feels like the last straw. Problem is I'm not sure how to deal with this without causing a huge fight. DH and I do not want to hurt MIL but it is a fact that she is hurting us and I cannot tolerate her hurting my DCs who should not be told by their GM that she wished they did not exist. I feel like we've never really set any boundaries and now that we're at a point where things are getting out of control we really don't have a clue where to start. I did take on board the advice I got last time and we did try but we both end up apologising to a teary MIL! How do we get the message across without resorting to lots of justifications and without her saying, essentially, you don't want me around (ironically a situation which is becoming closer and closer to the truth as a result of her behaviour)

Please be gentle with me - I realise that we should have been more communicative earlier. Neither of us is the confrontational sort though and we truly don't want her to be unhappy. I also recognise that I received good advice last time but have lacked the backbone to take it properly. This is probably more of a rant than anything as I don't know what more you good people can tell me!

purplewithred Wed 10-Apr-13 13:28:09

Awful isn't it? She is behaving very very badly and is incredibly lucky to have you and the DCs at all. If she wasn't a relative you'd have nothing to do with her.

I'm afraid you have a stark choice - carry on giving in to her emotional blackmail and suck it all up, or face up to her and be firm. I didn't read the original thread but it sounds like it was full of good advice. Maybe start with just one thing that really drives you nuts and consistently deal with that: eg never ever have her to stay; or stamp on every single incidence of her badmouthing you to your kids (which is effectively what she is doing). Take it a step at a time.

notagreathostess Wed 10-Apr-13 13:32:10

You're right if she wasn't related she would not be someone we would chose to spend time with. I think the advice to deal with one thing at a timeis good. DH has already said he will have a discussion about the "not existing" comment but I know he'll struggle with it. He thinks she'll deny it and get huffy about being "attacked" which is probably right. We also don't want her blaming DC2 for it. Thanks for the advice

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 10-Apr-13 13:32:37

My counsel to you in your previous thread on this subject still stands.

Do not have her move closer to you; she does not want to leave anyway and is quite happy in her present misery. She may well be lonely but I think its more a case of her wanting to be miserable and for you to suck up her own misery and pain. This is really about power and control.

Unfortunately (and that is an understatement) you are dealing with a toxic inlaw who is neither reasonable nor accommodating. She's never apologised to you or accepted any responsibility for her actions has she?. Also you have likely come from a family yourself where such toxic dysfunction is totally unknown and therefore you think its as much your problem as hers.

Would suggest you read "Toxic Inlaws" written by Susan Forward as a starting point. Your H needs to read "Toxic Parents" written by the same author.

Also it is not unknown either for such people to use the grandchildren as a way of getting back as what they see as errant offspring. You need to protect them from such malign influences.

I would think that both of you have FOG - fear, obligation, guilt - with regards to this person.

It is NOT your fault she is like this, her own birth family unleashed that lot of damage on her. You are not responsible for her happiness, she is.

Would keep away from her as much as possible, you and your H certainly need to raise the boundaries re this woman a lot higher than they have been. She is playing you both like a violin.

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 10-Apr-13 13:33:24

You would not tolerate this from a friend, family are truly no different.

notagreathostess Wed 10-Apr-13 13:40:04

Attila - your advice to me last time was great and very perceptive. I wish I found it easier to follow and will try! Regarding moving closer that is now out of the question. She discounted it herself and I would not stand it the way things have progressed. I have told DH that offer is off the table. He also agrees.

You are right that she has never apologised for anything. When we try to raise problems we are always the ones who apologise to her in the end! I also recognise the FOG in both of us. The thing is DH and I can discuss it rationally together and decide what we need to do but then when push comes to shove we end up backing down.

The difference now is that, as you say, I need to protect my DCs. MIL's happiness and emotional welfare are not my responsibility. Theirs is.

Read "toxic inlaws" - very perceptive. DH and I both found the way she

notagreathostess Wed 10-Apr-13 13:41:03

Sorry posted too soon - meant to say we especially picked up on the need to stop defending ourselves butfind it nigh on impossible in practice. I wonder if writing it down might help us or if it's a cowardly way of dealing with it?

pigsDOfly Wed 10-Apr-13 14:09:32

Wonderful advice from Attila. She sounds ghastly (MIL not Attila).

Just a thought regarding how to talk to her and not end up apologising or backing down. Have you tried roleplaying with your DH: one of you in the role of MIL; just practicing what to say and how to say it and how to deal with her unreasonable responses. Feels odd at first but can be quite inspirational and just saying things out loud can be quite cathartic.

Glad to hear you've ditched the idea of her moving nearer to your family. Would be the worst possible thing you could do.

Oldladydimples Wed 10-Apr-13 15:10:24

This is my first post ever but felt quite incensed by what your MIL is doing. I'm a MIL and am appalled at her behaviour. Emotional blackmail at its worst. I would write to her and tell her that she is welcome to visit but must remember that her sons priority is his family. As a MIL, your position in your sons life changes when they marry and particularly when they have children. It's our job to equip our children to go in to the world and build their own lives, raising their own families.
You have nothing to feel guilty about, if she wants to remain close to you all she needs to grow up, ! What a numpty

notagreathostess Wed 10-Apr-13 15:47:44

pigsDOfly- thanks for the suggestion. I think we'll probably feel a bit self conscious(!) but role playing is probably worth a try. We're very good at predicting her responses to us but no good at acting on them.

Oldladydimples - thanks for your take on this and your support. As Attila said above it does so often seem that MIL enjoys her misery in some perverse way and is determined to assume the worst of any situation. It really is very sad. I do feel that she is sorry DH ever married and had children which makes me so sorry for him. She should be so proud to have raised a kind, caring son who is a great DH and DF.

NeedlesCuties Wed 10-Apr-13 17:21:28

My gran is a 'great' one for emotional blackmail, about which I won't detail.

Just wanted to say I'm now a grown women with my own DC, and she is still at it! Got to the stage where my parents cut all contact and I did too a few years later when she got more intense and once my own kids were born.

Saying those things to your children is disgusting, no gran should, though it's similar to what my gran would have said via phonecalls, letters and in person... I'm almost 30 and still get letters with delights about how she has heart trouble "...but may as well be dead... is all cuz X, Y and Z were once rude to her" etc etc.

She's toxic. Don't put your kids through that.

MrsOgg Wed 10-Apr-13 17:31:46

Maybe you dhould be brutally honest- next time she accuses you of not wanting her around say 'Yes, you make it very hard to enjoy your company.'

You don't want to hurt her because you're nice, but she has no compunction about hurting your children: lay it on the line.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Wed 10-Apr-13 17:37:18

I don't think she's got anything to be miserable about. She is 64 not 94, she has her health she has her lovely son and a wonderful DIL and GDCs. She is not badly off. She opted not to move nearer.

I know you can't just cut her off.

Actually, she knows where you are, you phone her, you try and do nice stuff with her. You've done your duty. There is no earthly reason why this can't be a two way process. If she is nice and pleasant to be with, you will be glad to see her. And if she isn't, that's her choice.

notagreathostess Wed 10-Apr-13 19:47:16

Needles - sorry to hear you've been on the receiving end too. My children being involved has certainly focused my mind on sorting this out once and for all

MrsOgg - agree that it is coming to that point as long as we can stand firm and deal with it

Donkeys - that's one of the things that really gets me. MIL is actually one of the luckiest people I know. She is healthy, financially very secure, has wonderful DGCs etc. It hurts me particularly as my DM died when DC2 was small so she will never meet the little ones. I wish MIL could just appreciate how lucky she is.

Thing is it's all about perception. Of course MIL doesn't think she's demanding and unreasonable. She thinks she's a poor lonely woman shunned by her only DS. I just can't see how to break through that. I am more than happy to try and see things from her point of view but she just won't return the courtesy.

When DC4 was due to be born (I was already several days over) she sent DH an accusatory text about how she felt we were tolerating her rather than welcoming her in our lives and after she had spent so many years bringing up DH alone it made her very sad to feel so sidelined. We had recently had her to stay with us although it was difficult as I was tired and DH busy. I could have done without the stress at the time tbh but we ended up calling and explaining (again) how she shouldn't take our busy lives so personally and essentially apologising for being crap.

JamieandtheMagicTorch Wed 10-Apr-13 19:57:50

I don't think you will ever convince her. A non toxic person could be convinced, but she is toxic. I think your thinking has to change about this. It is very hard to see this when you are operating from a base of reasonableness, compromise, and thoughtfulness. These are not attributes she has.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Wed 10-Apr-13 20:00:06

You are kind OP and I hope your own DCs grow up taking after you and DH not their paternal grandmother.

WafflyVersatile Wed 10-Apr-13 22:07:25

Think the role play and practising 'mantras' within that using the boundaries you'd like to set and behaviour you expect from her. And practise ending conversations when she starts on the emotional blackmail!

Mumsyblouse Wed 10-Apr-13 22:27:16

You have made the mistake I made for many many years which is to think your MIL is basically a nice person but just a bit lonely or only has one son and so trying to accommodate her and make things as nice as possible. This is a mistake, because actually she isn't a very nice person, she is quite miserable, loves to wallow, doesn't want to change but moan, and isn't above using your children to hurt her 'D' son, as well as doing so directly by sending him mean texts when you are just about to give birth.

I'm sorry, you have given her lots of chances, now is the chance to take charge. Agree how much contact you wish to have, then no more, and every time she moans/cries/sends a text you say 'I'm sorry you feel like that' and then go about your business. You can't win her over, you can't please her and you won't ever change her, so you have to just insulate you and your family and stop her being horrid to you. Basically, you have to set it up so she has to be nice to be around you. If she is nasty, or says nasty things, or sends nasty texts you reply 'that was very upsetting' and nothing else and keep away from her a bit. When she is nice, reward that (think of it like training a dog). Unfortunately what you cannot do is change her into a nice person, you just have to settle for trying to make her nice when she interacts with you.

And never feel guilt, and be bright and breezy. Don't engage, step back from the situation as it is too over-involved with your poor husband as it is. Good luck.

smearedinfood Thu 11-Apr-13 09:24:37

I was going to suggest pointing your MIL towards an eligible batchelor, but I prefer Mumsyblouses advice..

notagreathostess Thu 11-Apr-13 09:47:18

More great advice - thank you all.

Jamie- I know you're right and that's the problem I just can't understand how to deal with her as she seems to not operate by the social rules I'm used to of give and take etc.

Donkeys- thank you although I don't feel very kind. In a lot of ways I don't think we have done MIL a favour by letting her control and blackmail us for so long. Feels like we've taken the path of least resistance.

Waffly - we're going to really work at the closing down of conversations, as well asputtingthe onus on MIL rather than taking the blame for everything that upsets her ourselves.

Mumsyblouse - that's something DH and I have spoken about in the past. Actually working out a fair amount of time we can devote to MIL, discussing it with her and then sticking to it. I think making her responsible for her feelings is important. I often say to DH that if MIL has unreasonable expectations then she is making the choice to be disappointed. We now need to explain that to her.

smeared -oh, I wish! She has never had another relationship after divorce over 30 years ago. In her words she devoted herself to DH. She has quite a negative view of relationships - again something that she overshares with the kids. She told DC1 once that she doesn't believe in marriage and essentially said that she thinks that happily married people are just kidding themselves and others. To be fair she was treated very badly by her ex (DH's DF) and again, I do have sympathy for her.

prettybird Thu 11-Apr-13 10:02:59

The advice from Mumsyblouse is good.

The only thing I would add is a wee point I picked up from one of your posts: you say your mum died when you were young. I wonder if a small part of you hoped that MIL could provide you with what you missed from your own mother - and that cutting her off would be like losing your mother again.

She is not your mother. You can say no to her. Even your dh is allowed to say no to her. He is an adult now. You are allowed to make your own choices - and that includes not accepting toxic behaviour.

JamieandtheMagicTorch Thu 11-Apr-13 10:13:20


I wish you well. It must be terribly hard, and you do sound so thoughful.

Lemonylemon Thu 11-Apr-13 10:31:54

OP: Tough situation for you. I would stop your DC's from going to stay with her. She can't get at them then. You can protect them from her by starting with that. This will, in turn, give rise to the "oh you don't care for me blah, blah, blah" speech which will be your cue.....

perfectstorm Thu 11-Apr-13 11:29:29

I note she can't move because she has friends. So she has other sources of company.

I also note that she was treated terribly badly by her husband. In all honesty (and I accept there may have been DV or something equally inexcusable) are you sure he didn't leave - even if cowardly enough to do it for someone else - because she was this demanding and selfish with him?

You sound lovely, but the reality is that she's running rings around you and your husband. She's being vile to both you and your kids, then expecting you to want to spend even more time with her. And at this point she is emotionally abusing your kids - but you're so engrossed on whether you're being fair to her, you aren't totally recognising it. What she is doing to them is abusive. Adult whining and emotional manipulation on this scale is absolutely abusive.

I'd sit down with your husband and compose a letter, explaining how you feel in firm yet gentle terms. I'd also clearly describe the incidents that are completely out of line, in a bullet pointed list. Then I'd suggest a plan for the future, with set dates for her visits and set end points, and a suggested weekly phone call when your husband can set an hour aside for her.

The reality is that she chose to remain single and to invest all her emotions in an only child. That child was always going to grow up and build his own life, unless there was something badly wrong. She's a part of his life, not all of it, and her anger and resentment about that is human, but her problem. She is now trying to make it her grandchildren's and at that point, her selfishness has to be stopped.

perfectstorm Thu 11-Apr-13 11:31:35

I'm a mum to an only DS, incidentally, and as an ectopic is all we've had in 5 years and I am 39 he is looking like he always will be an only DS. I'm very aware, even at his age, that I can't expect to be the centre of his world forever, and need to ensure I have other relationships, interests and sources of emotional nourishment when he's an adult. That, too, is part of being a decent parent IMO.

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