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Trouble with cultural difference and in-laws living with us

(41 Posts)
KittyWindbag Sun 29-Nov-15 08:27:23

I wasn't sure where to post this but I'm hoping this is right.

I'm also sorry this is extremely long.

I'm having a very hard time dealing with in-laws at the moment and just want to let off steam and maybe get some advice.

Background: I'm British but I live in an Eastern country and my husband is a native of that country. He is very open-minded and not conventional by his own cultural standards.

His parents are both really kind and generous to us, they are more traditional.

My DH father was recently diagnosed with cancer and because of our proximity to the hospital where he will be receiving treatment, my PIL have moved in with us. Thankfully it is stage one and everyone is feeling positive about the prognosis.

It's been two weeks since they came to live with us in our rather small apartment and I'm finding it very hard.

Understandably because of FIL's illness my already EXTREMELY health conscious MIL has become militant about what we all eat. It is just a given that she will cook every meal, anything that she considers unhealthy is immediately a no-no. However her ideas of unhealthy range from basic common sense like high salt content to incredibly exasperating - we literally do not eat any fats of any kind, which is unhealthy I think, not to mention incredibly joyless. She berates me and DH for eating anything she considers unhealthy. DH bought me a cheese baguette on the way home from work and she had a go at us saying cheese and bread are so unhealthy. Firstly, I know??? and secondly, I love them anyway and hardly stuff them down my throat all the time. It was just a nice treat which she managed to sour. Any amount of alcohol is a huge NO.

She has always 'corrected' me in what I eat and wear because she thinks I'm too fat and assumes I am on a diet. It's even worse now.

She has also bought and had installed and alkaline water filter thing and has a go at me for drinking normal water, even washing the dishes with normal water....

On top of this she has commandeered my kitchen, rearranging it all to her liking without asking me.

I no longer feel like it's my home, but theirs. We let them take our bedroom as it has a private bathroom so I thought FIL would need that especially during his treatment when he's feeling crappy. We are in the spare room.
They have the TV on all day and always watch what they want to watch never offering me or DH a chance to watch something we like. I find myself sitting in the sad little spare room watching tv on my laptop feeling like I can't really go anywhere in my own home.

When I tried to do some cooking the other day she hovered over me giving me 'advice' and basically telling me everything I was doing wrong. This is something she does constantly and again - for everything! From how I peel carrots to how often I should wash my hair.... I'm at my wits end.

DH and I went out for a night of freedom last night and it was horrible because we ended up arguing about it. I said he needed to stand up for me more. He actually does stick up for me, but it's always later quietly after the event which is probably best. But sometimes I'd just like him to do in front of me, in front of her.

I feel like a terrible person because they have received this dreadful news and MIL and DH don't need shit from me on top of it all. But equally it's only been 2 weeks and I don't know how I can continue on for months like this. I just ask for a bit of respect. I don't want to be corrected all the time, I don't want to feel guilty for wanting a glass of wine or a bite of cheese, or the way I boil broccoli. I expect lots of people to say 'well just tell her to stop' but there is a cultural barrier. I'm still a child in her eyes. Although I always feel my culture is not respected in reciprocation.

Anyway, I would love to hear if anyone else has been in a similar situation and how they coped or what they did to make things better.

KittyWindbag Sun 29-Nov-15 08:29:11

When I say she is kind, she really is. But she is also very much in the frame of mind that she has 30 years experience on me and I should take everything she says.

Allgunsblazing Sun 29-Nov-15 08:43:36

Realistically, how long is the treatment likely to take?
Do you speak the language? I would make two cups of coffee/tea and sit her down. Explain you're happy to help in these circumstances but you feel she has enough to cope with without her ruling what you eat, how often you wash. Gently remind her that the priority is her husband, not you.
Also, whilst you understand she is frantic with worry and feels like she needs to control everything, could she please remember this is your home, you are a grown up adult, nit a child.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Nov-15 08:48:28

Whose idea was it to move in with you people in the first place?. Was it your DH's?. I have a feeling this only happened anyway because of where you live i.e. the close proximity to the hospital.

They simply cannot live with you both anymore; its not working out and the longer they live with you, the more likely that any rift will become permanent in nature. You will also come to resent your DH a lot for allowing himself to be so walked over.

It also seems that you have a DH problem as well as an inlaw issue because he is not able to assert his own rights (as well as yours, after all his primary loyalty should be to you) within his own home. Moaning about this after the event is an exercise in futility; he needs to tackle this now and in front of her. I am wondering though if his own innate conditioning prevents him from actually doing that, some men are far more afraid than others of upsetting such people.

Culture has nothing to do with her attitude towards you. I would think his mother has an attitude problem, she is not a very nice person at all (you have likely only seen what she is like on visits when she is likely better behaved) and is disregarding both you and her son in all sorts of ways. You are now basically acting like a prisoner in your own home, your home is no longer your own.

Regardless of cultural differences you and DH have and are being used; your own kindness at having these people live with you in the first place (do they really have to live with you full time at present anyway, how far do they themselves live from hospital?) is being used against you big time. You have given up much for no real thanks whatsoever; infact his mother has gone all militant (perhaps she has also read a lot of quacky cancer websites) with regards to diet (which will make no real difference whatsoever to his overall prognosis apart from making you all feel miserable).

At the very least you need to put on a united front with regards to his mother, he also needs to speak to his mother with you there about her behaviours within her home.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Nov-15 08:51:35

"When I say she is kind, she really is. But she is also very much in the frame of mind that she has 30 years experience on me and I should take everything she says".

No she is not being kind here to her son and his wife by living with you now; you all need your own space. Her behaviour is impacting on your day to day lives to your overall detriment. She may well have years on you but she could learn from younger people as well, you certainly are not obliged to take everything she says as gospel.

FelineLou Sun 29-Nov-15 08:58:48

You can't change an older lady from a different culture so change your response. Smile and nod and go on with your way. Take back control of the television and establish your wishes in the living room. Turn off tele in daytime. " oh no we don't have the television on in the daytime". "This is my favorite program i never miss this" friendly , polite but brook no argument. " i like carrots peeled this way" smile and nod and sound surprised if she leads off: "that's not how i do it" get your home back. I can understand how difficult this is for all of you and you are being very kind but you do not have to do what she says or give in all the time. Make sure she hears you say "My home" lots of times " Our home" She has lost track of where she is and has reverted to the old traditional ways. Smile, nod and go your own way. She is not your boss and cannot make you behave how she wants. Try to find your inner assertiveness. You are a modern woman. I think your lovely to help them and give up your bedroom. Make sure they see that without having huge rows.

ALaughAMinute Sun 29-Nov-15 10:03:36

Your husband needs to tell them that whilst they are very welcome to stay the odd night or two (if you are?) and you are happy to help in any way you can, you both feel the flat is too small for the four of you and would like them to leave. No need to go into detail, he just needs to keep it as simple and as pleasant as he can, but he needs to ask them to leave.

Perhaps he could offer to help them in some other way such as driving his father to the hospital? Or perhaps he could ask his siblings to help if there are any?

Your husband should not allow his mother to undermine you. You are his wife and you should come first.

KittyWindbag Sun 29-Nov-15 15:08:11

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies.

Just to respond to some points - We live about an hour away from the hospital, they live two hours away. If FIL has treatment about three times a week then it would be four hours of driving on those days for them, and I would feel guilty making them do it. I was FaceTiming with my own DM today and she pointed out that, with luck, treatment won't last too long and at any rate is likely to be in rounds, and at that point they will most likely wish to return to their own home.

It was my DH suggestion. He called me from the hospital in tears after the diagnosis and asked me if they could come and stay with us. He and FIL work together and it made absolute sense to stay the first night of course. But I really do wish it was not permanent.

I feel sorry for them. It can't be easy for them living with us either, our apartment is tiny and old compared to theirs and everybody loves to be in their own home.

Ours is so small I can hear the TV when I'm trying to do work in my room (I work from home).

One thing that came up when talking with my mum was Christmas. I realised how much I had been looking forward to it and now I am dreading it. It's not a part of their culture, but before the cancer diagnosis came I was excited at the prospect of showing them my culture, cooking them traditional christmas dinner and all that. Now I just imagine the criticism of the food not being healthy enough, being made to feel a pariah for having a glass of wine, not being able to stick on the old christmas movies I watch every year. It is so silly but it made me cry.

I know all of this has a solution. I talked with DH about it again tonight. He is very gentle towards his parents, and does sort of revert to being a child with them. He told me tonight that I come first over his parents and that we will speak to his mother together about it.

DH has a sister but she is 6 months pregnant and has been told she can't be too close to FIL while he receives treatment because it's bad for the baby. I don't see how this can be, as it's chemotherapy? She is quite a princess and they are all very precious about her which is quite understandable given it will be their first grandchild. But I do SO wish she could help out a bit. She's wealthy and she doesn't have a job so could come visit, take them out. She hasn't visited at all.

Also, she really is kind my MIL. She's a good kind person. When she says things to me it's like a bossy teacher correcting me. I think the thing is she is not very educated. She grew up poor and didn't get past elementary school, and my DH has explained to me before that as a result , when she feels she knows something, she wants to teach others about it, to impart knowledge I guess. She spends a lot of time reading/watching pseudo health stuff on the tv and internet and regurgitates it all hence the strange rules about what we can and can't eat, products we can and can't use. She won't use tinfoil for example because of 'hormones'...?

KaluzaKlein Sun 29-Nov-15 16:02:28

There are some kinds of cancer treatment that you need to be in isolation for - not many but some based on radioactive substances where you can excrete harmful products.

Alkaline water/diet is woo though smile our bodies are buffered exquisitely- if the ph of your body fluids changes even a tiny bit you're in deep trouble ( diabetic ketoacidosis for example.)

I think you need to take control back over your diet. Some fats are essential for life, your cell membranes are all made of lipids and a zero fat diet would be lethal

RunRabbitRunRabbit Sun 29-Nov-15 16:20:20

What do you say when she berates you? Or if you want the TV off while you work? Have you and DH really stopped eating all fats and using tinfoil at home because she has got some batshit crazy ideas off the internet?

You will have to act like you are an adult who is in her own home if you wanted to be treated like that.

It might cause some upset if she would rather behave as if it were her home and you were a pleasant but dim child. Surely there will be worse upset and falling out if you let it fester for months, so best to nip it in the bud before it is too entrenched. "OK, MIL, the honeymoon is over, my house my rules now, same as in your house."

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Nov-15 16:25:28

Who exactly has told his sister that she cannot be too close to her dad?. She sounds very precious indeed and a PITA. I note without surprise that she has not provided any assistance either, she is expecting you two anyway to carry that particular can. She is unlikely to be of any help now whatsoever.

Unfortunately your DH acted rashly (and out of panic) and is paying for his poor decision making; these people have already been in your home two weeks. Was it never discussed with them when they arrived how long they would remain in the first place?. Did they say nothing either?.

I hope that your DH can remain in adult mode when speaking to his parents but I have a feeling that he will not be able to stand up for himself. He will revert to childlike mode in her presence.

And no your MIL is not a kind person at all but a bossyboots who is not really accepting of your own culture either. She being uneducated past elementary school is not an excuse for her actions now either, rearranging your kitchen is and was not on. She would not have tolerated that behaviour at all from you for instance.

They are still an hour travel time away from the hospital; I would have thought that they could stay in a hotel a lot nearer to the hospital anyway (presumably MIL does not want to do that due to overall cost and her woo cancer diet being imposed on you all). Unfortunately some susceptible people do get taken in by such quackery which does more harm than good. I would also think she does not feel any guilt at all for imposing on the two of you as they really have done.

rookiemere Sun 29-Nov-15 16:43:23

I do feel a tiny bit sorry for the pasting your MIL is getting here. I think we have to give her just a little bit of a free pass because her DH is going through cancer treatment. They could be total control freaks I guess, but if you say she's nice normally then I'd be inclined to cut a wee bit of slack.

It's not unnatural when yourself or someone gets ill to try to alter those things you are in control of such as diet, because that way you feel you are doing something positive to help. I was much the same when first diagnosed with Endometriosis. It sounds to me like this is what's happening here - MIL is upset by FIL having cancer so wants to try to protect her loved ones through what they eat.

Ditto the rearranging the kitchen thing, to me it comes across as a control issue and is likely caused by going through a traumatic event - i.e. DF's cancer treatment.

Unfortunately this all causes a bit of a perfect storm in your small apartment.

Personally I would say to them that in between the rounds of treatment it would be nicer and more comfortable for them to be at home as your apartment is too small for long term visitors. Whilst they are here can you draw up a cooking rota and when it's your turn to cook, usher her out of the kitchen saying "DMIL you sit down and rest and leave me to it". When she says anything annoying try cultivating a tinkly laugh. Hide a bottle of gin in your bedroom.

If they don't celebrate Christmas could you make it a day for just you and DH to enjoy together, that way you can do what you want without fear of it being spoiled. As they are staying so much with you anyway it would make perfect sense for you to rescind the invite if it's not happening whilst DFIL is going through a treatment round. You/DH could even say that as Christmas Dinner doesn't fit into DFILs special diet you thought it would be best that you celebrate it alone with DH.

Haffdonga Sun 29-Nov-15 16:48:08

I wonder if your in laws come from the same place as mine. (Not asking!). I recognise a lot of the cultural differences.

Mine (sadly no longer with us) used to tell me constantly how to cook, clean, look after my babies and never wanted to let me do anything myself out of a misplaced kindness and hospitality. Somehow because I was a foreigner it meant (to them) that I was a total innocent and knew NOTHING at all, so their job was to look after me by telling me the proper way to do it. Their 'taking over' was a cultural thing and I was expected to see it as them showing how much they loved me. (It's a culture where there is no shame in quite openly telling a new mother exactly what she's doing wrong in the name of being helpful.) In the end Dh and I managed to get the message across by endlessly repeating the 'this is how we do it in my country' line, along with lots of raised eyebrows behind my back, no doubt, about the crazy things the funny foreign daughter in law does. Hospitality was extremely important too. A family member's home was seen as open house for any passing relative and it would be the height of rudeness and meanness not to open the doors to anyone wanting to stay.

Your situation is so much more complicated,due to your FIL's illness. If the situation is really just temporary and they plan to go home after the treatment then I think I'd just bite my tongue and put up with it. Taking control of everything including your diet is probably your MIL's way of trying to cope with an uncontrollable situation. I'm afraid if you try and question their judgement right now, you could set yourself as being the uncaring one.

As for Christmas, get your dh to explain to his mum how important it is for your culture to make the special food etc, but don't expect them to join in. (My in laws, for example, refused to even taste the wedding cake we'd carefully transported round the world for them because it was strange.) There will be other chrismases. Good luck to you all.

timeisnotaline Sun 29-Nov-15 16:58:41

I think some posters are blowing this up a little. The situation is frustrating but sits a bit with everyone (mostly with your mil but that doesn't mean you can't fix it). I would work on a few things at a time- why can't you say 'Wednesday's I like to watch X at 9pm, you're welcome to watch it too of course but I understand if it's not your cup of tea?' Just as she hasn't asked what you would like to do, you need to calmly assume you are doing some things, and make it a non issue unless she kicks off. Similarly your favourite Christmas movies - tell them about it, sound excited and say I do this every year and I look forward to it so much. I would then work on a few calm statements about food. ' i would be miserable if I never ate any X' ' I live by everything in moderation' 'dh and I are missing some of our favourite foods, I understand you don't want this dish but I am cooking for dh And I tonight'

MisForMumNotMaid Sun 29-Nov-15 17:13:00

Could you house swap during treatments?

rookiemere Sun 29-Nov-15 17:15:33

The other thing I meant to say is can you find somewhere else to work for a while - internet café, café or library ?

You are naturally used to having your house all to yourself during the day, but being in close proximity for 24 hrs per day must be excessive, perhaps getting away during the day would help the situation somewhat.

Also just musing about it. I and DH find my DF hard to have as a visitor. He adjusts our heating (house is already pretty warm), turns the tv channel on to what he wants - mostly horse racing, and talks loudly about his pet topics - most of which are pretty offensive. DM clucks over me in the kitchen and will not leave me alone. It drives me crazy even for a short visit. However I'd like to think in the same situation I'd offer them our spare room (our house is bigger so it's not quite so bad) and DH and I would both suck it up for the duration.

Suddenlyseymour Sun 29-Nov-15 17:25:17

I've recently had chemotherapy- the full whammy strength that they give to "young" people rather than the weekly / daily type they give to older people and young children / teens (as it would see them off!) many people with my sort of cancer are parents, some even pregnant whilst going through treatment. I think (detail warning!) the first, erm, wee after chemo can have products in it, but I was never told that there is a risk to anyone around you, including pregnant women. The only precaution we are routinely told is to use a barrier method (condoms!) if having sex during treatment. He is absolutely no danger to his pregnant daughter.

As for your wider predicament - jeez, how long does his chemo last??

FrancisdeSales Sun 29-Nov-15 17:43:37

I think the main issue here is the OP is assumed by all to have no needs or desires of her own. Even the OP is not standing up for herself. Illness doesn't mean that the OP must be sidelined in her own home.

I think another alternative must be worked out. Perhaps DH and his Sis need to sit down and work out a way they can help subsidize the parents to stay at a hotel near the hospital on treatment days. The OP needs her home back for her own sanity and the health of her marriage, everyone is expecting her to be the one who compromises due to "culture". I agree with Attila that DH panicked and came up with this solution without truly reflecting on the repercussions. We all need our own space and home, but particularly for someone from a foreign nation who is the "outlaw" in the family (not related) their need for their own ways and comfort level must be respected.

It is already causing the OP tremendous stress but somehow that is not enough of a reason for things to change. They must change, this is not a healthy way to carry on and could permanently disable their marriage.

ImperialBlether Sun 29-Nov-15 18:06:19

Can you go and stay in their house for the duration? It would be worth it just to get a bit of peace. And you could rearrange the kitchen while you're there!

juneau Sun 29-Nov-15 18:09:26

Surely they don't need to stay with you all week? If your FIL is having treatment on three days a week can they not return to their own home, at least for the weekend? I'm surprised they don't WANT to, tbh. Four adults all cooped up in a small flat together when each couple is used to their own home and space sounds very uncomfortable to me, but then I appreciate that other cultures often have very different opinions concerning personal space. But in the short term, would this be an option? For them to come to you after treatment on Monday, say, and then return home after the Fri treatment? That would give you three days a week without them. Longer-term, well unless FIL is actually having treatment then surely it will suit everyone better if they return home until his next round begins? I think your DH needs to have this conversation with them.

As for the no-fats thing - that's actually very unhealthy unless its been ordered by a doctor. FIL may need diet modifications, but the rest of your aren't unwell, so why can't you eat what you want FFS? You and your DH need to kindly, but firmly stand up to your well-meaning, but bossy and ill-informed MIL. Your skin and hair will become extremely dry with no fats in your diet. For goodness sake read up on it yourself and then tell her that while you appreciate her concern you are an adult who can make your own dietary decisions and you will eat what you want to eat. End of story.

StDogolphin Sun 29-Nov-15 19:30:34

It would help to know when the treatment will end as then it wont seem as endless to you.

FrancisdeSales Sun 29-Nov-15 19:54:34

It agree that a plan of action with end dates will start to alleviate some of the stress. Keeping it open-ended is also hugely stressful as no end is in sight.

TheExMotherInLaw Sun 29-Nov-15 20:14:48

A dear friend of mine wasn't allowed to touch her newborn for 24 hours after each session of cancer treatment. Consultant's orders.

ImperialBlether Sun 29-Nov-15 20:29:56

Was that radiotherapy, TheExMIL? It must have been terribly hard for her.

TheExMotherInLaw Mon 30-Nov-15 00:11:43

It was chemo, as far as I remember, but I could easily be wrong, so much else happened that year. It was terrible. She was diagnosed at about 20 weeks, decided that as she already had no chance, to continue with her pregnancy, had a caesarian at 28 weeks, then they tried treatment, which gave her until just after her child's second birthday.

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