Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.
Delicate situation with DH and MIL - need advice(33 Posts)
let me start by saying that this is not going to be a MIL-bashing thread. My MIL and I are never going to be best friends and we've had some boundary issues but nothing I can't handle. In fact, the problem I have now is more to do with the relationship between DH and his mum. I'll try and keep it short but there's some back story that is necessary to understand what's happening now.
DH is the eldest of 3. There is a 7-year gap between him and his brother then a 1-year gap between his brother and sister. DH says himself that he did not have a happy childhood. His parents were forced into marrying when she was pregnant, money was tight and tensions were high. MIL would regularly get drunk, throw plates and shout at FIL about how unhappy she was. She would also shout at DH, telling him it was his fault that she was unhappy. FIL was absent most of the time and was very strict when he was around.
For years, DH carried a lot of bad feeling towards his parents regarding his childhood and when I first met him 12 years ago, he hardly ever saw them. They only found out about me when we were moving in together and needed someone to co-sign the lease. Gradually, he allowed himself to let go of the resentment and build an adult relationship with them. He still wasn't extremely close but we started to see them more often and things were a lot less tense when we did.
About 8 years ago, we found out that MIL had been picked up a couple of times for drunk and disorderly behaviour and was seeing a therapist to get treatment for her drinking problem. The reason that FIL decided to tell us this was that my BIL had been staying with them and had found about 30 empty bottles in the spare room that MIL uses as an office. Presumably, SIL, who was still living with MIL & FIL at the time, also knew so FIL decided that my DH should be told. MIL stopped drinking, started taking medication and had regular appointments with her therapist, she seemed to be doing ok.
Then, a few years later, DH and I were about to go to visit BIL, his wife and their son (they live overseas). MIL was due to go the week before us but, the day before she was due to leave, FIL called and asked if we could pick up some things to take over with us as MIL was no longer going. It turned out that MIL had been picked up for drink-driving the previous month. She had run into a cyclist (luckily she had stopped at a traffic light and set off before the lights changed so she wasn't going too fast and the cyclist wasn't hurt). When the police came, she was over 3 times the legal limit (at 10am) and incoherent so they took her to the station. Her licence was suspended and she had to go to court-ordered therapy, the first session fell during her planned trip to see BIL.
We took the stuff to BIL on our trip and nearly started WW3. Unbeknown to us, BIL and FIL had decided not to tell BIL's wife about the drinking problem as they were worried that she would (rightly, in my opinion) put a stop to the visits where they would leave my nephew with his grand-parents for a few days while they took a trip as a couple. My nephew was just months old when the drinking problem first came to light and in the following years, had been left on his own with my in-laws several times. DH and I had always been a little shocked that BIL and his wife would do this but chose not to interfere. When we arrived at BIL's house, it became apparent that his wife thought MIL had the flu. DH told her the truth. It did not go down well (although that hasn't stopped them leaving my nephew, and now my niece too, when they have wanted a holiday since then).
At the time, DH was furious, especially two weeks later when MIL started talking about buying a car that doesn't need a licence (I don't know if you have those in the UK but they are becoming more popular over here). She called to ask DH what he thought (he was working for a car company at the time) and he flew off the handle, telling her that she was a disgrace and shouldn't be on the road. FIL was furious and we didn't speak to them for several months. When they did get back in touch, MIL was going to therapy, had a series of negative blood tests and so we patched things up and since then things have been relatively calm.
Until last week.
One afternoon last week, MIL sent a series of text messages to DH complaining about her car being at the mechanics (she's had her licence back for about 2 years now), her phone and laptop being old and the fact that FIL is always working. DH felt sorry for her and we discussed getting in touch with BIL and SIL to suggest that we all chip in to get her a really nice Christmas present this year as she was obviously feeling unappreciated.
20 minutes after the text messages stopped, she wrote 2 ranty, incoherent emails sent to all three children, with their father on copy then forwarded the same emails to me and BIL's wife (SIL's partner was left out, we don't know why). I've read the emails several times and still can't understand the details of them. Something to do with her car failing the MOT and FIL having it repaired but she isn't happy because the car was her MIL's and she never liked her MIL and then she goes off on a tangent about how hard she's worked all her life. The details aren't important but they were clearly not emails written by someone who is in a happy place. I was at work but rang DH because I was worried about her. DH was angry that she would send something like that to me but agreed to call his dad as we assumed that he was away for work (he often is) and MIL was lonely.
It turned out that FIL wasn't away for work. He was in his home office and MIL was in the living room. He told DH that there was nothing to worry about. MIL was just "tired" because she's "had the flu." A few minutes after DH called his dad, his mum sent a series of text messages ranting that he had no right to call his dad to check up on her and that all the men in that family were the same. We haven't heard from either of them since. The only contact we've had from BIL has been a photo of his kids' letters to father christmas. We've had no word from SIL.
DH and I both think that what his dad said is not true. We both think that she's started drinking again but here's where we differ and I need your advice.
I think that these emails were a cry for help and that we, as an extended family would be letting her down by not acting on them. I think that at best she is depressed and needs support and at worst she is drinking and who knows what she'll do next (the public d&d incidents involved threatening FIL then herself with a kitchen knife and then running out into the street with it amongst other things).
DH agrees that she is probably drinking and should get help but has decided that it is no longer his problem. His exact words were "I had enough of this bullshit when I was a kid, I'm not going to put up with it now that I'm an adult." He is now saying that we won't be buying them Christmas presents or seeing them at Christmas or, indeed at all until they pull themselves together.
I know that how he chooses to deal with his parents is his decision but I'm worried that he's having a knee-jerk reaction that he will regret later on. We are due to move half-way across the country in a couple of months and I think that if we leave things like this now, they might never get better and DS (6 months) might miss out on knowing his grand parents.
I'm also concerned for my MIL.
So now I don't know what to do.
Obviously, I won't be replying to last week's email, or mentioning it directly but I was thinking that maybe I could send a chatty email with a recent picture of DS doing something cute in a couple of days, just to see how MIL is doing. Or should I respect DH's decision and not contact them at all?
FWIW, I've tried discussing my feelings on this with him but he is too annoyed to think rationally about it.
Sorry, this is ridiculously long. I hope that someone will make it to the end and have some advice.
Thanks in advance
I'm really sorry, but can you do an abbreviated version of this? Focussing on the actual current issue?
Sounds like your DH recognises that he has toxic? parents and wants to go no contact after a shitty childhood and sees the pattern as an adult.
They're his parents - you should support him in his decision - it can't be easy to make.
It's your DH's decision to make as to whether to have contact with his alcoholic DM and co-dependent / minimising DF and it sounds to me like he is making the right choice. Respect his wishes and back off.
It sounds like your DH had, quite understandably, distanced himself from them having lived through his mother's drinking when he was a child. There was a reason for that. How old is your DH? She's been drinking, depressed and angry for all those years. Why would it change now?
MIL is an alcoholic who we think has lapsed. FIL says all is well and is doing nothing about it. DH has had enough and wants to cut them out of our lives. I'm concerned that he will regret doing this, worried about MIL and torn between respecting his wishes or trying to salvage something
I know that it isn't easy and the importance of recognising patterns in toxic parents (I had a thread on here about my own mum a while ago and received some amazing support). I will support him but I want to be sure that this is really what he wants.
As the daughter of an alcoholic, there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to stop her drinking unless she wants to. You can offer them all the help and support in the world but it will be all for nought. You'd be better off getting your DH support from Al-Anon.
If she is drinking again it's doubtful the emails were a cry for help, alcoholics like drama - it gives them an excuse to drink. I know how your DH feels with the lack of contact - he's protecting himself - I can't express the hurt you feel when your mother chooses a bottle of Vodka over you. You shouldn't force contact, and neither should you go behind his back. I would keep away until she deals with her drink dependancy.
Please support him in this, ask him if he wants you to keep some minimal contact between MIL and yourself for the sake of the child, if he says no, then you have to go with supporting him. He is probably worried his mum will do the same to the grandchild and can't watch that all over again.
I think it's more important you are not divided on this one than worrying about the gp/child rel.
The funny thing is that by typing out the condensed version for purplewithred, I have made myself realise that I was making too many allowances for MIL. I suppose that when you boil it down to the bare minimum, DH is right.
hatethis22 DH is 41. He started gradually rebuilding his relationship with his parents about 10 years ago, at his own initiative. I have been supportive of this, taking part and helping to organise when he decided that he wanted to see them but have never pushed him or actively encouraged him to rebuild bridges.
I don't know why I think she would change now. Actually, I don't think she would change, I'm just concerned for her wellbeing. This is a woman who has been part of my life for over 11 years, I can't just stop worrying about her. I will, however, respect DH's wishes and follow his lead. We'll deal with any fall-out together when the time comes.
Thanks to all
Hard as it will feel for you, you only have one option: support your DH.
Your MIL has her own DH to support her, he married her and has chosen to stay with her.
Your DH has told you plainly, he does not want to help her, he has had enough. He knows only too well how hard and hurtful it is, how emotionally wrecking, how nasty, selfish, manipulative and bitter she will be.
Your DH is not being nasty, he is doing what he should: he is protecting himself, and you, your DC, from a shitstorm he knows the depths of.
He is being rational. You just don't like his reaction because it sounds uncaring and callous, not something you equate with the man you love.
So, sit on our hands. Make no contact. Support your DH. He will need it.
Always remember, he knows what will be happening and has worked out a way to survive it. You do not - and trust me, you really don't want to find out the hard way.
Give him a hug, tell him you love him.
"DH agrees that she is probably drinking and should get help but has decided that it is no longer his problem. His exact words were "I had enough of this bullshit when I was a kid, I'm not going to put up with it now that I'm an adult." He is now saying that we won't be buying them Christmas presents or seeing them at Christmas or, indeed at all until they pull themselves together.
I know that how he chooses to deal with his parents is his decision but I'm worried that he's having a knee-jerk reaction that he will regret later on. We are due to move half-way across the country in a couple of months and I think that if we leave things like this now, they might never get better and DS (6 months) might miss out on knowing his grand parents".
The 3cs re alcoholism are ones you would do well to remember:-
You did not cause this
You cannot control this
You cannot cure this
Do you really think your DS would at all benefit from knowing his paternal grandparents?. Your DH's mother is an alcoholic and her H is an enabler and provoker.
The e-mails were an attention seeking exercise, not a cry for help. Alcoholics can and will do and say anything to get others to dance around them.
What makes you think his mother could get better?. There has been no will from her own self to change; unless she herself wants to address her drink problem then no-one else can do anything about that. You cannot also try and rescue and or save someone who ultimately may not want to be saved. Familial pressure and coercion on the alcoholic to seek help is more often than not doomed to failure. She does not want your help and support, besides which you and your DH are the last people who can help her (and I mean that kindly).
Support his wishes re his parents; after all he has had a lifetime of this and understandably he has had enough. He may want to contact Al-anon as they are very helpful to family members of problem drinkers.
It's totally understandable that you are concerned. She needs professional help but she has to want that help. With a DH who lies for her and even a son who has lied to his wife for her, it doesn't sound like she's going to face up to it any time soon.
This is such a difficult situation, and actually I think you sound lovely for wanting to help. I think you are right and that MILs email is a cry for help, whether deliberate or more subconscious.
However if your DH really wants to wash his hands you'll probably have to respect that, it would be hard if you were both acting differently over it, and he might resent you for not backing him on it.
I'd be inclined to say give it a cool off period, however it sounds like you've probably had several of those over the years.
MIL needs help that's for sure, but she needs to admit it before any real change can happen.
op DH and I have had problems with him not being supportive enough towards me when I need it (and have expressed a clear need for support). He eventually admitted (after much prodding) that he can't bring himself to treat me like a 'child that needs help' because he feels like he has spent much of his life doing that for his parents (I suspect primarily his mum since they lived together alone for 7 years , or from when he was 11).
It sounds like your DH has drawn a similar line in the sand (although hopefully not with you, as my DH does with me - he is trying to get past it though).
I think you need to respect his decision and let things be.
Is there a third party you can raise it as a concern to? Then I think I'd follow your husband's lead and leave things be.
There is only he who can decide what is best for him at this time. It may be that he does regret it in the future or he may not, but he is the one who has had to deal with this his whole life and whatever he decides with regards to his parents please offer him your support because it will hurt him so much more if you go behind his back to try and salvage something.
I have cut out my alcoholic father several times but for good after my eldest child was born. I honestly don't regret it, at times I feel pangs of remorse for the father I should have had but the reality is he never existed and I don't regret at all protecting myself and my family from the negative effects of his addiction.
I actually had the opportunity to speak to him last month when I bumped into him whilst shopping, I didn't because I have nothing to say to him. It was quite awkward as to be honest I didn't recognise him at first and I struggled between feeling sorry and obligated to the frail elderly man in front of me and feeling indifferent to the 'father' I've known. I know my dp used to struggle to understand how I can walk away from my own family member (although he has some insight as to the effects having an alcoholic parent has on a person due to his own background), he's asked me several times if I'd like to get in touch or speak to him as obviously he's not getting younger and dp would hate for me to miss the opportunity and regret it later but he respects my wishes and follows my lead in how I do or don't in this case want to maintain relations with my family.
Your dh is dealing with complex feelings of his own, offer him the support he needs and help him to heal himself. It's good that he is listening to himself now, it's hard to understand from outsiders point of view especially if they haven't experienced being pulled down constantly by a situation like this but what he is doing is brave and probably for the first time really he is standing up for the child that he once was.
Can your DH or yourself talk directly to his mother when sober to find out if she wants help?
There is nothing you can do.
As someone who is in a similar position to you, I don't think it's possible to really understand how bad our DH's childhoods were. Some things DH has mentioned are really shocking to me. You need to back him up on this, he's an adult, it's his decision.
By not doing so, you're undermining him and assuming you know better than him.
My DH had to detach for his own mental health. Thankfully his mother did come out the other side and has been sober for about 7 years. We have no idea what happened to make that change or why, they don't have the kind of relationship where it would be discussed, we're just thankful for it.
If the worst happens in future, we will take steps to protect our DC from her.
Look at the 3 cs above.
Think about them, study them, get the meaning.
Neither you nor your DH can help your MIL. Neither can the extended family.
SHE needs to realise she needs help. SHE has to WANT to change.
Your MIL chose to send the nasty emails, then copy so many others in.
Then when your DH seemed worried she had a go at him.
He must be so hurt.
I can see why he wants to give her a wide berth.
Support your husband. As he says, he's had years of dealing with this shit.
Your MIL needs to sort out her drinking problem- nobody else can do it for her.
You need to put your DS first- that means not having dangerous knife-wielding drunk-drivers in his life.
When you've come from a loving family and childhood its really hard to imagine cutting all contact with a parent or sibling whatever. But not all families have that bond and a parent is just a person, and in your DHs case, a person that is continuing to make his life difficult. He will have struggled with his decision, support him!
I agree with PPs.
Your primary concern and relationship is with DH. This is his family, his childhood, his mum. Yes she's also your DC's grandmother but that's secondary to her being your DH's mum.
Support your DH, don't go behind his back, follow his lead. If there's any direct contact between you and MIL be polite and civil but no more than what your DH would be happy with. Tell him everything that happens.
Respect your DH's decision and do not contact her behind his back.
This will not be a decision he has taken lightly and I daresay he's doing it for his own wellbeing (and rightly so).
We cut off my MIL whilst she was having severe mental health issues, she was very abusive to all around her and eventually (after all the family had given up) a danger to herself. She was sectioned and kept in residential care for a considerable amount of time. Bluntly put, there was absolutely nothing we could do for her, she had refused ALL help. DH re-established contact about a year after she was sectioned and she was much better (although she will never be completely well).
The guilt was immense, that feeling that you should do more but the knowledge that actually there is nothing you can do other than protect yourself.
Let him take the lead on this
If my mother were a knife-wielding drunk I'd be livid with anyone who suggested I become her bosom buddy - let alone my DH.
Your DH knows the score better than you do, through many years of long and unpleasant experience.
You've got a point about compassion for her, but have it for your husband too, for now.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.