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How do you adapt to being a mother in law?

(34 Posts)
Caligula Tue 22-Mar-05 20:05:01

Not sure how to advise a much older friend of mine, who has very recently become a grandmother. Her DS and his DP had a baby 2 weeks ago, after only a year of knowing each other. DIL has always been polite and civil, but obviously finds my friend difficult and overpowering. She’s very theatrical, forthright in her views and the expression of them, and not very tactful. Whenever she goes round to their flat (within walking distance from her’s) her DIL goes and has a bath – for about an hour!

My friend is very upset because she appears to have to “make an appointment” to see her grandson and fears that it will become as difficult as getting to see your local GP! She has tried to be very tactful and non-judgemental in any discussions she has had with DIL and there have never been any arguments or open disagreements, or even unpleasantness of any kind. But on a couple of occasions when she has asked to come round to see her GS, she has been told that she’s not allowed to, and she has basically been made to feel unwelcome and redundant.

I’ve told her that she just needs to back off and give DIL space, but tbh I have the feeling that the Gobi desert wouldn’t be enough space for her DIL; I’ve made noises about the relationship between MIL and DIL being a supremely difficult one to negotiate (we discussed it and agreed that it can be a primal struggle for control of a) the man and b) the next generation of the family – in terms of what values are passed on) and have said that she needs to accept that this is the next stage of parenting – letting her DS go. She understands all that rationally, but is really upset that she can’t see her GS and feels that she is being marginalised in her DS’s and GS’s life. She also wants a good relationship with her DIL, but doesn't know how to construct that. Does anyone have any advice I can pass on to her?

nerdgirl Tue 22-Mar-05 20:15:35

How often does she see her GS Caligula?

Caligula Tue 22-Mar-05 20:25:34

In the first week about three times, and since then once. DIL has put her off every time.

Bear in mind that she lives a ten minute walk away.

mummytosteven Tue 22-Mar-05 20:34:21

i'ld say that two weeks is very early days, and that once things settle down, and DIL is less overwhelmed hopefully things will improve. give it a few months, when DP has got the hang of looking after his baby and DIL is feeling more chilled about things, DP could always go round to see MIL with the baby.

I think she needs to back off for now.

nerdgirl Tue 22-Mar-05 20:44:33

Have to agree with mummytostephen. I love my MIL to bits but the idea of her popping in all the time (especially in the early days) would have driven me crazy!

As for feeling redundant, well she kinda is. I mean her GS has a mother and her DS doesn't need one anymore.

I say take a back seat and let them come to her.

SenoraPostrophe Tue 22-Mar-05 20:47:31

Well if it was me, I would have a word with DS about what he thinks is the matter/ho to solve it. I hope that when ds is old enough, he would be open in such a discussion, but I guess some men wouldn't be.

Failing that, I think I would write to her - if it's a personality clash that may be the only way of getting a result. Letter would include something like "I haven't really had a chance to get to know you and I know that I can be overpowering to some people when I don't know them very well..." (this could be me - can you tell? hoping ds only has confident/overbearing-friendly girlfriends)

JanH Tue 22-Mar-05 20:47:52

What about the other grandmother (ie the DIL's mother)? Is she around?

Have to agree that first weeks with first baby are very fraught even without MIL popping in! It would be good if your friend could chill a bit and leave them alone for a week or 2 - wait to be invited round. I can understand how desperate she is to be involved but if she keeps on she could ruin the relationship before it starts.

happymerryberries Tue 22-Mar-05 20:48:10

Best advice that my MIL was given(and she is a fabulous MIL) was 'remember that the boy was your's and the man is her's'. That helpes to keep things in 'order' I think

JanH Tue 22-Mar-05 20:48:56

You overpowering, SP???

SenoraPostrophe Tue 22-Mar-05 20:49:20

other posts weren't there before. i was assuming that the problem pre-dated the baby.

I didn't mind visitors when dd was 2 weeks - i was buzzing, but some people do i s'pose

SenoraPostrophe Tue 22-Mar-05 20:50:39

So people say, Jan. I do always have an opinion even if I know bugger all about a subject though.

Reethi Tue 22-Mar-05 20:54:29

Although she only lives 10 minutes away, 4 times is quite a lot for a 2 week old baby.

MIL have a great knack of making DIL feeling inadequate even when their intentions are well meaning. If it is your friends DIL first child she needs to find her feet and make her own mistakes without the watchful eye of the MIL. Your friend needs to understand that her relationship with her DIL is never going to be that of mother/daughther no matter how good their relationship and unfortunately most MIL's I know do feel like they have to have to make an appt to see their Grand children.

With regards to constructing a good relationship with her DIL she needs to be supportive, complement her on her parenting skills, never ever criticise or interfere, ask after her and invite her to do things that don't always involve her DS, DIL needs to feel that she has been accepted into the family and is not just being included out of a sense of obligation.

JanH Tue 22-Mar-05 20:54:40

Well of course you have an opinion! (Me too. Ignorance no bar here either.) But FWIW I would never have described you as overpowering

Chandra Tue 22-Mar-05 20:58:14

I very much agree with Nerdgirl. She needs to back off for a while, respect the fact that with a new baby you are always busy and when you aren't you only want to have a rest. And accept that she is no longer the first woman in her DS's life. I don't think she could demand more visits to see her GS but that she should gracefully earn the right by respecting the independance of the new family, and assuming that from now on she has a secondary role.

Caligula Tue 22-Mar-05 21:27:27

I think she has tried to do all that, but it's dealing with the emotional impact of it which she's finding hard.

The other complication is that she suspects that DIL may not be as committed to the relationship with her DS as he is (she doesn't want to get married, for example, which he does). I think she'd have less difficulty mentally in taking a step back if she felt she was "handing over" her precious DS to someone who was actually wanting to be with him for life. She doesn't want to be as marginal to their lives as DIL appears to want to make her, but she also doesn't want to become an "issue" in their relationship which might put an extra unnecessary strain upon it.

About the redundant bit, it's interesting you should say that, Nerdgirl, because I think in our culture we do make grandparents redundant. But in her family, that hasn't been the case - they are a mixture of Irish and Spanish, and the MIL / grandma role has never been the marginalised one of the average English family (huge generalisation there - I don't even know if that's true, and if MILs/ grandmothers are that marginalised even in English/ British families). Which is one of the reasons I think she’s finding it so hard to adapt to this new role – she doesn’t have a role model for it, having had the MIL from hell herself, and her mother was apparently also the MIL from hell!

These responses are all really helpful btw, please keep them coming!

moondog Tue 22-Mar-05 21:39:09

Tell her that in a few months time, the dil will be desperate for her to have the baby every now and again, so she must just be patient.
My mil is lovely, but I'm glad she doesn't live nearby and tbh, I think having seen the baby 4 times in two weeks is plenty!

eidsvold Wed 23-Mar-05 02:42:39

i think as this is her first child the dil is probably feeling overawed with it all and wanting some space.

One thing that made me love my mil ( although she was brilliant from day one) was her respect of my dh and I as parents and telling us what a great job we were doing with dd1 ( ok dd1 has special needs and it is bloody hard sometimes and when she was first born needed a lot of medical care etc.) It was great that she acknowledged what we had done. She also paid me compliments about how happy I had made dh and how his life had changed for the better because of me ( ok all true ) but it made me feel valued as an important person in dh's life. She also deferred to us as dd1's parents in the decisions we had made - you know like - food she could eat, what she was allowed or not to do and so on.

As someone else said - invite her to do things without the ds - I often met my MIL and we went shopping or popped over and visited them ( and they lived over and hour away) whilst dh was at work.

Whether she is as committed or not - not the mil's worrytbh - the son is an adult and has to make his own decisions - good or bad and live with the consequences.

Caligula Wed 23-Mar-05 09:57:52

I think it is the MIL's worry whether DIL is committed or not, because it isn't just the DS who will have to live with the consequences if she's not, it's the whole family. Grandparents, aunts, etc., all have to live with the fallout of a failed relationship, and her long term worry is that she won't be able to see her GS in future, and her daughters won't be able to see their nephew. It’s a legitimate worry, imo. Having said that, she recognises that there is bugger all she can do about that – sometimes in life we are dependent on the choices others make - so all she can do is contribute to keeping the relationship stable, not undermine it, while trying to build up a good relationship with her DIL and bond with her GS.

These comments are so helpful. I notice no MIL’s have added their voices – if there are any out there who do have a good relationship with their DIL (it’s easier if your DD is the one with the baby, imo) please tell me how you manage it!

pooka Wed 23-Mar-05 14:00:33

My mother in law also lives very near us, although my own mother lives nearer. I found that after dd had been born, for about 4 weeks it was terribly hard for me to cope with visitors. Of course my mum doesn't fall into the category of visitors because, well, she's my mum!
My MIL was absolutely brilliant and played a blinder in keeping a distance, maybe seeing dd 3 or 4 times in that month, til I was complaining to dh that she never seemed to want to see dd. She herself had a rather in your face MIL and with each of her 4 sons she has kept back until invited to come forward as it were.
So when dd's breast feeding became more predictable, she started looking after her for 3 hours or so here and there so I could go swimming, sleep and so on.
I think that dil having a long bath whenever your friend comes round is fair enough - what better opportunity to pamper herself rather than "entertain". And wouldn't be nice if this approach continued to expand into more regular contact if only as a means for dil to have time to herself. I don't think your friend should expect to have a cosy mother-daughter relationship with her DIL, but should see the plus side of this being one-on-one fun with her grandchild.

Caligula Wed 23-Mar-05 14:31:04

I've told her that she should encourage DIL to go into the bath, to see her MIL's visits as "pamper time".

I think this is the difference between being the mother of the mother of the child and being the mother of the father of the child.

Caligula Wed 23-Mar-05 14:37:20

I mean the visiting thing - my friend doesn't see herself as a visitor, but as family, whereas her DIL perhaps does see her as a visitor, not family. Her DS of course, doesn't see her as a visitor.

Thanks Pooka, you may have hit on something!

Chandra Wed 23-Mar-05 14:43:18

Caligula, in response to your last post. I believe that if she insists in sorting the matter she will be more likely to end up with a fall out than if she fades in the background for a while. My MIL took the aproach of imposing herself, she replied to our wishes to have a week alone after the birth of DS with the phrase "He's my GS and I will visit whenever I want, even if that means I need to stay in a hotel". She continued to be opinionated, never loosing an oportunity to criticise our parenting skills, and she even demanded DH to take DS to see her in Spain without me when I was too busy finishing my disertation. She has been a living nightmare and eventhough we have tried to talk several times, she ignores what we say and concentrate on how would she like the things to be.

We finally had a big fall out before Christmas, that damaged our marriage so much that we considered a separation. We are slowly going back to normal but it's hard work, the MIL is banned from our lives and sure... she doesn't have contact with DS anymore and we don't see her having it in the foreseable future as DH has decided that he would not risk the family life of his DS so the MIL can act as a granny.

Chandra Wed 23-Mar-05 14:43:50

OOps crossposted... it was in response to this morning post.

Caligula Wed 23-Mar-05 15:06:28

Oh, I don't think she's got any illusions about being able to "sort" the matter, Chandra. I just think she wants to know how on earth she can avoid a family breach because of it. I think she knows deep down that there is absolutely nothing she can do about her DIL keeping her at arms length, and it's learning to cope with that and accept that she just has to put up with it and do everything on DIL's terms, which is so difficult to cope with.

We live in a society which goes on and on about how relationships are about negotition and compromise, and we ignore the fact that sometimes, there are different balances of power - sometimes, you just have to accept the fact that one party in a relationship has more power than you, and you have to do things their way if you want to maintain that relationship. I think if more MILs understood this, life would be an awful lot easier, for them as well as their DILs!

Not looking forward to telling her all this, but I feel more confident that I'm right to do so!

Chandra Wed 23-Mar-05 15:27:18

Yes that's true. I believe sometimes that it's all about power (after all, she has told me that her chidren belong to her and she decides what is to be done). In my particular case I can't understand why she insisted knowing the damage she was causing. At some point we just realised that she really didn't care that much about DS, as knowing the problems she was causing in our relationship, she did not stop. The day of the fall out she told DH horrible things about me and told him that if he left with me she would never call him again. I believe that that opened DH's eyes, and finally realised that what the woman really didn't love us as she was always quick to point out, but that she only wanted to stay in control rather than to have a beneficial relationship with her GS.

The only thing I hope is that all this experience has taught me how to avoid the problem when DS brings the "chosen one" to our home.

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