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MN diplomacy required regarding tricky MIL issue

(23 Posts)
Greensleeves Fri 12-Jun-09 09:27:30

My MIL is not a bad old stick really - she vehemently opposed us being together (used to leave him poisonous notes calling me a harlot and saying my History degree was worthless as only total dropkicks do humanities) DH's relationship with her has been thorny to say the least - she led him a bit of a dog's life as a kid and he was very cowed by her when I met him

but over the past years we have reached an amicable stasis and I am actually quite fond of her now

BUT - she is very starry-eyed about ds1's academic abilities (he has Aspergers and splinter skills - in many ways he is more typical of a 3yo and a 6yo but he recently passed year 6 science SATS papers and reads adult books etc)

this rings alarm bells for us as she basically chained dh to his desk from the age of 7 - no friends, no parties, no school trips, just endless test papers (she used to steal them and make him do them over and over again), Latin and German vocab tapes, maths workbooks - constant pushing and dh was very lonely and miserable.

DS2 is 4 and doesn't have Aspergers, he's a bright all-round lovely child, talkative, inquisitive anbd delightful, but has a bit of a chip on his little shoulder because all he ever hears about at school is his 'weird' brother sad

this morning I found a parcel on the doormat from MIL, addressed to ds1 - it's a set of train timetables (he adores trains) from her holiday abroad, and a text book from a trip to a museum with the school she works at. With lovely notes attached telling ds1 what they are and where they came from. Nothing for ds2.

AIBU to take the notes off, throw the packaging away and tell the boys she sent them for both of them?

I don't want to say anything to her because she has done a really nice thing in sending them and if I say something, she will fell hurt and as though she can't get anything right!

BUT I felt a real kick in the guts on behalf of my gorgeous ds2, who is also bright and fascinated by the world, who also loves trains and also would have got something out of the book.

Advice please!

Greensleeves Fri 12-Jun-09 09:35:35


FabulousBakerGirl Fri 12-Jun-09 09:35:46

Take the lables off.

Say MIL has sent these. It is true and let the boys enjoy them together.

Phone her up to thank her and say both boys will enjoy them/are enjoying them.

If she dares to say they were only for DS1 - there is your chance to put her straight.

EyeballshasBackBoobs Fri 12-Jun-09 09:39:10

Definitely labels off. Agree with FBG re tactics.

sunfleurs Fri 12-Jun-09 09:41:01

I would remove packaging etc and tell your dc it was a gift for both of them.

I would have a chat with MIL about it and tell her the truth, say ds2 would have been really hurt if he realised it wasn't for him as well. Shame if she feels hurt but better her as an adult who really should know better than your ds2.

Ime you need to stamp on this kind of favouritism very early on.

My dd can be very whingy and clingy (she is gorgeous though honestly!) and a few times now my MIL has said "she really reminds me of XXXX (family member considered to be very difficult)". Ds on the other hand is considered to be practically perfect in every way. It doesn't matter now when dd can't understand but I know if I don't stamp on it it will get worse and worse.

MamaG Fri 12-Jun-09 09:47:48

You are definitely NBU to take off the labels and tell the boys they are from her for both of them. I agree that you need to speak to her about it too otherwise it will continue.

Is she the type to respond to "I really love to see the close relationship you have with DS1, but DS2 adores you too and I think he would be hurt if you sent something to DS1 alone ..." ?

Would it be better for your DH to speak to her, perhaps? If I have any MIL ishoos, I tend to shove DH in her direction!

littleducks Fri 12-Jun-09 09:48:48

def labels off also agree with FGB

Greensleeves Fri 12-Jun-09 09:50:15

DH would do it if I asked him to, but he wouldn't be as careful of her feelings as I would. He's a lovely gentle considerate empathic person with everyone else, but I think there's an element of "yippee, I'm free, I can say whatever I like to her" about his dealings with his mother...

in fact I need to text him and tell him NOT to bollock her before we've had a chance to talk about it

MamaG Fri 12-Jun-09 09:51:51

Now, in RL I'm very nice and kind and gentle (really, I am, mostly!) and I hate to hurt anybody's feelings but SOMETIMES a bollocking is necessary to nip something like this in the bud.

I would consider letting DH do the bollocking and then you can be soothing afterwards.

OlympedeGouges Fri 12-Jun-09 09:57:45

Greensleeves you are handling all this beautifully and with so much sensitivity. Of course you must give the parcel to both boys. Perhaps you're right about your MIL - a bollocking may be counterproductive, you will probably know how to communicate the issue to her. Amazingly, it may just not have occurred to her. sad

MamaG Fri 12-Jun-09 10:00:22

(I'm not saying bollocking is RIGHT btw, just saying consider it, I very very very rarely go down the "bollocking is the right thing" route, I'm a real peacekeeper)

Greensleeves Fri 12-Jun-09 10:08:24

s'OK MamaG, I want as many opinions and perspectives as I can get and am considering the bollocking option grin

I really don't want to hurt her though because I'm pretty much 100% sure it won't have crossed her mind that ds2 could be hurt. If there's one thing dh's upbringing proves it's that she genuinely only loves and relates to children through academic channels - she doesn't "get" smaller children at all, although she thinks they're sweet - she wasn't overly bothered about seeing them when they were littler although she was very lovely to them when she did see them and has photos in her living room etc.

I had an interesting conversation with her about dh's childhood once (I trod very carefully!) in which she said "I thought I had considered all their needs and made good choices for their futures - music lessons, so they can have pleasure and enjoyment playing an instrument, swimming and sports, for a healthy body, good study habits and academic success so they can achieve in life"

there is no cruelty in her but she is quite damaged in some ways I think and is limited, as we all are in certain respects.

My children have already lost one grandmother because I cannot cope with my mother and don't think they could either in the long-term. I don't want to fuck this up - BUT I know it will only get worse. I'm almost dreading the confrontation when she finds out we are planning to send them to the local comp and starts waving her cheque book around and sending us prospectuses for private schools grin

OlympedeGouges Fri 12-Jun-09 10:19:17

oh for a grandparent waving their cheque book around. grin
[I know it comes with ropes attached though]

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 12-Jun-09 10:25:42


I remember well your previous threads with regards to your own toxic mother.

You need to tread carefully here as well with this woman as well. Giving her a bollocking will only fan her mad flames still further. This will give her another opening to fire back at you with.

Some people (my MIL for one) does all the photos in the living room and such like and put on a good show/say all that right things but she's still not all that interested.

She also seems to be one of these people who respond badly to any constructive and or reasonable criticism and makes a drama out of it. My guess as well is that she wants to recreate in your eldest son what she did to your H. This is about power and control.

My advice re the present is the same as the others have stated - remove all packaging and give present to both children.

Favouritism like this is very damaging and will divide your children further if it is not reined in now; your toxic MIL needs to be talked to and the person to do that is your H.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 12-Jun-09 10:30:16

I refer to this comment of Olympe's:-

"Perhaps you're right about your MIL - a bollocking may be counterproductive, you will probably know how to communicate the issue to her. Amazingly, it may just not have occurred to her".

Hmmm. I would say that MIL is fully aware of what she is doing and her actions are delivebate here. There are unwritten conditions/obligations attached to all of this.

Never accept any money from her either!.

OlympedeGouges Fri 12-Jun-09 10:35:22

shock Blimey, the number of toxic MILs on MN is amazing. It wasn't exactly giving her the benefit of the doubt, saying it hadn't occurred to her [never do that!] she sounds rather blinkered in her approach rather than actively malicious. Ah well.

slyandgobbo Fri 12-Jun-09 10:37:58

Actually, Greensleeves, I think your initial instincts are right and the "bollocking" is not appropriate or constructive. I don't think she needs to be treated as "toxic" either; I think you show enormous empathy towards your MIL and understanding of her her limitations and it would be right just to deal with this issue in a low-key way. I think there are zillions of grandparents in the world who might happen to see something they think one grandchild would like and send it without thinking about the other child. They, like all of us, make mistakes.

OlympedeGouges Fri 12-Jun-09 10:38:21

I've had problems with my MIL including quite a big falling out when i asked them not to come and stay for a month in our 2 bed flat when i had just given birth. I was disrespectful to my elders apparently. However, she is not toxic, just of a different culture and generation. I think we should generally cut our ILs some slack, though not suggesting that for your mum Greeny or your MIL Attila. Of course though if it comes down to potentially hurting the feelings of our children then something must be done.

slyandgobbo Fri 12-Jun-09 10:39:09

Actually I think I am just repeating Olympe here...

FrannyandZooey Fri 12-Jun-09 10:45:41

if it wouldn't have crossed her mind that ds2 would be hurt, it's easy to point it out

take the labels off and when you phone to thank her, say "i hope you don't mind but i told the boys they were for both of them, as ds2 would have been upset that ds1 got a present and he didn't"

i did this (the label thing) when ds2 was born but didn't point it out to anyone as babies being born is just a one off thing

Greensleeves Fri 12-Jun-09 19:28:09

that's a good way of putting it Franny

dh agrees, so that's probably what we'll do

poor old ds2 though, I suppose I was feeling a bit sensitive on his behalf anyway so it really upset me when this landed on the doormat.

FrannyandZooey Fri 12-Jun-09 19:44:09

LOL at you being a harlot btw
god i dream of someone's mother thinking i am harlot

Jux Fri 12-Jun-09 19:59:59

Just for balance: my paternal grandmother hated women and therefore girls. She adored my brothers. She would send fantastic presents using her Harrods account to both my bros for xmas and birthdays - beautifully wrapped and labelled. She one gave me a pair of tights still in the paper bag from a shop local to us. She once gave me some cheap plastic dollhouse furniture again from a local shop.

Did I care? Not much. I loved my grandma because she was my grandma, but she didn't impinge on my life much. My brothers shared their good fortune with me anyway so I got the benefit (and didn't have to write the thank you letters grin).

The only time I felt a bit sad was in the summer holidays when my brothers would be sent to stay with her and I wasn't. Mum and Dad once took me to St Ives when they were with her (she had a flat there overlooking the harbour) but we stayed in a B&B so I was still a bit lonely in the mornings and at night.

My mum tried very hard to help me to understand that it wasn't my fault and to understand that it was something in granny's upbringing which made her that way and she couldn't help it.

The only really sad thing was that when she died I didn't much care.

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