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Sorry, it's a MIL issue, but I don't know how to cope with my feelings...

(82 Posts)
ToffeeWhirl Sun 01-Sep-13 11:05:23

I have ruminated over this for months. I know some people on MN have terrible MILs and that's why I haven't felt able to post for advice, because I know I'm lucky really. But I could do with some advice.

I have known my MIL for over 20 years and we have always had an amicable relationship, even though we are completely different. To give you a taste of what she's like - she reads the Daily Mail and believes wives should give up work and look after their children. She thinks divorce is always traumatic for the children and pities me because I am a child of divorced parents. She talks inane nonsense and never listens to anyone else, including her DS. She is very judgemental about anyone who doesn't conform to her limited view of how people should be. She is very needy and tries to win her grandchildren's continued love with an excess of junk food. Anyhow, after a stint in hospital a couple of years ago, when she was 83, she came to us and I looked after her for 10 weeks whilst she convalesced. I may have had to sneak off to the kitchen for a slurp of wine to get me through this now and again, but we both stayed friendly, and the house benefited from the extra housework I did to get away from her.

After her illness and convalescence, she moved nearer to us and now lives five minutes away. This means we can look after her and she can see lots of the grandchildren. She is very generous with babysitting and money and I know we are lucky in that respect.

But now I find myself struggling. She is making me really, really angry and I don't know how to remain civil with her. DS1 has SNs and things have been difficult with him over the past few months. I know this has made me less patient with MIL than usual, as I can't listen to her wittering on about trivial things when I'm so worried about DS. She thrives on stories of death and illness, so she is always telling us about the latest death at her sheltered housing, or relishing the details of somebody's struggle with cancer. She does it under the guise of concern, but she loves it. It's like a hobby for her. If she goes to the GP, it is always a big event. I find this particularly difficult to cope with because several people in my family have had/are coping with cancer. In fact, I think I have just said goodbye to one for the last time sad.

I also don't like the way she criticises everyone. When she left her previous home, she was glad to get away from several so-called friends that she didn't like. Well, surprise! - now she has more friends that she doesn't like confused. She complains about them all the time - how they take money from her, ring her up too much, get her to care for them (which she does because she is just so caring hmm) and so on. I have introduced her to my friends and she usually has a few cutting things to say about them too, which hurts me. And now, after a couple of Christmases with my Mum here too, she has started on her. She doesn't approve of her, apparently. Well, I love my Mum, so I take exception to that in particular.

Oh, and we have recently asked her to stop bringing junk food for the DC. I knew this would be an issue for her, but I was fed up with it. She complains, now, that the DC can't have 'anything'.

And, I know this is irrational, but the gene that has caused my DS's SNs (he has TS/OCD) comes from her and I feel so angry with her for that. I can't justify it because I know that's mad of me, but it's just how I feel.

Unfortunately, my irritation must be showing because last week DH told me that she was in a terrible state after her last visit, saying that she couldn't bear it if I banned her from seeing her grandchildren. WTF? I have never, ever threatened such a thing and wouldn't dream of it. I'm not sure if she is showing early signs of dementia or is being manipulative.

I have to see her today. I now have so much pent-up anger towards her that I don't know how to be civil. How do I get over this?

Pancakeflipper Sun 01-Sep-13 11:16:27

Don't want to read and run.
We are having similar behaviour with my MIL but they don't live near. I think it is some form of dementia as its getting worse and my MIL wasn't like this years ago (known her since I was a teen).
I think you need to break it down into issues.
Then talk to your DH. Might be he takes the children to visit them more now to give you a break from the infuriating draining conversations.

The bit about your mother - you need to say to her "ground rules are that you do not ever criticise my mother to me,DH or the children."

Can you make her visits a little shorter? Can you plan things into them to give her less chance to grate on you -like trip to the shop, hairdressers, garden centre,library coffee shop. Anything so you don't feel guilty at avoiding her but its less painful for you.

It's emotionally horrible. You want to have a real good row but you'd only getting yourself further upset.

cozietoesie Sun 01-Sep-13 11:25:51

Don't want to read and run either although I can't answer properly for a few hours.

I think you're right and she's maybe reacting to the change in you, Toffee? (If you've always been real pleasant to her and are now being less conciliatory.) Why do you have to see her today?

How is DS1 doing?

BillyGoatintheBuff Sun 01-Sep-13 11:30:26

this sounds tough! really tough. Can you avoid her for a bit just to give yourself some breathing space. Things can build up to become overwhelming and perhaps you literally just need a break from her in particular. Can you tell your dh that you need to save up some of your strength to deal with your ds, and at the moment cant cope with his mum?

Let it all out on here and get it all off your chest. It's ok to have irrational thoughts about people!!

ToffeeWhirl Sun 01-Sep-13 11:54:57

Oh, thank you. I thought everyone would think I was being a real cow.

Pancake - yes, I do want a good row! You are right. But, of course, I can't do that. Maybe I do need to sit down with DH and plan how we can be fair to her, but also make things bearable for me. We do try to make her visits less irritating by, for example, watching an old b&w film with her so we don't have to listen to her. (I know that sounds awful, but she talks such nonsense that I sometimes have to leave the room and take deep breaths). Unfortunately, she insists on coming round regularly to have her hair done at the hairdresser opposite our house. She doesn't even like the hairdresser and always complains about her (of course <sigh>), but she likes coming here. Sometimes it is incredibly inconvenient for me. It's not as if she doesn't come round regularly anyway, but she likes having this regular appointment. And yes, it might be early dementia, because she is getting more forgetful. I need to be more patient, but my patience is all used up on DS1.

cozie - oh, lovely to see you on here smile! Yes, she is probably reacting to a change in me. Also, she sees me more often these days, so she is seeing more of the real me and less of the polite, smiling and nodding me. I could get out of going today, but it would upset DH if I don't go, I think. And if I'm the only one who doesn't go, she will think something's up. Thanks for asking after DS1. He has been doing well for the past few weeks and has been getting out more and starting to overcome some of his fears. He even managed to eat something on the train going home from a visit to my Mum's yesterday - a major breakthrough for someone who couldn't eat out at all! I'm sure the CBT is helping him and am hopeful that he will manage to get through his next insight week at the new school. Unfortunately, he decided he was doing so well that he stopped taking his fluoxetine last week and threw it in the bin three days running, which could have had a disastrous effect. Luckily, he confessed all to me and I have explained why he can't just stop suddenly or he will get really ill again.

Billy - I think I need a permanent break from her! It would really help to get it all out here, but it makes me feel like a horrible person to have these thoughts. To be honest, I expected to be flamed for complaining.

chocoluvva Sun 01-Sep-13 12:08:33

It sounds like you've done really well with your MIL - been very patient with her.

Sorry that's not advice is it?

Ideally your DH would gently tell her not to say critical/unkind things when she does. Having said that, it sounds like it's become a habit of hers that is hard to break. If it's any consolation she probably doesn't feel good about making all her unwanted 'remarks'.

She sounds very difficult to deal with.

Viking1 Sun 01-Sep-13 12:15:43

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

mrspaddy Sun 01-Sep-13 12:23:37

Oh this is so difficult but one thing I can see is how good a person you are. I know how SN can challenge.. but you don't need this extra stress.
She is ill... I don't like people who talk about cancers etc. and other faimilies trauma's in a gossipy way and it can get you down.

You will have to find a way to reduce contact time. Is there anything, now with the new term, you can 'take up' to busy yourself with that means you are not as available.. I don't know what exactly.. but just don't always be there.

You are very kind hearted to have minded her for 10 weeks and have been good to all these years and DH should know you are loyal.. it is obvious. Maybe he is the key to sorting this out.

Squarepegina Sun 01-Sep-13 12:28:34

Anger at Mil gene causing your ds OCD is the issue that you are wrestling with I think. All the other annoyances you sound like you coped with up until now . Having to deal with these on top of the constant worry about your ds when she is "to blame" is the straw that's breaking your back.

I'm sure you know it's not her fault but emotionally it's harder to deal with. I think most of us instinctively look for someone to blame when we are facing difficulties. The gene thing is real but completely out of everyone's hands.

If you can get yourself into a more detached place then it would be worth trying to talk to her about the other annoyances. She might have no idea how worried you are about your son or how much energy it takes to cope with constant worry. At least give her the opportunity to show some empathy towards you.

Good luck!

cozietoesie Sun 01-Sep-13 12:30:55

Back briefly.


I know that this is going to be a real difficult time coming up but I've been concerned for a few months that you just seem to be getting more and more tired - which I think is contributing.

Is there any way (given DS1's issues) that you could maybe get at least a few days off to yourself? Even to have a couple of night's real sleep.

bunchoffives Sun 01-Sep-13 12:41:08

You need to find topics of conversation that you can bitch about comfortably with her.

I often see on here young women being upset about this sort of thing and often think it's taken too personally. (However, gossiping about acquaintances with cancer when your family member is experiencing it, is just tactless).

I think cantankerous older people often relieve the stresses and worries in their lives by bitching remembering all those others less fortunate and make things up themselves feel needed and wanted by complaining about unwelcome attention of invisible others. It makes them feel more important.

More seriously, I think you need a break. Let your DH go alone to visit her today. You can have a cold, women's issues, whatever... Don't feel guilty, you sound like you have been very kind and caring hitherto. But also really try not to take her poison to heart. It doesn't sound like she means to get at you. And can you not ask her to cut down on the sweets/junk - say you're worried about DS's teeth.

HerrenaHarridan Sun 01-Sep-13 15:38:24

Hi op,

No flaming here either smile

Your doing well, bloody well.

You sound like you've for your head screwed on and your just looking for a vent and some advice.

To me there are two separate issues here

Mil behaviour and your ongoing stresses.

Has your mils behaviour actually changed or just your frequency of exposure/ attitude?

I think you need to allow yourself fri distance. You don't need to be rude or cut her off, just let dh take this kids and cry off sick once in a while.

I know it's frustrating hearing her moaning all the time, no matter what you do, my great gran was the same when my mum was caring for her. To the extent my mum formulated the theory becoming so unbearably cantankerous was a way of helping you detach ready for when they die! shock

Also specifically in response to the gene thing, please don't beat yourself up for thinking that. Blame is part of the process of acceptance. You obviously know that is never ok to say it and in your heart of hearts know that without her genes (faulty or otherwise) you wouldn't have your dh or ds smile

perfectstorm Sun 01-Sep-13 15:55:40

No advice or suggestions, I'm afraid. I just wanted to say that you sound like a bloody saint, and should give yourself a lot of credit.

nokidshere Sun 01-Sep-13 16:01:28

My 93 yr old MIL lives next door to us. Its lovely having her there as it makes life easier for us all. I have known her for over 30 years and we have never had a falling out.

However, she is the same in terms of grumpiness, criticising her friends, moaning about money and tv and is getting worse as time goes by! She often tells DH things that I have or haven't done some of which aren't even true!

I have learned to switch off. I breezily go in and out for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day, brightly ask her how she is, tell her about the GC and ignore any outrageous remarks by changing the subject.

You need to learn to do this for your sanity! If I am overly stressed about other things then I don't go in at all - I send DH or the boys smile (although DH goes in daily for an hour after work anyway) Deep breaths, Bright smiles, Deaf ears are things that will help you cope!

Marylou2 Sun 01-Sep-13 17:20:34

Feeling your pain and frustration as my own MIL and Grandma are similarly self obsessed types. Nokidshere gives wonderful advice above, deep breath, breezy manner and deaf ears are the only way to cope in these situations. I do realise that this approach isn't easy, it's taken me 20 years to arrive at this and sometimes it still goes awry. Perhaps we might all think of one another the next time we visit these awkward relatives and know that we are not smile

ToffeeWhirl Sun 01-Sep-13 17:34:31

I don't have time to reply properly right now (dinner, bedtimes, etc), but I am reading and taking it all in and will pop back later. Thank you so much for all your encouraging words - it is really cheering me up.

nokids - I think you need to set up a training course to help people like us learn how to do what you do grin.

ToffeeWhirl Sun 01-Sep-13 23:45:33

Back again. Had a bit of a crisis because DS1 had a meltdown, but I've settled him to sleep now.

It is really heartening to know that people think I've been patient and kind to MIL. I have been confused and upset by my irritation with her because she has been very good to us in many ways. However, seeing her so frequently has led me to conclude that she is actually quite self centred and can be mean spirited. She is not at all interested in other people and she always picks fault. (Chocoluvva - I think she feels justified making the remarks she does and not guilty at all!).

I have given up trying to help her deal with her difficulties with people because she simply won't help herself and I can only conclude she is comfortable being in the role of a victim. For example, before she moved here, she always complained about her GP. We did everything we could to encourage her to change surgery, but she always had a reason why she couldn't. Now that she has moved, she has a new GP and she has started complaining about this one too. I go to a wonderful surgery just five minutes from where she lives and have offered to get her transferred, but she always has an excuse not to move. I give up. And, anyway, she would probably find something to complain about with my surgery too.

Viking - you are right, she won't change. I just need to find a way to cope. Changing the subject without feeling guilty about it would be a good start. I feel sorry for her living alone so I try to listen to her, but I think I have reached my limit.

mrspaddy - it is a horrible trait when people relish other people's misfortune, isn't it? Particularly when it's under the guise of concern. With regards to not always being available, MIL does know that I am busy home educating DS1 during term time and that I also have a generally busy life, so she doesn't expect to be able to pop in at any time.

Squarepeg - she does know how worried we both are about DS1 and was actually very sweet towards me when I broke down in front of her one day a few months ago (very embarrassing, but at least she stopped talking about herself for five minutes!). You are right that I am wrestling with the issue of 'blame' for the gene that is affecting my son's life so badly, which is frustrating and pointless because I know it's nobody's fault. I don't think that is the straw though. I think the real straw has been a succession of difficult things happening in the past few months that have made DH and I much more stressed than usual.

cozie - you are sweet to be so concerned. I didn't know I had been giving the impression of tiredness. It is an ongoing issue, but not something I can do a lot about. I think I'm coping ok. There is certainly no chance at all of me getting away on my own. I just need to make sure I get to bed at a decent time at night and stop browsing on MN. Hopefully, when we get our next kitten - and if he/she is anything like the much-missed ToffeeKitten - I will also have an excuse to have regular cat naps wink.

bunch - yes, I agree that MIL is making herself feel better by bitching about other people's misfortunes and that being used by others makes her feel needed. I think it's sad.

Herrena - you are right about there being two separate issues: MIL's behaviour and my ongoing stresses. Her behaviour hasn't really changed (apart from her lunatic assertion that I was going to ban contact with her GC confused), so it is definitely my tolerance that has altered, and that is obviously because of recent stresses. Is blame part of the process of acceptance? I didn't know that. I am obviously still struggling to accept the diagnosis then. Of course, you are right that MIL has also produced the man who is my DH, although I do wonder how she did it because he is so different from her. I always call him a cuckoo in the nest. I love your mum's theory, by the way. A bit like teenagers becoming so intolerable parents want them to leave.

perfectstorm - oh, I am far from saintly, but it's nice of you to say so smile.

nokids - your method of dealing with your MIL sounds spot on. I need to learn to do that and to recognise when I'm feeling too stressed to see my MIL and delegate that job to DH and DC.

Marylou - it had better take me faster than 20 years to learn nokids's method as MIL is not likely to be around that long! It is good to hear that I'm not alone.

Well, I did visit MIL this afternoon. I considered staying at home, but decided that it would actually be better for my mental health if I faced her, rather than continued to ruminate about her. The visit was fine. I was less stressed than last time I saw her (I have just come back from a week away with my boys, staying with my mum) and she was on her best behaviour. She told me that she is coming round on Thursday after her hair appointment. I will just have to deal with that as best I can. It will give me a chance to practise the nokids / marylou breezy manner and deaf ears grin.

redqueen45 Mon 02-Sep-13 07:38:37

She may be a lonely old lady who's a product of her era & upbringing, but please just read up on the symptons of NPD (narcissism) before you overdose on your patience pills!

Just mentioning because what you describe sent up a few flags. However, it still boils down to how to see her whilst retaining your sanity. So, unfortunately, either you find a way not to become wound up, or you accept that in the interests of YOUR health & your family's
health you need to see her a bit less. & maybe establish some boundaries so you feel more in control of her visits, rather than her announcing when she'll be arriving. & if you could talk to your DH about how you're feeling...

I feel for you here, have similar problems, & no, I'm not handling it at all well sad

waltzingmathilda Mon 02-Sep-13 08:07:53

Older people do tend to talk about illness, death, and the like because they are old and frail and this is what happens to them and their friends. As boring as we all think it might be, it is on a peer par with starting school (another boring topic done to death by 20 somethings). Plus of course at 83 shes knows shes coming to the end of her days, you might not like to acknowledge that and for sure her her son wont acknowledge it unless she gets something very debilitating or terminal but shes preparing you because all her friends are ill/dead.

I don't think you can really blame your MIL for your sons disabilities.

Pawprint Mon 02-Sep-13 08:24:12

She reminds me v much of my late grandmother who had a maddening habit of prattling on and was often very tactless.

My Grannie lived near me during the last years of her life and was given to dropping in unannounced on a regular basis.

My sister had SN and Grannie was often v v insensitive.

All I can suggest is that you lay ground rules about when she can visit. I doubt there's much you can do about her lack of tact. She's an old woman and unlikely to change.

Your anger towards her re your son and the SN gene must be hard to deal with. I know my mum felt anger towards my Grannie in relation to dais's SN but for different reasons. I often think my mum would have benefitted from - counselling; maybe you might too!

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 08:29:40

waltzing - I don't think you can really blame your MIL for your son's disabilities - 'course I can't. I know that. My feelings of blame towards her are like an irritating fly that I keep swatting away. I know it's silly.

And she has always talked about illness, death etc. In her case, old age has little to do with it, although it does mean she is now surrounded by it and has more material to draw on. She is one of those people who just seem to enjoy the subject of illness, including their own, and yet never have anything much wrong with them. Meanwhile, my own family members rarely complain about being ill, yet have gradually dropped off their mortal coils one by one.

redqueen - hmm, my DF was fairly narcissistic, but I had never considered MIL in that light - although she does relate everything back to herself. Actually, she shows an incredible lack of interest in other people (apart from their ailments). I thought it resulted from her narrow interests and sheltered life, though, rather than narcissism. I really feel for DH, who has just accepted that she will never show any interest in those parts of his life that she doesn't approve of/can't relate to. For example, he has been asked to write a travel article for publication and is going away next week to do some research. When he reminded MIL about it, she just turned her head away and then commented on DS2 playing with Lego. It must hurt him very much.

I'm sorry that you are having similar problems. It is very difficult.

JaxTellerIsAllMine Mon 02-Sep-13 08:33:40

coping strategies is what you need my lovely! And lots of them.

You cant change how she is - you can only change how/when you react. That doesnt mean she 'gets away' with being nasty/manipulative.

So... when she bitches about people you say "Thats a shame you feel that way, I think he/she is a good friend to me/you" or "that is MY mother you have just criticised, dont do that again, I wouldnt allow DH to say that about you"

And if she brings junk food round and you dont want DC to have it - "lovely thanks, I will put it in the sweet/treat cupboard" or "they have had ......... today, will keep it for another day"


ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 08:51:03

Pawprint - she won't change, I know. And she probably only has a few years left, so we just need to make sure that we all stay friendly in the meantime. It's really important to DH that she enjoys her final years without any unnecessary upsets. He is incredibly patient with her. To be fair, she's very good about not dropping in unannounced, so I can't complain about that.

How awful that your Grannie was so tactless about her granddaughter's SNs. MIL has struggled to understand what is wrong with DS1. We told her the diagnosis as soon as it was given, but she forgot it straight away. Last time she visited, she told us that she had had a word with DS1 about the importance of overcoming his fears. She was very pleased with herself about this. I felt like saying, "OK, then, I'll just cancel the CBT-ERP therapy with CAMHS then, because you've sorted it all out! Thanks!" Sometimes she says, with a puzzled look, "Well, he seems fine to me today". Er, yes, that's because he's at home in his safe place - now watch him whilst he tries to resist an OCD ritual or go somewhere 'unsafe'. But what's the point?

Jax - yes, yes, coping strategies! That is exactly what I need. With regards to my mum, she would never criticise her directly to my face (only to my DH), so I can't respond to that, which makes it even more annoying for me. She doesn't approve of my mum at all, but her feelings leak out in a passive-aggressive way in front of me, which make them hard for me to deal with.

For instance, she is able to give the boys more money as a gift than my mother can. She resents this because she thinks my mum wastes her money. I have explained to her that my mother does not have much money, but she won't listen. It has got to the point that her birthday card to my mother was signed 'from' instead of 'love' last week! It is so petty. I had to lie to my mother, who was perplexed, and say she always signed it 'from', but she didn't. I feel so protective towards my mum.

Actually, MIL would like me to call her 'mum' (which I won't do) and she doesn't understand why I get on so well with my own mother, who dared to work full time as a single mother when I was a child. She is a bit jealous of our relationship, I think.

I like the phrases you mentioned. I'm going to practise them!

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Mon 02-Sep-13 08:53:23

Seriously, have you stolen my mother in law? If you have you can keep her I feel your pain as my mil is exactly like this. Alongside the gleeful behaviour concerning illness she also really enjoys a good funeral and seems to have devised a rating system based on number of mourners / quality of the sandwiches.

I know my mil is a narcissist and has always been very abusive towards dh but out of guilt he looks after her.

Keep a bright breezy manner but it`s okay to stand up for yourself too.

ToffeeWhirl Mon 02-Sep-13 09:00:47

Lumpy - You mean there are more of them like this? We need to form a support group! That's so funny about your MIL's rating system for funerals. My MIL now makes the sandwiches for funerals in her flats, so that she can clock exactly what each one is like and report back to us. She is positively gleeful if the funeral goes badly.

Do you manage to keep a bright, breezy manner?

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