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Help with MIL


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Hello again, sorry, I've got another query I need your invaluable help with! Apart from ill toddlers, I'm also having a nightmare with my mother-in-law.

Without going into all the gorey detail I just want to say that since my daughter was born (26 months ago) my relationship with my MIL has totally deteriorated. At Christmas, we hit breaking point and I'm in a place where I don't know how to proceed. We've talked and my husband has talked, but we have gone past the point of rational discussion - she is very emotional and unpredictable - nothing is helping.

I'm at a point where I don't want to see her anymore, and the anxiety and stress its causing is not good for us or the children who I'm sure pick up on it. I wondered if anyone has any pointers on where I can get help from. Does anyone know if there is someone I can talk to about this? A relationship type person/councillor? And where would I find out about this - from the GP or HV? Or has anyone else gone to hell and back with their MIL and survived to tell the tale?! Any pointers would be gratefully received. Many thanks x

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Hello Gussy - I have a difficult MIL and really sympathise. Having kids makes things very tricky as you probably realise that she is the grandmother of your children - yet by choice you might not see her if you didn't have that link. Funnily enough, now I have a child I have no qualms in telling MIL to back off and/or answering back to her comments, whereas before children I might have bitten my tongue. My son is 15 months old, so at the moment probably doesn't detect the tension, though I can see why you are worried about your children picking things up.

Here is what I do to try and get through the periods that we have to spend together i.e. weekends at her house, Xmas etc:

- Rise above it. I know it's really hard esp. if you know that you are in the right, but often, as in my situation, I believe that reacting achieves the outcomes she is looking for i.e. drama

- Remember your other half - he will no doubt find this very stressful (am assuming he gets on with her ok??). Therefore appearing to be the more reasonable party in any conflict will ensure he supports you in any dispute

You mention HV/GP/counselling - therefore am assuming you want to resolve the dispute somehow? Is it just attitudinal differences or did something in particular happen? It sounds to me like you are looking for a mediator who isn't involved at all with the family - so perhaps a family counsellor?

With regards to 'surviving to tell the tale', I never quite get to the point where I refuse to see my MIL anymore (though believe me I have come close), instead I just take it as part and parcel of family life, and as we only see each other about once every few months I just put up with it. Not sure I'd have that attitude though if I had to see her more frequently than that.....

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I am really sorry to hear about your family worries, it is intensely stressful trying to have 'fun' with such a person at otherwise happy times.

I am guessing like most she lives away and so comes to stay with you for a few days at a time and thus making her visits much more intense.

I have similar problems but with my own parents and not my in-laws. I use this lady, who has been a tower of strength:


Have to say though after another stressful pre Christmas visit from my lot I am left wondering just how much crap do you put up with and when do you draw a line under the relationship - probably not a helpful comment but just to let you know you are not alone in adult parental stresses.

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Hi Gussy, you have my sympathy. I don't think my mil ever meant to be difficult but I remember the early days of marriage being difficult particularly after birth of daughter ( first grandchild) where it was emotionally intensive to say the least. I concluded at the time there was an element of jealousy and can't come to any other conclusions given some of her spiteful comments. I used to dread her visits which ( lucky me) would often last for a week and were beyond my control. By the way father in law was always lovely and sadly now gone.

I would add that I had neither of my own parents living as both had died suddenly and prematurely. Perhaps that had strengthened me emotionally but it wasn't an easy time. ( That is the birth of my daughter and coping with mil, not the baby).

However I genuinely don't think my mil meant to be difficult, as Lochie advised 'Rise above it'. Not easy I know but over the years our relationship has been pretty okay although I've always felt more of the 'adult' if that makes any sense. She's actually not a bad person but for sure her stubbornness can effect her personal relationships ( recently fallen out with best friend who was widowed at the same time!?)

Having never used counsellors I'm afraid I can't advise. Again possibly a generational problem as we're probably the first generation to have resorted to professional counselling although I've never resorted to such myself.

It's difficult and there's no magic answer but grit your teeth if you can. For what it's worth my 17 year old daughter also now shares some of my frustrations ie. emotional stress 'hard going '. My nearly 15 year old son sees her much more benevolently, Grandma's kind and generous ,which she is!

What was the saying " Men are from Mars women are from Venus?

Whoever said that got it right!

Best wishes Gussy. It's been a long time for me, not perfect but certainly better.

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Doubt the NHS provides counselling services for this stuff, but if you can pay a private counsellor might be able to help you work out your feelings and what you might do. Or books on dealing with difficult people? (Dulwich library has a big health section). The relationships threads on mumsnet has lots about difficult family situations if you're looking to vent / make contact with others, though it can get pretty dark compared with this forum!
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Thank you everyone for your thoughtful and honest replies (and pm's). Sadly I think I am past the point of grinning and bearing it anymore. I've bitten my lip/risen above it for over 2 years, and actually, I think it could have made things worse - no clear goal posts etc and by bottling things up my end I am ready to explode and not able to give considered responses to her attacks, control and general taking over/obsession with my daughter. Many of you are right in that she isn't local so when she visits it's normally for the weekend, which I find extremely intensive. I went back for Christmas (against every bone in my body, as we had a torrid time last year), but yet again it all kicked off. She is already pressuring my husband to come down in the next few weeks. I don't want her here until we can get things a bit more sorted....I'll explore some of the options you have kindly suggested x
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Sorry to hear all this. It sounds very stressful.

I'm afraid that I would complain as I have the opposite problem - disinterest in our children. I find it very hurtful.

My parents in law were dragged to visit our first baby and me in hospital and my mother in law refused to bring me presents from people who had entrusted her with them on the grounds "it was such a nuisance". Nuisance in a door to door taxi??? For some reason that one stuck.

ANyway, I understand what you are experiencing, albeit from the other end of the spectrum. I think my starting point would be establising where my husband stood on it and trying to avoid specific typical triggers, which could be too frequent calls or whatever. I think you will get some good ideas from the forum and at least, perhaps, take a bit of comfort from the fact that you are clearly not alone!

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Parents sometimes forget that it isn't their right to have access to their children (after a certain age) and by association their children's children. If your mother in law isn't capable of behaving well and treating you and your feelings respectfully, then why should she be able to come into your home? I am not suggesting disowning her, but boundaries have to be agreed on that respect your feelings and sense of self.

Is there anyway that you can be brutally honest with her? Maybe in a group with your husband and another neutral person as a mediator? When these things have been so bottled up, I think it is really hard to move forward until you have confronted the person that has offended you with how their actions have made you feel, and they have acknowledged this. Once that has been done, you can agree a code of conduct on both sides for moving forward.

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I think another poster had comments along these lines, but I do think the most important thing has to be your relationship with your husband. I think you have to find out exactly where he feels the boundaries are with the MIL - at what point does he agree you shouldn't have to tolerate her nonsense? And if you think those boundaries are too lax, I would focus on getting him to see your point of view. I tend to think once you and he agree on what is and is not acceptable and you know he will stick by you to enforce it, it then just becomes a case of MIL conforming or you showing her the front door.

Too simplistic?

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Sorry to hear about your troubles Gussy. Sounds just awful. I am so sick of hearing about MILs who should be supporting their children/children in law at a time of having had babies, but it seems that so many just interfere and put on pressure. After having children you need support and the MIL should be there for you and your husband when you decide you need it, not barging in and taking over and being selfish and pressurising you. MILs so often act like spoiled children getting jealous and feeling left out or this that and the other. It's time for them to grow up and respect their children. They are the parents too after all and should do anything to help.

I would first find out where your husband stands. Although I agree with the other posters' suggestions of setting boundaries and telling her how it has to be, I think if you do this without first talking to your husband it may cause more upset. You and your husband need to be agreed at what has to happen and you can only sort MIL out if you stick together and don't allow MIL to play you off against one another. if MIL sees that her son is in agreement with you she will have to tow the line and respect your wishes.

Remember that your sanity and the wellbeing of your marriage and your children is infinitely more important than possibly offending her. If you've bitten your tongue for over two years, she may not even know how bad it is for you and she thinks hse can get away with murder. So you need to sort her out and tell her what the limits are. Do it sooner rather than later.

Counselling will hopefully help in some way, but I think it's unfair that you have to go to that length becasue of her unreasonable behaviour. Good luck.

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An observation, no doubt unwelcome by many of you but it's a pity that there is no MIL's board as at the risk of being contentious everything seems a bit black and white - DIL not at fault at all. MIL 100% to blame - I'm sure its very difficult and many MIL's are but.......I do question a little bit that it's all down to MIL.
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I am sure most women with difficult MILs would be the first to admit it can be gender specific - I think there can be unsaid territorial issues that go unmentioned. For example my MIL has two sons (always refering to them as 'my boys') and I have always had the feeling that she feels a bit threatened by having another woman in the family - and I am the only one as my brother in law doesn't have a significant other and hasn't for the whole time I've been with my husband.

My DIL is an angel and has never shown difficult behaviour to me at all.

Perhaps as well the daughter in law role needs to be a little more tolerant (in my case at least!). One time my MIL charged into my kitchen and used the magimix without asking and I very unreasonably got in a huff about it because I felt like she was encroaching on my territory....

Though there is no excuse for bad behaviour I have found it much more common in MILs than DILs...

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I am very lucky with my MIL as I feel her involvement with our son is just right: in fact she says to me she doesn't want to interfere, to the point where I feel guilty that perhaps she's not involved enough. They do live 250 miles away though so it's hard to see them too often.

I imagine a lot of MILs are thinking they're 'just trying to be helpful'.

Let's not forget that in the future we will probably be someone's MIL. Slightly terrifying thought.

Edited to add that I'm not boasting by the way, reading back realise how it could sound. Just wanted to support (some of) the MILs. I do empathise.

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As a recently qualified life coach I coached someone with a similar issue during my case studies. I learned that you can't control the actions of others. All you can control is your response to their actions.

If you chose to seek professional help there are lots of available therapies, these are some of your choices:

? Psychotherapy is involved in healing and making someone whole after deep, psychological problems.

? Counselling is concerned with resolving traumatic incidents in the past, of learning their causes and healing.

? Mentoring is where someone experienced in a similar situation guides and supports you through the problem.

? Life coaching is geared towards helping you to discover your own solutions to the issues.

Gussy, do you want to come up with the solution yourself or do you want someone to tell you what to do?

Coaching tends to focus more on the outcome and options rather than the reality of the current situation. Conselling tends to look at the reasons for the current situation. Mentoring might work if you want specific directions as to what to do. I'm pretty sure that just having time to talk about it without being interrupted will be a great help in and of itself.

If you opted for coaching you would probably be taken through the T.G.R.O.W model:





What will you do

and be asked questions such as these:

What would be the ideal result?

What do you really want?

When would you like this to happen?

What would you tell yourself about this situation if you were looking back on it in 25 years time?

Whatever you decide, be it informal such as this forum or seeing a professional whatever method you chose it has to be right for you. If you seek advice you can be sure that it will all be confidential, geared towards your specific problem and any bona fide practitioner in any discipline will be absolutely objective. Good luck.

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Even though you don't get on with your MIL now etc. maybe think ahead to say 15-20 years time, when your children will wonder what happened.

Luckily my in-laws have been lovely and still have us over every week for dinner. There will come a time when my three won't want to go (it's getting to that stage now, teenagers "do we have to" etc.) but out of respect for us and their nan and grandad they want to go.

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agree with saffron on this, am afraid. I know I'd spend the weekend inwardly obsessing/seething about mil getting her own way with Baby B. Is giving me anxious angry heartburn just thinking of it...

Surely the longer you let something like this fester the worse it will become. Rational discussion hasn't worked either between the OP and MIL or Husband and MIL. There's clearly some sort of mismatch in expectations and communication.

If this were in a different situation such as a dispute between work colleagues the standard approach would be for the OP to explain to MIL how MILs "emotional and unpredictable" (couched in less confrontational terms) behaviour is making the OP feel.

Perhaps a letter from OP to MIL starting with a sincere desire to return to relationship enjoyed before the children arrived but that it can't continue like this might work. MIL must be allowed to respond with her side of the equation to allow a balance to be struck.

Surely the important point is that it would be in nobody's interest for the relationship to either continue as it is or to deteriorate even further. Something has to give.

Only Gussy knows what she feels comfortable with and what might work for her and her family.

Eric Berne's PAC model might well apply: here

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???? - although the MIL might not always be to blame, it is the DIL who has had the baby and so could be suffering from all sorts of emotions, depression, anxiety. On top of this there are sleepless nights and endless worry. Therefore the MIL should show patience and understanding during what could be a very tough time for the DIL, so they ought to act grown up and put the DIL and her son first, rather than add to the stress with sometimes sulky demands.

womanofdulwich - great suggestion! An all round winner.

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