mother-in-law

Dear Rene,

I’m proud to say that I have the best husband in the world. Fred is thoughtful, considerate and an all around good guy. I love everything about him, except for one thing…. HIS MOTHER!

Fred and I have been married for almost ten years and I have spent every single day of our marriage trying to win over his mother, Diane.  From the first time, Diane met me it was very clear that she didn’t like me. She constantly criticizes me, my home, and my cooking, especially during the holidays! Can you imagine the stress?!!

Now here is my problem. Many times Diane’s rude behavior towards me takes place in front of my husband. At first, he told me that I was over reacting, but eventually acknowledged that his mom is being rude to me. He tells ME to ignore her. I believe, Fred should defend me and tell his mother to back off!

In the beginning I thought Fred’s mom was testing me and over time we could have a cordial relationship. But it hasn’t happened. My relationship with my 65-year-old mother-in-law feels very abusive. Fred is Diane’s only son and he is devoted to her.  But I think at some point he needs to be a “big boy” and tell his mother to respect his wife.

Rene, what do you think, am I overreacting or should my husband put a stop to his mother’s disrespectful behavior towards me?

Signed,

Diane

Desperate Daughter-in-law

 

Hi Diane:

Well there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that your problem has a relatively easy fix. The bad news is, his name is Fred. So from an outsider’s perspective, here’s what you’re up against and what I would do.

FRED HAS TO “HEAR” YOU: There is a difference between listening and hearing; one is done with the ears, the other done with the heart. Fred has to really feel the pain and feelings of inadequacy whenever Diane comes for a visit. I’m going to guess that if this has been going on for nearly a decade, Fred sort of “tunes you out” whenever you bring her up. He’d probably welcome three root canals rather than to have to hear about this issue one more time. So you’ve got to break through the wall of resistance he has built up around this. When I want to get something really important across to my husband, I lay it out logically and present it in a way that is almost devoid of emotion. Not to piss off the guys who read Good Enough Mother, but in (some of) their minds, emotion is one step away from hysteria and there ain’t no gettin’ the horse back in the barn once that happens. So take him out to dinner and calmly tell him that something’s gotta give.

FRED NEEDS TO TALK TO HIS MOTHER: Fred’s gonna have to grow a pair and have a real chat with his mom. He needs to be respectful yet firm because the bottom line is Diane is coming into the place he calls his castle and insulting the woman he calls his queen. She may have given birth to him years ago, but she’s not in charge of him or anything else in his life at this point. Because Fred is an adult in charge of his own home and life, there are rules of engagement all visitors must abide by and yes, Diane is now a visitor. Those include not insulting the cook or denigrating her in any other way. If it continues, her welcome will be revoked. It’s just that simple.

YOU NEED TO WORK ON YOU: One of the things I tell my kids is that you cannot control other peoples’ actions, only your reaction to them. You need to learn to let Diane’s criticisms roll right off your back. So what she doesn’t approve of your cooking or the way you clean house; she doesn’t live there! Who cares that she doesn’t like the way you fold the towels or that the dust bunnies are multiplying in the corner. Stop trying to gain her acceptance in your own home! Are you happy? Is Fred happy? ‘Nuff said.

GO TO DEFCON 1, IF NEED BE: This is a LAST resort! But if Fred refuses to talk to his mother or he talks to her and Diane continues with her campaign to tear you down, I wouldn’t stay in the house while she’s there. Hey, you asked for my opinion. Childish? Maybe but at some point you need to preserve yourself and your sanity. If this is what it takes, don’t hesitate to do it. But let me reiterate again, this is a last resort because it could open up a whole host of problems between you and Fred. So think long and hard about it before going this route.

I have a son so I can tell you there is a special bond between a mother and her boy, just as there is between a mother and her daughter. But in the case of the son, the mother is the first woman in his life. As much as I love that kid and would like to think I will always remain on the pedestal, the truth is some other woman will replace me and I will be relegated to second position. But that’s the way it should be. I know that and have accepted it. It sounds like Diane has not.

The real pisser about this though is it could have been handled quickly and cleanly YEARS ago. Now Fred’s got to undo a decade of bad behavior by his mother. You should brace yourself because I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets worse before things even out.

Good luck!

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