I’m in need of advice. I’m struggling with MIL. She has been coming over for a visit every weekend since my son was born a little over a year ago but wants more time with him and wants to watch him alone. She doesn’t watch him alone currently because we aren’t comfortable with that.
We don’t have any want or need to see her more. Our weekdays are very busy and I feel like the weekend is the only time we get nuclear family time, the ability to run errands, visit friends or have meaningful adult time with my husband. We simply don’t want to see her more. I’ve had many months of little to no sleep with a baby that has colic and other stressful health issues.
In response she guilts, shames, manipulates and threatens my husband. Until recently I didn’t know how much this was happening. Saturday I found out it’s been every other week, which is much more unhinged than I thought. Sometimes more, sometimes through multiple methods of contact. She calls my husband at work, writes long emails in the middle of the night, sends texts. Apparently it goes back to right after our child was born over a year ago.
We previously agreed that he would tell me if/when these things happen because I need to know her mental state if she’s going to be around our son. Saturday he acknowledged that he’s been hiding the frequency and has not been forthcoming about the degree of the content. I’ve told him that the simple fact that he’s been hiding it should tell him that something is very wrong with this situation. He thinks if he ignores her ‘bad behavior’ it will stop. So far that has not been the case.
After our discussion my husband forwarded me some messages. A recent message she sent that basically said that he will always be her ‘number one’ and that he is ‘her person’ that she relies on for love and support, even above her own husband of 20 years (FWIW not my husband’s father). This seems like an unhealthy dynamic to me.
Other messages are blunt, rants, angry and dramatic. They say that we are shutting her out, that my son is basically dead, that she is suffering more than any parent that has lost their child to an illness or accident. She demands that we open our home to her friends to see the baby and that we bend to her wants. She says she can’t get out of bed, that she ‘drinks to forget’ , that she is in grieving. After the holidays she apparently tried to take back all the toys that she bought for our son. He’s too little to remember but that seems like a red flag. She was enraged that we were rejecting her. Her sentences are scattered and nonsensical. She has approached every family member and some of our personal friends to tell them that we are keeping our son from her. People are reaching out to tell me about their awkward encounters with her. I find this all very alarming.
Again, for the better part of the last year she has seen him every single weekend. Some weeks she saw him during the week for a visit after work too. Over the holidays we invited them over, they watched my son unwrap gifts. We have tried to give her more time but she has only escalated her behavior. Now that I read these messages I’m not comfortable with her being around at all.
I want us to tell her that this behavior is unacceptable and must stop. I want us to be clear that these are our boundaries and try to get a handle on the situation. She has been doing this and then coming over as if nothing has happened at all.
I used to really care about her and now I feel like I feel like I might hate her. Truly. I get so much anxiety just being around her, waiting for her next tantrum. I’m just at my wits end and done making nice. I can’t handle it and it’s driving me insane. Help?
From your description of you mother-in-law’s behavior, it does seem that the birth of your son has triggered the manifestation of some emotional unrest that she has been experiencing. Unfortunately, other than set boundaries, which you have already mentioned, there is not much more you can do to shape her behavior.
However, it does seem important that you and your husband remain on the same page cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally regarding how to set those boundaries. It is vitally important that any conflict between you and your mother-in-law does not generalize over to conflict with your husband.
That is why seeking couples counseling is essential in this matter. First, that you and your husband identify the same red flags in your mother-in-law’s behavior. And secondly, it can be very helpful for a trained professional to work with you and your husband on the development of a plan to address these red flags. Finally, it is very important that you and your husband are in agreement on how to implement this plan.
The most joyous occasions can also be the trigger for conflicts because of their emotionally charged nature. The birth of a child is just such an occasion. But, with counseling and therapeutic support, you and your husband can develop ways of addressing these emotional responses in your mother-in-law that will not tear about the family dynamics.