Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Mother-In-Law Acts Like She Owns Our House”

woman at door

My husband and I have been together almost ten years, have been married ten months and have just purchased our first home. His mother, who lives a few miles away, is driving me NUTS. My own mom also lives a few miles away, but she would never in a million years do any of the things my MIL does. For example, a few years back she spent the night at our house because we were supposedly closer to her morning appointment and she wanted to avoid traffic. To my surprise, she didn’t leave in the morning before me (I left at 9:30AM); I had to leave her alone in my house for a few hours. When I arrived home from work, I found she has taken laundry out of my dryer, folded it, and put it away (even my panties), and she had also even made my bed. Well, that was just a taste of her overstepping.

More recently, upon finding out we were buying this home, my MIL offered to rent our basement to “help” with bills. We politely declined her offer because we don’t need help with bills, our mortgage is cheaper than the rent we had been paying, and we make a decent living. I was confused about why my MIL would even want to move into her adult son’s home with his new wife, especially since we don’t have kids nor plan on having kids. Well, now she wants to help with projects around our house. My husband mentioned an idea of putting a garden-type sitting area for me in the back of our property (we have an acre) and now my MIL stops by unannounced all the time with plans for the garden/sitting area, even though I’ve told her multiple times this project will not take place this year, if ever.

Additionally, we don’t have a plan for landscaping yet — we are just cutting grass and concentrating on inside work. Well, she isn’t taking the hint and now is making plans for MORE gardens on my property, all of which I have to pay for, because she’s on a limited budget. She wants to put two gardens in my back yard, one in front and, of course, the sitting area. I don’t want ANY gardens now or maybe ever; I work a lot and don’t have time to keep them maintained. When ready, I would like to research low-maintenance landscaping.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a text from my MIL asking if I would leave the front door unlocked so she could use my bathroom while working on my front garden. Confused, I called my husband to inquire about the situation. He said that there was no plan for her to come over but that, when she had stopped by unannounced over the weekend, she had asked him our plans for front landscaping and he replied that nothing was taking place until fall but maybe we would weed sooner to clean it up some. Then she said, “Oh, maybe I’ll help weed.” I told my husband he needs to talk to her because this is making me uncomfortable; he immediately became defensive and said, “Talk to her about what?” I said: “About her showing up unannounced all the time and not getting permission for these projects she is running with. We need to set boundaries!” He became even more defensive and said I have a problem with his mother and she just wants to help.

Well, I returned home after work to find the front of my house GUTTED and she even pulled out the one flower I liked. I told her I loved the bleeding hearts in front because they reminded me of my grandmother and now they are gone. I feel she did this out of spite.

My MIL also calls my husband almost daily asking when we are installing rope on the clothesline in the backyard because she wants to dry her clothes on it as she loves sun-dried clothes. I find it strange this woman thinks it’s okay to bring her clothes to my house to dry in my backyard, and I’m also not cool with it. I was going to keep the clothesline, but now I want to rip it out of the ground because I don’t want to see her granny panties swaying in the wind from my kitchen window.

I think my MIL is jealous of my mom because my big-mouth husband told her my mom gave us the down payment for our house, plus she paid for our 25k wedding. I believe she is trying to somehow make up for not being able to help financially by “helping out” in other ways. I honestly did want her help with the front of the house because she knows a lot more about plants than I do, but now that this has happened I’m starting to feel resentment and don’t want her help at all.

When moving, I also made my mother-in-law cry by telling her I didn’t need or want help packing my house for the move. She told my husband that I make her feel worthless because I don’t accept her help. I stood my ground by saying it’s nothing personal against her, but I don’t want ANYONE’s help, not even his because I want to pack my way. I had help with a previous move and it was more work to give directions than it was just to do the work myself, plus I couldn’t find anything for MONTHS.

What do I do?? How do I get my husband to understand my feelings? How do I set boundaries with my MIL to make it known it’s not cool she stops by unannounced and is running with these projects? My fear is that if I don’t pay for the material she wants for the projects, she will then say I’ll have to pay her rent or pay her back. I just don’t know what to do. Any help you can offer would be great. — Needing Boundaries

Your MIL reminds me of my 4 1/2-year-old son, Jackson, who likes to “help” in a way that often makes more work for me. But I give him special jobs and tasks and request his “help” sometimes in the kitchen, even though it makes meal preparation messier and more tedious, because it empowers him, encourages independence, makes him feel helpful and like he’s contributing to the family, and keeps him from nagging me throughout the day about why I never let him help with anything. I choose projects and chores that take minimal supervision or can’t easily be messed up (like making his bed, putting his clean PJs in his dresser drawer, cracking the eggs into a bowl, and carrying his dirty dishes to the sink) and let him go crazy. I suggest you start taking a similar approach with your MIL.

It’s true, she is certainly overstepping boundaries, she shows an extraordinary lack of respect for your privacy, and she was cruel and way-out-of-line to rip out the very plant you said reminded you of your late grandmother. But, she also sounds really lonely, and like she’s lacking purpose in her life. Giving her a specific project that would be hard for her to mess up but would make her feel helpful and needed could go a long way in bolstering her confidence and smoothing tensions between you and her. However, you have to be firm about setting boundaries as you ask for “help.” Tell her exactly where and what she is welcome to do, like designing a simple landscape plan for the front of your house and perhaps, when you’re ready, purchasing plants with a budget you give her. But, you must also tell her, with the support of your husband, what she is not welcome to do, including hanging her laundry to dry on your clothesline and hanging out in your home when you aren’t there.

You need to explain to your MIL that you love her very much and want her to feel welcome in your home — when you are there! — and in your life, but that you and your husband need private, personal space and that that needs to be respected. Give her some specific times when you would be happy to have her in your home — maybe setting up a weekly dinner date — and encourage her to find some hobbies (like gardening at her own place) that help fill her time. You might gently suggest she look into meetup groups, take a class, or even try online dating, to help expand her social circle a bit.

Finally, you need a heart-to-heart with your husband, explaining as calmly as you can how you’ve been feeling unheard and misunderstood when it comes to his mother. Tell him how much you care about her and value her but that it’s important to you that your private space remain so. If he continues accusing you of not liking his mother or of being difficult, or if he doesn’t support setting boundaries with his mother, please consider marital counseling to nip this in the bud before it does some long-lasting damage to your marriage.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

46 comments… add one
  • avatar

    PumpkinSpice July 22, 2016, 8:34 am

    I feel for you LW. I have a helicopter MIL. Thankfully she lives in FL now, but she lived with me for 6 years. Anyway. She tried to schedule a visit for Christmas without our permission and that’s when my husband put his foot down. He set boundaries with her and told her that in no uncertain terms will they be violated. It worked. She came for a month long visit this summer and it was great. She knew not to overstep this time. I mean she did a couple of times with my daughter, but I explained to her why we don’t do this, or why I wasn’t comfortable with that and it nipped it in the bud. Boundaries and having your husband’s support is the key. Listen to Wendy’s advice and try to get your husband on board, even if it means marriage counseling. It will make all your lives easier. With less resentment.

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    • avatar

      csp July 22, 2016, 12:58 pm

      I think by saying “why” something is important to you is such a big deal. It makes all the difference.

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  • avatar

    Brise July 22, 2016, 8:40 am

    I agree with almost everything of this advice, except the idea to accept some limited “help”. This can be confusing and create further obligation. I would refuse all help with gardening, and reject everything that would create a dependence on her. What is unclear in the LW’s letter is how far she has already accepted this “help”, especially regarding the expenses for gardening. This is already a mistake. LW, go backwards and tell her you wish to do your own garden, and that the best for your relationship as MIL/DIL is to work each at your own house/flat. If she already bought it, pay her back and return it to the store.
    Once you have established your own space, firmly, then invite her indeed.
    In my opinion, it isn’t about your own mother. It is about how close she want to remain with her son. You have to establish a clear territory property, and now. She is kind of dense about it: so it allows you to be very explicit.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 22, 2016, 9:01 am

      She accepted a ton of help from her parents (thousands of dollars worth of help), but she can’t accept a little household labor for her mother because she needs to mark her territory?

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      • avatar

        SLS July 22, 2016, 9:59 am

        I agree, SpaceySteph!

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        Bcamber July 22, 2016, 12:13 pm

        “Help” is only help when it’s actually helpful. This MIL is using “help” as a way to insert herself into their lives and home. Much different than financial help with no strings attached.

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        dinoceros July 22, 2016, 2:35 pm

        I think it would be kind to accept some help, but I don’t think she is obligated to accept it. Taking wanted help doesn’t mean you have to accept all help anyone offers you. I do think that she should let the MIL do a few things, but that would be going above what the LW has to do.

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      • avatar

        Sketchee July 22, 2016, 2:48 pm

        My impression is that she accepted help from her parents because there were no strings attached or terms she directly agreed to. As these are the parents who raised her, of course that kind of clear and transparent view is what she knows.

        The same goes for her husband, who was raised with his mother’s guesswork as his normal. For communication, I really love the book Getting the Love You Want.

        I also don’t really like “help” in a lot of situations. Gardening and laundry are clear boundaries for the LW. It would be helpful for the LW to really think about where she would love to have the mother around. What does she want their relationship to look like?

        Maybe it’s not gardening, but it can be “I really love to spend time with you when we do monthly dinners.” Or whatever rituauals they already have. Make those a special event that the mother can help with. Redirect to the positives when these things come up. “We’re great on gardening, I’d love to see you on Sunday to talk about X, Y, Z and just hear about you!”

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  • avatar

    Essie July 22, 2016, 8:46 am

    LW, your mother in law sounds very lonely. This is something your husband (and his siblings, if any) needs to take the lead on, but she needs friends, a hobby, something to occupy her time and mind other than clinging desperately to the two of you. Is there a good senior center in your area? My mom has a couple of activities there every week (writing, book discussion groups), and has made so many good friends through those groups.

    But there’s another piece to this. A lot of people show their love by doing things for people. That was my dad. I see a lot of that in your MIL. She wants to be close to the two of you, she wants you to like her, she wants to take care of her little boy. So she helps. Too much. In ways that she doesn’t understand are intrusive.

    So. As Wendy said, directing her in ways to help that will really be helpful will go a long way towards curbing the intrusiveness. Does she cook? Can you have her over once a week, or every couple of weeks, to cook a dish that you and your husband both like? Or can she bake bread or something like that in her home, and bring it over? Can you give her a small patch in your yard that she can garden in?

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    • avatar

      Sketchee July 22, 2016, 2:51 pm

      I suddenly feel like such a book person since I mentioned a book in an earlier comment on here. But the book “Five Love Languages” describes “Acts of Service” as an expression of love and appreciation. If this isn’t the way the LW receives and feels appreciated, it can be a real mismatch which can be tough. Of course, just because it’s loving from the MIL doesn’t make it any less of a hard boundary for the LW

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  • avatar

    Ron July 22, 2016, 8:50 am

    As a gardener, I can vouch that gardening can be hard, hot, tedious, physical work and that the fun part is planning exactly the garden you want, with your choice of plants where you want them. Doing the physical work to create and maintain the garden that your MIL thinks you should have, essentially creating her dream garden at your house, is bound to cause resentment.

    That said, LW does sound very controlling and wanting to have all decisions made by her/her mother. Husband doesn’t get to help pack because he wouldn’t do it her way? Really? Who says her way is the right way?

    I think husband doesn’t fully have her back, because he also is being bossed around by her and senses that his mother isn’t being treated equally to LW’s mother, because his mother hasn’t provided the monetary help that LW’s mother has. Is it just jealousy and hurt that MIL doesn’t have financial resources to help in that way, as LW says, or does LW see the situation as one in which her mother has bought extra rights. Husband may be afraid that he and his family are becoming the poor-folks, wholly-owned subsidiary of LW and her mother. That is another subject for counseling.

    Counseling is a very important step. LW is getting into damage her marriage territory, if husband is getting the feeling that she hates and is excluding his mother and that she has decided she owns everything associated with the house and his input is unwanted/unneeded/will just consume too much of her time.

    It would be interesting to see the husband’s description of this course of events.

    None of this is to avoid the obvious fact that MIL needs boundaries.

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    • avatar

      BecBoo84 July 22, 2016, 9:36 am

      Agree 100%. I think the husband is (rightfully so) frustrated my the LW’s “my way or the highway” mentality and the lack of compassion she is showing towards his mother.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph July 22, 2016, 8:53 am

    LW, I totally get that your MIL is annoying, but I think you need to have a little empathy. Your parents gave you a down payment on a HOUSE. That’s huge! Your MIL offering to move in to help with rent, to do some gardening, to help pack…she is trying to contribute to your household in a way that she can afford. And you are basically telling her that if she doesn’t come in carrying $25k, she shouldn’t bother.

    Wendy is right that you need to give her things to help with, things that she can do on your terms…
    Say “[MIL], I’m going to be weeding the garden this Saturday, would you like to come over and help?”
    Say “[MIL], I’ll fold this basket of underwear and socks, would you please fold this basket of shirts and shorts?”
    Say “[MIL], would you like to stay for dinner?” and then when she does say “[MIL], would you please chop this onion?”
    There, now she’s helping, but not over-helping.
    Say “[MIL], I’m going to Home Depot to pick out some new plants for the front bed, would you like to join me?” (because, see, now you can make sure she doesn’t overspend)

    You and your husband definitely need to work on communication. He needs to back you up in setting boundaries. But I think those boundaries will be a lot easier to set if there’s some give on your end, too. Because, honestly– it kinda does sound like you hate his mom which is understandably going to put him on the defensive. Maybe if you show him that you’re trying to get her to help within reason, then he’ll be more inclined to help you maintain those boundaries vs the current boundary of “no MIL, anywhere, and stop touching my things” which is a pretty hard and mean boundary for a son to draw with his mom.

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    • FireStar

      Firestar July 22, 2016, 1:09 pm

      Yes. All of this. Her intrusive behaviour isn’t malicious. Just channel it. You were going to ask for help anyway. Do it on your terms. Buy back some bleeding hearts and have her help you plant them.

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  • Amanda

    Amanda July 22, 2016, 9:19 am

    Okay. So your mom paid for your $25k wedding AND gave you a down payment for your house… Have you ever let your husband’s mom help? Even a little? It sounds like she’s desperate to be a part of your lives. Definitely set some boundaries (keyword here is SOME) but you cannot exclude her if you expect to remain married.

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  • avatar

    judge sheryl July 22, 2016, 9:25 am

    I can see how you want to do things your way in your own house. However, it really does not seem like you MIL is malicious and really just wants to help. So, you should err on being kind, especially if you do really need/want her help someday.

    Since you have a lot of land, and she needs a hobby, what about making an area in the back to put a vegetable garden? She can also plant flowers that are harvestable (zinnias, roses, etc) and you can have fresh cut flowers and veggies! ‘oh it would be so nice to have fresh vegetables- is that something you would like too mom?’

    Not sure what area you live in, but you could even get some seeds in the next few weeks for an early/late fall harvest in the northeast

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    • avatar

      Gwyneth6 July 22, 2016, 9:43 am

      I don’t know, I like the idea of MIL having (some of) the fresh vegetables herself (tangible benefit for her work, instead of planting flowers which would obviously be mainly enjoyed by residents of the home ) but i get the feeling she’d be over almost daily for the upkeep or watering or whatever it is. And I feel that LW wants her there less, and she has a right to space. It sounds like her own mom is there less. Her mom had resources to help with the purchase of a home and an expensive (but unnecessary and totally a choice) wedding. However she didn’t overstep by acting like the house is kind of hers, suggesting she move in, etc. I don’t see the relevance that one side of the family having cash to pass down has to the other side overstepping boundaries, not taking hints. It would be nice if LW could spend money on something for the MIL without it feeling intrusive. I wonder if they could pay for some therapy if she desires, or some kind of membership to something enjoyable. I’m guessing MIL is single and husband is an only child? I do feel this is going to be tough as husband feels an obligation to his mom that LW didn’t fully understand, plus she may never have grandkids to focus on..

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 July 22, 2016, 9:31 am

    WWS, but I think your husband is more the problem than your MIL, he is afraid to tell her no, probably never has, and now it is affecting you life. With the way he got defensive about it before I’m guessing things aren’t going to change much so, I don’t know what to tell you, maybe get another new house a lot further away…

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    • bagge72

      bagge72 July 22, 2016, 9:33 am

      Hold the press! I have the answer… invite your mother to move into your basement! Nailed it!

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  • Diablo

    Diablo July 22, 2016, 9:48 am

    I can’t say I agree wholeheartedly with any part of this but the marriage counselling. Nothing would drive me more nuts than someone assuming too much about their right to my space. The MIL’s feelings are not the LWs responsibility to manage. Giving her “special jobs” like Wendy does for Jackson is equally not a chore the LW should take on. For what? It is not the LWs issue that MIL is at loose ends. Boundaries need to be set immediately and MIL needs to respect them if she wishes to be invited into the home. The husband needs to understand as well, and choose his wife over his mother. If she can show a bit of respect, she can likely earn some of what as been suggested, but this is the LWs home, so it’s her rules, period. My words would literally be “This will be the last time you will do anything to my home without discussing it first and without my explicit agreement. We want you in our lives, but this is our space, and you need to respect it.” Hubby should be saying this but he doesn’t get it. This marriage won’t last if he and LW don’t find common ground on this issue. Some of you will be saying, “Aww, that’s so mean!” But why is it LWs responsibility to parent this middle-aged child? Wendy, what would you do if Jackson constantly got into eggs and flour and made a mess before you woke up because he wanted to make you breakfast? You would set some IMMEDIATE boundaries. You would try to be supportive and praise him for trying to help and be kind, but also say, “Only do this when Mommy is there to help.” And this lady is not 4 years old. Can you tell I am nursing some issues in this area? (Except t’s my parents, not my inlaws, and M and I are on the same page, even though it is challenging.)

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    • avatar

      Bcamber July 22, 2016, 12:16 pm

      I could not agree with this more. Bang on.

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    • avatar

      Ange July 22, 2016, 3:11 pm

      Finally! I was beginning to wonder if I was in crazy land. A middle aged woman shouldn’t need to be treated like a toddler to avoid a tantrum and make no mistake, that garden work of hers was a tantrum. It’s easy to sit back and say ‘oh give her some garden or give her some jobs to do’ but until she learns the proper boundaries that’s just keeping the door open for further boundary crossing. That patch of garden will be an open invitation to be there all day ‘weeding’ or ‘planting’ and then the request to leave the door open for the bathroom will be reinstated and soon she’s poking around in your house unsupervised all day doing god knows what.

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      • avatar

        Baccalieu July 22, 2016, 4:27 pm

        I don’t know about that. This is not some stranger to LW or a pushy neighbour, but her husband’s mother. Yes, the LW doesn’t have to put up with the MIL’s help and the MIL is a grown woman, but grown-ups sometimes have problems, too. Presumably the LW cares about her mother-in-law’s happiness, if only for her husband’s sake, and it certainly seems like her MIL is lonely or feels like she doesn’t have enough involvement in her son’s life. (I can also understand feeling guilty about the fact that the other mother had contributed so much and wanting to do something). Just setting boundaries without anything else (“Don’t ever come when you are not invited and don’t help when you’re not asked. Now go home and wait for an invitation.”) seems harsh. Surely it’s not wrong to try and understand her and accommodate her needs like Wendy suggested. LW does seem a little short on empathy when she tells us that not being allowed to help with moving made her mother-in-law cry (which seems like a telling over reaction from a woman who is really unhappy and maybe suffering from depression) her reaction is to say “I stood my ground” as if the crying was directed at her. And really, nobody can pack except me, not even my husband, because otherwise I won’t be able to find everything (apparently it doesn’t matter if husband can’t find anything – of course, maybe he doesn’t care, in which case they may be well matched) seems a little controlling and over the top.

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        Ange July 23, 2016, 1:16 am

        Well yeah, if she wants to be more involved why can’t she ask for normal things like dinners or outings or even coffee? The LW could do that, at least then they’re meeting on neutral territory too. On what planet is it ok to just rip someone’s garden out without permission? Who gets that upset that they can’t help someone move when the people moving are only going to end up 5 minutes down the road? I smell crocodile tears. Woman needs to cut the strings and husband needs to help her.

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  • avatar

    Gwyneth6 July 22, 2016, 9:52 am

    More and more couples counselling seems important. There’s a problematic (at least slightly) dynamic between mother and son, and LW is unlikely to become zen or saintly enough to live with it, since it’s in her home, in her face and all up in her laundry. jumping to “you don’t like my mom ” is a sign that he’s not totally rational about this, and doesn’t even get why she would need space.

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    • avatar

      Ron July 22, 2016, 10:22 am

      Except, despite her mother giving them the down payment, it is not LW’s house. The house is as much her husband’s house as it is hers. He has as much right to decide on guest/parental visits as she does. This is not a case of she gets to decide what she wants and his only choice is to support her position. When she said that her husband wasn’t allowed to help her pack, because it had to be done her way, she totally lost me. Marriage is a partnership. The decisions about how the household is run and the property is landscaped needs to be a joint decision, with her husband having equal decision-making power. She seems not to get that.

      Yes, the MIL would also drive me crazy, even if she were my mother, but… LW has to make her husband an equal partner in all of this. He is not going to help her to draw boundaries with his mother unless he is an equal partner in setting boundaries and he thinks his mother is treated equally to hers. Reading between the lines, he doesn’t seem to think his wife is treating his mother well and I suspect the money supplied by his MIL has been waved in his face more than a few times.

      A solution to this problem begins with LW asking her husband “how do you want us to treat your mother and what boundaries do you think we need to set?” Then she will hear his perspective. Then they can start to actually talk, negotiate, and compromise, so that both of them can feel that the solution fits most of their needs.

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      • avatar

        Sketchee July 22, 2016, 2:59 pm

        He has the right to discuss it with his wife. And as a couple, they have to agree to how to handle the situation. He says she is free to come 100%. She says let’s discuss it and come to an agreement that works for all three of them. I feel like that’s the way to go.

        The mother in law is not banned. She is not disliked. The LW just wants to agree with her husband on terms that make her feel comfortable in the home she lives in.

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      Ron July 22, 2016, 10:30 am

      Except, despite her mother giving them the down payment, it is not LW’s house. The house is as much her husband’s house as it is hers. He has as much right to decide on guest/parental visits as she does. This is not a case of she gets to decide what she wants and his only choice is to support her position. When she said that her husband wasn’t allowed to help her pack, because it had to be done her way, she totally lost me. Marriage is a partnership. The decisions about how the household is run and the property is landscaped needs to be a joint decision, with her husband having equal decision-making power. She seems not to get that. I predict that in a few years, when the newness of having their own house wears out and the tediousness of household chores outweighs them, that this LW will be very vocal that her husband isn’t pulling his share of house work. But… she’s started out their shared existence in the house by declaring that all of this is her domain, her decision, don’t even dare to help me pack for the move into the house, because I know exactly how I want to do it and you’ll be more hindrance than help. Partnering of keeping the house clean, doing the laundry, making supper, washing the dishes — that all begins with equal opportunity to decide how the house and household are to be set up and run. It seems she is incapable of sharing any of this, while it is all bright, new, and exciting to her.

      Yes, the MIL would also drive me crazy, even if she were my mother, but… LW has to make her husband an equal partner in all of this. He is not going to help her to draw boundaries with his mother unless he is an equal partner in setting boundaries and he thinks his mother is treated equally to hers. Reading between the lines, he doesn’t seem to think his wife is treating his mother well and I suspect the money supplied by his MIL has been waved in his face more than a few times.

      A solution to this problem begins with LW asking her husband “how do you want us to treat your mother and what boundaries do you think we need to set?” Then she will hear his perspective. Then they can start to actually talk, negotiate, and compromise, so that both of them can feel that the solution fits most of their needs.

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      • avatar

        keyblade July 22, 2016, 10:47 pm

        I’m wondering if the letter writer lived with her husband before they purchased their “first” home together? If they were living in separate spaces, I think, her insisting on moving her own things seems more reasonable.

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  • avatar

    T July 22, 2016, 9:53 am

    Yeah, this is way more of a problem between the LW and her husband, than it is with the MIL. If the LW and husband could agree on boundaries and then put up a united front, this would probably be way easier. MIL is able to push her way in because she’s getting two different responses from each of them.

    And, yes, probably how MIL and maybe even husband feel about LW’s mother is coming into play, but MIL and mother’s actions are so different. Giving money so that someone can do what they please with it is pretty selfless; wanting to “help” by marking your territory all over someone’s house is selfish. Sure, you have to feel sorry for the MIL for feeling lonely and inadequate and uninvolved and whatever else, but actual helping needs to involve listening to what the person wants/needs and then doing that. If she can’t do that — actually help rather than just use your house for her personal projects — then it is not the LW’s responsibility to create projects for her when it will just be more work for the LW.

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  • avatar

    JuneBugg July 22, 2016, 10:16 am

    I don’t think your real problem here is your MIL, I think it’s your husband. I think that you want to have the household the way that you want it, and be the main woman in your husband’s life and husband is afraid to cut the apron strings. I believe you are taking your frustrations out on MIL that you really have toward husband. Your MIL is only going to do what she can get away with, and it is up to your husband to set and keep the boundaries with his mom. I feel like maybe he can’t tell her no, that maybe he feels like this is the woman who raised him and her being involved in his life makes him feel loved and shows her love, and if he stands up to her what kind of a jerk son that would make him. While you want to now be the main woman in his life, and you feel that MIL is standing in your way, and if only you can stop her from doing these things he can be yours. I read this letter and I feel a lot of resentment and jealousy toward your MIL for things that I think that you feel that you should be doing for your household. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but I do think that if you felt like #1 to your husband, and he stood up for you as a couple, then MIL would be a non-issue.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 22, 2016, 10:30 am

      I do think the LW has a husband problem, but I think you’re being overly harsh with the “cut the apron strings.”
      The LW comes off as controlling– it’s not *her house, her way* it’s their house, both of them. And can you honestly tell me if your SO hated your mother and never let her into your shared life that you would be totally onboard with that?

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        JuneBugg July 22, 2016, 10:54 am

        Maybe I expressed it wrong, but I still think that if husband did stand up to MIL that LW would be more comfortable and have a better relationship with both the husband and his mom. I say “cut the apron strings” as him putting his foot down on certain things for the benefit of LW. I’m not saying that they should cut MIL out of their lives at all. I just think that if LW felt the husband was on “her side” that this wouldn’t be a MIL issue. I would have a major issue if my SO constantly put down and complained about my mom (or any family or friend) constantly for things that I didn’t think was a big deal. But that is the biggest issue in the letter, LW has an issue that husband does not have. I think that he can’t see why she is so upset about what he sees as nothing, and she is mad that he can’t understand why she is upset. I think that if they could come together and each feel heard and their side understood, then they would grow together as a couple and LW would not have a MIL problem.

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    csp July 22, 2016, 11:51 am

    LW – I FEEL you here. I had to maneuver the relationship with my MIL for years before we got into a good rhythm. Here are a few things I wish I had done earlier:

    1.) Like Wendy said, setting boundaries is saying what someone can do not only what they can’t. With my inlaws, I give them research projects, look for coupons. When I was redoing my flower beds, I let them guide me on plant ideas, shade, all sorts of stuff. By taking control of how to help, it made them feel useful and really took weights off my shoulder.

    2.) With a conflict, talk about the “why” in your decisions. So I kept saying no to my MIL but didn’t give reasons why. She thought I hated her and was trying to drive a wedge between her and her son. When you talk to her and say, “It makes me uncomfortable when you fold my laundry and see what kind of underwear I wear for your son.” or “Moving is stressful and it stresses me out when other people are putting things in boxes and I can’t keep track of it.” If you get push back, say “That doesn’t change the way I feel. Do you see why that would make me uncomfortable?”
    3.) Realize that my husband and mother in law love each other and all these actions on both sides are out of love. Really talk to your husband and ask him how often he wants his mother to visit. Then stick to the plan.
    4.) Build your own relationship with her and deal directly with her. Trust me, grievances get lost in translation. When I have issues with my MIL, I call her directly and before I call, I say I am going to come from a place of love and be open about my vulnerabilities.

    My life and my marriage got so much better with these changes. I hope that helps.

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    Brise July 22, 2016, 12:27 pm

    I don’t think the LW will get much support from her husband, he won’t do anything about it, and in my opinion, it is not worth counselling in itself. It is on you, LW; be firm, and assert yourself clearly towards your MIL. It is your home. If you don’t do it now, when she clearly oversteps any boundary, you will be in trouble for a long time. She will be upset, for a while, but she will understand the limits and then, your relationship with her will amend, your can invite her on your terms, for dinner and so on. This is typical of a marriage beginning. Then you won’t even remember your conflicts with your in-laws, once you have settled your limits.

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      dinoceros July 22, 2016, 2:37 pm

      I agree, but I also could see the husband getting upset at the LW for setting boundaries. If that’s the case, then counseling would probably be helpful.

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      Ron July 22, 2016, 3:11 pm

      I don’t see much evidence that husband is unwilling to set/enforce boundaries, but they have to be jointly agreed boundaries, which he views as reasonable. The world seems to divide into ‘just drop in and lend a hand’ people and those who want a phone call and permission first and some boundaries and basically want more privacy and to do things themselves. Happily, my wife and I are on the same page, but if a ‘just drop in person’ marries a ‘gotta have strict boundaries’ person, then it’s a problem and counseling is needed if the marriage is to work. It sounds like both LW and husband are acting according to the rules of the family they grew up in, rather than having agreed joint rules for their new two-person nuclear family. That’s likely to end up with rules that neither mother is totally happy with, if the marriage is to prosper.

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        dinoceros July 22, 2016, 6:30 pm

        I don’t think this is evidence that he definitely won’t, but the fact that she said they needed to, and he got upset indicates, to me, that it’s a possibility.

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        Ron July 22, 2016, 7:54 pm

        There is a difference between insisting that husband inform his mother that she must abide by the overly strict boundaries arbitrarily and unilaterally set by LW and the husband refusing to discuss the setting of mutually agreed boundaries. The LW seems in crazy category with the objections to the MIL weeding out front “gutted the front of the house” when husband said (and she didn’t object) that they needed to weed before fall, but wouldn’t plant anything there until late. The lost bleeding heart is drama b.s. — I really doubt MIL weeded it out on purpose. WHen an area is strangled by weeds, it’s very hard for even an experienced gardener to save a particular plant. This plant was not her grandmother’s heirloom, not a gift to her, just a replaceable plant that was there that reminded her of her grandmother.

        There seems little place (she certainly doesn’t mention one) for the MIL in this woman’s life. No wonder the husband doesn’t want to enforce whatever rules she wants to set. She is clearly VERY disdainful of his mother and determined that she not have a significant role in their lives.

        I think at root this is a class issue. The LW married a guy from a different socio-economic/cultural background and now wants husband to leave all that, including his mother behind. Her letter is dripping with venom. Certainly the MIL would be annoying, but this is beyond the pale.

        I think husband would give a different story of what strings came with his MIL’s monetary gifts. I expect he is feeling bought and paid for about now.

        It is hard to see how they’ve been together for a decade, living together for a good part of this, and these differences have suddenly come to a head. Perhaps they have just moved back to the area where both parents live (obviously a BIG mistake).

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  • Portia

    Portia July 22, 2016, 1:50 pm

    This sounds to me like a husband problem more than a MIL problem. You need to actually get on the same page about boundaries, and boundaries about both sets of parents. It sounds like you have a great relationship with your parents who give money and don’t impose, but you should really talk to your husband about what he thinks of your arrangements with them as well. Are there strings with their money that he feels uncomfortable about, or potential strings one day (like if there are kids in the future)? It may be that you’re OK with the current boundaries with them and your husband is OK with his boundaries with his parents, but no one is comfortable with their in-laws. I actually think conversations about your relationships with both of them might be the way into getting on the same page with your husband, and for both of you to see the other’s point of view. If you can see yourself getting defensive about your parents, maybe then you’ll be a little more understanding of your husband’s reaction.

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      Ron July 22, 2016, 3:06 pm

      I think Portia nailed it.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark July 22, 2016, 5:54 pm

    So, it’s true then? Breeder Boys really DO marry their mothers, eh? I mean from one control freak into the arms of another… Yikes!
    .
    Also, what is up with the bizarre pantie obsession you have, LW? She (GASP!) put your panties away in a desperate stab to be helpful… and you can’t abide seeing her “Granny panties flopping in the wind.” It’s all very odd. Just strange.
    .
    Oh, well. Yay! I will never marry a crazy woman to replace a crazy mother! Lucky me!

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    ele4phant July 22, 2016, 9:49 pm

    LW, I do feel you. I am a pretty introverted person, and having space is very important to me. It would be very hard for me to have an outsider just dropping by and messing around in and around my home. I wouldn’t want an open-door policy with MY mother, much less my MIL. So I really do understand how you feel.

    For your part, it sounds like you’re not being exactly gracious with your MIL, but maybe after 10+ years of having your boundaries violated, you’re all out of patience. I don’t know.

    I do disagree with the advice that you give her small tasks or try to divert her attention. She’s an adult, she deserves to be treated like one.

    I think the problem lies with your husband, or more specifically, you and your husband’s relationship. If you were on the same page, he could set these boundaries and enforce them for you. So why aren’t you on the same page?

    Are you asking too much? If you’re sharing a home with someone, you do have to compromise. It’s both of your homes, not just yours. It’s reasonable that his mom get to come around, some of the time.

    I second (third? fourth?) counseling. You guys need to keep on the same page about what’s reasonable and what you’re going to do about it.

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      keyblade July 22, 2016, 10:59 pm

      I don’t think giving her small tasks is a bad idea, but it won’t work if the letter writer doesn’t feel her husband is willing to take her feelings in account and that he isn’t scared to have a reasonable conversation with his mom. Of course what is reasonable is debatable and the letter writer would do well to learn how to express her wants in a way that doesn’t come across as totalitarianism, ex (” I told my husband he needs to talk to her because this is making me uncomfortable”). I can understand why the letter writer might have expressed herself this way, but it would have been better communicated if she had asked her husband to listen to some ways she had become uncomfortable before assuming he already knew, understood, and had neutral feelings. Of course the rear view mirror always gives a clearer view of of the bump one sped over.

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    Cailin July 29, 2016, 4:36 am

    I suggest you find the DWIL Nation forum – perfect for your issues. I think giving her a project will increase her sense of entitlement to your home.

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    Terri July 24, 2017, 2:13 pm

    I realize this thread is a year old but, curious if LW was able to get MIL situation resolved. My current situation is very similar and it was interesting for me to read the replies offered here.

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