New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), or submit a question for advice.
The last weekend in November we made the 5-hour drive to visit our families. We had a lovely visit with my family on Saturday and returned home to my in-laws’ place in high spirits. That night sitting in my MIL’s living room, I reminded my hubby that we needed to be careful about what we said as most people still didn’t know about A’s diagnosis. My MIL pipes up ‘Oh EVERYONE on our side knows!’ And then proceeds to list everyone she had told.
I was shocked! I was hurt and very betrayed by her lack of respect for me and my wishes. I went to bed early and seriously considered packing up right then and there and heading home. My hubby came to bed and after a long (heated) discussion, came to see my side of the situation. He also talked me out of making a 5-hour drive at night in the snow.
I stopped talking to my MIL until I could work out in my own mind the best way to address the situation. However, Sunday night my FIL talked to me and basically the gist was I was in the wrong, I was a bitch and how dare I hurt mom’s feelings. WOW!! She disrespects me and I’m the bitch??
The next morning, my hubby was so upset and stressed that he was throwing up. Since I love him, I agreed to go for lunch with the in-laws on our way out of town. I also knew that he was hoping for a resolution between me and his mom. So bearing that in mind, I apologized for upsetting her. Instead of a return apology, I got, “That’s ok dear, we still love you.” Needless to say, that only upset me more!!!
Fast forward to September 2012. The in-laws came for a visit over the day A had her heart surgery. In hindsight it was a mistake to have them stay with us. They were only concerned with themselves and did not stop to think about me and my hubby. They “helped” by taking apart my furnace, then taking my hubby shopping for 3.5 hours, when he really wanted to spend the afternoon with A and me. The day of surgery, they sat and stared at me while I had a breakdown in the hospital after having the surgeon tell us he basically thought A would not make it through the night. They called and woke us up the following morning to tell us they were 60-minutes away and then did not show up for more than three hours. Then they had the nerve to confide to my mom that they felt they were unwanted and an inconvenience!
Since then. I have made myself unavailable when they call or Skype. I have no desire whatsoever to talk to them!!
Oh, but it gets worse! On Christmas Eve I replied on my FB wall to a question from another family member about coming to visit. I explained our situation (I’m pregnant again and working very hard to get the required hours at work so I can collect Employment Insurance and be off with my kids for 12 months) and since I am due in March I did not see us making the trip before baby two arrives. Plus, it would depend on finances since we would have to stay in a hotel. (In light of the above, I don’t feel welcome at the in-laws’ place anymore, and they do not have a room large enough to accommodate us). My MIL saw this post, called my hubby and freaked out. He sided with me, and the conversation ended on a bad note.
She then proceeded to send him a nasty email, the highlights of which are:
– she is losing touch with us (my hubby talks to them 3 time a week!!)
– I am never available to talk to them (I wonder why!)
– they have to ask for photos of A
– all the “promises” went out the window
– it broke her heart to see we would be staying in a hotel posted to FB
– they will not infringe on our lifestyle if they come to visit, they will stay in a hotel and call for an appointment
– she thinks we don’t want her in A’s life
– she is done crying her eyes out over this
– and while she will always love us, right now she doesn’t like us very much.
I’m livid!!!! How dare she send this to my hubby!!! She hurt him! But he is an ostrich and has stuck his head in the sand. She called the next morning wanting to Skype and he let her!!!
I have discussed with my hubby what has upset me and that I think it needs to be dealt with and she needs to be told her behavior is inappropriate and will not be tolerated. His response is that it’s over and we can’t change the past. I dislike conflict, but this is driving me nuts!! I don’t want them anywhere near my kids!!! She is manipulative and narcissistic. She has never once apologized for anything. Even when it was brought to her attention last November that she hurt me, all I got was “Sorry you feel that way.”
I know that, in the frame of mind I am in, any contact I have with her will result in a worse fight than is already going on! I know what I have to say and how I will say it will result in her crying.
Can you help me? I love my hubby, but I HATE his mom. — Betrayed DIL
Wow, you have been through a lot in the last 16 months, haven’t you? You gave birth, found out your daughter not only has Down’s Syndrome but also a heart problem that would require surgery and could potentially be fatal, and then got pregnant again when your baby was only nine months old and still faced major surgery and a scary uphill battle to regain her health and strength. I can only imagine how incredibly stressful this time has been — how your hormones are affecting already mixed emotions on multiple levels. And I can appreciate how out-of-control and even helpless you must have felt at different points in your child’s first 16 months of life.
I can also appreciate that when there are so many emotions and stresses or hormones working over time, it’s hard to know what to do with it all — where to put it. I gave birth to a perfectly healthy, if not tiny, baby, and have only him to worry about since he was born — no additional pregnancy or sick family member or other big life upheaval — and it’s still been a challenge finding balance in my life. In the early, post-partem months, I often felt torn between feeling immense love for my baby and feeling resentful over the way his presence had so drastically altered my lifestyle. And then I’d feel guilty about that resentment and then I’d beat myself up emotionally about not being a better mother, wife, friend, etc. It was a pretty difficult cycle — one that I’m sure is very common among mothers, new and experienced alike, but made even more challenging for anyone who has a child with health issues.
My point is, you have to do something with all those emotions or you’ll explode. They have to go somewhere. They can’t just stay inside you. Some healthy ways of dealing with them include: exercise; talking with your partner and friends; journaling; talking to a therapist; making time for hobbies or things that bring you joy; taking a vacation; having a glass of wine now and then. Maybe you’ve been doing those things, but it seems like you’ve also been projecting at least some of your anger, disappointment, fear, and sheer exhaustion onto your MIL. The “crimes” she’s committed — sharing news with extended family before you could share it yourself (and after you asked her not to tell anyone); not returning an apology you gave her; being an inconvenient houseguest at a very stressful moment in your life (at a time, I assume, you invited her to be there); and getting upset over a Facebook posting which may or may not have been a passive aggressive act on your part to upset her — don’t match the punishment you want to give her. What she did was hurtful and disrespectful, yes — and I’m referring mostly to the part about her sharing A’s diagnosis with extended family members before giving you a chance to do so, since that’s what I consider the biggest offense and that really set you off — but was it so disrespectful that she deserves to not see her grandchildren? No. So disrespectful that you should never speak to her again? No! Never stay in her home again? Eh, debatable.
What I suggest you do is take a deep breath, step back and try to see the larger picture here. You have a daughter who was born with some pretty scary diagnoses. She’s only 16 months old, had a near-fatal heart surgery less than six months ago, and you’re expecting a second baby in less than two months. That is so, so much to deal with — for you and your husband, predominantly, but also for your respective families. They had to come to grips, just as you did, with the challenges ahead, as well as how to support you during those challenges. They’re human. They have character flaws — just like you do (and for the record, I’d consider asking someone to throw you a baby shower and then getting upset when it isn’t convenient for you — i.e. only open to one side of the family — a little bit of a character flaw… or at the least, exceptionally bad manners). Your in-laws likely haven’t been in a situation like the one they’re currently in — parents to parents of a sick baby — and obviously don’t know the best way to handle the situation.
It’s not like parenthood comes with a manual, as you know, and for them, maybe driving your husband around for a few hours to “go shopping” (whatever that means) was how they thought they could be supportive. Maybe they thought a distraction would help him. Maybe they wanted to shop for things they thought you’d need. Maybe they were under the impression your furnace wasn’t working and took it apart to fix it so it would be one less thing for you to worry about when you got home from the hospital. Maybe they, too, were so sick with worry over the thought of their baby granddaughter not surviving heart surgery that they just simply didn’t know HOW to react to your breakdown. Maybe it was all they could do themselves not to breakdown too. I don’t know. What I do know — or what I think, anyway — is that you’re being unfairly hard on them right now. And on your poor husband who is in the middle of all this.
Show some compassion. Be the bigger person. Share photos of your babies with your in-laws. Let them be a part of your lives. Accept that they have flaws and are going to make mistakes and are going to do stuff that get under your skin. Most in-laws do. But it sounds like they love you very much — they most certainly love their son and granddaughter (and grandchild-to-be). Let them love them and love you the best way they know how. It may not be the way you’d prefer. It may not be the kind of love you’re used to from your own parents. But love is love, family is family, and if your husband is lucky enough to have two living parents who care for him and his wife and his kids, don’t stand in the way of letting them share that love with all of you. Occasional Skype sessions, regular photos, and a visit a couple times a year isn’t going to kill you. But preventing a relationship between your husband and his parents or your children and their grandparents just might kill your marriage and family. And for what? So you can feel “right” or vindicated? Well, that’s just wrong. And it’s a big price to pay for such a trivial thing that really won’t leave you feeling any better.
You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].