From the forums:
My husband is not particularly fond of his mother, and his upbringing sounds neglectful and borderline abusive so that didn’t cast her in a great light initially. She was cold and distant when I met her, but I just chalked it up to social awkwardness. The turning point for me came when she searched my name on the internet and found an obscure reference to my marriage to a woman several years ago. We married in 2008 and split up in 2010, a fact I told her in person. I am very out about my sexual orientation and my past, so it doesn’t bother me that she “found” this information (it’s not a secret!). What she did, that I cannot seem to get past, is take this information to her church friends** where they came up with this fantastic tale that I married my husband solely to get pregnant before leaving him to be with my secret lover (not sure where or who she is). She then called several of her siblings to spread this lie! I was fine with just writing her off; my husband and I were both livid at hearing this but didn’t want to start a nuclear fight so we just don’t talk to her. I don’t think she will ever see that what she did was wrong.
Now there is a family reunion coming up for her side of the family. I suggested my husband go by himself, but he doesn’t like that idea. I don’t want to keep my husband from his family, and fighting with his mom will create a huge rift. None of these people know that I am pregnant and we could probably hide it (I am not really showing), but I don’t want to play nice with this woman and I certainly don’t want her around my child after the birth. What should I do? Call her out? Tell her that she will not be involved with our family (since my husband completely agrees that his mother should not be in our child’s life)? Just don’t mention anything and assume she will find out from someone else? Go to the reunion? Announce why I won’t be there? Any advice would be really appreciated! — Bisexual Mom-to-Be
**I don’t mean this to be negative toward anyone religious. I am not religious myself, but I come from a family who is and I know that an overwhelming majority of people who believe follow their faith and convictions to act kindly towards others.
First, congratulations on your pregnancy! Second: go to the family reunion. Go, because it’s the right thing to do. Go, because you support your husband, and with no siblings and no father and a crazy mother he isn’t close to, his extended family is his connection to his roots. Go, because interacting with a significant other’s family always gives a new perspective and often a new appreciation for him or her. Go, because being there gives you control of the narrative and takes control away from your MIL. Go, because if you don’t, people can fill in the blank your absence leaves with whatever lies or stories are said about you. Go, because even if you don’t care what those people think, your husband probably does. Go, because you may discover that despite the crazy MIL, the rest of the family are good people who welcome you because they love your husband and see that you love him (you wouldn’t go if you didn’t love and support him).
Go. And when you see your MIL, act civil and “play nice” as you say, even though you don’t want to. Because what does it really cost you? Playing nice can be as simple as smiling and saying, “Good to see you,” even though you don’t mean it. And behind your smile, you can rest knowing that your husband is on your side and that once your baby comes, he has no interest in inviting his mother to be part of your child’s life.
I don’t know why you MIL behaves the way she does, but I can guess that she isn’t a happy person and she doesn’t have much love in her heart. How sad for her that she has missed her chance to have a good relationship with her only child and now her only child’s spouse and any future grandchildren. You are the winner in this scenario, whatever you decide to do. You get the loving relationship with your husband and to look forward to having a child with him and creating the family it sounds like he didn’t get to have growing up. Nothing your MIL can say or do will take that away. She has zero power in your life and cannot touch whatever happiness you have in your life and with your husband. Remove her from all equations and do what you are able to support and show compassion to your husband. He’s the one who matters here.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].
something random August 15, 2014, 8:59 am
I’m amazed by Wendy’s writing. She completely nailed it. I also had a MIL who could be really nasty and Wendy’s answer was perfect. I wish I had been able to read this ten years ago.
Kate August 15, 2014, 9:14 am
Yeah, I may be a little on the extreme end of not giving a shit, but when I read these letters I always wonder why the LW doesn’t just… ignore it. Obviously the in-law in question has issues and/or some kind of mental or personality disorder, so it’s like, who cares what they think? My in-laws are pretty crazy, and my husband’s (step)dad in particular is RIDICULOUS with the communication. He can get pretty offensive, questioning our lifestyle and stuff. Oh well, we just spend a moment being like wtf, laugh it off, and move on. I don’t get taking in-laws so seriously.
And yeah, you have to go to the reunion and act pleasant. You just do.
Wendy (not Wendy) August 15, 2014, 6:08 pm
I wrote once asking for advice about an extended family crazy person situation and everyone was kind of like, huh? what’s the big deal, why doesn’t she just ignore it? And I could see that once I was able to get a little distance from the situation (seriously not a big deal!). But when I was in the middle of it, it was driving me crazy and I didn’t see any good way to deal with it. Most of my family isn’t crazy and we all get along really well compared to most extended families I know, so maybe that’s part of it–no experience in ignoring the crazy and seeing that everything’s going to turn out okay. If I ignored something with one of my sane family members, it would hurt people and be selfish–so I have to remind myself, the same rules don’t apply to dealing with the hurtful one.
Kate August 16, 2014, 6:41 am
I get that… As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing when someone is just nuts and not engaging with crazy or getting upset by it. I was doing a presentation recently and this guy on the client side was basically harassing me, being a huge rude jerk, for example kept asking me why I even had reported on this one piece of data, as it was meaningless. I could tell he was just one of those guys who always does that and just likes to Disagree with people to get attention (you run into internet commenters like that too). So I just stayed really cool and didn’t engage. My main client dealt with him for me, and afterward she apologized and said he’s always like that. Some people really are just awful, and it’s good to be able to recognize that it’s not about you at all and disengage.
Norabb August 17, 2014, 9:47 am
Wow I love this thread of comments, especially this last one, Kate. If I had been you in that situation, I imagine I would have panicked! And worse, I would have taken it personally, as if he has a specific bone to pick with me. But then I imagined myself handling that guy the way you did, and it was empowering! One of my favorite work colleagues once told me, “Remember that it’s not your energy, it’s theirs. So don’t let it affect you.” Sweet advice everyone
Kate August 17, 2014, 11:06 am
@Norabb, if I did something wrong I’ll acknowledge it, but if someone is acting unreasonable and ridiculous, I figure that’s just how they are, they have issues, etc. and it’s not about me. I knew there was nothing wrong with the data so I didn’t get upset. He was trying to intimidate and belittle all of us, which I guess is his little game he plays.
jlyfsh August 15, 2014, 9:24 am
You mentioned in the forums that an Uncle called to warn you. It seems like maybe they’re used to this and probably don’t believe what she’s saying. If anything going to the event might help foster ‘grandparent’ like relationships with other members of your husband’s family. Play nice with his Mom and enjoy the rest of the family. If it ends terribly this time and your husband decides he doesn’t want a relationship with them, then support him in that.
FireStar August 15, 2014, 11:08 am
I like the idea of surrogate grandparents! My husband’s parents passed away before our daughter was born and my father is a colossal failure as a parent/grandparent – but my mom is the great and we have extra grandmas for our little one… a couple of great aunts, even one of our neighbours we met walking our dogs calls herself grandma and knits things for little one. I like it – love and community and a sense of connection doesn’t have to come where it is expected to come from – there are possibilities everywhere for even more love to be showered down on the new baby.
Kate August 15, 2014, 11:25 am
Good point – some of my cousins were born too late to have grandparents, or one or more of their grandparents is a mess and not involved in their lives. My parents (who don’t have grandkids) have made a big effort to play that kind of role for these kids. They can crash at my parents’ place anytime they’re in Boston, and my mom will buy them stuff they need like winter boots and sweaters. Or take them out on cool outings or whatever. Oh, and go to their concerts and stuff, even if they’re across the country.
BG August 15, 2014, 11:29 am
Thank you for this suggestion! That is actually a wonderful idea. I am just apprehensive about what she would say to my face. I am really emotional right now and while I don’t think she would just confront me, I’m not sure how composed I could remain. I don’t want to cry or get defensive. (OP here)
FireStar August 15, 2014, 2:58 pm
You need to take a Charlie Brown approach… a vague smile on your face and just hearing “wahwahwahwah”. And even if something is said that requires a response you can smile into the pause and ask “what was that again?” I find some people lose their flow in trying to repeat an insult -and they look stupid… If your husband doesn’t even want to go it is moot – but if you do go – the only people you have to please are yourself, your husband and your little one. When all else fails just say “Oh [MIL] that’s just silly!” like you were talking to a four year old.
Oh and congrats on the soon to be new baby!
ktfran August 15, 2014, 9:29 am
That was a really lovely response, Wendy. LW, take her advice. I really have nothing else to add.
jlb80 August 15, 2014, 9:32 am
There is a very good chance that your mother-in-law’s family knows exactly what she is like and have an entire lifetime’s worth of stories about crazy and hurtful things she has done. You may find that in going to this event you can forge positive relationships with some members of your husband’s family – relationships that can stand in for what is missing. In my family, we are estranged from my grandmother, but close to my great-aunt for exactly this reason.
Portia August 15, 2014, 10:40 am
Or just get to know some great aunts! When my grandma died, my great aunt (her sister) basically took the place of a grandma. I had never really been close to her when I was young, but she ended up being a huge part of my life (and it was a good thing too, because the only “grandma” I had left was a step-grandma I really did not like).
Laura Hope August 15, 2014, 9:49 am
What a master evil plan you have concocted! lol Her accusation doesn’t even make any sense. If you just wanted a baby, you could just have a baby and be with whomever you wanted to be with. Why get married knowing it’s temporary? You’d get child support either way. My point is that I think the other family members are going to see how ridiculous she is.
Amanda August 15, 2014, 9:52 am
I had a family member like this. Everyone knew she was batshit crazy. And whenever she concocted one of her stories we just smiled, nodded and went about our way. Nobody gave it any thought. So I can pretty much all but guarantee that their family feels the same way.
Vathena August 15, 2014, 9:58 am
Agree 100% with Wendy. Calling her out, or boycotting the reunion, only treats her ridiculous comments and conspiracy theories as deserving of a response. Don’t let her craziness dictate your life. “Playing nice” can simply take the form of a pleasant greeting and subsequent avoidance. If she tries to confront you in any way, don’t engage. It doesn’t sound like you’d spend any one-on-one time with her at the reunion anyway, and having other people around will be a good buffer (they surely know her history and will help you out!)
SasLinna August 15, 2014, 10:25 am
I can see the advantages of going (supporting your husband, maybe meeting some of his nicer relatives), but I also think it’s understandable that you’re reluctant to go. I’d say you have to weigh just how uncomfortable you’d be at the reunion against your husband’s desire for you to join him. If there’s any chance that you’d call out your MIL there, I frankly wouldn’t go. You could make things worse for yourself. So only go if you can remain calm and civil in spite of MIL’s terrible behavior. Maybe also talk to your husband about why he doesn’t want to be there alone. Personally I think that going to a family union alone should always be an option. He may be under the mistaken impression that that’s something that’ just “not done”, when in fact many couples handle things that way.
BG August 15, 2014, 11:38 am
The reunion is across the country and my husband told me that he would rather just stay home with me and not miss work if I don’t want to go. This made me really take a closer look on my stance with his mother. I guess I just think that this is a part of me and of my past and if you want to be nasty to me about it, then I don’t need you in my life. I think that people who spread these kinds of lies are ultimately damaging and that’s not something I need in my life or my child’s.
This becomes so much more complicated when it is my husband’s mother. If my mother said any of this I would tell her that until she can apologize and accept who I am that she will not be a part of my life. I don’t need to add in other people’s negativity, especially when I am pregnant and exhausted and emotional and sick.
SasLinna August 15, 2014, 12:59 pm
Well does your husband really want to go? Or is he kind of reluctant himself? If you both aren’t that interested in going, just skip it. There’s not duty to attend family reunions. Maybe you can meet with some of the relatives you want to be in touch with another time.
fast eddie August 15, 2014, 3:15 pm
To go or stay home will not have any long term consequences but his other relatives should at least be made aware of the truth and the lack thereof. Whatever you as a couple decide, make it independent of his kin folks. Neither they, nor anyone else needs to know the details of your current or past personal life. I assume that they all live far enough away to not be able to influence your life beyond a peripheral background. It’s sad that your child will miss out on a grandma if she keeps her present behavior active, but better to have a gap then to subject your baby her abuse.
SGMcG August 15, 2014, 10:26 am
Wendy forgot to mention another reason to go: You go because in supporting your husband, you ARE being the better person as well as acknowledging the amazing partner your futue father of your child is, despite being raised by an obvious terror of a woman/mother. You also show a unified front in raising your future child together. By supporting your husband, you are demonstrating to her how you will do motherhood right.
csp August 15, 2014, 10:41 am
So, the one thing I didn’t see in this letter is how you found out about the rumor spreading. Who told you? I wonder if you can clear the air with her and have a conversation before you are in this big group. I would absolutely go because most of the people who heard this is will know the crazy source.
BG August 15, 2014, 11:39 am
My husband’s mother told him on the phone one day that this happened and he had an uncle call and tell him that she was doing this.
csp August 15, 2014, 2:40 pm
That is crazy! But if the uncle called you, then everyone in the family is wise to her game.
something random August 15, 2014, 12:22 pm
Lw answered that in the forums
honeybeenicki August 15, 2014, 11:00 am
I think you should go to the reunion. You may be able to forge relationships with other people in your husband’s extended family. As others have said, it’s likely she has been this way for a long time and they are all probably used to it and don’t believe what she says. I especially think this is true since it was his uncle that called to warn the two of you about it.
fast eddie August 15, 2014, 10:01 am
Go to the event and IF the relatives bring up the subject tell them in a calm way about your MIL’s disillusion and how much your looking forward to being a mother. Take the high ground and ignore his mama if she launches an attack. Stay/act calm and let others draw their own conclusions. Walk proud!
TMD260 August 15, 2014, 12:03 pm
If you continue to be gracious & genuine, it will eventually be impossible for your MIL’s lies to be believed & her true colors will come out.
I loved Wendy’s advice. Spot on!
It’s a great thing your husband supports you & recognizes his mother is a toxic person. Go to that reunion & be yourself.
jnsunique August 15, 2014, 12:14 pm
I’m rooting for LW! I hope she decides to go and everything works out well. Then I want to hear the update! I went to my husband’s father’s side family reunion a few years ago. My husband and his father stopped talking about 2 years before we met. The father refused to acknowledge me or speak to either of us (fine by me as he is an abusive jerk) but I had a great time meeting the aunts and uncles and we’re all friends on Facebook.
Alena August 15, 2014, 12:34 pm
Unlike everyone else, I only agree with Wendy 99%, not 100%. Personally, I’d find something to say other than, “Good to see you.” Because you probably don’t believe that. :p
Bittergaymark August 15, 2014, 2:49 pm
If you don’t go to the reunion you just bolster her position. Staying home makes you a fragile wimp. Moreover — why write off his ENTIRE family? Oh. And honestly? For the record — As wacked out as her behavior is… I have to say that my (imaginary) child marrying a bisexual who already had a brief same sex marriage? Um. Yeah. That would even give me pause…
something random August 15, 2014, 3:48 pm
This is unrelated, but I’ve often wondered if gay couples in California felt a tremendous pressure to rush into marriage because of Prop 8 looming. Any thoughts?
BG August 15, 2014, 5:49 pm
I certainly did and to the absolute wrong person. But we were also really young and it’s the same mistake straight couples have made when they are 18-22 and believe that LOVE CONQUERS ALL.
Wendy (not Wendy) August 15, 2014, 10:19 pm
I’m curious about something if you want to talk about it–I also used to be married to another woman, and since then I’ve pretty much only been into guys. (It’s been five years.) Every guy I’ve dated or… ended up not dating has had an issue with it, reluctantly admitted, even guys I wouldn’t have expected it of. I’ve always known that, as you say, it’s part of my past and it isn’t going away, and I was fine with that–my friends have been more indignant about the reactions–but I’m getting gun-shy about it since it seems like every guy has a problem. I don’t think it’s about me, because either the information comes as a shock or the ones who knew about it already start talking about how it makes them nervous after it seems like things might be starting to go somewhere with us. Anyway, I’m curious about whether you’ve dealt with the same thing and whether your husband has any thoughts on it.
AnotherAnon August 16, 2014, 10:44 am
My husband of nearly a decade still gets weirded out by my past. As far as he’s concerned, I’m heterosexual – which functionally is true. But I’m still bisexual at the level of identity and history and he gets very uncomfortable when I identify as one. I think it’s strictly an “us” thing/being threatened, because he’s very comfortable with our lesbian friends.
BG August 19, 2014, 11:11 am
I haven’t run into anyone who has a problem with it, but I am also really outspokenly liberal so I might just be attracting really open-minded people to me. That and I have a tattoo of something related to her in a very prominent place that most people ask me about the first time they meet me so they know about her very soon into meeting me.
Norabb August 17, 2014, 9:50 am
I have a question open for general debate: If and hopefully when she goes to the reunion, what are some ways to deflect any possible aggressive words or behavior from the mother in a graceful way? Or as graceful as possible! Curious to know
something random August 17, 2014, 9:29 pm
If I thought the MIL was just not all there I’d probably just smile and pretend not to hear her and then change the conversation.
If I thought she was intentionally nasty and trying to get the best of me, I might just turn around walk away, get a drink, take a breath and talk to someone else. Dear abby has a line “I’ll forgive you for asking that, if you forgive me for not answering”. A strong quizzical look followed by an awkward silence is enough to shame some people. You could also go the BGM route and kill her with kindness. He has a great post on the forum. The LBH Post would also be fun.
Kate August 17, 2014, 11:50 am
Well, I think it’s not too likely that she’d say blatant stuff to the LW’s face. What I’d recommend is to only engage with her on a normal, social level, in a way that’s appropriate for the occasion. If it starts going to a weird place, stay calm and disengage as quickly as possible. If she makes an outright accusation, say, no, that isn’t true, and again remain calm and cool, at least outwardly. And get away and talk to other relatives who aren’t nuts. In fact, seek out the not nutty relatives right away and hang with them. They can probably help buffer you and keep you away from the crazy. Avoid spending much time chatting with the mom.