December 20, 2007,
G.B. asks from West Linn, OR on December 16, 2007
Mother In-Law Always Doing Things Better
Okay, besides being a complaining daughter in law I would first like to say I believe in trying to develop a relationship for the sake of my husband and his family unit as well as for the children with my in laws as long as it's not a danger to anyone. With that being said, here is my question: How do I deal with a mother-in-law that always tries to do things better then me? I understand that she has bee through many situations and has oddles of life long experience that I lack, however when ever I try to do anything like, put on a girls night out, she has to do it too! I can never parent as good as her or provide for her son the way she would, did, or does. Every time I do anything she does exactly the same thing, but does it better or tries to give the impression that she's better than me. I feel frustrated because many times I am alone at trying to do things well enough and keep up with my own standards, let alone keep up with someone elses. Better yet I want to develop my own family values, however I somehow feel I have to include my husbands family values into the picture,which I am happy to do, but not at the comparison of the mother-in-law. That's where everything gets a little sticky and I am not sure where traditions or expectations are coming from. If you've guessed my mother-in-law is a little in our business you have guessed right. Anyway, I know I should never expect to decide things by myself, but I do have to be the adult with the high heels and make decisions to help my family out and I could use some help!!!!
I'm thank-ful for this group!
So What Happened?™
Thank you so much for your advice, sometimes it's hard to ask for advice when it's something personal and hard to deal with, but I am thankful I reached out and asked this group because I really value your advice and knowing that I am not alone. Thank you thank you thank you!
Okay, so what am I gong to do now? After reading the advice I realized there are two things I am struggling with, one is not knowing what to do with a mother-in-law that copies what I do or/and does it better, so I feel, and two is understanding family values and what it means to establish those with my husband and children.
I know after dealing with my husband's mom I will never have a warm and fuzzy feeling with her and feel the love I would like to have, but I also know that I do not have to LOVE her, but I do need to EXPRESS LOVE to her. This takes the stress off the manipulation I feel when she's mean to me and then tells me she loves me. I don't have to return what I don't feel from her, but I do need to express love in ways of kindness that come from my heart. I know that girls nights out are popular events and even though she is copying my party planning as we speak for Christmas, I can know that I don't have to work my schedule around hers or compete with the way she does things because my family is my family and it's our life not hers. I had a nice long talk with my husband and we were able to see that he had an issue with her and her planning and he always did whatever she wanted at the expense of his own family (US) just to see her or make her happy. This isn't fair to us, so now we want to plan together how we should plan our family activities. It's so nice he is on board because Christmas is a busy time and I feel like he really cares how I feel rather than doing what his mother wants. We are the most important unit in his life. And Yes, I am a Christian and I am and do give things out of my control to GOD.
I value my family and I hope to establish with them our own way of doing things. Many families just do whatever they did when they grew up with their families, but they don't always work with the new family unit. It all about figuring out what works and not on the terms of anyone but what my husband and I and children need, want, and hope for.
Family values are really hard for my husband and I because we have always done whatever our families would like us to do. We are at the point in our lives that we want to establish our own ideas about christmas and any other traditions or family values. Why do the same old thing that we never liked any way LOL. There are some things that we really love about what we have learned or done with our own families and we will fit those into our families activities, but make them our own! Anyway, I am actually thinking about what I like about certain holidays, such as, Thanksgiving or birthdays etc and I am talking to my husband about the things he wants and what would work for our family. It's hard to establish these on our own, because it's comfortable to go along with already established agendas that have made us feel good for years, but it is so worth it to do it our own way!
Anyway, enough said, thank you so much for the strong, thoughtful and meaningful advice and I wish everyone a happy holiday!
H.M. answers from Portland on December 17, 2007
Hmmmm....do we have the same Mother-in-Law? Pretty common problem, obviously. After 13 years of marriage, I finally decided a few years ago that I just don't care. I do what I want to do (parties, etc.), and if she want to copy/feel envious/ try to tear me down, it's on her and in the long run it just makes her own life difficult. It doesn't affect me anymore, just because I won't let it! If I don't want to go to one of her functions, I just make up an excuse. If she shows up at one of mine (as usual) with a car full of decorations & food for a party I've already decorated & cooked for, I just let her put it out - and just make sure she takes her food & decorations home because I don't like having too much stuff in my house. She does also make little stabs at my parenting (even though EVERYBODY, including her own kids, knows I'm way more attentive then she ever was), my cooking (even her kids won't eat hers', again) etc. and she does try to insist that what she wants is family tradition & we must follow it. Again, this only works to the extent that you let it work. I really don't care what she says because I can't control it. If I'm in an emotionally vulnerable state, I just won't go to her house or visit with her because I see no need to subject myself to that. I make sure my husband know that this is why I won't go, and next time he will stand up for me. One thing my husband and I agreed on pretty early on is that, since this is our marriage & family, we just threw out all old family traditions. Pretty harsh, but it worked for us & avoided a lot of fights. Basically, we chose new ones that we observe because we WANT to, so it isn't stressful & no worries about doing things the 'right' way. All that really matters is that our kids will have memories, and those memories are way better if we did something wrong but had fun doing it than if we did something right, but were arguing or stressed out. All this to say - I feel for ya & hang in there!:)
4 moms found this helpful
M.R. answers from Seattle on December 18, 2007
I agree with you, this resource is terrific! Of course, you MUST BE ABLE TO DECIDE things for yourself and with your husband particularly about your personal, home and family values. You use ideas, observations from all to determine your own. Unless you can do this successfully, your children will not learn this either.
A few words to lay a foundation. My mother-in-law is a powerful woman of exceptional beauty, wisdom, intelligence, humor with a most gentile manner. For years I had such a difficult time with her. In addition to all this, she's a manipulator and meddles (both quietly and openly) in her children's and grandchildren's lives.
Until I fully understood my feelings about myself and mother relationships, I wasn't able to open to her love and gifts of giving. I could only critize and feel angry.
My mother died when I was 12 yrs old. I missed all that girls receive from their mothers while in their teen and adult years. I felt angry about that and hadn't fully come to terms with that loss. Seeing her 'mother' my husband and sister-in-law and her grandkids (not mine) was painful for me. I wanted that too, but I didn't know how to ask for what I wanted and, of course, I didn't know at first that was what was bothering me about her.
While I knew the manipulation and meddlesome was something I didn't want, how would I be able to get the part I wished for and not the other???
After realization of the affect of my loss (my mother) on my feelings, I slowly found easy, gentle, loving ways to connect with my mother-in-law. I began asking for things I wanted from her (recipes, home decor, knitting ideas and doing things like laughing together, asking about her family, asking about being a young mother, giving her little books on topics she enjoys -- recipes, knitting, art -- meaningful little gifts that I'd made) you get the idea.
While this is my story and may not apply to you and your mother-in-law at all, I offer it as information. Your deep and personal feelings will influence how you perceive your mother-in-laws actions.
Feeling that your mother-in-law tries to one-up-you or reproduce what you've done only better is a killer, G.. You will never feel good about what you are doing and the values you're working to establish for yourself and your family when comparison is involved.
When you compare yourself to her (which is the other side or unspoken message that I hear) particularly because she is someone who has much more life experience, nothing you do will ever be good enough.
My suggestion, at long last, would be stop thinking that she's trying to do 'better' than you. She's having a girls night out TOO, she's raised her children IN HER WAY, she's about to do such-and-such. Try to avoid making up reasons for her doing what she does. Your belief about what she is doing is your opinion, which may or may not be what she is thinking or believing.
If she IS doing some kind of 'look better than G.' then she has an illness. Do you need to feel challenged by a woman with a mental illness? Are you secure within yourself?
Enough now ... this got much tooo long.
Best wishes to you and your family!
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M.P. answers from Portland on December 16, 2007
If possible forget your mother-in-law. Be cordial, include her when appropriate in activities. Stop judging your actions by how she does hers. She is important as the mother of your husband and grandmother to your baby but not as an arbitor of what is right or wrong or even how well it's done.
The only person you need to include as you decide on family values and build family traditions is your husband. Yes, he'll want to continue with some things from his growing up years and so will you. The two of you decide how to meld them together for your little family.
If your mother-in-law is copying you it may not be to show you up. She may just want to be young again. When she sees you and your friends having fun she may be trying to make fun for herself and her friends.
How do you know she does it better? If you are going to her parties I suggest that you stop. And you needn't invite her to yours unless you're inviting other family members of her generation.
It took me awhile to realize that both my daughter and I needed to decide on boundaries between ourselves and to talk about them in clear ways. I was babysitting everyday in her home as well as providing some financial assistance. That made respecting boundaries more difficult.
The one boundary that has been the most helpful for me is that I do not give advice unless she asks me to. I also decided what I was willing to do to help and be strong enough to say no when I wanted to.
Here are examples from a mother's view. My daughter seems to need to talk and talk about anything that she is having difficulty with. I'm a problem solver and I was trying to help her make decisions. I didn't tell her what to do but it felt like that to her. Now I just sympathetically listen mostly with me presence. I don't make any sort of comments as she goes along. Not even, I understand, so that she would move on. If I have something else planned or am not feeling well I tell her that and suggest we talk another time. She is usually disappointed and I can sense that in her voice. At first I would try to "talk" her out of her disappointment. By explaining more about what I was doing, reminding her that I was just at her place and would be back again tomorrow if she'd like. By expressing sympathy that I couldn't talk or if I knew what the problem was about saying I knew is was important to talk and sometimes but more rarely as time went on.
A big "boundary" that she set for me is that I do her housework while I was babysitting. She was always unhapppy with me about the housework when she got home. For several months I tried to figure out what she actually wanted me to do and what should the apt look like when she got home. I felt that nothing I did housework wise was good enough and I told her she had a choice. Accept what I was able to do or get a different babysitter. She put her daughter in preschool and her son in daycare. She had to pay for both. She wasn't paying me. We were both much happier. I visited often and continued to babysit short term but she didn't see me as responsible for her house. We had both bought into the idea that housework was my responsibility since I was there all day. I think her being critical was her way of being separate from me. An artificial boundary.
The two of us talked about boundaries and explained our own boundary to the other. A part of that talk was each of us saying what we wanted to happen. I wanted to be there for my daughter and she said she wanted me to just listen and not give advice unless she asked. I agreed but it did take me several weeks to get into the flow.
The issue that I wanted a boundary for was my taking care of her housework. Eventually we agreed that I would watch the kids only when I was able and wanted to and compromised by agreeing that I would have the toys picked up and put away be the time she came home.
We've been practicing this for several months and I'm feeling comfortable with it. I think my daughter is for the most part, though she would like me to help more with housework. :):):)
Your boundary issues sound to be different than my daughter's and mine but I wrote about our experience so that you could have a model and explaination of boundaries.
If your mother-in-law won't co-operate in deciding upon boundaries you and your husband decide on the boundaries to be kept in your house. An example would be we can only have you visit once a week. And give the reason such as we're trying to build a life for ourselves. We don't want to totally exclude you but we need more time to ourselves while we do this. And the boundary of not giving advice unless asked for will help you too. This is a boundary that all parents have difficulty with.
And you work on not comparing what you do with what your mother-in-law does. As you said she's had more experience. By the time you reach her age maybe you'll do better. But my philosophy of life is that when I'm doing something I'm doing it for my own pleasure. It doesn't have to be perfect. I count it a success if I'm pleased with it. And if it's a party, such as your girls night out get together, if people had a good time.
My mother had a saying ever since I can remember. There are 10 and 20 ways to write a treble a. A treble a is a sign in music. She told me that there is rarely only 1 right way to do something. And she followed that maxim with me. When she visited she would defrost my refrigerator. When I bragged on her doing that others said they would not like their mother to do that.
Last remark there are many ways to be a mother to an adult or a mother-in-law. Your relationship is built by the two of you talking about what you want and then deciding on how much you can give. You start by listing your wishes before having a discussion. Decide on some that you will not give on but have other's on which you can be flexible. If she won't co-operate in doing that then you write down the rules and if she doesn't follow them there has to be a consequence. For my daughter and me, if there is tension, we leave the other's house before an argument develops and sometimes remain distant from each other for a few days. We can ask the other to leave if they don't leave on their own. Other times we remind the other of the boundary and the other says, "oh, I forget!" and frequently laugh together. The key to all this is respect of each other's boundaries.
I hope that you can work out a comfortable role with your mother-in-law. It will take time and patience. If she doesn't want to cooperate it will take you time to learn how to enforce the boundary without anger. But anger is OK at the start.
I just realized that it's possible that you live with your mother-in-law. If so your are still dealing with boundaries but in a much more complicated situation. The best thing to do is to get your own place no matter how modest. It may be possible to get help with housing as well as food stamps, health care, and job training.
You have to be on your own to qualify so if you apply say that you want to move out and need helping doing so. Give your mother-in-laws address as a temporary one.
If you live in her home, it's important to have a room that is yours and into which she cannot come. You can enforce the boundary of not giving advice by walking away and going to your room. You'll need your husband's help especially in this case. He has to back you up.
He has to back you up if you're in your own home but living with his mother will make it much more difficult for him.
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C.G. answers from Eugene on December 18, 2007
Maybe it's time to establish some healthy boundaries and not let your MIL be in your business?
My parents are divorced and here were their philosphies:
DAD: When you marry, your spounse and children become your MAIN family...your parents, siblings are all now part of the extended family-therefore decisions that are made in your life are made in your family-the nuclear family of the time...so when I got married my dad didn't want to know the intimate details of how I was living my life or my decisions I was making with my husband because I was now creating a new family with my husband...
MOM: even if a child gets married, they should always report to and include their parents first..... hmmm this is where it got very icky..."family" events (ones at my moms house) were mandatory for years, until my hubby "kinapped" me for thanksgiving and I had a chance to see how unhealthy it was to live putting my mom before my husband....
If I were in your shoes:
1) I would tell MIL less about what's going on in your life
2) encourage your Hubby (if he isn't already like this) to keep his mom at more of a distance-that family dynamic was the foundation to let you guys blossom into the family you have become
3) Comparisons usually stem from validation-if you look at what your MIL and feel she is trying to better you then there is probably a silent powerplay between you guys-you just want to be acknowledged for a job well done and she doesn't want to be left out or doesn't want to give you that validation. If you are able to let go that her opinion/actions matter it might help (i'm similar with my MIL)...
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L.R. answers from Spokane on December 18, 2007
I am a SAHM of 3 children and have been married for 8 years. I think before you address anything with your mother-in-law you need to make sure your husband knows and understands how you feel. He needs to not only understand but be able to stand beside you and be a part of whatever you decide to do. I have had some issues with my in-laws in the last few years. It seems like if I say something I'm being a "B", but if my husband says it they listen. If your husband is a momma's boy you will most likely need to figure something out or it could come between the two of you. And your marraige is more important than any other relationship. Especially to your daughter. My husband didn't always see how I was treated at first. But when I started to open up to him and ask him to watch for himself. And think about how it would make him feel if my family did certain things to him (be specific with him, things that would hurt him if your family said or did them). He started to see. Now he'll get in their face if they don't treat me right. I've also dated guys with moms like the one you are talking about. It seems to me that she is jealous of you. She feels like you have taken her little boy away from her. I've dealt with this before. I know this will be a stretch for you, but maybe if you could start to plan things for just you and her & plan things for just her and her son, and then for all 3 of you (or 4 if she's married)she'll stop seeing you as the competition and start treating you like the daughter you are. Ask her advice on how to make or do things. Even if you don't really need it. She probably just wants to feel needed again. A lot of moms go through that, especially mom's of boys. I am not defending her actions by any stretch of the imagination. I'm trying to give you her perspective no matter how stupid it is and give you a more loving way to deal with it. Your husband might be more willing to help you if you try a loving approach too. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't work immediately. It will probably take awhile for her, and you may need to talk to her as well. But she needs to feel loved when you do it or it will probably just cause a bigger more open rift between you. No matter what else happens you really need to WORK at forgiving her. Forgiveness is a process not a one time thing. It may take awhile, but if you get bitter, resentfull, and angry, it will only hurt you and your relationship with your husband. I know how hard family stuff is so I'll be praying for you!
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B.D. answers from Seattle on December 18, 2007
Have you talked to your husband about this? My MIL also tries to put her input into the mix and it would make me so angry. Until I realized that just becuase she give it I don't have to follow it. Now whenever she makes snide remarks I just firmly but respectfuly let her know that I have already made up my mind as to how I will handle the situation. Also I found sometimes that what she was saying made sense, I did not let her know that though. I have let go any resentment I had toward her since ultimitly she wants what is best for my family. As for her coping what you are doing be flattered maybe she thinks you are fun and have your own good ideas on how to do things. Just be confidant in the decisions you make for your family that is all that matters, don't let her have that kind of power over you. Maybe her behavior wont change but how you react to it can. Good luck.
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P.M. answers from Portland on December 17, 2007
I agree with Marda that, unless your mother-in-law has made it explicit that she is trying to outshine you, you could be misinterpreting her behavior. She may simply be following your inspiring example, maybe trying to reclaim some of the fun of her younger days. Or being the best grandma she knows how to be (better for you than the alternative!).
But in the spirit of exploration, let's say her manners are lacking and she has made it clear she is trying to show you up. Trying to outdo her in the next round would be equally ungracious, and will be more likely to escalate the problem than end it. And your anxiety can only grow if you continue to interpret her behavior in that light and play the game you think she has established. Even if she has, you still have choices you can make purely for your own comfort and happiness.
How about setting the old ego aside and trying to simply acknowledge what a great hostess/cook/housekeeper/whatever she is. Lay a little praise on her. That puts you in a position of adult to adult, or even adult to her inner child, if praise and recognition are what she is craving. She might be more insecure than you would guess, and quite possibly jealous of her son's love for you.
And cheerful, open-hearted appreciation might actually astonish her into dropping her game, if that's what it is.
Caution: don't try this approach for the purpose of shaming her, which would still be game-playing. Try it for your own freedom. I have done this with several challenging relationships in my life, and am much more at ease around those people. And they around me.
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T.S. answers from Johnson City on December 18, 2007
I think we have definately all been there, but I have never experienced to this extent!! The only thing I can suggest, which is what I did is just talk to her. Let her know that you love or like her suggestions but would like to think of your own solutions. Joke with her that you have to know that you can actually do things becauase if she was not around you all would shurly fall apart! In my experience sarcasm tends to lighten people up and it is easier to tell it like it is but at the same time not sound like a b****! Good luck!!