My mother-in-law is under the impression that my wife and I are far wealthier than we actually are, and it's threatening to drive a wedge between us and the rest of her family. Help!
posted by anonymous to human relations (66 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My mother-in-law has been on some form of welfare for most of her adult life. She currently lives in a government-subsidized urban housing project, and has for at least the last 20 years. She's had substance abuse problems in the past, although I don't believe she's used for many years now. She currently lives off a monthly disability check.
On the other hand, my wife and I are thoroughly middle-class. We live in a relatively modest home in a suburbs of a large city in another region of the country. We're not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, however, from the perspective of someone (like my MIL) who has lived their entire life in urban poverty, we are quite wealthy. For example, after the first time my MIL saw our home, she went home and told all her friends and relatives that we live in a mansion, and that my wife and I both drive big fancy cars. To put it in perspective, the "mansion" is well below the median for our area both in terms of market value and square footage, and the "big fancy cars" are both 8 years old, each with over 120,000 miles on the odometer. I earn in the high five figures, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom, so we're not exactly swimming in cash.
My MIL, in the past, has used us as a "safety net" of sorts - coming to us when there's something she really needs but her very limited income doesn't permit her to get for herself. This hasn't really been a problem, and we've been happy to help out.
However, over the last few months, this has started to mushroom: First, my MIL has been asking for a lot more, and it's slowly been creeping from "asking" to "demanding". The latest example was for a winter coat. My MIL told my wife that she didn't have one, and that she was going to have to spend $300 for a new one. My wife immediately went out, bought a warm winter coat (about $70) in her size and overnighted it to her. However, my MIL had her heart set on the $300 winter coat (one she saw in a notoriously overpriced catalog), and wasn't shy about expressing her great disappointment with the one that my wife bought for her. We've not heard the end of it since, including "it's not like you two can't afford it." She's been bringing up how "rich" we are in nearly every conversation, and also starting to badmouth us to her other relatives, all of whom now share her opinion that we're just a couple of tightwads out to have her freeze to death for our own pleasure. Or something like that.
Now, she's asking for a new computer (I gave her my old one when I upgraded last year). As it turns out, she doesn't intend to keep it, however - we found out that she plans to sell it and use the money for the $300 winter coat. This morning, it really came to a head when my MIL called to nag about the computer, and oh, was she getting anything for Christmas besides? My wife had had enough, and blew up at her. Of course, this resulted in a massive guilt trip about how rich we were, and how we could afford it, and how we "have so much and she has nothing", leaving my wife a complete mess.
Complicating matters is the fact that last year, my wife's childhood best friend, in a nearly identical wealth-disparity situation, ended up being completely ostracized by her family.
So, Mefites - how do my wife and I salvage her relationship with her mother, and her extended family as a whole? Do we just cave and buy my MIL whatever she wants, and chalk it up to "the family tax", or is there a way to put our collective foot down without making the situation even worse?
Questions to: MyMILThinksWeAreCheap@gmail.com