Help me figure out how to deal with my sister-in-law!
November 18, 2008 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn to deal with my sister-in-law without going crazy! (Long background inside)

Background: I have been with my husband for about 2 and a half years. When I met him, his younger, 19-year old brother, Mike, was engaged to his high school sweetheart. At family functions, things went smoothly and everyone seemed to have a good, relaxing time.

About a year into our relationship, Husband and I got engaged, to be married in August of the following year. This news was well received and I felt even more welcome in the family. His parents and brothers and I really got along. Six months after our engagement, Mike and his fiance broke up. He binge drank and fell into a bad place for a few months, and when he started seeing Sally, a 30-year-old punky-looking mother of 3, no one expected it to last.

About 3 months after he broke up with his fiance, Husband, Mike, Sally, and I went out for Mike's 21st birthday. Sally encouraged Mike to drink, and Mike got plastered while Sally maybe had one beverage. At the end of the night, we had to switch cars, so we went back to Sally's house to drop off Mike and take his car back to his house. That night, Sally gave us a tour of her house and showed us her kids' rooms (Jedediah, Mary, and Faith), and offered us wine and marijuana (Husband and Mike's family are very anti-drug, so this put Husband off of her immediately). We declined, but Mike continued drinking. In the span of time we were over, Mike stripped naked and Mike and Sally gyrated on the couch and floor almost but not quite having sex. Husband and I left.

A month later was Thanksgiving. The day before, Sally and Mike had announced they were getting married two days before Christmas (and 2 months into their relationship), and decided Thanksgiving was a good time for her and her kids to meet the family. When they showed up, the kids brought pictures to "Grandma Lastname" (who they were meeting for the first time) and Sally called Mike and Husband's parents, who she was meeting for the first time, Mom and Dad. Sally largely ignored Husband, his other 2 brothers, and me for the entire night, though we were all introduced to the kids as Mr. First name and Miss Betty (not Uncle First name, since his mom is "Grandma" - I didn't get it).

Another month brought their wedding, and then Christmas. The wedding reception was held at Sally's home and was extremely uncomfortable for me - portraits were being taken of the "new family" with all of the in-laws, yet I was not included. This hurt me deeply, considering that I felt close to Husband's family and I had been around for so much longer.

At Christmas, Mike and Sally gave Mike's parents a positive pregnancy test in a tin. His parents were excited, but Husband, his two other brothers, and I just sort of sat in shock. At one point she looked over to all of us and asked if we understood what was happening, I guess because she expected a better reaction. Someone asked when the baby was due, and Sally named our wedding date. Husband and I quietly excused ourselves for a walk and didn't return until Mike and Sally were gone.

Fast forward several months into the spring. A bridal shower was being thrown for me, and invitations sent about a month and a half in advance. Sally and Husband's mom were invited. I guess I should say at this point that Husband and I live about 4 hours away from his parents and brothers, so we didn't see them very much between Christmas and the spring. Husband's mom and dad are very excited to come up to visit and his mom to attend the shower, but I got no response from Sally. Two days before the shower Husband's mom called saying that she could come, but that she would have to leave immediately after my shower was over because Sally's baby shower had been planned for later that same day. I quickly knit a baby blanket and sent it down with Husband's mom.

During the summer, we were very busy getting wedding stuff done. Husband's mom would call us with periodic updates on Sally's pregnancy, which neither of us really wanted to hear. Pictures of us on the fridge and around his parents' house were systematically replaced with ultrasound pictures and colored sheets from the new grandkids, which really bothered me and slightly grated on husband. We were told that Sally may not make it to our wedding, because if she hadn't had the baby yet she wouldn't want to be moving around, and if she had already had the baby, she wouldn't want to leave it with a sitter. In addition, all summer Husband's parents badgered us to invite Sally's parents to our wedding (who they had been getting chummy with at Sally's insistence), and we declined since we didn't know them and had already had to cut people we DID know and want from the guest list.

Finally, the day before we were to leave to go down to our wedding (which was being held in Husband's hometown), Sally had the baby. We traveled to his parent's house with my mom and brother for last-minute wedding errands, and a barbeque was held the night we arrived for a meet-and-greet. Sally and her parents held court with the baby and her delivery story, while husband, my mom, brother, and I came in and got food, then sat for about an hour before being greeted.

At our wedding, lots of other crappy family stuff happened, including Husband's mom holding the baby the entire time and barely looking up, and having our MC, Husband and Mike's uncle, toast to Mike and Sally's marriage and baby before he "got to" us. However, the icing on the cake is that more than half of our wedding photos are of the baby, someone holding the baby, or Mike and Sally.

The holidays are coming again and I find myself not really wanting to be around Husband's family, particularly Sally. I feel like I am suddenly an outcast and like I'm not important because I haven't had any children. During family functions, Sally dominates conversation and it's hard to get a word in edgewise, even if I were more outgoing and less quiet. I feel like the newcomer, and I'm completely resentful of ever so many things. I have tried so much to get over this, including therapy, venting, ignoring it, avoiding them... but nothing seems to work. I no longer want to waste my energy being anxious, offended, or thinking about past or future interactions with her or the rest of my in-laws. I don't want to feel like this anymore.

The flip side to this is, I would really like to get close to Sally, and our nieces and nephews. I don't have any siblings nearly old enough to have kids, so these are my first. I'd like to be able to get along with her, but it seems like she doesn't really find me necessary or important and I feel shunned when she's around. I want the family to mesh and for things not to be tense. I don't know how to make this happen.

Can you help me identify what my problem is, and how to get over it? How can I be around Sally, and the rest of Husband's family, for the holidays without feeling like I've lost myself?
posted by alpha_betty to Human Relations (47 answers total)
OMG long. I'm sorry. I thought you'd need all the background I could muster if you were to make an accurate response. If you read that whole thing, you deserve a medal.
posted by alpha_betty at 9:23 AM on November 18, 2008

Have you tried talking to his parents about this? I may have missed it, but it seems like you've tried everything other than spelling out for them why you feel marginalized. Even if they don't agree that you have a complaint and dismiss your feelings, at least at that point you can feel justified in cutting them off and they can't claim not to know why.
posted by ga$money at 9:43 AM on November 18, 2008

It looks like the early signals you gave Sally are the ones you gave us here. As in "Ewww! Is this skank really joining the family???!" and I think you reaped a pretty shitty harvest in that she then decided to undermine your big event. Those are things that really fester if left as they are and they only way, if you really want to get to know Sally and any family she will bring, you need to start from scratch with her and communicate that to her.

(why did you feel the need to tell us her kids names?)
posted by Wilder at 9:47 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Honestly, it sounds like you just don't like Sally and you're jealous of the attention she's getting. And it sounds like you and your husband have made clear from the beginning that you don't approve of her. She probably already felt self-conscious about her role in the new family, given the age and apparent cultural disparaties between her and you guys. So, you shouldn't be surprised that Sally has "shunned" you, given that you've probably let on that you don't really like/respect her. (I.e., by reacting so negatively when she announced her pregnancy and then actually walked out of the house -- do you think she didn't notice that?)

You may be able to get over this by having a heart-to-heart with Sally about your feelings. But don't turn it into some huge drama -- perhaps you just don't like Sally, and she doesn't like you. As long as you behave civilly to each other, that's fine. Families don't have to mesh perfectly.
posted by footnote at 9:50 AM on November 18, 2008

I'd like to be able to get along with her, but it seems like she doesn't really find me necessary or important and I feel shunned when she's around. I want the family to mesh and for things not to be tense. I don't know how to make this happen.

You have to drop some of your baggage surrounding this situation. Even in this question, you brought up a lot of facts that have nothing to do with Sally not liking you and everything to do with you not liking her. Don't you think she can sense that you don't like her? That you judge her? That you're jealous of the attention she gets? And yes, let's be honest- it sucks when other people get attention, particularly when they don't deserve it, like on your wedding day or at your wedding shower. But at a certain point, you just have to let go and let God. This is your family now. Stop waiting for them to accept you- they don't have to "accept" you, they're already your family, they're doing what they know how to do family-wise. If there's a dynamic you don't like, take the initiative to change it- say hello when you walk in the room, offer to take the kids out for a special Uncle & Auntie night, whatever. If those things don't work, then you can think about limiting your access to this side of the family so you don't lose your sanity. But I think you have to try first.

On preview, looks like I wasn't the only one picking up those vibes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:51 AM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is indeed a crazy situation, but you need to let go of the stuff you're dwelling on-- it almost sounds like you think they timed the conception of their first child together to deliberately "ruin your special day" and suck away all the attention you felt was due to you--before, during, and even after the wedding. (The timing of the shower was rude on their part, admittedly.)


but it seems like she doesn't really find me necessary or important and I feel shunned when she's around.

I find myself not really wanting to be around Husband's family, particularly Sally. I feel like I am suddenly an outcast and like I'm not important because I haven't had any children.

...both these give off a strong whiff of projection. How about you go into these situations assuming that's NOT how folks feel about you?
posted by availablelight at 9:52 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is difficult.

It sounds like at first Sally tried to bond with you and your husband (offering weed) but perhaps she took you guys as "uptight" and "downers." Since then, her behavior towards you seems to point to her being jealous. She has definitely been fighting for the family's attention. There is no coincidence of the baby shower/bridal shower being on the same date.

You know how difficult it is to break into a new family. Unfortunately, she is not dealing with it gracefully. I think that anything you can do to make her feel welcome and equal should stop this competitive behavior.

I'm sure it is difficult to put all the bitterness aside. Maybe you could set a time for a relative to watch the new baby, and take her out for a "new mother" TLC session. Something simple like massages and lunch? Perhaps without the kids, the husbands and the family, you two could find some common ground. Also, you could always volunteer to take the kids on a day trip to a museum. That way, she'll get some time to herself and you'll get to know the kids.

No matter what, it will take some letting go to make things run smoothly. Like others have said, I'm sure she feels the tension between you. You may not deal with things in the same way that she does, but certainly that does not mean that you all can't get along.
posted by ginagina at 10:02 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Other people will cover Sally better than I can, but one thing I noticed worries me. Maybe you don't approve of Sally's family situation, and Sally herself, but don't bring her kids into it. You telling us their names, and especially this sentence:

When they showed up, the kids brought pictures to "Grandma Lastname" (who they were meeting for the first time)

give me bad feelings. Maybe your in-laws told Mike they want to be addressed like that. Maybe Mike and Sally are just trying to be part of the family and make their kids feel included and less freaked-out by the process. Don't translate the bad feelings you have towards their mother into dislike of the children or criticism of the things they do - even if you think Sally has a hand in it. Yeah, they became a part of the family really suddenly... but it's not like they had a choice in it.

I think you could cultivate a good relationship with Sally's kids and help to dissolve some of the tension. Take them out to ice cream, or whatever, as their fun aunt.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:03 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You guys are totally right. I don't really like her and I don't like the attention she gets. I guess it annoyed me that her place in the family was just sort of assumed... I felt like I needed to sort of hang back until I earned it, I guess. It bothered me that she was able to walk into the room and be in the family, and I felt like I had to work at it. I suspect this has more to do with my own self consciousness than with her.

She probably does get "I don't like you" vibes from me, you're right, and I never really thought of that. I'm looking forward to reading more responses. Our response to her pregnancy was less the pregnancy itself than the timing of it all. I'm not proud of our reaction but Husband and I both already felt overshadowed by their sudden engagement and quick marriage, and were stressed over that before they announced the pregnancy. That was too much for us to handle just then.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:03 AM on November 18, 2008

I've found that in dealing with in-laws (I've been married twice so I have lots of experience on this) developing a thick skin encourages long-term happiness. It's quite likely that some of the things that hurt your feelings (being left out of family photos before you were married to your husband) were not done intentionally to hurt you. The less personally you take things in these situations, the easier it is. Also, the timing was truly unfortunate, but I doubt Mike and Sally set out to get pregnant with a due date so close to your wedding. Sometimes life is just sucky that way.

Most of all though, in my interactions with my current and former sisters-in-law (seven of them in total) things generally seem to go better if you give it a little time. Sally may be too caught up in her children and her newlywed status at the moment. She may feel that she doesn't have any common ground with you and isn't sure how to relate. She may interpret your reserve as disapproval and/or rejection.

At a minimum, don't take anything Sally does personally. It sounds like she is just too caught up in her own drama. If you really want to change the course of the interaction, make a point of asking her to do something with you- invite her out for coffee or lunch or something. Have her leave the kids with the grandparents so that the two of you can just chat and get to know each other, "now that you're family." It might help. It might not. But at least you'll have tried.
posted by ambrosia at 10:05 AM on November 18, 2008

It bothered me that she was able to walk into the room and be in the family, and I felt like I had to work at it. I suspect this has more to do with my own self consciousness than with her.

Good insight! Maybe if you focus on getting to know everyone and having an enjoyable time, instead of on more abstract ideas about being accepted into the family, it will be easier.
posted by footnote at 10:07 AM on November 18, 2008

Also...Sally does sound like a bit of a nutjob. The good thing about nutjobs is that they can be fun! Maybe you and Sally should go out for a few drinks and you can learn about her good side.
posted by footnote at 10:09 AM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

On the subject of the kids' names: I see how that could be viewed as an odd inclusion. That actually went along with something else I was going to explain, but didn't end up including it because it wasn't relevant. I don't dislike the kids, but I thought at the time that they were being used as pawns to try to get the grandparents' affections. I know they were not asked by Mike's parents to address Grandma and Grandpa as such, because Grandma and Grandpa were caught off guard and told us later that they thought it was odd.

In addition, I know that the pregnancy wasn't planned to coincide with our wedding date. Given, acknowledged. No one's fault, but still sucky to deal with.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:10 AM on November 18, 2008

Thinking about it some more, if you dislike someone it is really hard to "deal" with them. You're going to have to re-evaluate your feelings for her, or it will always come off as insincere.
posted by ginagina at 10:13 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, i'm really surprised at the responses you've received thus far. From what I can gather of your history with this woman, she's 1) not someone you should spend too much time worrying about and 2) in a related sense someone who's actions you need to just do your best to ignore. From the picture you've painted - 30 yr. old single mom of three kids going after a 21 year old drinker, hooking up with him in front of you, proceeding to marry him and get pregnant within a few months, and yes, the kids names, etc. - she sounds like a - well, let's just leave it at trashy - to which I say, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

It's really unfortunate that your husband's family has rallied around her to the degree that they have but honestly, I think you'd do your best to accept that she needs to be the queen bee and just find other sources of amusement and fulfillment in your life. Attempting to connect with her sounds like a recipe for frustration to me. Were you to come across this woman in the world, would you have any desire to befriend her? Of course not. So don't waste your time trying to build connections with your husband's family through her. She probably won't be amenable and unfortunately, she's already got his family under her spell.

And fwiw, she did totally steal your thunder in your wedding events and I'd be pissed too if I had to put up with all of that.

What does your husband have to say about all of this? They're his family and if anyone's going to intervene, I think he needs to.
posted by smallstatic at 10:14 AM on November 18, 2008 [9 favorites]

I'm with most everyone else, and apparently you, that she's aware you don't like her. She probably feels rejected and embarrassed. It sounds like you disapprove of her so much that you stopped interacting with the family when she was around. Not only would that be hurtful to her, it was probably confusing to your in-laws as well -- "Hey, we thought alpha_betty loved our family -- why isn't she as excited as we are to see it grow?"

In terms of smoothing things over with Sally, why not try getting together with her the next time you guys are in town? Something along the lines of "Hey, Sally, we've never really gotten a chance to bond, what with the distance and the busyness of our weddings and the arrival of little Bobby in the last year. I'd really like to get to know you... want to get lunch this weekend?" I think being the fun aunt, as per Solon and Thanks' suggestion, is a fantastic idea. At best, it'll solve whatever weird passive-aggressiveness is going on. At worst, it'll take the wind out of her drama-filled sails and make you look like the delightfully sweet and loving daughter-in-law you always knew your husbands parents would see you as.

I do wonder where your family fits in to all of this. The importance of being accepted by your husband's family, as family, combined with the fact that you don't mention your folks at all... well, it makes me wonder whether there's distance there, and maybe you're relying on your husband's family to be both for you.
posted by amelioration at 10:17 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alpha Betty, I don't mean to come down hard on you and I see from your profile that you are very young. It is perfectly possible that for the love of a good man, Mike, Sally chose to fit in to your clearly religious, conservative in-laws the only way that was open to her, by marrying Mike and having them a granbun! And yes, it sucks that they clearly felt this was so important that they neglected you guys on your important day.
As Metafilter is a heavily liberal website, a lot of us may feel that she should have stuck to the wine, marijuana and wild monkey sex and just let MIke run interferance with your in-laws, so maybe some of the responses here are not what you wanted. I do sympathise and I think it is very brave of you to want to have a relationship with someone who clearly makes you uncomfortable. But if you see it as she is desperately trying to fit in as well, maybe you can find some common ground?
Or maybe you need to ask yourself the question, why am I doing this? Is it because I've always been the good girl, the nice one and this is what you do with family members?
posted by Wilder at 10:20 AM on November 18, 2008

You and Sally (and Sally's kids) are both newcomers to a long-established family dynamic. You're not the drivers here (as much as you think she's driving everything, she's not). The roles your husband, Sally's husband, the parents, and the other siblings play define to a large part the roles the incoming spouses will play. Maybe your husband is the quiet, reliable, steady one. Sally's husband sounds like he was already dramatic before she entered the picture.

As for your own feelings, I see a lot of I was here first dammit! and super-judgy language about Sally. With the exception of the baby shower, I don't see anything she's personally done to you. And mothers-to-be don't typically plan their own baby showers, so even with that she may not be the machiavellian schemer you've made her out to be. She could just be doing what she can to get close to her new family, one filled with aunts and uncles and grandparents who she is happy to have get close and influence her kids.

Is your husband as put out by all of this as you are? If so, is he standing up for you within his family? And if not, is there some resentment there as well? Your post and followup don't say much about what he has said to his family about unequal welcoming. It's his family after all.

No matter what though, don't feel pressure to have a kid just to be accepted in this family. Not saying you would do that, but plenty of people have. A great thing about getting married is you get to make your own family, your own life, on your own schedule, separate from the families that reared you. Families are like AskMe threads: take what works for you and leave the rest behind.
posted by headnsouth at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

alpha_betty, this does not all come down on you. To me, the SiL seems like a total car wreck. While I admire you for wanting to have good feelings between you, I would myself be hard pressed to ignore the combination of running-the-younger-lush-to-earth and not leaving enough space in the calendar for already-planned activites.

We got our wedding bumped by a friend's, but we got over it. Eventually. :7) And I have learned that in-laws are ike probational members of a club, sort of an "outer circle" around the blood relations. So yeah, you do have to come to an accommodation with her, but she shouldn't be strewing obstacles in your path (like the overlapping shower dates).

The wedding picture thing is annoying, but look at it this way: you probably wouldn't be looking at those photos much anyway! Ha ha! Oh. OK, we don't anyway.

I dunno about trying to bury the hatchet so obviously as going out "just you girls," but maybe you can see the situations where she's least abhorrent to you (the kids?) and workign on making some bonds that way. I dunno what you do about approving of the weed, but maybe you can leave something unresolved for later on. Anyway, yeah, she should meet you halfway.

And when you guys have kids, no doubt you'll be the stars again.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:38 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't dislike the kids, but I thought at the time that they were being used as pawns to try to get the grandparents' affections.

I don't really think you actively dislike them or anything, just that it's easy to make everything about the Sally in one's world and it's important to be careful to not do so.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:38 AM on November 18, 2008

Are there any other grandkids in your husband's family? My husband went through similar feelings of exclusion when his (younger) sisters had kids (we don't have any). Suddenly his parents' attention was 100% focused on his sisters and their new grandchildren. I didn't feel excluded when I first met them, but the babies weren't newborns anymore either.

Anyway, almost none of this sounds personal on your husband's family's part except for the scheduling of the baby shower, and we're all stupid and rude at some point. I'd let this go, because it's not like she keyed your car or something.

Pictures of us on the fridge and around his parents' house were systematically replaced with ultrasound pictures and colored sheets from the new grandkids, which really bothered me and slightly grated on husband.

Sorry, but you're being petty here. Something in a grandparent's brain just switches and it's OMG BABEEZZ from then on. Before that, it's OMG WEDDINGZZ. My two stepsisters (one younger, one my age) both got married long before me, and my pictures were shoved aside for their wedding pictures. They both have kids, and I'm sure they get 4x the phone calls and visits that I do. Yet I don't feel resentful (about that, anyway; I'm no saint and I'm plenty resentful in other areas of my life).

Bottom line, your husband's parents got excited at the prospect of grandkids and lost all sense of perspective. I think you'd win mucho bonus points if you and husband offered to babysit the kid, or leave your husband at his brother's house during the football game to watch the kids, whilst you and Sally go to lunch. Sally doesn't sound like she's made the best choices in life, so maybe you can be the bigger person here and reach out to her. Worst case scenario? She says "no thanks" and you're at the same standoff you have now.
posted by desjardins at 10:40 AM on November 18, 2008

I don't dislike the kids, but I thought at the time that they were being used as pawns to try to get the grandparents' affections.

Even if this was true, avoid getting bogged down in this kind of thinking. If you don't want your family to turn into some kind of chess game where either you win or Sally wins, you need to eliminate any of this kind of adversarial thinking.

Your in-laws loving you and your in-laws loving your grandkids are not mutually exclusive. There's never anything wrong with someone showing love and kindness to other family members. If you try to bring more positivity into the situation yourself, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that it makes the situation better for everyone, including you and your husband.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:40 AM on November 18, 2008

To answer those of you who have asked about my husband's reactions and whether he's spoken with his family: He is put off by it, not quite to the extent that I am. His view is, yes it's shady, yes it's annoying, but I can't change it, so I will learn to live with it. He has spoken about this to his parents two or three times, but they deny any difference in the way any of us are treated. However, Mike is the baby of the family, who has apparently always gotten special treatment and the parents won't admit to this, either, despite my husband's and his brothers' recollections.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:42 AM on November 18, 2008

It bothered me that she was able to walk into the room and be in the family, and I felt like I had to work at it.

I knew a girl who was like this at parties. She'd walk in the room and BAM, everyone would be fixated on her. I'm more of a introverted wallflower and I was intensely jealous. She was also a speed addict with an abusive boyfriend. In my experience, people who make self-destructive choices, especially with regards to drugs, sex, and alcohol, are often able to compensate by having an engaging personality. I'll stick with my relatively boring self, TYVM.
posted by desjardins at 10:45 AM on November 18, 2008 [7 favorites]

Mike is the baby of the family, who has apparently always gotten special treatment and the parents won't admit to this, either, despite my husband's and his brothers' recollections.

Exactly. The family dynamic existed pre-Sally and pre-you, and the family resentments were already there as well, deeply entrenched. So you and Sally are fitting in exactly where Mike's spouse and Husband's spouse were designed to fit.

So you can play that role or create your own. Your choice.
posted by headnsouth at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

Mike is the baby of the family, who has apparently always gotten special treatment

Yeah, this was my other thought. It's possible his parents were just happy that he'd pulled out of his funk after his failed engagement, and didn't really care how that happened.
posted by desjardins at 10:48 AM on November 18, 2008

I think you're extremely competitive with Sally, and it doesn't sound like she's particularly competitive with you. It's a game you can't win, so why play?

If you're wondering what the competition's's for your in-law's attention and favour, I assume.

Leaving you out of the photo - happens all the time, don't take it personally. Even though you felt like part of the family, you weren't officially, at that time.

Her baby's due date being the same as your wedding date -- you say this as if she planned it that way -- that's insane! I doubt they were having sex with a calendar and a calculator just to mess up your special day.

Stop seeing it as a competition. Drop the tug of war rope. Think of her as a person who has an interesting side you'd like to get to know (because there's an interesting side to everyone).

Organize some fun things for the two of you to do one-on-one. Go get manicures together, go both escape your in-laws together, whatever. Try to be this woman's friend and stop competiting with her! Realize that your jealous behaviour is a turnoff and just try being nice and try to make a new ally. After all, it's you two against the out-laws.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Good points, headnsouth and desjardins. You're both completely right. Also, amelioration, I'm surprised you were able to pick out the issue with my own family. I don't have much contact (and what contact I do have is usually not positive) with my family, and I suppose that I put a lot of pressure on my husband's family to be my own functional family. This, I know, has a part in my issues.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I thought that might be the case... mostly because I know how it goes. Might I suggest talking with your in-laws and letting them know how much you value being part of the family? Not as any kind of ploy to win attention back that has been diverted to Sally and the new babeh, of course. But a sincere expression of what they mean to you might really come as a welcome and appreciated surprise to them if you're as reserved and slow-to-warm as you describe yourself. Showing that vulnerability can be frightening, but it might also speed their embrace of you as well. Which might make it significantly easier to forgive Sally her dramatic attention-getting ways, and actually learn to enjoy her.
posted by amelioration at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2008

The flip side to this is, I would really like to get close to Sally, and our nieces and nephews. I don't have any siblings nearly old enough to have kids, so these are my first. I'd like to be able to get along with her, but it seems like she doesn't really find me necessary or important and I feel shunned when she's around.

If we can tell from your descriptions and word choices just how poorly you think of her and her relationship with your brother in law then you can be certain she can.

I am not trying to beat up on you here, but consider how she probably viewed this:

Someone asked when the baby was due, and Sally named our wedding date. Husband and I quietly excused ourselves for a walk and didn't return until Mike and Sally were gone.

A number of people have been indelicate with your feelings, but consider the difference between

* showing poor timing in asking your MC to lay some praise on new parents
* walking out on the discussion/celebration of a pregnancy

That's a pretty strong slap in the face to deliver to someone because their due date happens to coincide with your wedding date. What exactly do you feel they could have done differently there? If they'd responded to an announcement from your and your husband in a similar way how would you be describing it to us now?

It isn't really relevant beyond considering that other people probably have a very different take on the situation and you'll have to keep that in mind if you want to move beyond the way things are. I think the best thing you can do is try to put on a positive attitude and treat Sally and others the way you'd like to treated. You also should try to speak up more when you feel like you're being poorly treated and want more attention/consideration.

Your husband should be your ally in this; he can make simple requests of his mother and other family members like "hey, it may not be obvious but X is a big deal for wife - make sure you give her a nice atta-girl about it, huh?" It'll be a lot easier for him to make these requests if you set the positive example.
posted by phearlez at 11:58 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a little bewildered by most of these comments. I think you have every right to be annoyed/frustrated with the situation. Sally sounds like a jerk.

I'd talk to the inlaws about how you feel.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You seem to be stuck in an either or mentality where there is only one in-law whom the parents love. Not true.

Make an effort to talk to his parents more, call, write emails.

Do the same with her.

Try to avoid interacting with both at the same time.

Oh, and get used to kids getting a lot of attention. You really shouldn't be competing with them. Rather, enjoy sending them stuff and generally having access to some cute little people.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:33 PM on November 18, 2008

I've encountered a couple of "Sallys" in my lifetime, not only in a familial sense but also in the workplace. Some new person on the scene who comes on like gangbusters and almost demands "Here I am, love me!!" They are boisterous, they go out of their way to ingratiate themselves to certain people (in your case, your in-laws, but I've seen a couple of "Sallys" do the same to the boss or manager). She's an attention whore who not only came into the picture with three built-in "grandchildren," but who is now also beating your and Husband to the punch by providing Mike's parents with a brand-new grandbaby.

My only suggestion is to continue acting as you currently do towards your in-laws, with kindness, courtesy and consideration. It will pay off in the long run, as (trust me) they will eventually burn out on Sally's antics. Several years ago, one of Mr. Adams' sister-in-laws gave birth to (IVF) triplets, and her bedrest pregnancy and the subsequent wonderment of three infants at once occupied much of my in-laws attention. For a while. Eventually the triplets grew into unruly toddlers, their mother's constant drama grew wearisome, and today it is unspoken but obvious that Mr. Adams and I are the "favored" children of his parents, because when we visit (we live some 800 miiles away), we are considerate houseguests who don't make a mess or fuss and don't have three uncontrollable screaming kids in tow.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:36 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

roomthreeseventeen, I'd be surprised if anyone here thinks Sally is totally awesome and alpha_betty is completely crazy and unreasonable.

But in the end, they're family and we're trying to give productive ideas for how to move on from the bad feelings and make things right. If Sally were posting here instead of alpha_betty, we would of course give her advice about what behavior she should examine.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:39 PM on November 18, 2008

Sally sounds god awful, but that being said I think you need to look at this from a different perspective.

You are part of good normal healthy relationship. Sally and Mike have turned what should have been an odd fling into a relationship and then they brought children into it. This could turn ugly so quickly it's not even funny. I'm guessing your inlaws recognize this and for the sake of their son and new grandchild are doing everything in their power to bolster the relationship and make it a success. This means bringing Sally deep into the fold, fully embracing her existing children and their new grandchild. You don't need all their love and affection, you are A-OK all by yourself. Now it sucks to be shoved to the side because you are not a total mess and to not be getting attention because you've done everything right, but you need to let it go. Yeah it was really inconsiderate for her to have her shower on the same day as yours, that your wedding had to revolve around them. I would be bitter too, but don't take it personally. I have a feeling that whether it's for good reasons or bad reasons Mike and Sally will be your inlaws main focus for years and years to come. Do what most people do with families like this: show up for holidays, have a nice time, and then don't think about them again until the next family holiday/birthday rolls around.
posted by whoaali at 12:45 PM on November 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

I guess it's a little late for it at this point, but originally I didn't post a lot of what Sally has done because I didn't think it was entirely relevant. Awhile back, she made a big to-do at a dinner that she needed my/our email and mailing addresses to keep in touch. We have not heard from her since. I don't have her phone number or email address. I admit that I could get these easily enough.

When we are in town and she and Mike have Husband's parents over for a barbeque or one of her kids' birthday parties, we and Husband's other brothers are not invited. I take this to mean that she is not interested in having relationships with us, or in us having relationships with her kids. I could be wrong.

Once we were at her house (actually on the way out of town while the parents were at one of the above-mentioned birthday parties) and she was off doing something in another room with one of the kids when we had to leave (had to be at work later that day, 4 hours away - so we had to leave ASAP). We hung out for a little while and said goodbye to everyone, then started to leave. She yelled, "DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE TO ME!" and threw herself on each of us for a hug. Husband's parents and brother went back inside while she was hugging, and then she shrugged and said, "See ya."

I should also add, because I don't think I made it clear before, that in the span of two days, Husband and I traveled from our hometown to theirs, did several errands for their wedding, rushed around to pick up and drop off various people, saw them get married, had a Christmas get together with his family, and THAT's when the pregnancy bomb was dropped. As I said before - we did not respond appropriately, but our emotions were a little bit overwhelming just then. I know it was wrong. I do not hold the fact that their baby was due on our wedding date against her or them.

Weird stuff, in my opinion. In any case, I appreciate all of the responses and will try a few of them. If nothing else, though, you have all provided me with much-needed perspective. Thank you.
posted by alpha_betty at 12:49 PM on November 18, 2008

Er, I guess I didn't fully finish my paragraph up there. (actually on our way out of town while the parents were at a birthday party, we stopped by to say goodbye) is how it should read.
posted by alpha_betty at 12:52 PM on November 18, 2008

Fully finish my thought, is what I meant to say. Geez.
posted by alpha_betty at 12:54 PM on November 18, 2008

I think you have every right to be annoyed/frustrated with the situation.

Sure. So?

Sally's behavior cannot be controlled by anyone but Sally. Alpha_betty, on the other hand, has the ability to control her reaction to Sally 100%. Alpha_betty cannot, on the other hand, change the fact that this person is in her life.

It's also worth noting that at this point it's flat out impossible to say for sure whether Sally is just a jerk or thinks she's the wronged party here. Maybe she thinks that the person who has been a part of the family dynamic far longer than her has it in for her and the best she can do is put on a good show for the parents. Who knows when there's this much water under the bridge, and what good does it do to assign blame at this point?

For example, you don't get invited to events at their place. How can we know anymore whether that's because they don't want you in their life rather than they believe you flat-out disapprove of them? She asked for your contact information but never did anything with it - but maybe for her the asking was the overture, and you didn't respond with a request in kind. There reaches a point in a contentious relationship where you can no longer view an incident in a vacuum.

Your question is Can you help me identify what my problem is, and how to get over it?

Your problem is that you have a bad relationship with part of your husband's family. Getting over it starts with accepting that your problem is NOT the umpteen unpleasant past incidents, it's the way things are now. Thinking about them as ways in which you were wronged is counter-productive. You've got to reset things and that might require making a lot of effort that initially seems one-sided.

Hit the reset button in your mind and start from scratch, even if she doesn't do so immediately. Make overtures that maybe don't come naturally. Assume that resistance isn't necessarily an indication that she doesn't want what you're trying for. Flat-out say that you want a better relationship and resist any temptation or invitation to rehash old wrongs. If you're provoked into it say nothing more than "I realized that I'd viewed a lot of things as personal and slights and was hanging on to those reactions. I want to put them in the past and have a good relationship with my family."

If in the end it's a lot of effort that she refuses to accept and acknowledge you'll at least know you did the right thing and tried your best.
posted by phearlez at 2:42 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I joined my husband's family at a young age (we started dating in high school, and by the time I was 18 or 19 I had a standing invite to all family events), and it took me a while to feel truly comfortable with the group. One thing that helped me was that I came from a large and close extended family, which also describes the family I was joining, so I understood the overall dynamics (I'm saying this because you mentioned that you have a strained relationship with your own family).

The thing about being in a family is that no one is ever really treated the same. If you try to keep score on every little point you are in for a miserable fifty-plus years of a relationship with your in-laws. My father-in-law has asked me to take photos of the rest of the family, and it's hard to overlook the fact that I'm the one out of the picture. But for that one instance, I can easily come up with a dozen acts of kindness and love on his part, and it feels really petty to dwell on something that probably never even crossed his mind as something that might bother me.

I think you have some legitimate reasons for being disappointed with how certain events turn out, but part of being in a big family is overlapping ups and downs, craziness and good times. Furthermore, newness is always exciting. Chances are your in-laws accepted you as a part of the family long before your marriage, whereas the brother and his wife had more of a whirlwind relationship, and then a new baby on top of it. Yes, your in-laws be excited over the newness, but it doesn't take away from how they feel about you and your husband.

The thing is that you're giving Sally a massive amount of control over your happiness. Put your energy into a good relationship with your husband, and then with your husband's parents. Be civil and cordial, but remember that she has no control over you or your relationship with your husband and his parents. She's just not really that important, but she's driving you to avoid family and seek therapy.
posted by handful of rain at 3:29 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I don't think I'd want to be close with/best pals with Sally. I feel my teeth gritting just reading this, and that's while tactfully ignoring the whole "marry a barely-legal guy and get knocked up after 2 months" mama drama. I think I'd just stick to being polite when you have to see her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:59 PM on November 18, 2008

To me it sounds like Sally is putting on an act for the benefit of staying in your husband's parents' good graces. They may catch on eventually. Or maybe not. What seems most likely to me, I'm sorry to say, is that the marriage itself may not last -- they only knew one another for 2 months, they had a baby fast and babies are alot of stress on a marriage. If Mike gets divorced, however, chances are he might owe Sally lots of money in child support, so maybe that would be even worse for him.

My point is, someday in the near future, Mike's parents (and Mike) may not be as well disposed toward Sally as they are right now. If she is really like this, and you sincerely don't like her, I'm not sure you should bend over backwards to show her love that you don't really feel. If anything, I might consider pulling her aside where no one can hear at some future family gathering and letting her know that it has kind of hurt your feelings when she has held family functions at her house and not invited you even though you have invited her to all of your family functions. But don't make lots of drama or do this in front of the parents or anyone. (Also, if you do this, it means in the future you will have to go to these events, which may be more stressful for you.) But I think this would show Sally that you're willing to participate as a family member and that she can't walk all over you without you noticing and speaking up.

In general, though, I advise you to try to let Sally's antics roll off your back as much as you can. You don't need to suck up to Sally just because she is in your husband's parents' good graces right now. Slow and steady wins the race. :) Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:24 PM on November 18, 2008

I'm surprised to see that nobody's really pointed out that she's one-upmanshipping you here to assert her place in the family ahead of you. She has Queen Bee syndrome and it's working out wite well for her. Call me cynical, but she seems to have turned this into a competitive sport, and you're not winning.

* Get engaged after, but get married first? Check.
* Get pregnant almost instantly and produce first grandchild? Check.
* Schedule baby shower same day as bridal shower? Check.

And you know, seriously, fuck that noise. You're sitting there and grumbling and feeling badly and very politely trying to talk about this, but you need to plaster a smile on your face and strong arm yourself back in there.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:25 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

DarlingBri and smallstatic, I marked many Best Answers, but I want you to know that you both helped with your pep talks. I really appreciate it.
posted by alpha_betty at 7:44 PM on November 18, 2008

You know, I'm glad you wrote this:

In addition, I know that the pregnancy wasn't planned to coincide with our wedding date. Given, acknowledged. No one's fault, but still sucky to deal with.

...but bemused that you favourited these:

...not leaving enough space in the calendar for already-planned activites.

And fwiw, she did totally steal your thunder in your wedding events and I'd be pissed too if I had to put up with all of that.

...because if anything screams "the drama queen with no sense of perspective who needs to get their head straightened out is the one having the wedding", it would be the people who think that a couple have deliberately committed a grave social offence by getting pregnant.

Or, as FlyingSquirrel put it:

Her baby's due date being the same as your wedding date -- you say this as if she planned it that way -- that's insane! I doubt they were having sex with a calendar and a calculator just to mess up your special day.

His view is, yes it's shady, yes it's annoying, but I can't change it, so I will learn to live with it.

You need to take some cues from your husband. Frankly, it sounds like the problem has more to do with his issues with his little brother and the pair of you deciding you dislike his girlfriend-now-spouse before giving her a chance, frankly. Move on. Stop storming out of family events because "Sally got pregnant and it's due near our wedding". Quit assuming everything she does is aimed at you, you, you. Relax and accept that newly minted grandparents will be all over a new kid like a rash.
posted by rodgerd at 1:14 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Rodgerd, because you're calling out my comment, let's review the timeline of events:

July - 20 year old Mike (baby of the family, always had special treatment from parents) breaks up with his fiance and starts binge drinking.

September - While in this state, Sally, a THIRTY year old mother of THREE CHILDREN comes across this young guy and somehow thinks to herself: relationship material

October - Mike's 21st... naked "gyrating" ensues with audience (were Sally's children home? who knows)

November - engaged

December - pregnant (so she waited until she was married to tell everyone she was pregnant, but obviously didn't wait until she was married to _get_ pregnant)

It fascinates me that given this progression of events you're surprised that I would assign a bit of intention/responsibility to Sally (and conclude that she was stealing Betty's thunder) in the timing of her pregnancy. Really. I'm fascinated.

Because to me, this woman, who already has three children, is almost a full decade older than Mike, and who didn't even wait to get married before getting pregnant again, all the while knowing that her soon to be brother in law was getting married the next summer, MAY have thought to herself that waiting to have yet another kid would be the right thing to do.

Maybe that's just me. Or the birth control failed. Again, we don't know. So it's not so much that the day was the same - because honestly, that's just wierd and you're right, there's no way to know - it's more that the whole situation was rushed from the get go* and it would have been nice for Sally and Mike to wait to have kids, at least planning until after Betty and her husband's wedding.

*If this was an established couple who had been trying for kids for a while, I would not be so critical. I know that planning pregnancies is not a perfect science.
posted by smallstatic at 8:21 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Coming in late to the conversation,
but... for the last comment:

Who the hell cares enough about their not yet brother-in-law to plan a freaking baby around them, let alone to spite them?

If it helps, I was oblivious as to why most of the offenses in the original post would be regarded as odd.
Actually, it sounds like they got pregnant - then quickly got married. Logical. It's common not to tell anyone about a pregnancy in the first trimester, or until after a wedding.
Would she have been pregnant when the step-children were first introduced to the Grandparents? That would give a hammerweight justification for the 'Grandma' discussion.

But... None of this is intended to slight the original poster.
And providing alternative justifications for your SIL actions doesn't remove anything away from the validity of your feelings were hurt by these events. You feel hurt, that sucks.
From an outside perspective, while I don't believe that most of the events were intended to hurt you, more to the point - it doesn't matter.
I just don't think you'll get over this while regarding them as deliberate, while focusing on these slights and while holding on to the resentment.

It sounds like you really, genuinely do just want to let it go, but are having difficulty.

It'll sound like a platitude, but these things happen. Think of a zillion other things that could have happened at a wedding, other than someone bringing a new baby. In my family, weddings & funerals are often the first chance the extended family gets to see a new baby, and there are almost ALWAYS babies. The only thing that helps is that there's usually multiple babies, and they're not usually it MILs. There are worse ways to be upstaged by events, there are people who married the day or day after 9/11, on the day of a family tradgedy - all sorts of things.

You have your whole marriage to look forward to, not one day to look back on, not a new family member (the baby) to feel resentful about.
For your own sake, imagine forgiving your B&SIL and their baby. The resentment you hold won't hurt them, it's only hurting you. Forgive them, regardless of who was at fault, and find your own way of feeling part of the family again.

Sometime soon, it sounds like you'll be focusing on having a family of your own. The baby and children will be cousins with your children. Maybe just make a point of being friendly, and saying you really want to be a good Aunty.
I'd say not mentioning it, and moving forward would be the best tactic.

If you think it's really completely obvious that there's some strained feeling, wait til you're both eating or holding cups of coffee, and feeling relatively secure or safe, and then just say something really, really quick, and short, and obvious. Like... "Y'know - I feel like we got off to a bit of a rocky start, given we were both so busy with our weddings, and *baby's* birth. But, I'd like to get to know your family better, and be a good Aunty to (name all kids names)." and possibly segue into some kind of request that'd let her be the expert, probably something around "I've never really been around babies much, and these are my first neices and nephews." / "I'm kind of nervous about being a mom one day myself, and I'd love to help out / take them out for the day / could I hold 'baby' etc" whatever it is you want to do with neices/nephews.

Letting go of things, it is harder than it sounds, but - it's your time that is being taken up by feeling bad about this, not theirs. So you are the one who has the power to free yourself from this.

If they are truly toxic personalities, you need to remove yourself from them whenever possible, and you still need to let go, in order to detach from it.

My best wishes for you. Meanwhile, what things do you really love about the wedding?
posted by Elysum at 7:11 PM on November 24, 2008

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