Making My Own Misery
December 5, 2011 3:04 PM   Subscribe

I need some wisdom to get the chip off my shoulder.

My husband loves his parents very much. He likes them and enjoys being around them. Parents live out of our state half of the year. They live right up the street from us in the Fall and Winter months.

My in-laws love my kids. They love my husband. They want to be with us (them) all of the time. My MIL calls my husband daily. She visits him at work. (He has a job that is open to the public. It's not like she is visiting his office.) She invites us to dinner weekly and goes to all of my kids' sporting events and concerts.

It annoys me to no end that we get continuous invitations to her (MIL) house and elsewhere. She is respectful of us. She doesn't butt in. She doesn't tell us how to parent. She has never trash-talked me to my husband. But, she is subtle like a sledgehammer -- she wants what she wants and isn't afraid to ask for it and ask again in a manner that makes you feel pressured and on the spot. She is not the type of person to let you off the hook. She's not the type to say, "Oh, it sounds like you are very busy, that's okay, we'll do it another time." She does not acknowledge any difficulty you may be having, she just wants what she wants. I know it is up to me/us to create boundaries and tell her no and we do. It just pains me that she cannot acknowledge the fact that we are not always available and that we may not want to spend every Saturday night at her house, and that we have kids and homework and all of the other craziness that goes with having kids and jobs and lives. When we go to dinner at her house (weekly at least) she is inviting us again before we get out the door. Lately, we have been eating dinner (and sitting on the couch watching TV) with them every other week. On the in-between weeks we drop the kids off and go for a date. I am reluctant to do this because I still think it's too much.

Here is the real disturbing problem: Because I have become increasingly annoyed I am very quiet around my MIL. I don't initiate conversation. I am not rude. I'm pleasant as I can be in these situations but I only speak when spoken to. This is so weird and obvious and immature. I don't talk with her like I used to. I don't invite them over (she makes subtle digs at my cooking and it's insulting. My cooking is fine and gets rave reviews from plenty.)

I judge her harshly. We think pretty much the same when it comes to politics. I think she can be mean-spirited when it comes to politics and I judge her for it. I am irritated that she buys us expensive Christmas gifts but is so frugal she won't buy herself anything new. I am irritated that we have to exchange Christmas gifts with them and they look to Christmas as receiving gifts that they are too cheap to buy for themselves. One year she told us that FIL could use some new swimming trunks. I did not buy swimming trunks. Buy your own swimming trunks. FIL is sixty-years-old with an income. She volunteered this information. I didn't ask what they wanted and never do. I'm irritated with how she speaks. She is always so "pleased". I am so pleased Cousin Jane is moving to Mayberry. I am so pleased Nephew John doesn't have same genetic disease as Nephew James. Oh really? You're pleased? I'm sure they weren't trying to please you.

I have become so irritated by her that I can barely sit next to her and have a casual conversation. Because of this I did not attend my son's' last game because I knew they (in-laws) would be there. My son had a great game -- best of the season so far -- and I missed it because I have this thing against my MIL. I know it is petty and I know that I am being unreasonable.

I resent her self-assuredness. She is so confident that we want to spend time with her. She is always asking. Always wanting. I think it's a bit nervy but this is because I am more cautious when it comes to always inviting people. I have this big thing where I never want to inconvenience anybody and she doesn't. She doesn't look at it as an inconvenience.

How I am behaving is not productive. It's not nice and it's only causing me greater stress. They are not terrible people. What is going on and how can I be more mature and get past this and talk?

Thank you very much for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
She's not your mother and you're not a teenager. You need to do and say what you want without worrying about her reaction. She's a grown woman, she'll deal. You're a grown woman too, start believing it.
posted by fshgrl at 3:12 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Take a page out of her book: Want what you want and ask for it. Say no when you want to say no.

Because here's the thing: I'll bet you money she has no real idea she's annoying because she thinks you work like she does. And if someone was inconveniencing her, she would sure as hell put her foot down. And so, because you don't, you're fine.

In fact, she may think you're kinda needy.

I'm like you, I don't like people who are bulldozers. I don't want to have to defend my boundaries, I want people to assume they are there. But the world is full of people like her who get what they want just by wanting it a whole lot. She may be surprised and confused when you start to push back, but you can just tell her you really admire her and want to be more like her, so you're being more forthright about your desires.

She doesn't have to like it. You will feel much better when you are not constantly being run over. All it's going to cost you, likely, is a little assertiveness that you may initially find uncomfortable, but should pay for itself pretty quickly in peace and quiet.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:17 PM on December 5, 2011 [14 favorites]

This sounds like an Ask Culture vs Guess Culture thing to me.

It's OK to say no to her once in a while. In fact, she probably expects it. "We can't make this Saturday, we've got xxx on, but perhaps next week?" is likely not going to be rude to her.
posted by Xany at 3:18 PM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

I have two brothers. My sisters-in-law think this about my Mom. My Mom is TERRIFIED that she's overstepping and walks on eggshells in order to try to accommodate them, which makes them think she's TRYING TOO HARD ONCE AGAIN. It's like a vicious cycle.

To me, this sounds like you treat everything she does as evidence that she's trying to steal your husband and kids' attention away from you. Instead of focusing on her needs, why don't you decide how much interaction you want? You don't always have to say yes. She's a grownup, and she can probably handle "no" once in awhile without the passive-aggressive treatment you report giving her.
posted by xingcat at 3:20 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding Xany's call on the Ask VZ Guess culture thing.

She doesn't sound bad to me, but I'm not you, and more importantly, I don't have kids and am not married (even though I'm old).

The presents thing isn't meant as an insult: older people are very hard to buy for, and it's a GOOD thing when they tell you what they want (swim trunks, new tire iron, what have you). They're not being cheap, exactly -- I suspect they've reached the age where they don't want you to buy something that will sit in their basement until they move to the old folks home. They want you to spend your money on something they will use: be happy, and buy them what they ask for, if it seems good to you.

The overwhelming generosity suggests that this is a woman who loves to give and wouldn't in a million years think of giving as an imposition. Don't squash her; let her know what she can give you, what you'd REALLY like help with. Don't let her move into your life and sit on it until you hate her.

What does your SO say? He should know how you feel, and help you, no matter how much he loves his mom.
posted by jrochest at 3:23 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Usually when I'm that level of irritated at another person, it's because I'm experiencing a high level of anxiety for some reason [maybe it's them, maybe it's not] and/or I'm working through some other emotion that I'm not able to access because I'm sort of compartmentalized and closed off. Jealousy? Envy? Something? Maybe you're having issues with how your partner is or is not managing this problem on his end? Often working with partners to make it clear to them that they're standard means of interacting with their family are not yours and you need to find a joint way to interact that works for everyone, not "this is how we've done it." Maybe you're stressed out with parenting responsibilities? Maybe the holidays make everyone crazy?

I have, in the past, dated guys who had families that were very puppy-pile like this. They just liked to be together. A lot. And talk about stuff. A lot. I'm more reserved, introverted, and prefer quiet and my own company a lot, or peaceful time with my SO. I'm a bit judgmental and I try to keep it to myself because to me, that's manners. They do not and so I felt like I was basically invited to be there to just listen to their list of judgments all day long. But realistically, that is what they were like and it was up to my SO to basically help both them and me navigate this situation culturally. I have to say it was a bit of a mess. The new guy I'm with is more of an advocate for my needs with his family and it all works much better. Maybe this is you? Maybe not.

So I'd try to untangle why this reaction is so visceral on your part. You know it's a little over the top [most of the things you're describing to me about how they operate seem very normal to me, so this may be Ask vs Guess culture at work] and you'd like to be able to dial it back, but if you're this level of pissed off, faking it til you make it won't really work for you. I'd think about what your relationships are like with your own folks and whether these are pushing any buttons. I'd think about your stress levels and whether there are ways to ameliorate them somewhat. I'd think about ways you and your partner could work together to make this sort of thing work better for you [set arrival/departure times? maybe he can spend some time with them without you?]. I'd try to talk to your partner about this wihout blame and try to find some strategies, and I'd debrief after these unpleasant exchanges to see if what you're doing is working. I'd try to be proactive about deciding when you're going to see them over the holidays and trying to stick to it not just be beholden to their invites and phone calls.

And you need to own your own part of this. It sounds like you do, sort of, but the son's game had nothing to do with your MIL. You know this and yet you tell the story. I'd try to figure out what you're looking for there? Same with the swim trunks. This is clearly just a cultural difference [in my family we totally do this "I need socks" thing] and yet you have this sneering response that you needed to share with us. I think the first step [as someone with a sneering inside-my-head voice] is to stop giving voice to the crappy thoughts you have, or save them for one bitch session a week with a good friend and don't make it part of your active inner world. Nasty talk is against the rules, generally, and if you're trying to work on this, don't indulge in it. It's toxic, as you know, and when you're trying to work out stuff like this, it doesn't make your side of the story sound compelling. So finding a way to reframe it with more owning of your own emotions "When they asked me to buy them swimsuits I felt ______" Clearly your culture isn't universal. Clearly theirs isn't. They may or may not work to meet you partway. You need to decide what to do. Good luck, I know this sort of thing is lousy.
posted by jessamyn at 3:23 PM on December 5, 2011 [27 favorites]

You need to enlist your husband's aid in this. Let him know how you are feeling and ask for his help in setting clearer boundaries with your MIL. You need to work on the things you can control and let go of the things you can't. If your spouse is OK with his Mom visiting him at work--let that go. The kids games are public, so let their attendance go as well. Get control over the dinner ritual and I think you will find that the other stuff won't bother you as much.

Give her what she asks for at Christmas--sounds like she is a practical person who wants practical things. Try to change your perspective--sometimes it is nice to know exactly what someone wants and to give them that. If you think your FIL would prefer something else or like to be surprised, ask him.

It seems like there are lots of assumptions being made and not enough talking.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:27 PM on December 5, 2011

To clarify my mother/ teenager comment: you phrase all of this as things your MIL does to you that you are powerless to control. This is not true.
posted by fshgrl at 3:38 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

You are being the toxic one. All I could think of when I read this...

One year she told us that FIL could use some new swimming trunks. I did not buy swimming trunks. Buy your own swimming trunks. FIL is sixty-years-old with an income. She volunteered this information. I didn't ask what they wanted and never do.

...was, "Grow up, already." This is how family stuff works, and they're your family now. Suggesting gift ideas is a totally standard thing to do. You seem to be fully aware that your reactions are both unfair and purely personal. Well, they're not going anywhere, and neither are you, and you're the one with the problem -- that means it's up to you.

It sounds to me like you feel like you've been jumped/absorbed into her world, and you resent it. Have you tried jumping her into yours? Invite her to participate in something that you enjoy. Offer her the chance to try things she hasn't done before or get to see a different side of you. Or simply take more time for yourself -- develop a hobby that is absorbing and private that you can (occasionally) use as an excuse to get out of obligatory social events.

The closer you get with her, the more you can enforce your personal boundaries without seeming aloof, cold, or flat-out rude. I can understand resenting someone if they act totally cheerful while making life harder for you, but allowing yourself to carry on a resentment for someone who's just being cheerful and existing is self-indulgent.
posted by hermitosis at 3:41 PM on December 5, 2011 [36 favorites]

I'm not sure why everyone is getting down on you OP, this sounds like A LOT of face-time with your in-laws. Especially if you're not into that. You don't sound into that. Is your husband OK with that level of contact? By now, to your kids, it must seem normal to have Grandma and Grandpa around all the time. That's a lot of folks you're out of sync with on this issue, huh?

I bet you are deeply resentful because you seem powerless in the culture of this family dynamic. I bet you'd like it SO MUCH MORE if you felt like you were more in charge of your family time when your MIL is in town.

It sounds like she (very nicely) asserts her matrich status every chance she gets. Living that close by - wow. You never get a break. That's why you are so white hot right now. There. Is. No. Break. From. This. Dynamic.

Talk to your husband, if you can.

It just sounds like you see them way way too often for you, personally, to feel comfortable. I bet you are not on the same page with your husband about this and you think you'll look like a bad guy if you bring it up. Work with a friend to get the wording neutral, but you must talk to your husband about this.

Besides feeling invaded, I bet you have become so deeply resentful because you lacked the words to share this with your spouse back when your emotions were still at manageable levels.

I'm super private. If my MIL was all up in my grill the way yours is up in yours... Yep. I think you are within the range of normal here. You just let it get out of hand by not speaking up sooner.

You need to dial back on the "together time." After that is accomplished, stuff like the swim trunks comment won't seem such a big deal.
posted by jbenben at 4:16 PM on December 5, 2011 [17 favorites]

It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed, just like most busy moms. You desperately need some time and space just for you, for you to recharge. Your kids need you, your husband needs you, your work needs you and you are feeling an added need from your mother in law. You need a break. Ask her if she will take the kids for the weekend and then plan something for you and a girlfriend, or even you alone. Then repeat, at least every other month. She will irritate you less after this, I promise.
posted by myselfasme at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It just pains me that she cannot acknowledge the fact that we are not always available

Start by accepting this as a neutral fact and let go of framing it as a moral failing. Think of it as the equivalent of being unable to reach the top shelf in her kitchen. Would you hold it against her for being too short, or being in a wheelchair? I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you wouldn't. Try seeing this as something in the same category -- it's simply a limitation that she has.

Here's an example regarding my own parents. My parents are good people who love me. They also have pretty limited stores of compassion, empathy, and emotional support when difficult things happen to other people. I spent most of my life hitting my head against this wall -- I kept wanting them to behave in one way, and so was constantly being disappointed, frustrated, confused, and hurt because they behaved another way. But they behaved this way because it's who they are. My expectations of them were unrealistic and unfair -- unfair to me, and unfair to them. I was setting them (and this part of our relationship) for failure.

Finally I stopped judging their limits of compassion/empathy as best I could; I just accepted it as something I had to accommodate. I use the metaphor of a car that can only hold about a quarter tank of gas: you can expect to go a short distance, and that can be helpful in its own way, but you know ahead of time that you shouldn't expect the car to take you long-distance. Knowing very clearly what to expect of them has helped me tremendously -- I know to turn to other people in my life for the day-in, day-out support when the going gets rough, and therefore I can appreciate what support they are able to give. I have no idea if they've noticed the difference, but I am certainly much happier.

One year she told us that FIL could use some new swimming trunks. I did not buy swimming trunks. Buy your own swimming trunks. FIL is sixty-years-old with an income. She volunteered this information. I didn't ask what they wanted and never do. I'm irritated with how she speaks. She is always so "pleased". I am so pleased Cousin Jane is moving to Mayberry. I am so pleased Nephew John doesn't have same genetic disease as Nephew James. Oh really? You're pleased? I'm sure they weren't trying to please you.

I get the sense that you genuinely don't want to be as petty or spiteful as this makes you sound. So how about being glad that your MIL told you what a useful present might be, so that you didn't waste your time or money buying somethinig your FIL didn't want? Isn't it possible that she was actually being considerate of you?

As for how she speaks... it sounds like a pretty toxic level of contempt has become habitual. So in order to break the habit, you start by being mindful: by consciously noticing when you have these thoughts... but then, instead of following the thought and building on it, you just notice it and let it go. Or even better: turn the framing around, like with the swim trunks. What would it be like to replace that mean voice in your head with a sincere one? Instead of sneering (to yourself) "oh, I'm just so sure that you're so pleased" the next time she uses that phrase, you actually shrug it off by thinking, in all sincerety "well, I hope it does bring her pleasure."

Don't let your inner monologue poison your life and your relationships.
posted by scody at 4:23 PM on December 5, 2011 [44 favorites]

I agree with Jbenben. This sounds like a quite reasonable MIL by most standards, you just can't handle her around 24/7, and are starting to invent reasons to hate her.

One year she told us that FIL could use some new swimming trunks. I did not buy swimming trunks. Buy your own swimming trunks. FIL is sixty-years-old with an income. She volunteered this information. I didn't ask what they wanted and never do.

She was trying to make your gift-buying easier, and also chose something that is relatively cheap and easy to obtain. This is leagues better than many in-laws.

Realize that pretty much anyone intruding into your life this much is going to piss you off, and it is not always going to be rational how that hatred is expressed. Your rant sounds like so many anti-roommate rants I've heard from friends -- it's easily solved with a bit more time to yourself.
posted by benzenedream at 4:26 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're really putting the most negative possible spin on everything your MIL does, and, in addition, you're assuming that she's doing a lot of these things to somehow insult you personally. You really, really need to stop doing this. You're making yourself angry and miserable for, in all likelihood, no reason at all, and you're depriving yourself of a MIL and grandparent to your kids who sounds like she could be a huge asset. I mean, regular childcare? Dinners you don't have to cook? Supportive and loving grandparent that shows affection for your kids? Someone who saves you the hassle of trying to think of gift ideas? Those things sound like they deserve a big YAY, at least from where I'm sitting. If you personally need more time to yourself/not doing extended-family time, use this to your advantage! Send your spouse & the kids over to your MIL's and do your own thing, and everyone wins.

Try to assume positive intent. Don't assume it's about you. There is a comment here that talks about doing this, and I am pretty sure that there are others scattered around.

Set boundaries for yourself and enforce them. It's not your MIL's job to do that for you, it's your job to do that for yourself, as a grownup. There's a Dear Sugar about boundary-setting and resentment that might help you.
posted by Kpele at 4:29 PM on December 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

I agree with jbenben and myselfasme. I think you need to change your attitude in some ways, too, for your own sanity as much as anyone else's benefit. If I were you, I'd bow out of some of these dinners. Three adults can't handle two kids? Sure they can. It'll give your hubby some closer time with his folks. They'd never say this, but I bet they'd appreciate it.

My MIL has boundary issues and has stepped over them mightily since out little one was born. One major difference is that my husband is on the same page. You don't mention a word about what he thinks.

Tell him you're burnt out on all his family together time. Give yourself permission to opt out and that includes not making heroic efforts to get your kids to their house, too. Shake things up a bit. Send one kid with hubby and have grilled cheese and movie night with the other one. But, you have to stand up for yourself and turn down the simmering rage.
posted by amanda at 4:32 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you already realize your attitude needs adjusting and are asking how to do that before this extremely valuable relationship turns toxic.

I have 2 suggestions: write a list of all the positive things about your MIL and what she does for you. At the bottom of the list write yourself a reminder: I love Gladys. Because you may not like her much right now but she is a super important person in your life. Review the list as necessary before times you'll meet up as a reminder to be pleasant.

2: Start planning a month at a time. Instead of being constantly barraged by requests for time, call her up and tell her you are getting organized and you want to plan the whole month. So, on the 4th we're coming over for dinner.... Then on the 7th we'll see you at the game - you knew about the game, right? And on the 11th DH and I have date night.... This will give you a chance to be proactive about setting the schedule to be what you want, and exert control. And then when she starts talking about next time when you are walking out the door, you can say, oh Gladys, we have that settled! We're coming over on the 14th.
posted by bq at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think scody had the best take on this. And hermitosis already told you to grow up. So, that's covered. But let me throw something else in.

Parents live out of our state half of the year. They live right up the street from us in the Fall and Winter months.

I'd start by giving this time a specific, fun name. "Hey kids! It's only two more weeks until Pleasedtember!"

And then just realize that the time of Pleasedtember just has a different set of rules. And that's OK. And in accepting this, you can start changing Pleasedtember to make it suit you.

"I think this Pleasedtember, I'm going to take an evening cooking class while MIL watches the kids. That should be fun! Hey kids, how about this Pleasedtember, you all start karate classes? Grandma can drive you to the studio! That oughta be fun, huh?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:58 PM on December 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

I totally understand how you are feeling. I've been there. Not with my own MIL, who is lovely, but like you I resent people who are constantly making demands, and have to dial back that resentment sometimes and get some perspective. Your "always asking. Always wanting," struck a chord with me.

Can you take a break from your MIL? For a week, let the rest of your family go see her, but you do other things? If you can arrange to be very busy for a week, you could get a breather.

Getting your husband to run interference could help too. If all her requests and demands could go through him and you don't have to hear them, you might be able to find the energy to be a little more gracious when you see her.

What helps me sometimes is simply to walk away when the person starts making demands. In a polite way, of course, but just say, "Excuse me for a minute," and smile and go for a walk by yourself.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:06 PM on December 5, 2011

What Cool Papa Bell said. You don't have to do all those things with the kids and your husband, right? You have your own hobbies and interests and THANK GOD MIL is around to take the kids every Wednesday night from 6 to 8 while you [learn to weld], [teach SCUBA to the homeless], [have Peruvian pipe band practice].
posted by small_ruminant at 5:07 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

And, yes, make your husband take over the scheduling. If he screws it up, so what? She'll forgive him. If you have the grandkids, you have all the leverage you need.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:08 PM on December 5, 2011

Ok, last comment. But almost always when I'm angry it's because I feel powerless, and I become a lot less angry when I remember that I have options.

Unless you're enslaved in the basement, you have a lot more options than you're remembering. Maybe it would even help to right them down, including the silly ones, like moving to Brazil and changing your name.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:11 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just because everyone seems to see the good point of the mil, I feel like someone needs to represent for the way the op must be feeling.

That woman is a smothering nightmare. I was irritated with her before the end of the story, and I can't imagine how bad it must be in person- like living with a cheerful hurricane.

But unfortunately people who are more extroverted will not be able to imagine how awful it must be to be trapped in a lifelong relationship with a woman who does not understand the meaning of space and boundaries.

Here is the thing: people like that woman have no idea how they're coming across. If you addressed it with her directly, no matter how carefully, she is going to be hurt and it is going to cause drama. So you're going to have to keep managing her without directly telling her so. The best way to start is by valuing your own time and thinking about how often you can deal with the hurricane. Send your husband and kids to visit. Make time to do your own things. Maybe limit your dinner visits to once a month until the expectation of being sledgehammered for an entire evening is less horrifying.

If it were me, I'd start letting my husband deal with his own mother. She wants to do something? Fine, talk to him and he can do it with her. If he genuinely is so attached to his mother that he wants her visiting him at work, great. If he starts to get sick of it, he knows how to tell her better than you do, and it might cause less drama coming from him.
posted by winna at 5:13 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

That woman is a smothering nightmare. I was irritated with her before the end of the story, and I can't imagine how bad it must be in person- like living with a cheerful hurricane.

No, we get it. At least, I do. My family is practically the California version of the WASPs in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Smothering is not a problem we have and we don't do well with it.

How I've dealt with it in other people is to 1) physically absent myself and 2) strategize ways in which MIL's sort of enthusiasm can be useful, 3) remind myself continually that it's no more personally directed at me than that stupid terrier's leg humping is.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:19 PM on December 5, 2011

This reminds me of my mother, who is exhausting. I had to basically retrain her that I was not going to instantly return her call, I was not going to accept every invite, etc. She stopped calling every day. She invites us over about once a week, but we only actually see her about every 3-4 weeks. This was a slow process and it was as much about retraining myself as it was her. There are some days I don't have the emotional energy to deal with her, and I've learned to recognize that in myself and stay home.

Be honest with your spouse (well, not too honest - I wouldn't say I hated her). Tell him that she is a good person but you feel drained and exhausted by spending so much time with her. Ask him for suggestions on how to create some safe space between you two.
posted by desjardins at 5:19 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Could you try beating her at her own game?

I mean: ask for tons of her time. Ask her BEFORE she offers. Ask her to sit the kids when you want to take off to the movies with your husband; ask her to sit the kids when you want to take off ALONE to the library. Ask her over for dinner; ask her over for dinner TWICE before she can invite you once. Come to her place with a list as long as your arm of cheerful topics to discuss, and be determined to discuss them all. Be determined to ENJOY those conversations. Cute little news stories and what-you-did-with-your-day and isn't Cousin Jamie just GRAND.

You might want to pick up a verbal tic of your own. I have a tendency to think things are just lovely.

Basically, I'm suggesting that part of what's making you nuts is the feeling of not being in control, and partly, what's making you not in control is that your in-laws never give you the opportunity to miss them, and don't seem to create a space where you can welcome them in to your life because they're already there. I'm suggesting that you say, hell with it, and welcome the HECK out of them. I think you might feel more in control of the situation, you might get a few giggles out of it (THERE, gramma, see what it feels like to have someone make conversation with you!), your in-laws may well like it, and gosh you'll feel better.
posted by endless_forms at 5:19 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mean, seriously, wouldn't the sweetest words you could hear be your mother-in-law saying, "oh, OP, we'd love to, but, um, the pie is burning gottagobye!"?
posted by endless_forms at 5:20 PM on December 5, 2011

strategize ways in which MIL's sort of enthusiasm can be useful

Yes. Create missions for her in which she can be generous and helpful. Make sure it's something you don't have a particular attachment to. "I'm thinking about planting a garden, what flowers do you think I should put here?" You'll have a garden planned out and planted for you.
posted by desjardins at 5:21 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I have a similarly lovely, understanding, super-involved MIL who I really get along with much better now that I see less of her. My husband still sees her at least once a week, but I see her maybe once a month. After getting more and more stressed out by seeing his parents all the time, I realized that I didn't have to say yes all the time. In fact, I didn't even have to say yes MOST of the time. I had a class, I had errands to run, I was going to the gym, I was just wiped out from a busy week and wanted a couple of hours to myself, whatever. I'm sure my in-laws were a little disappointed or felt a little rejected, but it didn't last long. And now my husband always asks if I want to join him on a visit to his mom, and sometimes I go and more often I don't, but when I do, it's really quite pleasant.

So here are some questions for you to consider: How does your husband feel about all this? Have you talked to him about it? Does he know that you're feeling stressed out by the amount of interaction you have with her? Unless you've told him flat-out more than once, he really may not realize that this is a chronic problem for you.

If your husband IS aware, is it possible that the source of your irritation with your MIL is really because you are resentful of his failure to stand up for you? Or that when push comes to shove, he chooses his mom's happiness over yours? Is it possible that you feel like you're competing with her for your husband's attention? It sounds like she could quite possibly get more undivided time with him than you do. (And yeah, I feel like this too sometimes.)

Could it be possible that he might be *relieved* if you said, "You know honey, we don't have to spend every weekend with your folks." Perhaps he feels just as pressured by his mom, but he's been living with it HIS WHOLE LIFE and maybe he needs a nudge from you to get him to dial it back with her.

Talk to your husband about this. Say no more often to your MIL and go find something relaxing to do by yourself as an excuse (yoga class?). Do not let yourself become the person who gets annoyed because people can't read your mind.

I sympathize with you because I was so, so there. Giving myself permission to say no was the single best thing I did to improve my relationship with my MIL. You might hurt her feelings at first, but maybe not as much as you fear. Good luck.
posted by elizeh at 5:33 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see a lot of things, in your question, that you dislike. But what I do not see is anything you want. It's not, "She does X when I want her to do Y." Instead, it's just, "She does X and I hate it."

Here's what I think: I think you are displacing anger and resentment about not being satisfied in general on your MIL. In other words, I think you are going through your life feeling unhappy, attacked, and dissatisfied, but you don't know how to deal with those feelings. You don't know what you want, so you can't address the fact you're not getting what you want. But it has something to do with your MIL's mode of conversation and planning, and so you're taking it all out on her.

I think you need to pay very close attention to when, exactly, you feel rage or resentment. She says FIL needs swimtrunks and you get angry -- why? No, it's not good enough to say "Because he can buy his own!" What was it about her request that made you angry? No, not what about her makes you angry, but what about that situation, when she made the request, led you to feel angry? Did you feel attacked? Did you feel pressured? Did you feel like you were losing control?

I struggle with a lot of anxiety. Sometimes, this means that really simple things can set me off and I react inappropriately. My significant other says the litter box needs to be cleaned, and suddenly I'm yelling that I KNOW THIS YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL ME WHY DON'T YOU RESPECT MY AGENCY..... But, really, I feel stressed because my brain isn't very good at handling new chores that need to be done. My anger at him is my way of avoiding the bigger, more painful issue. I blame him for making me so angry, because that's so much easier than acknowledging that I have a problem with anxiety.

I guess all this is a long way to say: you sound incredibly unhappy. That's you, not her. Your post sounds like it was written by someone who is struggling daily to keep from screaming and crying. That you, not her. It's a problem, and it is sad. And it can change, with therapy, effort, and introspection.
posted by meese at 5:35 PM on December 5, 2011 [34 favorites]

Your mother in law sounds like a terribly ... I don't know, banal? bourgeois? ... person who is absolutely insufferable to be around, and oh boy do I feel you there.

The only thing I can think to advise you is that you have to assert yourself. Yes, it's gonna suck, but you must assert yourself. Living down the street from in laws would absolutely be a dealbreaker for me. But since you're already there, you have to stand up to them.
posted by jayder at 5:52 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know what's going on! You are making your own misery and you have a chip on your shoulder. Meese has all the wisdom you need.

I'm sorry but while your MIL doesn't sound like someone who I'd be best friends with, she doesn't sound bad or mean in any way. Frankly, by the time you mention her remarks about your cooking, your tone about everything else makes me question your credibility.

Meese has the wisdom you need.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:03 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Something is going on here and I think you will only find the answer within yourself. You acknowledge that you are harboring massive contempt for someone who you describe first and foremost as "respectful". Here are some things to think about that might be causing the contemptuous feelings:

Perhaps you have a hard time adjusting to the significant "intrusion" into your life after each 6 month absence--I might feel very put upon if I had to change my life up dramatically the moment they show up after 6 months of living elsewhere.

Perhaps it is because you feel like they only wants to spend time with you husband and kids. You say "They want to be with us (them) all of the time." and maybe deep down your feelings are hurt because you feel like they can take or leave you.

Perhaps they are more engaged parents than yours were/are and you have a little jealousy there? I am grasping here, but I know that I often get jealous/envious of other people's families because my family of origin is kind of sucky. Or perhaps you feel like they are more important to your kids than your own parents and you are somehow "defending" your parents by putting MIL down in your head.

Perhaps you resent your husband because he is so close to his mom and you feel somehow threatened by this...I only raise this because I thought it a bit odd that you were dismissive of her visits to his workplace. Why would you care about that?

Perhaps you are just plain jealous of her? You mentioned her self-assuredness that people want to spend time with her and her being "pleased" all of the time. She sounds like a pretty happy-go-lucky person and (speaking as a person who is not) it is pretty easy to be envious of people who are just so darned happy all of the time.

All of these things are pure speculation on my part. I have no clue is any of these things are going on here. I just thought it might be helpful to figure out where your animosity is coming from because she sounds pretty great on the whole. Don't get me wrong...I might have some issues with the things your MIL does too -- being an introvert who was regularly annoyed by my late grandmother's frequent use of the terms "fabulous" and "glorious". But I think you know you are being somewhat unfair towards her and judging her WAY to harshly under the described circumstances...just as I know that my grandmother was awesome and my annoyance with her self-assured chipperness had nothing to do with her.

You will always be able to find confirmation bias in her actions so long as you hold her in such contempt. But I think you are trying to find a way to extricate this contempt so that you can enjoy the good that she does bring to you life. Good for you for looking for looking.
posted by murrey at 6:18 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

O my. You sound overwhelmed with your MIL. Take a break. Don't go over on visits, take a break from weekly dinners. If she comes over, be courteous, but if she asks, Yes, you were busy. They love your kids, so tell them to come on over and babysit while you and Mr. Anon. go on dates. Stop doing everything on their terms. Have them over for dinner once in a while, even if she annoys you.

Spend time making your own family traditions. Spend time hanging out at home doing things the way you want them done. Invite them over for family dinners, parties, trick-r-treat, whatever, but do it the way you want it to be done.

You're heading for passive-aggressive-land, and good for you for not wanting to go there. Here's a tip: you have what she loves - her son, her grandchildren, and youth. Maybe she's a pain, but she doesn't seem to be living her own life - feeling compassion may help you cope.
posted by theora55 at 6:30 PM on December 5, 2011

Mod note: Folks, as per usual, please direct answers towards the OP and don't turn this into a debate with other commenters, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:40 PM on December 5, 2011

It sounds like you need some space, and she doesn't. It would be ideal if she needed exactly the same amount of space as you, but she doesn't and, crucially, she doesn't realize it because, apparently, all you've done is gone a little quiet at dinner conversations and skipped out on a soccer game.

Here's what I think would be reasonable and help keep you sane. Have a chat with your husband and get him on board with a plan along the lines of dialing back on the amount of time spent with the in-laws. Then he goes to his mom and says, "Mom, we've been getting together a lot lately, which is great, but Anon and I are feeling stretched a little thin with all the family dinners and whatnot. We're probably going to be turning down more of your invitations than usual, but it's not because we don't appreciate your hospitality or don't want to be with you." And then the two of you start accepting every third invitation--or whatever makes sense for you--with him doing the talking and taking any pushback she offers.

I suggest that you leave it to your husband to do the heavy lifting here because I think it's the job of the spouse whose parent is in question to have any necessary boundary-setting conversations. I don't think that it would be rude or inappropriate for you to be the one to tell her, I just think it would likely be less drama and more effective for your husband to do it.

However, I think some of your objections about her are verging on unreasonable when they don't actually involve you. Are her daily phone calls cutting into your quality time with your husband? If so, work something out with him where he'll ask her to call less frequently; if not, let it go. Likewise, do you work with your husband or are her visits to his office otherwise inconveniencing you? If so, have him set a boundary; if not, let it go. You don't like her, that's fine. But it's not worth your energy to be annoyed about the amount of time she's spending with her loved ones if those interactions aren't affecting you directly.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:47 PM on December 5, 2011

Oh god I feel for you. I could feel my anxiety rising as I read your post. Your mum sounds like how my mum probably feels to my hubby. I LOVE my mum, I see her a couple times a week, we talk daily, our lives are pretty enmeshed. And that is great because we are both happy and she is MY mum. She has a strong (but loving) personality; I know I can stand up to her though because I got my resiliance from her and I know exactly how far I can push back.

My hubby however, would feel overwhelmed by her if he had even a quarter of the contact with her that I do. So I protect him, because as his partner that is my job. He wants time to himself to decompress? Hey kids, get the the car, roadtrip to nana's. Her requests for him, and his requests for her, go through me to filter (instead of the 30 mins conversation I'll distill her comment down to a one line question). And so far, their relationship seems to be pretty good. I take on their baggage because that is what healthy partners do.

You husband needs to prioritise you over his mother. when she wants what she wants and isn't afraid to ask for it and ask again in a manner that makes you feel pressured and on the spot? Then he needs to speak up and be the bad guy. He says not right now. If you are asked directly he interjects and says the two of you will discuss her offer [of a meal etc] together privately. She asks again, he says no. She made digs at your cooking? He better have leapt to defend you. At every game? Well they can sit waaaay over there out of sight and hearing because your husband just wants to be alone with his family tonight. And just the family will be getting ice cream after the game, thanks. Because you and the children are his family now and his parents are bit players in the drama of your lives.

When your anger is so intense, and you recognise it isn't rational, it is a good idea to deeply examine it. I wonder if your are actually rather annoyed at your husband's lack of care for his family but are misplacing your anger at the MIL because she is a "safer" target. She sees your hubby at work, does that affect you by then limiting the time he can devote to you while he is at work (such as not being able to talk because now he is a little behind on work, or having his break with his mum instead of using that time to call you and see if you need anything picked up when he is coming home). All your talk about setting boundaries should be coming from your husband. He needs to set boundaries and enforce them so you and your MIL can have a stress-free relationship.
posted by saucysault at 6:53 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd shove back, completely clear: "The amount you want from us is, sadly, too much for me to handle. I need to see you less often. Once every month is ok, but not more."

(Except in my case it'd be, er, once every 6 months. Or 2 years. But anyway...)

Since she's his mom, it might work better to have your husband say it on your behalf. Or it might not. Depends. In any case that's part of what signing up for marriage is. You defend your partner against your parents when necessary.
posted by ead at 6:58 PM on December 5, 2011

Regarding how she talks, I suspect this would annoy you a bit less if you liked her more. When I was in elementary school I was bugged in a similar way by a lady who babysat me... she offered to put my books in my "satchel." It wasn't a satchel, it was a book bag. She just used some old-fashioned words, and I think that's something you just kind of need to let slide. Maybe you do need some time off. Then, look for things you like about her. For me with the lady who babysat me, on days when I wasn't in school, at 9am we had our "coffee-and-donut" break. (I had milk, of course.) She always made sure to have donuts on hand for our breaks.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:38 PM on December 5, 2011

Boy, do I recognize that feeling of seething resentment. I really feel for you and I know how hard it is to see your way out of that. And it's really hard to acknowledge those feelings and be so frank about them. Good for you, just being able to articulate it is a great start!

Your MIL - is she brushing you off when you explicitly state your needs, or is she assuming in the lack of any other information that you'd probably really like to do X you just need some encouragement? When MIL asks you do X, what is your response? Is it A) "I'm not sure, we've been kind of busy" or B) "That's a wonderful invitation but we have plans that night. However, would you mind taking the kids Wednesday night so Hubby and I can have a date night?" If it's A, try B. B gently turns her down but also provides an alternative which allows her to spend time with grandchildren and hopefully turns the conversation in that direction. If she presses more - "I really wish I could, you make the best kale crepes! Let me talk to Hubby and see when we can get together next. I'll call you soon." Pick a couple of alternate dates in the future that feel comfortable to you, get hubby on your team, call her back.

Read some Harriet Lerner - she writes some of the most helpful self-help books I've ever read about about setting boundaries in a way that preserves relationships. And ... maybe see a therapist. I think this goes more deeply than your MIL (I say this as someone who has had similar issues) and if nothing else a therapist can help you think of ways to kindly and frankly make your needs known.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 7:39 PM on December 5, 2011

I'm with Meese in thinking that your emotional reaction is more about you than her, and I vote for looking for any underlying beliefs that are being triggered.

I have similar reactions to similar people. I think of them as the "of course" people.

Of course I want to spend lots of time with them. Of course I want to hear in great detail about their nephew's allergies and how pleased they are that it's nothing serious. Of course I want to join them at their delightful home for dinner as often as possible.

The problem: They've had an "of course" life and I didn't. Of course their parents took care of them and didn't die or run off or get drunk or mess with them. Of course they went to college and got married and had children, etc. etc.

Their obliviousness seems to deny the existence of lives like mine. I feel defective and rejected. And all this is happening entirely in my head.

In my case, the troublemaker is a subconscious belief that I'm basically defective, which is thrown into vivid relief by the bland perfection of the "of course" people. In your case, the belief could be something entirely different but one that's equally prone to create resentment.

What helped me was cognitive therapy that uncovered the belief, plus my own (still imperfect) ability to remember it's not about me. There's no need to compare. They are who they are and I'm just as valuable. I'm just not as blatant about stating my value -- and maybe I should be.
posted by ceiba at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

In a similar situation (siblings, siblings in law and my own parents) I abdicated almost all responsibility as well as saying no a lot. My husband adores spending time with his family and with mine; I was happiest several thousand kilometres away and visiting once or twice a year. And even then I hated it by the end of the two weeks. So he handles the social planning (mostly) and does most of the visiting. I will stay home, or go out, or occasionally say no, I want family time with my own husband and my own child and nobody else.

The upshot has been an unprompted and unforced visit for the first time in twelve months. I actually packed up my daughter's and drove to see my whole family AFTER being at the park with strangers! I think my husband thought something was wrong with me. For the past twelve months I have been mired in a lot of hate and contempt and exhaustion about our families. I'm not there as far as the in laws go, but I can enjoy seeing my own family now. Part of it ha been therapy/mindfulness but that came after the tantrum-level refusal to participate in this stupid grasping extroversion. After I stopped going, stopped participating, routed all requests through my partner (who was very cognizant of my needs and lack of ability to deal at that point) and refused to feel guilty about it, I was able to take enough time to really address what was important and what was their overwhelming need for socializing.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:54 PM on December 5, 2011

Oh, I also started to take the time that I'd freed up from their demands to do the socializing I want. I had dinner with friends (and reacted badly when my husband suggested inviting his brother, but stil) and I went out with my daughter and I did stuff I liked. Instead of putting it aside because we haven't visited that aunt in a month and she's annoyed because she knows we visited my parents twice and blah blah blah.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:56 PM on December 5, 2011

I think your dilemma is a very contemporary dilemma, especially as it relates to the type of person I think you are. I assume you are college-educated, taught to think critically, culturally sensitive and well-informed, etc.

Please take the following as somewhat tongue in cheek but not totally. So much of the ideal of a good life for people like you is choosing who you spend your time with. The higher people go on the educational scale, they tend to disperse to geographical areas far from their "families of origin." Living right down the street from your parents is unusual for very educated adults. And for many people, distance from their families of origin is a really good thing, because they don't have to deal with their parents' oh-so-nice, oh-so-sensible, oh-so-pleased lifestyles and opinions and expectations. You love 'em to death, but you don't want them breathing down your damn neck, earfucking you constantly with their staid, off-the-shelf attitudes, and you damn sure don't want to have dinner with them every week. (Sorry, dinner with someone once a week is a significant obligation.)

I would be absolutely driven mad by what you are describing from your mother-in-law. I mean, howlingly insane. I could not handle it. I would feel utterly suffocated.

In a less individualistic culture, where people grow up around very tightly knit family networks, it is accepted and even desirable to have close, constant contact with your extended family. But the success of such arrangements, I think, depends on significant commonality of outlook and perspective with those people.

You don't have that commonality of outlook or perspective with your mother-in-law. Therefore, your situation strikes me as something that is inevitably going to make you miserable. And I am not sure anything, short of absenting yourself from the family gatherings and events, will ameliorate it. And I really do not agree with the folks who take the "she sounds like a nice lady, this is all YOUR problem." Well, maybe, but that doesn't mean you're at fault. It makes no sense to blame you for this. This is a culture clash, one that is not really going to be remedied by you trying to be more accepting. I think it will be remedied only by putting a lot more distance between you and her. Preferably geographical distance, all year round.
posted by jayder at 9:07 PM on December 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I agree a little with the others who say that a lot of this is about you, not her, but I differ in that I think before you go looking for deeply buried emotional resentments, you should just look at how much 'me time' you're getting. You don't really say what goes on in your life outside of your family life, and I wonder if that's kind of the problem. Do you have friends? Hobbies? Your own schedule? Time to yourself? Time to remember what it's like to be an individual distinct from your family? It's not easy to tell. And that would be the first thing I'd look to. If you're getting your own time to unwind and recharge, other people's little idiosyncrasies don't bother you as much. But if you feel like all you are is a composite of your relationships with your family members, of course you'll feel encroached upon when someone else gets involved in the management of all those relationships and even demands their own relationship with you, too. You're more than a composite of your family members' relationship with you. It sounds like you could use to add some other dimensions to your life, maybe, and I love the suggestion about taking a weekly class at night, maybe with a friend, or going to yoga or taking up a hobby.

I've always noticed that when my world gets too small, small things irritate more, because they take up proportionally more mental space. Try enlarging your world. It might put this back into proper perspective.
posted by Miko at 9:09 PM on December 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

I agree with jayder. I know a lot of perfectly nice people with whom I find it exhausting to spend very much time, because we don't share any interests, don't really share a perspective on the world, they don't get my sense of humor, I feel like I have to shut down my whole personality to accommodate them and keep the peace. Pretty much everything they talk about (kids, the price of real estate, home renovation, office politics) is mostly not interesting to me, except for professional sports. It doesn't make me angry that that's how they are, but it feels like work listening politely to it for too long.

So if I had a close relative nearby that demanded that much of my time it would feel like having a second job, almost. It's not relaxing leisure time at all. I don't think you should beat yourself up for being different from her and needing more time with people that are easy to talk with, as opposed to more time with family where you have to kind of play a role instead of being yourself.
posted by citron at 10:14 PM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

I love Miko and ceiba's advice, and it sounds like that's exactly what's going on. I think you need to schedule some "you" time so that your personal needs are met in a structured way.

My ex-boyfriend's mom was exactly like this, I felt smothered, and we weren't even married. I realized once I stopped thinking of her as a competitor for my boyfriend's attention and telling my boyfriend what I needed, how much time, when I wanted to do things alone/with him, &c. helped. I needed to be proactive about my own needs instead of passively wanting just a sea of free time unencroached on by anyone. What also helped was that he stepped up to the bat and dealt with delicate situations so that I didn't have to carry the burden of choosing between my happiness or my in-law's.

It's hard if you're introverted, like I am, but it helped for me to lay claim to my own needs and not pretend like they were easily shuffled around other people's impositions. Once I started doing this, I no longer resented his mom, and we had a really wonderful relationship (because she was, after all, an extremely nice lady).

Also, it sounds like you feel pressure not to be yourself around her, and this is driving you up the wall. Maybe try being more like yourself bit by bit until being with your mother-in-law is a low-stress situation? If she starts to talk about how "pleased" she is, just offer up your own opinions (I mean pleasant, polite ones, but you know) without reflecting too much on her manner or what kind of world she's trying to construct around her. Search exhaustively for points of contact so that you can have a genuine friendship with her, even if it's only over new blends of tea or throw rugs. And definitely talk to your husband, if you don't know how he feels about all of this. How does he behave around his mother?
posted by stoneandstar at 10:18 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you are so mad because you don't think it's okay to say what you want. You can't say what you want, so you can't get what you want, so all you can do is helplessly fume.

I also think you are mad because you can't say what you want, so when other people say the things that THEY want, and then RECEIVE those things, it's like they're getting away with something. It's also unfair. You did (what you think is) the right thing to do and held back your wants, and they did the selfish thing and asserted them. Yet they won and you lost.

I could be projecting but I don't think so.

I think the way out of this for you is to become much, much, MUCH more comfortable asserting your own wants. Probably in therapy. You probably also need to learn the skills to do it both effectively AND tactfully.

My inkling is that your MIL is not someone who will be offended by normal assertion of wants, and probably doesn't even have the foggiest idea of how you feel. But even if she DOES turn out to be someone who is offended when you start asserting yourself, you can still build up the skills to deal with her even then.
posted by cairdeas at 11:56 PM on December 5, 2011 [14 favorites]

But unfortunately people who are more extroverted will not be able to imagine how awful it must be to be trapped in a lifelong relationship with a woman who does not understand the meaning of space and boundaries.

Here is the thing: people like that woman have no idea how they're coming across. If you addressed it with her directly, no matter how carefully, she is going to be hurt and it is going to cause drama

Except that the OP characterized her as respectful - just with a vastly different desire for socializing. One that the OP has not yet actually dealt with directly, and hence is sitting on a shaking tower of suppressed rage and need for her own space. But to get it, she has to ask for it (politely), she has to enlist her husband in helping her stake out that time. It doesn't sound at all like the MIL "doesn't understand boundaries" but rather than the OP is still learning how to set them for herself. MIL isn't a mind-reader, she can't know that all this convivial time together is actually driving OP batty, because OP hasn't said so.

Meese, Miko, Scody and the others have solid advice.
posted by canine epigram at 7:11 AM on December 6, 2011

And if all else fails, mix yourself a drink. I know this is harder with kids in tow but I found that time spent with my in-laws was vastly improved when I had a glass of "Christmas cheer" going.
posted by amanda at 7:43 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think why you are hearing all this "it's on you" is because the question is not a list of things you've tried that failed - although you touch on her not being the type to "let you off the hook," your long list of examples of things that bug you doesn't include a single instance of you pushing back and you state clearly that you have started to withdraw.

Now, maybe you have already tried setting boundaries and enlisting your husband and are worn out from trying that, but that information is not in the question.

This does not seem like an impossible situation and I believe you can get to a better place and develop a strategy for having a non-horrible relationship with this aspect of your family - and your MIL is family.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:58 AM on December 6, 2011

This would drive me completely crazy too. Even though your kids are lucky to have such loving extended family. I think the only way you would be able to reduce some of your resentment is to do what has been suggested above: take some control of whatever small things you can. Tell your husband that you want to spend a little less time with his family - just say you need a break for awhile and just want time with your immediate family and suggest having dinner at MIL's house every other week instead of every week. I think it might be hard to do, but just see what happens. When she suggests dinner for this week, just offer a different day for the following week. if she asks why, say you are busy this week. If she presses you, just keep saying you are busy that night and offer a night for the following week. I would just try small things like this and see what works. You will need support from your husband so you will have to tell him you need a break from her and want more intimate time with your own family. it's something you could even tell her if she pressed you hard enough.
Good luck.
posted by gt2 at 10:14 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I sympathize - I'm an introvert and my inlaws are very into spending time together talking non-stop and knowing every. single. detail. of each other's lives. It can be suffocating.

But I do know, logically, that they love me, my husband and my kids and in a million years they would never do anything malicious or hurtful on purpose. They just really don't get me, and they are not people who are into boundaries. And I get the way you do - annoyed at everything and unable to function normally around them because I'm so irritated.

So I take advantage of their babysitting services in order to have my own down time and get my own projects done. I stopped feeling bad about saying no to invitations - it's necessary in order for me to be gracious when we are together. It's not unusual for my husband and kids to spend time with his family without me, and I've stopped feeling jealous of that because again, it gives me the time to do things I want to do and have a break.

Ultimately, you're still the mom so don't feel guilty about putting boundaries in place, while remembering that they aren't trying to drive you nuts.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 10:35 PM on December 6, 2011

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