Me - Husband - MIL
June 8, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I want to keep my sanity when my MIL comes to visit, but this strange dynamic is making it very challenging. What steps can I take to make these times more bearable?

When my mother-in-law visits, it's for about one week at a time, roughly four times per year. As an introvert, I can deal with my very extroverted husband and stepdaughter, but when MIL is here, it's just too much. The constant noise stresses me out beyond belief. Husband and I work from home, but he's outside and I'm inside. We share our space with her about 50/50 when she's here.

What aggravates me:

- MIL feels slighted by me, and as a result I'm criticized by my husband for not being as welcoming towards her, like he is towards my folks when they visit. Husband is angry that I'm more social with my parents than I am with her. This guilt trip leads to me retreating even more so, which of course just makes the situation worse.

- MIL makes little remarks/implications that I am not fulfilling my responsibilities as a step-parent (we are custodial). She's also just a really annoying person. She is very controlling and passive aggressive. I really do put forth effort with her though. I engage in conversation with her frequently, but it's not long before she says something I find insulting.

- I don't feel like my husband takes my side. It seems like my husband feels this need to show loyalty towards him mother when she's here, and this really grosses me out. I've tried talking to him about this, but he reasons that she's only here a short time, so I should just suck it up. Also, he argues that I'm the same way with my parents (although I really don't think they are as controlling).

To protect the good in my marriage, I often choose to distance myself from being with both of them. I feel like there's this strange dynamic happening with the three of us. MIL and husband likely have issues with one another, but they need me there to project their anger and frustration onto someone besides each other. In our most recent conversation about this, my husband told me that I need to speak up for myself and be more assertive. I'm going to give this a shot this time round, but I will admit, I hate being confrontational.

Our marriage is good, not great. These visits take a serious emotional toll though and it takes me a long time to recover. My husband, on the other hand, seems to bouncy back just fine once our company is gone.

What am I doing wrong and what steps should I take to make these visits more bearable?
posted by okay-quiet-time to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I see that your husband has complained to you about your behavir, and that you say that you don't feel like your husband takes your side.

Does he know this is how you feel?

Because if you've been suffering in silence all this time, maybe all it will take is for you to sit down with him and say that "look, sweetie, I'd like to be more welcoming, but she does [foo] and [baz] and [schmeh] but it also feels like you take her side and I feel ganged-up on and that makes me a little uneasy, and I'd probably be a little more social if I didn't feel like both of you were ganged up on me." If your husband doesn't know what you've been feeling all this time, that strikes me as an obvious place to start.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

And DO NOT minimize your feelings. Do not downplay them, but don't over play them either. All too often we find ourselves sabotaging our own interests because of some desire to avoid 'making things worse'. They already ARE worse, so just get them out there and discussed. Not as an explosive responsive, as usually nothing good comes from dropping bombshells.
posted by wkearney99 at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for your response. I have told him this and he knows how I feel when she's here. It doesn't do any good, and that's part of the problem. He's told me that I'm crazy, that I'm imagining these things...that my MIL loves me. I think his mom has laid a guilt trip on him, implying that she's not welcome here, and so he's lashing out at me. What he's said has only made me feel worse and the only helpful thing that he's ever said to me regarding this matter is that I should stick up for myself.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 9:27 AM on June 8, 2012

Four weeks out of the year means she's living with you almost 10% of the time. This is really too much. It is OK for you and your husband to decide that she can no longer stay with you, and she's going to have to find a hotel room when she visits.

If you can't talk to your husband about this and come to an agreement, you might want to look into counseling for the two of you. This isn't a problem with his mom, it's a problem with your relationship with your husband.
posted by fritley at 9:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [22 favorites]

Mother in law can visit less often, for less than a week at a time, and/or stay in a hotel.
posted by zippy at 9:31 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

He's told me that I'm crazy, that I'm imagining these things...

THIS is your problem.

Your MIL may or may not be a perfectly lovely person. She may or may not have an unhealthy dynamic with her son.

It doesn't matter -- she stresses YOU out, and that is no way to feel in your own home four weeks of the year (plus extra recovery time).

Your husband is not hearing that you really are suffering, and he needs to step up and help make this better for you. Either limiting her visits, getting his mother to back off, providing an excuse for you to go stay with a friend for the week, or whatever. There are many possible solutions, but they all start with your husband respecting your feelings about this.
posted by pantarei70 at 9:40 AM on June 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think his mom has laid a guilt trip on him, implying that she's not welcome here, and so he's lashing out at me.

Well, is she, really? You find her visits stressful, you withdraw from her presence, you find conversing with her an effort and when she says something that pisses you off, which is all the time, you tend to stop talking with her. I think these things may be what she's referring to when she tells your husband she feels like she's not welcome.

I completely understand why this situation is so draining --- I'm an introvert related to a lot of extroverts, and being forced to deal with someone when you'd rather have some time to yourself to recharge sucks and is completely frustrating and irritating.

Maybe there's a way to block out some time for you during the day where you don't have to deal with her? I know you work from home, but can you make that the excuse? If possible, maybe find some activity for her, possibly your stepdaughter as well, and hole up in your office for a chunk of the day? That way when you do have to hang out you'll have more energy to engage.

Because engaging is the key thing, really. You only really have control over what you can do, you know? You can't wave a magic wand and mellow your MIL out --- she's always gonna be a high energy type, and your default strategy of withdrawing is pretty much always gonna seem rejecting and cold to her. That type doesn't really parse the notion, "I like you fine, I just don't want to talk to you right now." Do you think you could handle a couple hours of playing Chatty Cathy over dinner if you got some time to yourself otherwise, or is that a dealbreaker?
posted by Diablevert at 9:46 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I believe my marriage has been impacted by my wife's transference of her issues with her mother onto our relationship. It's to the point where it angers my wife when I point out abusive behavior *toward my wife* by her mother.

I have no idea what to *do* about this, as therapy -- both couples and individual -- has failed. So I have this insight and I know that whenever my wife visits my MIL (I no longer see her, as she managed to engineer a total break between herself and me which I gladly acceded to. Everybody thinks I'm "mad at her" but really I'm just more "safe from her.") I need to be extra supportive -- and walk on eggshells -- for awhile as my wife deals with the damage.

I offer this as possible insight and in sympathy. I have no idea what you can do besides accept that people are going to be how they are, sometimes no matter how much it hurts other people. Good luck.
posted by Infinity_8 at 9:57 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: When I met my husband I was 24 and I didn't even know what an introvert was. I fought it and I behaved accordingly. I was the person my husband and MIL wanted me to be....just like them. I'm true to myself now, but even when I have the physical space I need, my thoughts are focused on how they are perceiving me. I feel guilty and depressed...never refreshed and ready for socializing. To MIL and husband, introversion/extroversion is just a bunch of nonsense.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 10:01 AM on June 8, 2012

Can I suggest a reading of Susan Cain's Quiet for everyone including your MIL, but especially your husband? It's got a lot of footnotes and is well-researched.

Strategies for visits:
- plan your time away. If your home office is where your MIL is, can you relocate for that week to "make her more comfortable" -- work from a friend's house, a cafe with net access, or other space?

- encourage your DH to take your MIL out without you to dinner, get them tickets to a concert at night, have them do a day trip. Anything that gets them out and helps recharge your batteries. Planning it in advance means it's a plan, not you retreating.

- "pass the bean dip" - your MIL does not get a vote in your stepparenting, but telling her so is probably going to be dramatic. Try to tune her comments out if you can and change the subject.

For your husband, I would first put the brakes on any comparison of your parents/his mother. They are different people and so you all have different relationships with them; this is not a case of trying to cut even-sized pieces of pie. Secondly, if he wants her to be comfortable then he has to step up. It's your responsibility to be polite and provide the basics of hosting, but if she needs a buddy, that's up to him.
posted by Zen_warrior at 10:11 AM on June 8, 2012

Wow, the second time in two days that I can recommend as a resource. Disclaimer: my MIL is awesome.

I have a feeling there is another culture involved here, and attitudes towards family, elders, and family visits that may be different from American Standard.
posted by bq at 10:12 AM on June 8, 2012

It's really just too much time to be spending at your house. It'd be one thing if you had kids that she was helping with, etc. But without an extenuating circumstance like that, why on earth should she spend that much time in your house, when it's a huge stressor for you? It's your house just as much as his! If he wants to spend that much time with her, then AT LEAST half of it should be him visiting her in her house.

Now if you can't do this - maybe your parents also spend 4 weeks/year at your house and you don't want him to use that as a leverage point - and if you aren't comfortable just locking yourself in your home office and claiming super work pressure for the week, then I suggest Project Time. Project Time is where you and your MIL do something externally focused, like (for instance) a specific gardening project, or making a complex dish together in the kitchen. Something she likes to do and that you don't mind. The project provides something to talk about and focus energy on, instead of all that simmering resentment focused on each other. (With any luck there will enough work to avoid a lot of talking.) And you spending time together like this fulfills any obligation, real or imagined, that you engage with her.

During the working day though, just lock yourself in your work room and play on the Internet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2012

Wow, it sounds like the real issue here is with your husband's lack of empathy and kindness. I cannot imagine being married to someone who minimized my thoughts and feelings in that way.

The best move going forward is to outline the things you need in order to make your mil's visit go well. For example, you need to work at a coffee shop 9-5 in order to get things done. Take this time to turn off and recharge. Also, you have dinner with a girlfriend that week, even if all you do is go to the bookstore and relax. While around the house doing housework or cooking, turn on podcasts so that there is something to listen to, let your mil help pick them out so that you're doing something together that doesn't require interaction.

But really, I think you need to get to the root of the problem, which is your husband's dismissive attitude.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, sorry, forgot you do have kids that she's also visiting. This can be very useful! Plan outings for grandma to take kid on; get them both out of the house.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:18 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is working at home is the really hard part here? If you went to work somewhere else all day it might all be easier. If she's going to continue to visit this much maybe you should seriously consider renting a workspace.

How old is the kid? Do she and MIL do things together? Can they be encouraged to do more?
posted by mareli at 10:18 AM on June 8, 2012

When I met my husband I was 24 and I didn't even know what an introvert was. I fought it and I behaved accordingly. I was the person my husband and MIL wanted me to be....just like them. I'm true to myself now, but even when I have the physical space I need, my thoughts are focused on how they are perceiving me. I feel guilty and depressed...never refreshed and ready for socializing. To MIL and husband, introversion/extroversion is just a bunch of nonsense.
I think you're seeing the things that aren't working in your marriage in your MIL, and because those things can be focused on someone other than your husband (in a "good, not great" marriage), it's much easier to just get angry with her and start fights with him about her than it is to deal with the core issue, which is that you've been hiding yourself within the bounds of this relationship.

And she probably visits too much.
posted by xingcat at 10:40 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I feel like there's this strange dynamic happening with the three of us. MIL and husband likely have issues with one another, but they need me there to project their anger and frustration onto someone besides each other.

Then don't be their scapegoat. Just don't.

I think I've mentioned this before on AskMe, but I've found it extremely helpful in the past, when a situation arises in which I am an innocent bystander who gets sucked into the drama, to see the involved parties as characters in a movie that I am watching. I have no real investment in their conflict.

Your husband thinks you need to stand up for yourself and be more assertive. He's wrong. Your mother-in-law's pettiness is not your problem, and the tension between the two of them is rooted in their family history and has nothing to do with you. Ideally, he should be making every attempt to keep you out of it and protect you from it, but I don't think he's self-aware enough to do that yet. So, in the meantime, you need to protect yourself.

I should mention that while I've been witness to family dramas of this kind, I've been fortunate to have parents-in-law who are kind, nice, and supportive both to me and my sister-in-law (my brother-in-law's wife). They do come to visit, usually once or twice a year, and I do feel the need to retreat for a couple hours each day because, like you, I am an introvert and just can't be "on" all the time (my mother-in-law is sweet, but also *very* chatty). Fortunately, they seem to understand this.

However, there was a time when my mother and I weren't getting along so perfectly--she was having a hard time with the fact that I was asserting my independence and tended to blame my differences with her on my husband's influence. As a result, she could be hostile and critical toward him. I did give her an ultimatum at one point and told her that if she couldn't respect him, I'd have to break off contact. After that, things began to improve. Now they actually get along really well.

What I would do in your situation is to play the ever-polite, cheerful, pleasant hostess, ignore the digs and slights or respond to them neutrally ("Thank you for the advice! I'll have to take that into consideration!" "Oh, but we've thought long and hard about this, and believe me, it's just not good for Junior to have too much high-fructose corn syrup." "Why, no, I didn't know the back of the refrigerator needed to be dusted! How on earth did you manage to get back there? I'm so embarrassed! I'll have to get to it soon.") Divert the conversation to neutral topics or to subjects that are important to her but have no bearing on you and your husband, and listen attentively and ask questions full of interest and concern for her. Don't let her push your buttons--or don't let her see that she has successfully pushed them.

When it just gets too hard, excuse yourself and slip away for however long you need to recharge. ("I'm afraid I'm going to have to excuse myself for a little while. I seem to have come down with some sort of sinus headache, and I won't be fit company until I lay down for a little while in a dark room with a glass of water and some ibuprofen. I'm sure you and Husband have lots to talk about, anyways.") If they do get into some kind of argument, do not get involved--this would probably be a good time for you to vanish. At some point, either she'll realize she's not having any effect on you and give up...or maybe she'll actually begin to respond positively to you and her visits will start to become a bit more bearable--maybe even slightly enjoyable.

This is going to seem infuriatingly hard at first, but I really do think that when dealing with inveterately difficult family members the only thing one can change is one's own reactions, but that's a more powerful strategy it seems at first glance. You are standing up to her, in a nonconfrontational way. And if your husband continues to criticize you, this is one of those rare time when a non-apology is a good thing: "I'm sorry your mother didn't enjoy her visit. I did everything I could to make her feel at home. If that's not enough, maybe she'd be more comfortable in a hotel next time."
posted by tully_monster at 10:44 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you! These responses have been so helpful. Yes, stepdaughter is 11 and our son is 2. She is a lot of help when it comes to the kids, but she's not into activities outside the house (unless it's a group thing). On more than one occasion, she's brought up how much time she used to spend with my stepdaughter when she was little (basically, when I was not in the picture). My workspace is not mobile, so I have to be at home. I have read "Quiet" and loved it. If I were to suggest that my husband and/or MIL read it, I just know I'd be made to feel silly and stupid. I've come to terms that I will not be accepted for my difference in personality. The good outweighs the bad in my marriage though. My husband has a lot of strengths, but compassion and understanding is just not one of them.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 10:48 AM on June 8, 2012

Just say and do whatever you feel like saying and doing. The stress is in keeping your feelings bottled up inside.

If MIL says something that strikes you as nasty, just acknowledge it, "Ouch, burn." If you need some alone time, just announce, "I'm going to clear my head for a bit in my room." If your husband mentions that you do X for your folks and you do Y for his mom, just say, "I suppose I do," and leave it at that.

Let your husband know that you welcome his mom, but that you're more comfortable with your parants than you are with his Mom. He'll just have to deal with it. Do the best you can, but if it comes down to something for your husband or his mom, and something for you, do what works for you.

She's coming to visit with the grandkids and see her son, she's being polite to you. Just be polite back, but don't bottle up your frustration.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:59 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know this isn't directly related to your question, but, it sounds to me like you are settling.

You settled for an okay but great marriage.

You settled for your MIL and your husband to use you as a scapegoat.

You settled to not being allowed to be who you are freely and to not getting things you need to be the happiest you you can be.

There are times to settle --- settling can sometimes equal compromising. But this isn't compromising. This is you trying to make the peace and not being met even quarter of the way on any of these things.

If nothing else, I think you may need to stand up to yourself more, and if your husband makes belittling comments about a book you think will help him understand you better as "silly" or "stupid," then you need to call him on his true colors.

Compassion and understanding are important parts of intimate relationships.

Really, you probably deserve better. Demand it.
posted by zizzle at 11:01 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

*but not great marriage
posted by zizzle at 11:01 AM on June 8, 2012

Compassion and understanding are nonnegotiables. The good news is they can be learned.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2012 [11 favorites]

A few ideas for you...

First, it's time to take up a solo exercise routine, like walking or biking or even going to the Y to swim. That will be good for your mood and it will give your husband the task of caring for both kids. Of course it will come in handy when MIL visits because it's guaranteed alone time away from the madding crowd.

Second, you wrote that your MIL accepts activities outside the house when undertaken as a group. I think this is one of the keys to your salvation when you're obliged to spend time together. Take trips to the zoo, the children's museum, the park to feed the ducks, etc.-- anywhere that gives you something neutral to talk about, that requires you to pay attention to your kids and doesn't require an interminable car ride. Afterwards everyone can "nap."

Third, take up a project that week that takes advantage of whatever her real skills might be... something where you would actually appreciate her input. Maybe replanting a section of the garden? Choose or sew new curtains? Shop for a car? Cleaning out the front hall closet? Sorting family photos? Whatever it is, it's also a clue to her that life doesn't stop when she visits and she needs to adjust to your rhythms as well.

Good luck!
posted by carmicha at 11:19 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've learned a lot from this marriage. If I were choosing a new partner, of course I'd be going into it with a whole different perspective. I've changed. A lot. I'm trying to tackle one issue at a time, and this one is at the top of my list.

I'm getting conflicting advise on how to deal with the drama. I don't want to get sucked into it because I hate drama, but in a sense, that's what my husband is asking me to do. It's in my nature to just remove myself from the situation, but by doing this, I become the target/scapegoat. It feels like a no-win situation.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 11:24 AM on June 8, 2012

Mod note: Hey there okq, glad this is helpful, but this needs to not become a discussion forum about this topic. Follow up if you have clarifications or additional questions, otherwise maybe let the thread evolve on its own. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:37 AM on June 8, 2012

In good marriages there is sometimes drama. In bad marriages, there is no resolution to the drama. Asserting yourself. Taking control of your environment and asking your husband to respect your agency and intelligence may feel like "drama" but it's not. If those things are too scary for you then you'll need to settle, I guess.

I see lots of advice here about dealing with the current status quo as well as asserting yourself. It's up to you to pick a few things to try and see how they go. There's no magic wand to wave to make a MIL respect your boundaries or a husband give you the highest regard.
posted by amanda at 12:36 PM on June 8, 2012

Can your MIL and DH be bothered to watch this 20min TED talk by Susan Cain about her book and The Power of Introverts? Make that a condition for her staying with you, otherwise she stays in a hotel, and her grandkids will have great fun staying at the hotel with her, do they have a pool?

And seconding being gracious, taking the high-road. Several others have given phrases that let you defend yourself against a slight, but not attack, another is: "I'm trying my best", or "Yeah, modern marriages..." and just trail off.

Can you have MIL and granddaughter cook that week? And you and hubby take 3-5, or 5-6 to go for a walk, or a drive? You two need some time to talk in private, about her, and about things in general.

Where, physically, is your workspace in your home? Can you make a rule that when you are in your "office", MIL, DH, and kids are not to interrupt you except for true emergencies? Maybe just from 8 'til 12? Maybe headphones?

When she makes a comment that upsets you, rather than trying to hide it, just let it show that you're upset. Maybe it'll take a few times for her to notice, but maybe she really does mean well, she's just clumsy, tactless, and limited in her imagination of what's good for her son and grandkids.
posted by at at 5:42 PM on June 8, 2012

[H]e reasons that she's only here a short time, so I should just suck it up.

You can reason that HE can be the one to suck it up and have your back.

He's told me that I'm crazy, that I'm imagining these things...

This smacks of invalidation. In my experience, simply holding the line works the best; if you let the other person get you to start defending yourself, nothing you say is going to pass their muster because they've already made up their mind about things.
posted by alphanerd at 7:27 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Husband is angry that I'm more social with my parents than I am with her.

Okay, coming from an introvert here, this strikes me as bizarre. It's the kind of thing that if my husband expressed that sentiment to me, I would probably blink at him a couple of times in puzzlement before replying, "Uh… yeah… that's because they're my parents and your mother isn't." *blink, look puzzled* "I mean, you get that, right, sweetie? These are my parents. There is literally nobody in the world who's known me longer or whom I've known longer. And you're surprised and upset that I'm more intimate and at ease with them than I am with your mother?"
posted by Lexica at 9:15 PM on June 8, 2012 [10 favorites]

What steps can I take to make these times more bearable?

Did you say something about bears? Feed her to bears.

No, don't kill her. As some of us have learned, you can't kill your spouse's mother and easily get away with it. But holy fuck, I don't see my MIL nearly that much time and we live within walking distance. If she actually came and lived with us for four weeks a year (spread out to spoil all four seasons!), I'd resort to drastic measures.

Did I say something about a resort? Could you arrange to go away for some of the time she is visiting? Or arrange to be very, very, very out-of-the-house busy during her visits? Even just gardening, but gardening like a maniac every minute you're home, such that you're peeing on the compost heap just so you don't have to go in the house? Or volunteering for something that requires your presence in the soup kitchen or thrift shop or phone room or envelope-stuffing room or tote-bag warehouse pretty much every night of the week?

How about TIVOing all the old television shows you can find about mothers-in-law from hell (they used to be in everything) and playing them over and over again as part of a book you're researching?
posted by pracowity at 5:10 AM on June 9, 2012

Hi, are you me?

In the past, I've had a very tumultuous relationship with my mother-in-law and husband. And we got together when I was young, and at first I was closer and more at ease with her, but honestly that's because I didn't see how some of her behavior was hypercritical or stifling or problematic in other ways. I've recommended it about a bazillion times on here, but I'd take a look at John Gottman's Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He has a chapter in there that's specifically about mother-in-law conflicts. You should give it to your husband to read, too. It basically says, that while it's miserable and hard for the guy in this situation, he needs to side with you and defend you because you're his primary emotional relationship right now and anything else degrades the foundation of your marriage.

And it does! Because you're trying to be considerate and nice, within the sphere of your ability, but it's never good enough and you feel even more emotionally exhausted, cut off from your husband, and you withdraw. And any attempt to take care of your own needs is seen as an affront. Yuck. That's not fair!

So first I would decide what you need to feel okay in this situation. In my relationship, I've found that one of the biggest helps has been letting my husband go visit his mom alone. They actually share interests (I don't, and then I'm seen as being a diva for wanting to do other things or stay home alone while they go do whatever), and really, I thin we all need time alone with our parents sometime. When we spend time together with the bunch of us, I tell him that I need some time solo--without criticism. I'll be around for event x and y but I need a few hours to do z, but that's okay, honey, you guys go to a movie or something. I also tell my husband that I need to know he has my back during certain uncomfortable conversations (in our case, the topic of kids and the fact that we live far away from her) because she can be very critical, and I know he feels the same way as I do, so I need to feel like we're on the same team.

And really "on the same team" are my buzzwords here. Talk to you husband at a time when MiL isn't around and when emotions aren't already running high about this. Tell him that you're on his team--you want him to have happy visits with his mom, and in order for that to happen, you need him to respect your alone time. It's in the best interests for the two of you as a group. Otherwise, he's just disregarding your feelings, and that hurts, and that's not being a good team player, either.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:50 AM on June 9, 2012

Your MIL visits for four weeks a year and stays with you. You work at home. Holy moley!

- MIL feels slighted. Be polite, make sure she has clean towels, fresh sheets, maybe some flowers, and maybe some meals she likes. Try to find 1 time during her week to have a cup of tea with her, ask her about her life, your husband's childhood, etc. Listen to her, and give her your full attention for 1 cup of tea's worth of time.
- MIL makes little remarks Ignore them. If it's clear that her little zingers get no response, she will be unrewarded. If she is insulting, and if you are just fed up, leave. Go do some laundry, make a phone call, go to the bathroom and read a magazine article. Don't confront or engage, just deny her any response/reward. This is a long term strategy. I don't think there's any other effective response to little zingers.
- I don't feel like my husband takes my side. Husband, I really appreciate how much you love and respect you Mom, but in our home, I am not willing to be disrespected. Make it clear to your husband that MIL visits a lot, and that your tolerance of this is your version of being hospitable. Seriously, 4 weeks/year is a lot. Stop trying to convince him that introversion is real; tell him you need some quiet time while she's there. If he gives you a lot of crap, reply "Maybe she should have a shorter visit, then."
- I often choose to distance myself I think that's a smart strategy. If Husband complains, say "It stresses me out to have your Mom here; withdrawing allows me to cope."
- constant noise Go to your workspace, and put on good headphones, or play calm music, or a white noise generator.

One way to cope is to focus on her good traits. She is a lot of help when it comes to the kids. Praise her and thank her.
Get her out of the house. Encourage and enable time with the kids by having a list of kid-friendly activities that she could do with one or both. Talk to stepdaughter before the visit, and find out what she'd like to do with her grandmother. Then you can say "Stepdaughter would really love to go to this movie with you" or to a cool place for tea. and "Would you be willing to take Son to the playground? He loves the one 2 blocks away."
She sounds lonely and needy. You are young and vibrant, and married to her beloved son. Instead of being defensive, be gracious and compassionate. Easy to write, not so easy to do.

Some unsolicited advice: I think you would benefit from expecting more from your husband - starting with respect and cooperation. Therapy helped me get better at that, long after the marriage ended.
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on June 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

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