Why can't I just get over this?
December 16, 2012 3:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I get more onboard with my in-laws' presence in my life?

Backstory about husband/in-laws: They immigrated from the former USSR a bit over 20 years ago with their two sons (my husband is the younger) and are now naturalized citizens. Husband was 8 years old when he came to the US and as a result is the most "Americanized" of the family (the only one with no accent, for instance). My in-laws have no solid roots or real friends in the area; part of this is language barrier (they are both fluent in English but especially my mother-in-law frequently reverts to Russian, and they have strong accents). Their older son lives about 30 minutes away from them with his wife and two preteen boys; we live almost an hour away from them with our toddler son. They have outright told my husband on multiple occasions over a long period of time that they prefer my husband/his family to my brother-in-law/his family. All of their family still lives in Russia; father-in-law is not in contact with his, but mother-in-law still talks to her sisters and mother regularly. They can't go back to Russia at any time (or it would be a really bad idea, anyway) due to the context of how they left. They are pretty Ask, although his mom can be a bit passive-aggressive.

Backstory about me/my family: I am the oldest of two kids, who grew up in a small Midwestern town and have never lived outside the Midwest. I currently live at least 500 miles away from everyone else in my family, and never lived close enough to my extended family to see them more frequently than holidays. My mom and I are only now approaching what I'd consider close; we definitely get along better than I do with my dad, who I stopped telling everything about myself about a year and a half ago, and haven't actually spoken to at all in about eight months. (Massive boundary issues, still acting like grownup and child even though I'm almost 30 - I am in therapy for that whole mess.) My parents split up when I turned 18, which I was in favor of since I don't know how they ever thought they were a good match. I grew up very definitely Guess. I don't speak Russian and only know a few bits and pieces I've picked up through a few aborted learning attempts, so I have to communicate with my in-laws in English.

Issue: I completely understand they adore our son and my husband and apparently, from what I'm told, me too (although I am not close to them at all, and sometimes I wonder if they just like me so much because they think my sister-in-law is awful). However, I get really kind of flustered and irritated when they come over to our house and immediately start banging around in the kitchen to try to cook something, or when my mom comes to town and they insist she has to come over so they can have a big special dinner for her (my mom and I are a lot alike and she feels embarrassed/overwhelmed by this too), or when they were at our house the moment we got home from the hospital with our new baby and were baffled about why I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding in front of everyone. Sometimes when they come over I have to go into a back bedroom and silently scream and tense/relax all my muscles to avoid my brain exploding or something. Lately we have been talking about maybe we could move to New Zealand in a few years (this is not a serious decision yet, just something we're tossing around, and we know it'd be really difficult to pull off), and his mom immediately decided they would come with us, and has been calling my husband multiple times a day to talk about NZ-related things she read on the internet. When we were thinking about moving to the Bay Area she said they would move there too. (They ARE wanting to sell their house and move and have felt that way for some time, but they always were making their own plans until we started talking about moving and now they just want to follow us.)

My husband is totally fine with this though, because he sees all the positives that could come with them living wherever we do: help with childcare, possible financial help with moving/immigration expenses, fishing opportunities for his Dad, etc. Whereas I just see more of them considering our house/our lives to be THEIR house/lives. It's not that his mom doesn't bother him at all; I regularly hear irritation in his voice when he talks to her (in Russian) on the phone. It's just that he seems to shrug it off and "that's just how she is," etc. I'm not even the one talking to her and I get more pissed off than he does. But at the same time, I mean, of COURSE he feels that way, she's his freaking mom. How they interact individually with each other is none of my business. There is also a fairly high likelihood that his mom is saying all sorts of stuff with no input from his dad, and his dad doesn't agree or would not go along with it. I don't know that for a fact though.

I don't really dislike them, they're nice people who only have good intentions, and I don't know why I can't just buck up and get over this. How can I get more on board with my in-laws' unavoidable presence in my life? I know part of our issue is Ask/Guess, but I don't know how to best get around that, and I figure the rest of it is cultural differences that are also not really changeable. I haven't had any arguments with them or anything, but I don't know if I can keep gritting my teeth forever, and I know I can't and should not try to get inbetween my husband and his family.

If it matters, I have inattentive ADHD and a tendency toward depression, but am currently on medications for both. I am going to try to bring this issue up to my therapist next time I see her, but I'm going to have to leave her due to insurance reasons at the end of the year, and plus something about the way she talks to me reminds me of my Dad sometimes. :/
posted by agress to Human Relations (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about learning some Russian? Even a little bit might help with communication issues and I suspect you would have very eager conversation partners. There are also all kinds of free ways to learn courtesy of the Federal Government's interest in Russian speakers.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:32 PM on December 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

How do I get more onboard with my in-laws' presence in my life?

You move out of day-trip range, like every generation of humans before you. ;)

That said, honestly, they don't sound all that bad. If your biggest complaint involves them wanting to cook for you, well... Perhaps you just need to go for a walk while they do so, to enjoy a bit of "you" time.
posted by pla at 3:32 PM on December 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Your boundaries are just as important as anyone else's personal behavioral standards.

Will your husband accept attending a couple's therapy session or six? I think that improving your communication skills (in English ^_^) with him will help a lot with this issue. Also work on assertiveness more generally.

First piece of assertiveness/communication homework: You need to tell whatever therapist you have if you think they're behaving in a way that's not constructive for you. And if you don't feel comfortable telling them that, then tell them you're not comfortable being honest with them. Seriously.

You might want to learn a little bit about learned responses, BTW. I strongly suspect that this is almost all connected to everyone's habitual responses being out of sync.

(Your in-laws are matching up pretty well with what I remember learning about re: Russian family relationships; it is, as you seem to recognize, much more likely that your husband is changeable, and that he can become a buffer for you, than that you can change one single teeny tiny piece of their behavior.)
posted by SMPA at 3:33 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like the most annoying thing they do (from your writeup) is invade your personal/home space. Which I can see being annoying -- I don't get frequent visitors and I don't always like it when people show up at the door (I don't have on makeup, or pants for that matter) unannounced. However, is there more to it? Is there specific interpersonal behavior when you're with your MIL that is annoying you (and sometimes your husband)? Or is it just that you aren't comfortable having this type of relationship with them? Because apart from them having a very different style and being a little in-your-face (and following you to your next home), they don't sound particularly obnoxious to me. (That doesn't mean they aren't! And I sympathize, because no way would I want my in-laws within driving distance. I'm just wondering if it's mostly that you aren't into the whole "big close friendly family" thing or there's more going on in addition.)

Also, Russian is hard but you could try taking a course or borrowing the Rosetta Stone CDs from the library so you don't feel excluded from conversations (not a solution, just a side thought).
posted by theredpen at 3:34 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want tips on learning Russian, also, I can help with some easier-than-average strategies. If nothing else, it'll help your toddler develop a stronger relationship with the grandparents.
posted by SMPA at 3:37 PM on December 16, 2012

This is a familiar story for me. I can relate.

Without boring you with my long, boring (and unfortunately petty and selfish) story, I would advise you to stay just where you are, with your family.

Yes, they are your family. Family is so important. These people love you, your husband, your kids. Allow them to love you. What a wonderful thing for your kids to know their grandparents. The more people who love your kids, the better. Always remember that.

Nothing is more important than the bonds of family. Act in a way to strengthen bonds, rather than moving to a another country and weakening them. When your in-laws come over to your house and start banging around in the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of wine and go sit with your kids. Life is short. Your inlaws won't be around forever. Your kids will be better off knowing them and receiving the love and affection they provide.
posted by Fairchild at 3:37 PM on December 16, 2012 [11 favorites]

I doubt it's an ask guess problem (disclaimer, I kinda hate that terminology) rather, these people are all up in your grill, and it just sucks!

They probably dislike their other daughter-in-law because she has set firm boundaries with them.

Their favoritism is not unconditional, it's based on whoever is most willing to put up with their overbearing ways. This is actually a very volatile and dysfunctional situation.

Can you and husband make a go of it without your in-laws help? Because you can't really count on them. Also, the price of admission is too high.

Talk to your husband, maybe with a new therapist or counselor present?

If your husband doesn't see how out of line all of this, how unstable and unhealthy - then you may have a bigger problem than just your in-laws. But one bridge at a time, yeah?

This is kinda a nightmare. I'm sorry. I hope your husband is agreeable to setting boudaries with his folks and separating your lives from the manipulation and instability "playing favorites" brings into your lives.

Start with your husband. If there is no luck with him, maybe come back here and re-state the problem?

I hope for you, your husband, and your son that your husband gets on board. Best of luck!
posted by jbenben at 3:41 PM on December 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

You move out of day-trip range, like every generation of humans before you.

I don't know how you get more out of day trip range than NZ but apparently, the in-laws are now moving there too.

That said, honestly, they don't sound all that bad.

They sound like they have very very different boundaries and very very different definitions of family. That is fine but you and your husband need to decide what your own definition of family is. Maybe it's the same as Fairchild's ("Nothing is more important than the bonds of family.") or maybe it's the same as mine ("Obligations are chosen not inherited.") Neither is more correct than the other, they just illustrate that different families roll different ways. But the bottom line is that you and your husband need to be 100% on the same page, both in terms of your boundaries and how you manage them. You may indeed need outside help to negotiate that.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:43 PM on December 16, 2012 [16 favorites]

Upon preview...

It is interesting to me that I catastrophized the favotism issue, while nearly all other answers are, "Meh! It's just family being family!"

OP, I dunno. Maybe everyone else is right?

I'm interested to see if others think the overt favoritism is a big part of the problem or not.
posted by jbenben at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2012

I married the daughter of immigrants and my in-laws have very different views than I do when it comes to how close parents are to their married adult children. I could have asked a similar version of this question not too long ago.

But I realize something that I hope you do to: this is your life and only you get to decide what works for you. There's no objective "right" way to structure these relationships - and neither you nor your in-laws are wrong. There's no natural equilibrium that things will resolve to either. I waited too long to assert myself because I kept thinking things would somehow change or that individual attempts to set boundaries wouldn't be worth the push-back. I thought that they were somehow justified in behavior that frustrated and angered me because it was what they knew and that I should hold my tongue. I was wrong.

So you need to think about how you see this situation. You asked "how do I geit more onboard" with something in your life. Your relationship with your in-laws is not a given. It's not exogenous to you. You get to control your life and if this is making you unhappy you get to change it. Sit down with your husband and tell him that you love him, you love his family, but you want to work to change things because the status quo is making you unhappy.

And if he pushes back and argues that the status quo is normal, or healthy, or appeals to some objective standard, just remind him that there is no "right" way to do it. And what you guys have now is hurting you so it's wrong.

These things are never easy but if you try to understand why people feel the way they do, act charitably towards people who love you, and treat all parties with dignity, I suspect you can move things towards a place that will make you feel better. I still struggle with this - like you I love my in-laws and don't want to hurt them. But if you don't set boundaries and if you feel isolated and hurt, things will get worse and not better.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:58 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone here is going to talk about your boundaries and your husband standing up to them and all that jazz so I won't go into that.

Here are some more concrete steps:

1. Is there a room in your house that can serve as your study? This room need not be large but it needs to have a door and in it everything you need for a calm retreat. For me that's a comfy couch, a TV and a TiVo with what I like on it, some books, and a mini fridge with crumb free snacks and cold drinks in it, and an appropriate waste basket for wrappers/cans/etc. Nobody else goes in your room (or maybe your husband can.) If you don't have an extra room for this, set your bedroom up to be useful in this way.

2. Your kitchen. It makes me bugeyed crazy when other people are in my kitchen but the worst part is when they don't put stuff back Where It Goes. If this is an issue for you, simplify the kitchen and/or set aside a drawer or countertop container with your MIL's most-used tools. Show her where she can put stuff that she doesn't know where it goes. Tell her to put things here rather than guess.

3. Keep your eye on the prize. Free childcare is incredibly useful and all too rare in this country. If you have a career, it will be easier to maintain because of these people. If you don't have a career, you will still have more of a life having built in babysitters than you would otherwise when you have kids. Try to think about this when you are at your limit.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:01 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi all, thanks for your replies so far :)

For those who recommended I learn Russian, I agree. I've tried Rosetta Stone, and I've tried audio CDs, and I tried books. It's not that I found the language overly difficult (though pronunciation is hard), I learned to read Cyrillic phonetically very quickly and I picked up Spanish really quickly (obviously Spanish is a much different language); this was really a "inability to focus due to ADHD" kind of thing. I've been on the meds for only like, four days now but I've already been impressed with how much of a difference it has made. Learning Russian is a thing I'd be interested in retrying now that I'm a little bit more confident in my ability to stick with it.

The favoritism thing really really bugs me - I didn't know until quite a few years into the relationship that his older brother and dad do not really get along very well and that my husband has explicitly been told he is the favorite. He said he feels sort of guilty about it but he can't control how his parents feel, and he doesn't do anything to try to take advantage of it. I don't know how aware older brother is of this. (As for brother's wife, we don't like her much either, but it's because she's really patronizing.) I don't have a lot of info about how they treat brother or brother's family. I sort of feel like his parents think they "tried" with brother's kids but have given up due to having been undermined by brother's wife, or something like that. Kids are not like, juvenile delinquents or anything, just sort of bratty.

As for my husband, he acknowledges that his mom frustrates me and says he "tries to keep her out of my hair." Which is true, as I don't personally interact with her all that often; a lot of this is just him telling me the things she says to him and what they talked about in Russian, and me getting vicariously riled up. (The phrasing sort of makes me wonder about how much behind the scenes stuff there is I don't know about.) I have expressed to him lots and lots of times how much they drive me nuts and why, and he does accommodate me, like for instance when she calls asking if she can take our son for the weekend (again), he runs it by me now instead of just saying yes, which makes me feel much better. I do usually say yes, but now I have some degree of control over it. :) He doesn't seem to really get why I posted this thread, we had a discussion in the car earlier today about the "I'm bothered your parents want to follow us wherever we go, and I'm bothered that I'm bothered", and I felt like we were both just banging our heads against the wall, so I posted here for outsider opinion. Also agreed that husband and I have some issues we need to sort out, but I still sort of feel like they're primarily my issues - I was not on any meds for the depression for the bulk of our relationship so far, and I didn't get diagnosed with ADHD until very recently, so I have spent a long time feeling like I'm a huge burden on him and he's had to accommodate me already in so many ways. He didn't say that, it came from my own head.

Agreed I need to work on my assertiveness - that's a therapy thing as well that we have touched on a bit. I'm vaguely happy that I can't see her anymore after the end of the year (my company is switching providers and she doesn't take the new one), because now I don't have to talk myself into telling her I want to see someone else. (I know. She is a professional and we are having a working professional relationship. If I say "I think it might be good for me to try and see a different therapist" she is not going to talk about how sad that makes her and how much I am hurting her feelings and then consequently I will not feel bad for bringing it up and offer not to leave. Issues issues.)

I need to reorganize my kitchen anyway but yes I hate HATE every time she leaves and things are in new and exciting places. We do have a guestroom but it's not big enough for much more than the bed that's already in it, and plus we're kind of using it for storage at the moment. That's the closest thing to a "spare room" we have. I grew up hiding in bedrooms during big family events (due to sensory overload) and getting scolded for being antisocial and snobby, so I try to put up with things as much as possible now. Again - I recognize this really shouldn't be an all-or-nothing thing.

Yeah - I know, the free babysitting is a wonderful thing.

There's a good possibility that getting my own brain in order (more than it is now, and it's already come a long way) will help with this.
posted by agress at 4:23 PM on December 16, 2012

I don't know what Ask/Guess is.

First, you need to learn Russian. I say this as someone with in-laws who, with the exception of one, do not speak English. Until you get some decent Russian proficiency, you will always feel like the odd one out. In addition to the excellent FSI courses that Blasdelb linked, I also recommend the New Penguin course. It is superb. The only problem is that is has no audio component, so you will need audio practice from the FSI courses or otherwise. I think Rosetta Stone is pretty bad.

While they seem a bit overbearing, they explicitly adore your family. I think a very large part of this is cultural issues. I do not know what, if any, you knew about Russian culture and family dynamics before your marriage, but you are getting firsthand experience now. I think you will do much better with this if you think of it as experience your in-laws' culture, which is now your family's culture to a rather large extent. "Cultural diversity" doesn't stop at having some ethnic restaurants in town. And, if they live an hour away, I can't imagine that they are dropping by at a moment's notice, unannounced. (If so, I would agree that unannounced visits are inappropriate and should be plainly addressed)

When you choose a spouse, you also choose their family, and in this case, it looks like you chose a pretty good one. Your husband sees the positives in this situation. I think that if you ask him to help you see these positives (and you wish to see them, yes?), you will have success. And, I think this discussion will go better if he sees your efforts in learning Russian/Russian culture. Pretty much all of the couples I know are Japanese wife/American husband (like mine) and it is really something to observe the differences between the couples where the husband has at least some Japanese skills and those where the husband has none.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:23 PM on December 16, 2012

Sorry, don't mean to thread-sit (about to go upstairs and make dinner), but the visits are usually they call my husband and say "We're going to come over today and drop off a thing and see your son", and he tells me, and I say "when?" and he says "I dunno, this afternoon sometime," and then later that day they call and say "We're 5 minutes away." It's not real concrete. I have gotten the impression it would be a losing battle to try to get them to be more concrete.

Going upstairs now but thanks again for all the replies so far!!!
posted by agress at 4:26 PM on December 16, 2012

I'm sorry your inlaws are stressing you out. I come from a culture that sounds similar to theirs from the family perspective, and it can absolutely be frustrating, even when you're used to it. Here is what I suggest:

1. Remind yourself that this is a cultural difference. The way they behave and talk to you has nothing to do with the way your parents did, and do your best to remember that this is just how they are, good and bad, and try not to project your issues with your family onto them. The presumption of good faith goes a long way.

2. Focus in the commonalities. I don't love everything my family does, but I love that they love my kid and want to spend time with her. Whenever possible, I deflect their well-meaning enthusiasm her way. If having them in your house stresses you out, suggest they take your toddler to the park, the playground, etc. If they're like my family, they'll want to do all the cheesy kid things I'd rather not do, so win-win!

3. Pick your battles. If you want to cook, ask them to clean. But recognize the times when it's your baggage causing you to react strongly and yet to overcome that.

4. Each spouse takes her of his or her parents. Once you've picked your boundaries, have your spouse communicate then. Again, it's useful to offer alternatives. "Mom, Agress is more comfortable nursing in our room, so let's look at baby pictures/make some tea/look at the yard and come up with playground ideas until they come back."

Above all, remember that these people love you and your son, and making a few changes won't make them stop.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:27 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some of this is cultural. I know I am kinda like you and this would be freaky to me too, but if besides all that they are loving to you guys, why not relax and let her cook? Maybe even get her to show you how to do certain things.

If you can bond with them, life will get much easier. And then you can figure out what boundaries are appropriate for you and set them lovingly.

And hey, free babysitting!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2012

Yeah, don't bother trying to get them to be concrete. It's unlikely they'll ever understand why it's important to you, let alone let it be important to them.

This is more because they are older adults than the Russia thing, but the fluidity of time issue and the rules of hospitality are also factors there. Be glad they don't routinely end up having to stay the night because they've stayed for nine hours and it's dark outside now.
posted by SMPA at 4:58 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hang out in post-Soviet cultures for a living and I too am a midwestern American woman.

I think that in the bigger picture, I appreciate the more socially-harmonious caring-for-one-anotherness, the free babysitting, the showing of love through cooking... it isn't what you or I was raised with, but it really works well.

I'd back up a few steps and relax. I wish that I could help you more.
posted by k8t at 5:09 PM on December 16, 2012

I guess I'd take this a couple different ways. There's concrete things that can be done: such as task your husband with re-ordering the kitchen or keeping things somewhat orderly while your MIL cooks. Then there's managing expectations -- planning a retreat when you know you will be overwhelmed. Planning to have a glass of wine or special drink or treat when they come in and overwhelm you. My MIL is notoriously late. If at all possible, I try to not be around when she arrives because it stressed me out to just be waiting, waiting, waiting. I don't wait. I go do other things. It doesn't always work but, you know, sometimes!

I also plan to read or doodle or work on a sewing project or sit and watch the football game while the in-law family kind of does their thing around me. I try not to cook anything but the most basic meals for them because I get the meddling going on and the complaints about what we're having or if there will be enough. I don't get too bent out of shape when I'm just making a big pot of spaghetti.

Lastly, of course, there is embracing it. As someone else said, they won't be around forever. If there are positives, focus on those, for the negatives you just need to get creative. Good luck!
posted by amanda at 5:13 PM on December 16, 2012

I am in a similar situation, and my Russian future in-laws are very family oriented. There's an expectation that children should and will take care of their parents when they are older. Future MIL currently looks after babushka-in-law, and when boyfriend's parents are old he and his brother (or really, me and his sister-in-law) will have to take care of them. So keeping the family together is pretty important and something like this could very well be where the idea of following you to NZ is coming from.

If it's any consolation, we are just as baffling to the in-laws. Boyfriend's parents think it's totally weird I'm estranged from my mother, but they also think it's weird that I don't like to dance. So it goes.
posted by wimpdork at 5:14 PM on December 16, 2012

I really don't understand why the OP is being advised to learn Russian. She and her spouse don't live in Russia and she doesn't need Russian to get around and function.

Second, unless the OP has extraordinary facility with languages and is able to accomplish more with a course on CD than would seem humanly possible, she will not be able to hold her own with her in-laws in Russian any time soon. Or, let's face it, ever. They're assertive, older people. If anything, addressing them in a language you don't know from birth only increases the power imbalance. Imagine if the situation was simpler and there was no language barrier. Is it really so much easier to manage pushy, nosy, English-speaking in-laws?

Learning Russian from a book will not give the OP any deep appreciation of the standards and expectations of older Russians, such as her in-laws. And even if it did, her in-laws will still have those problematic, boundary-pushing tendencies. You can't talk people out of what they think is appropriate just by addressing them in their native language.

By all means, if the idea appeals to you and you have the time, please learn Russian. It's as pretty as any other language and it has a massive literary culture. Knowing Russian will open up the huge world of Russian media, including those cartoons that Metafilter seems to like so much.

But it's very probably a mistake to think that Russian will solve any problems for you.
posted by Nomyte at 5:15 PM on December 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm wondering about the role immigration is playing in this situation. However, I may be projecting my own experience onto yours, so take this with a grain of salt. My mother came to the US from Britain to marry my dad. That didn't work out and my mother basically sees herself as stuck in the US. She's not objectively stuck, as it sounds like your in-laws are, but my brother and I are here and, at this point, she's spent more than half her life here, in a country she wouldn't have picked.

At any rate, the thing that stood out to me is that my mom tells me regularly that she'll move to wherever I end up permanently (I'm a grad student at the moment). I can't explain why this is. Or why me and not my brother. (Well, that's probably because I'm the one who 'needs taking care of'.) I don't know if it will actually happen, but she's serious when she says it. Anyway, I wonder if some of your in-laws' talk about following you around the world is about a desire to keep the family together (yes, even though they're talking about leaving a child and grandchild behind). I think it's important for my mother to be able to think "I'm here because my children need me." not "I'm here because it'd be hard to go back to a country I left 30 years ago because it might not be 'home' any more."
posted by hoyland at 5:16 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

They probably dislike their other daughter-in-law because she has set firm boundaries with them.

Their favoritism is not unconditional, it's based on whoever is most willing to put up with their overbearing ways. This is actually a very volatile and dysfunctional situation.

posted by jbenben at 5:41 PM on December 16

I'm not sure about any of the rest of your situations -- IE the whys and wherefores -- but I sure do think that jbenben has nailed the whys and wherefores on these two pieces of it. Your sister-in-law almost certainly laid down the law in her home -- which she surely does have the right and in fact the responsability to herself and her children to do -- and your parent-in-laws don't like it. See how much they like you once you start insisting that they can't come over on five minutes notice and/or to get the hell out of your kitchen.

I think that this can be done in a polite fashion, I think it can be done in a way that will allow them to save face. But regardless how it's done I sure do think that it's going to have to be done, if you're to have any peace in your very own life.

If you can pull this rabbit out of this hat, you'll welcome them to live in the same country and town, whatever.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:40 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to suggestions that everyone else has made (and I especially thing jbenben has hit it on the nose), I think your in-laws need more to do. Is there someplace nearby that has a substantial Eastern European immigrant population that might have a senior center or a church or some kind of group they could join with other older Russian folks? Could you send them on a cruise or some sort of vacation with other Russian speakers where they might make new friends? Could you get them online and introduce them to Russian language chatrooms or message boards? Is there someplace they could volunteer that would either use their language skills or where their level of comfort in English wouldn't matter much? They need some connections with other human beings who are not you so that they have somewhere else to focus their attentions. People with hobbies and interests and friends have a lot less energy and time to be overbearing.
posted by decathecting at 6:53 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to disagree with the learning Russian thing. You've tried, it didn't work. Plus, I see some benefits to you not knowing Russian. Do you want to have even more of an insider's view into family dynamics between your husband and in laws? Right now, the language barrier is another thing that gives you distance and I think you're looking for more distance.

Being fluent in Russian won't help you with the things that you find most trying: their over-enmeshment in your lives, their sense of entitlement to come over at any time with little notice or regard for you, or their tendency to disregard boundaries and the rules of your home.

Your husband should be more of a buffer if you need it. This is the typical MeFi point of view. He needs to manage his parents and how they interface with you. It's easier for him to just let them do what they want rather than push back, but that isn't necessarily the right thing for his wife. If joint counseling gets you to a place where he understands that, by all means, do it. In the meantime, please tell your husband that any future moving plans or ideas should not be shared until they are totally set in stone. Your lives and the decisions you two make are not a group project. Good luck.
posted by quince at 7:13 PM on December 16, 2012

If somebody can identify the sort of thing that decathecting is talking about, I'd love to hear about it too, because I think it might genuinely help older Russians. (I do have ulterior motives, since my Russian-speaking mother would definitely benefit from this sort of thing.) In my experience, there are no Russian community resource outside of parts of New York City. There may be a church, but those as a rule don't function as social centers the way they do in the lives of Americans. It's also the case that many Russians are not religious.
posted by Nomyte at 7:24 PM on December 16, 2012

How long have you been married?

My family is like your husband's. It is common in my culture for the parents of the husband or wife to live in the same household. When my cousin married someone who was like you, she had to live with her MIL due to some financial hardship. There was unhappiness on her part and even some fighting with her MIL for the first year or two but now, more than five years into the marriage everyone is on good terms--especially because of the free unlimited childcare.

You haven't just married your husband, you have married his family too! Talk to him about what you want, not just what you don't want, and enlist his help. He knows more than anyone how to guide his parents in one direction or another.

I do this for my husband. If he isn't feeling social, I let my family know that he is really busy/needs to concentrate/is sick and have a long phone call with my mom instead.

Fortunately for me, my husband thinks it is cute when my parents drop by with a gift or want to see us on short notice. He gets overwhelmed like you, so I make sure not to let the visit go too long or I give him an excuse to step away.

I like to see my family and I always puzzled by how my husband only sees his a couple of times a year. I'd be very sad if he wanted to move far away from my family and even more so if he got mad that they'd want to come with. If his family is important to him, consider how it would make him feel to be separated from them. It may seem unusual for you to have them around so much, but to him it may be all he knows and what he expects.
posted by dottiechang at 7:45 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Second, unless the OP has extraordinary facility with languages and is able to accomplish more with a course on CD than would seem humanly possible, she will not be able to hold her own with her in-laws in Russian any time soon. Or, let's face it, ever.

I don't think anyone was suggesting that the OP learn Russian so she can confront her in-laws in their native tongue. That would be unnecessary since the OP describes her in-laws as fluent in English. I think the intention behind that advice, as I believe I at least made clear in my comment, was that she will feel more included. While it is true that she doesn't live in Russia or "need it to function", the fact is that she will hear Russian spoken in her house for the foreseeable future at least when the in-laws visit if not every day should the OP and husband decide to raise their child bilingually.

While I do not know the OP, I have no reason to believe that gaining proficiency in Russian is beyond her. I think that there is a considerable cultural factor here and the OP can certainly take efforts to bridge that gulf, but to what extent is up to her.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:19 PM on December 16, 2012

When your in-laws say "we're going to come over today", what do you want to happen? Do you want them to specify a time? Do you want to be able to veto it occasionally, or say "not before 2" or "not after 6" or "sure, but I already planned dinner so please don't cook" or whatever? Because you said you feel better when your husband checks with you before he lets your son go with his grandparents, though you say yes almost all the time anyhow. Would it help if you did the same thing with other visits, so you had more control over things even if the end result was still that they came over whenever they felt like it?
posted by jeather at 8:29 PM on December 16, 2012

OP, just from reading your posts, I think the first thing you should consider is "what ARE my boundaries?" Because I don't see anything specific there that your in-laws are doing to bother you. Not to say that they aren't bothering you, but unless you can figure out what they're doing, you won't be able to figure out an appropriate solution.

Also, it seems to me that the problem isn't only with your in-laws. If your husband is supposed to be a buffer between you and them, and then proceeds to tell you everything they said, that isn't helpful. Tell him not to do that. And if he is encouraging them, or at least allowing them to believe it's okay for them to move to NZ with you, that's something you should take up with him, not with them.

Finally, the relationship your in-laws have with their other kids isn't your business.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I think you should be more specific with your husband and yourself about what your issues are with your in-laws, decide what you can deal with, and figure out how to avoid the stuff you can't.
posted by lyssabee at 8:37 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should move to my town, Brookline MA, and let your inlaws follow you here. They would then be surrounded by other Russian immigrants and might have people to spend time with besides you.

(There is a serious suggestion in this jest. It sounds like they could benefit from community.)
posted by alms at 9:16 PM on December 16, 2012

Reading your updates, it sounds like the uncertainty really is getting to you - and perhaps feeling like you don't have any space that's yours and doesn't need to be shared.

Have you thought about a vacation? Or a special place you could go or thing you could do with your family that wouldn't get interrupted? Or, try to set time boundaries - "Husband, I want this weekend to be just for us. Can you make sure that if your parents want to come by, you tell them we'll be busy and can't see them this weekend?"

Or, if you really do like the benefits but just don't like the 'intrusiveness' of feeling like you suddenly have houseguests to manage, consider going out and running errands while they're over.
posted by Lady Li at 9:25 PM on December 16, 2012

... and plus something about the way she talks to me reminds me of my Dad sometimes. :/

This this this. As someone with a father who is similarly totally not respectful of my own adulthood and ability to live my own life, I think this is the key issue here. Not that it doesn't sound like your in-laws are a bit overbearing, but the hiding-in-a-back-room-screaming overreaction totally smacks of you bringing your own strong issues with your parent into this in-law relationship. None of this would be getting to you so much if you had dealt with your own parent issues first. Deal with your feelings about your dad, watch your frustration with your mother-in-law fade.
posted by aiglet at 9:46 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's a good possibility that getting my own brain in order (more than it is now, and it's already come a long way) will help with this.

Treating your depression and ADHD is not going to make your husband not over-share a vague plan to move to NZ, nor is it going to change your in-law's expectation that they will move with you.

"We're going to come over today and drop off a thing and see your son", and he tells me, and I say "when?" and he says "I dunno, this afternoon sometime," and then later that day they call and say "We're 5 minutes away." It's not real concrete. I have gotten the impression it would be a losing battle to try to get them to be more concrete.

I'm not really sure why you're being so passive here. Just call them back? "Hi MIL, can you just let me know what time you're planning to drop by? We have plans this afternoon." One of the things you could discuss in therapy is something like "Proposed: our house is not the in-law's house and they cannot drop in on their own schedule. Discuss."
posted by DarlingBri at 12:34 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a thing about Russian culture. Most of the kids are brought up by their grandparents while their parents go to work. Most Russian families are set up so that the kids are dropped off at gramma's house in the morning and the grandparents devote their day to the little one's. Or, given Russia's housing situation, everyone lives together anyway.

I think it's sweet that your in-laws want to make a fuss over your family, they love you and by extension, your family. Embrace this, it's absolutely lovely.

Your in-laws probably feel very left out, can you make an effort to be more inclusive? Perhaps they can teach your son Russian. This would be an amazing skill to have as he grows up.

I'm thinking that if you have a specific time and date to see them, that they'll stop dropping over so frequently. Also, don't feel that you have to entertain them. Just hanging out in your area with their son and grandson is good enough for them.

Let them cook and clean, this is perfectly normal for them and they want to do it for you. If you feel overwhelmed, get in the car "to run errands" and go see a movie or go to Starbucks for a while with your e-reader.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:14 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even if you're not normally an introvert, it sounds like in this particular family dynamic, you're more introverted than your husband's family. It might be helpful to research coping strategies for introverts to get some concrete suggestions for how to get some personal space during family get-togethers and for how to advocate for yourself with your husband. Caring for Your Introvert is a good start.
posted by jaguar at 8:54 AM on December 17, 2012

Ruthless Bunny's comment reminded me of a very interesting book I read about in the NY Times, which attempts to decipher American culture for Russians. I cannot tell on Amazon if it's published in English, but the article itself is a very interesting read.
posted by invisible ink at 4:13 PM on December 17, 2012

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