Mother-in-Law Madness {Setting Boundaries}

I grew up listening to oldies music with my parents. I would always hear Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-law” on Cool 95.7. Yep, you know the song about a guy trashing his mother-in-law.

I went through relationships thinking to myself that guys just inherently dislike their mother-in-law. I got married and realized that’s not really the case. What took me by total surprise, though, is how MY mother-in-law changed not when my husband and I got married, but-dun, dun, dunnnnnnnn – when we had kids.

Lack of Boundaries

From the start, my husband and I didn’t set boundaries with her – we didn’t know we needed to. When I say from the start, I mean, as I lay stitched up in the hospital the day after having my first kid.

She didn’t leave the hospital. She invited people to my hospital room without asking if I was up for company. Our first day home with our newborn, my MIL came over and wouldn’t leave, occupying the only TV in our house the whole day. And then – yes, there’s more – she invited people to MY house to meet MY new bundle that night. I kid you not. As she and her company left nearing 8pm that night, they decided to go get dinner and never once asked if my husband or I wanted anything. As soon as they walked out the door, I turned to my husband and said, “Nope. This isn’t going to work.”

The In-Between

It got worse before it got better. Way worse.

There was the blatant disregard for instructions we would leave with her when she babysat. If I ask you not to put my infant on her stomach, I don’t care what you did 30 years ago raising my now-husband … but don’t put my baby on her stomach. There were the several times that my child was jerked away from me. You want to see the mama bear claws come out? Jerking my child away from me on more than one occasion is a good way to make that happen. There were the hurt feelings because we have lives outside of hanging out with my MIL. You want us to want to hang out with you? Don’t make us feel guilty about not hanging out with you WHILE WE’RE HANGING OUT WITH YOU.

All these things amongst many, many others.

The thing is, I never could have imagined my mother-in-law would be that type of person before I had kids. But, alas, it was true. She needed a lesson on how to be less selfish and how to just show up for her son and daughter-in-law.

Addressing and Deflecting

I say it got worse before it got better. Things never really got “great.” But, my husband and I did set boundaries, so for us, it has been a little more bearable. We tried to address boundaries with my mother-in-law, but we also set boundaries for my husband and I. We both collectively can only take the guilt trips so much and now with 2 kids, time is even more crunched. When the guilt trip talk starts up, we immediately make eye contact and change the topic. If that doesn’t work, one of us chimes in about how it’s time for us to be going. And we leave.

We recognize and constantly remind each other that we are doing not only our best, but we are doing what is best for our family. We cannot be concerned about what others deem is right or wrong with the way we run a house and raise a family. I imagine no grandparent ever feels like they see their grandchild enough.

Lessons Learned

I hope that at some point in my life I can experience being a grandmother. And I vow to my children that I will be empathetic to their families’ needs. I will not be selfish, except for when it comes to little toddler hugs. I will not guilt trip them because I know how hard it is to please everyone.

What was your experience with your mother-in-law when kids entered the picture?

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16 Responses to Mother-in-Law Madness {Setting Boundaries}

  1. Elle October 19, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    My experience was very similar to yours. She came over unnannouced. She snapped at me if I admitted to any contact with my own mother. She rocked my baby and sang a song with the lyrics, “call me mama. It means love”. She attempted to grab my baby out of my arms the second I arrived at a family function. If I later requested that she hand her back, she refused. She constantly made and makes comments on how every feature of my children comes from their family.

    Two weeks after she was born, she told me that she needed the baby two days a week. I was really confused, as she was requesting shared custody of a child that I grew in my womb. Her erratic behavior, jealousy, lack of respect, and guilt trips, prevented me from ever allowing her to babysit. She always made commebts about wanting my children to be just like her-what? Needy, emotionally manipulative, and a liar?

    My first child is 10 now, and she still doesn’t get it. We see her only for holidays, and even that is difficult, as she wants to control the where and when and will cancel several times before we finally meet. We can only see her occasionally, or she will start the stalking behavior. I stopped answering the phone after my third child was born, but she continues to guilt trip my husband on how the kids “need” to know her before she is dead. She is a toxic person, and my children will not be made to feel responsible for meeting her emotional needs, as she has done to my husband and his sisters-bottom line.

    I cringe of I hear her voice on the phone 10 years after this all started. I’m the mother of my children, not an incubator for a narcissistic supply for her.

    We are civil to one another, but its a act. She’s actually overly nice in front of my husband, so that I appear crazy if I say anything about her.

  2. Charlotte October 19, 2017 at 7:56 am #

    Shame on you. How could you write about you mother in law. Shame on your husband for allowing this. Yes one day I’m sure , you will be a MIL and Krama is a _____. How could you but that’s right you didn’t but your name at the end of this article so I guess that makes it okay. Glad you not my daughter in law.

    • KK October 19, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

      Shame on her? what?? Shame on her MIL for acting like that. Sometimes people over step their boundaries, and yes that does include, (surprise, surprise, Mother in laws!!!).

    • ABL October 19, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

      I’m sorry, but do not shame her. Lots of people have similar issues and this is a place to vent. This helps people relate and realize they are not alone. Not all mother-in-laws or mothers are perfect. I agree with her article. When I came home from the hospital, I felt so overwhelmed. I would have hated to entertain someone until 8 pm!! People forget what it was like for them. Shame on you for being so nasty to this woman sharing her experience!!!!

    • SG October 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

      She wrote it without names. She shared something relevant to the story. She has done nothing wrong.

    • Melissa October 20, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

      Did something ring a little too true for you, Charlotte??

  3. DBCV October 19, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    I think this is a great article, It rings true in many ways, I have several friends that have been dealing with these types of situations. I think it is very important that your husband is on the same page as you. I have never been a fan of the guilt trip and I used to get it a lot from my ex-father in law when I was married to my first husband, we never seemed to stay and visit for long enough, 3 hours, 8 hours, it didn’ matter, it was never enough! Much luck to you!

  4. LMNOP October 20, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    So funny I see this article as I just recently had a conversation about this. I think I had the perfect relationship with my MIL before we had kids. But now more than ever, I notice the lack of boundaries she has with not only her son, but with me as well. My husband just shrugs it off, because he doesn’t like conflict. But I don’t really operate that way. Sad to say, our relationship has definitely changed and I don’t see it going back to how it was before. Too many lines have been crossed, and because it hasn’t been addressed (out of respect for my husband), things will remain the way they are.

  5. Shandy October 20, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

    I absolutely love my mother-in-law. She lives 13 hours away and doesn’t speak English. When we go visit, she cooks amazing meals for us and smiles the whole time. When you add in the fact that one of her other children-in-laws is a lying, cheating, drug-using bum, and the second is an arrogant, overbearing jerk, I’m the golden in-law. It’s fantastic!

  6. Deb October 21, 2017 at 6:20 pm #

    My question. If it were ur own mother would u be so unforgiving

  7. Ellen October 21, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    I’ve had a lot of trouble with my MIL too. It causes strife in our marriage. We had a really good relationship before my son was born, but she’s super controlling. It does not go over well with me. I’m planning to make a strategy with my husband for dealing with it. She will always be in my life, so I have to figure out how to manage it. One thing I will say is that we have to be careful how we discuss this in front of our kids. My mom hated my grandmother, and it really bothered me. My aunt prevented her daughters from having a good connection with my grandmother by constantly trash talking her in front of them. Not good.

  8. Anue Nue October 22, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

    Because as Ellen above points out “One thing I will say is that we have to be careful how we discuss this in front of our kids. My mom hated my grandmother, and it really bothered me. My aunt prevented her daughters from having a good connection with my grandmother by constantly trash talking her in front of them. Not good.” I think this is a very NICE “MIL Madness” article written by an author who together with her husband as new parents seem to have developed a healthy level of differentiation. I think the very important take away message here for other parents with grandparent issues is the fact this couple were secure enough in their relationship child rearing beliefs in their own right that they work together at maintaining the boundaries they feel are necessary rather than waste precious time trying to force their MIL too or labeling her as “toxic” and cutting her completely of from contact with the grandchildren.

    “But, my husband and I did set boundaries, so for us, it has been a little more bearable. We tried to address boundaries with my mother-in-law, but we also set boundaries for my husband and I. We both collectively can only take the guilt trips so much and now with 2 kids, time is even more crunched. When the guilt trip talk starts up, we immediately make eye contact and change the topic. If that doesn’t work, one of us chimes in about how it’s time for us to be going. And we leave.

    We recognize and constantly remind each other that we are doing not only our best, but we are doing what is best for our family. We cannot be concerned about what others deem is right or wrong with the way we run a house and raise a family. I imagine no grandparent ever feels like they see their grandchild enough.”

  9. Melody October 23, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

    Oh my oh my. MIL oh the stories my husband and I could tell. Both of our moms are… Something lol. We love our mothers dearly but we also took the blinders off long ago. Boundaries were a veey difficult thing to set up after having our first child. We still 5 years later have to work on it. I fear the guilt trips will never end. Lets not get started on the manipulation and lieing. I wish you all mothers amd fathers the beat of luck when dealing with the in laws.

  10. Sarah Nelson October 24, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    This is an issue many people deal with on different levels. It is important to have an open discussion and for women to gain insight on how to draw boundaries. Drawing boundaries is a very difficult thing to do. This article did not mention names and is as respectful as she could be given the circumstances. Dealing with Family can be difficult, but through the process we can learn and when our day comes we can choose to be the mother and MIL that is supportive and loving. We can learn from the mistakes of others to be the Grandparent and parent our children want to be around. We all need support and guidance on this subject. Thank you for being open and vulnerable.

  11. Alison December 26, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    I’m in the exact same boat. Very controlling, conniving-you name it. I refuse to put up with it anymore and thankfully my husband feels the same way. I could never imagine treating my two sons the way she treats her own. And , I do realize that I will be a MIL one day. My final straw was her denying my husband communion at mass because she was mad at him. She is horrible.

  12. Skye December 26, 2017 at 7:45 pm #

    After 17 years my MIL still won’t speak to me when she enters our house. We are never invited to hers or to her family gatherings. She tries to make my husband feel guilty for marrying me. My children are 13 and 10 and they are even uncomfortable around them now. We are expected to wine and dine them and they prefer to not eat at our house but rather insist that we eat out. A rare treat for my family. They “tease” about our jobs and tell us we don’t make enough money. My son loves cooking and they won’t eat his food, complaining that the portions are too large or the food is weird. I am left out of family photos. I could go on and on. We still invite and still try to have a relationship but it puts a strain on our marriage and family.

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