My Mother-In-Law is Causing Me Anxiety and Stress

Q: So to give you a bit of background I have been with my husband for 6 years. My mother-in-law has been bothering me a lot. She says negative/degrading things about my husband and she puts her other son on a pedestal, although he has no job and is addicted to video games.  She tells everyone that he is so wonderful.

Over time this slowly started bothering me more and more. Then when I got pregnant my feelings intensified. My MIL was in the waiting room when my baby was born which I didn’t really want but never said anything to anyone because I felt I was being selfish.  Once we got home, she called 2-3 times per week and wanted to come over all the time.  Every time she phoned, my husband would get off the phone and tell me she was coming. He did not ask and had already made the arrangements with her. In my husband’s defense, I was doing the same thing with my mother so it was an error on both our parts.

Every time my husband told me she was coming over, I immediately got anxious, felt my heart racing, felt nauseous and have even thrown up. I have spent nights unable to sleep because of this and have been very bitter that I have lost precious time with my son because of my anxiety.

My husband tried to limit my MIL’s visits and make them shorter but she just ignored him and would stay for hours. It also really upset me that she would just grab the baby from me and when she held him, her body language would make me feel like she was possessive of him. She doesn’t want anyone else holding the baby when she is in the house.

I have a lot of anxiety about my MIL’s visits. I don’t want my son around someone who could belittle her own son. I have talked to my husband about the fact that I do not feel comfortable with her babysitting and at this point will not leave him alone with her under any circumstances. I feel it is my right as a parent to follow my instinct. I hope my feelings will change and want him to be able to go over there without me when he is a bit older but that is how I feel right now. My husband is supportive of this but has said if this is the way I feel, my mom cannot babysit either. I am not sure how I feel about this. I kind of feel it is a punishment for me feeling this way. I really need an outside opinion. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to hurt my husband. Is there anything else I should be doing?

A.  The situation you have described with your mother-in-law is very, very common. There are hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of new mothers going through the same thing, trying to navigate this often difficult relationship. So, you’re not alone.  I hope that makes you feel a little better.

From what you described it seems that your MIL is a difficult woman, she is self-centered and lacks awareness.  On the plus side, she does love your baby, doesn’t she? You write that when she held your son she seemed to be “possessive of him”. Of course she was! She is his grandmother. This is her genetic legacy. Your mother-in-law is feeling the same ferocious, primal possessiveness that you are. I remember being a little terrified by the look of complete ecstasy on my own MIL’s face when she held my newborn daughter and thinking “hang on, it’s my baby!” So, I do understand how you feel.  But the thing that you have to remember is that you are NUMERO UNO, and nothing will change that. No matter how often your MIL holds your baby or ignores your instructions.  You have all the power. You hold all the cards. Let me say it in caps … YOU ARE THE MOTHER.

As Oprah would say “own your power” (or something like that). Don’t be afraid to let your MIL know loud and clear if she is doing something that you do not like. However, let her love your son. Yes, she is an annoying woman, but you haven’t told me anything that makes me think that she is dangerous or unstable. (If that were the case, my advice would be different) She is your husband’s mother and as such, she deserves a shot at developing a relationship with her grandson. If that is what your husband wants, and it seems that it is.  Keep in mind that it is possible that you are over-reacting to her behavior. All new mothers have paper-thin skin and behave territorially and a little insecurely as we try to find our footing as parents.  I remember shouting at my own mother because I thought that she was wiping my daughters bottom the wrong way! Ten years and three more babies later I cringe to think that I was so bratty and ungrateful for all her help!

Let’s talk about your husband now.  It sounds like his heart is in the right place and that he wants you to be happy. But his tit-for-tat response to your demand that his mother not babysit is immature and unkind. I don’t know what is going on in his head. He might be trying to keep both you, and his mother happy. But he’ll learn sooner rather than later that his life will be much happier if he focuses on making you happy, not his mother. From what you said in your email it seems that you avoid having uncomfortable conversations. You didn’t want your MIL at the hospital during labor, but you never said so; from the very start her visits made you feel anxious but you never said anything. I understand your desire to keep the peace and, as you wrote, not be selfish; but stuffing down our emotions and our needs never ends well. Ultimately we end up blowing up at our partners or withdrawing into wounded silence. Please talk to your husband about how you feel (including how much you need your own mother at this time, but how you want to make space for his mother, too) and then talk with each other about the type of childhood you want for your son. You’ll see that you both want the same thing. In terms of dealing with his mother talk together about all the options: he takes your son to visit her and you stay at home; when she visits you go out for a walk or take the opportunity to hang out with a friend etc.; you limit her visits to twice a week, or whatever number you feel comfortable with. Basically, you figure out a compromise that works for both you and your husband.

I think being honest about what you feel and what you need, will really help with your anxiety levels. I don’t mean to sound flippant … but make sure you are getting as much sleep as possible and exercising when you can. Lack of sleep and exercise can have a profoundly negative effect on our happiness levels.

Finally, you mention that your MIL is dismissive of, and disrespectful towards her son, your husband. As his wife, it’s understandable that you are upset by this, but this is not your battle to fight. You don’t say whether or not your husband is upset by her comments. It might be water off a duck’s back for him. But even if it does upset him, it is not your place to interfere. Let him deal with his mother. If he chooses not to, you just have to accept that. Don’t nag him to address something that he just is not ready to handle. Love him and over time your love and support might give him the strength he needs to stand up to his mother.

You sound like a woman who cares deeply about her husband and is madly in love with her little baby.  You have everything you need for a full and joyful life. Don’t let an annoying MIL stop you from embracing life and loving your family with your whole heart.

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