QUESTION: My mother-in-law
and I got along great until I married my husband (an only child) and
gave birth to our daughter seven months ago. Since our baby was born,
she has been trying to take over my life! She is very possessive, and
from the time I became pregnant has called the baby "hers," and fantasized
about doing "Mommy/daughter" stuff together. I think my mother-in-law
is trying to live vicariously through my family, while making it clear
I have no place in her fantasy. My husband agrees that his mom's behavior
is very inappropriate. Still, this has created so many marital problems
that I have considered leaving my husband and daughter just to get away
from this woman. I feel so trapped and I don't know what to do.
ANSWER: Your husband must
align his loyalties with you if your marriage is to succeed. The good
news is that he knows his mother's behavior is inappropriate. Now it
is time for him to do something about it.
Each day your husband does not set limits with your
mother-in-law strains your marriage. This is the stage of development
in the family life cycle in which it is essential that the two of
you create a boundary around your nuclear family.
You are a new mother and it is important that your
authority be recognized in the extended family. It is your husband's
job to talk with his parents about this boundary in the beginning.
He must show his mother that he supports you in your parental authority
and require that you be accepted as his wife and the mother of his
child. Not saying anything for fear of his mother's reaction only
worsens the situation and reinforces her fantasy that this is "her"
child and you are a "third wheel". Let your husband know that you
do not expect him to love his mother any less, but that you are now
the center of his life and need his support.
Do not despair! You ARE the wife and mother in this
family. Instead of feeling trapped, find your voice as a mother. You
and your husband set the guidelines in the family. Explain to your
mother-in-law that you appreciate her as a grandmother and ask her
how she would like herself referred to, in this role. Would she like
your daughter to call her grandma, nana, or some other appropriate
endearment? Let her know that you do not want there to be any confusion
about who is Mom and who is grandmother for your child. Clarify your
expectation for her to speak accordingly to your child. "My grandbaby"
might be an appropriate substitution.
Visit only as often as you are comfortable, and allow
your mother-in-law's participation in your baby's life at the level
that feels right to you. With your husband's support, your mother-in-law
will come to accept her natural place as a grandmother. And in time,
you will feel increasingly secure in your position as a mother.
Remember, too, that your mother-in-law is adjusting
to sharing her only child with his new family. No doubt her tenacity
to "live vicariously" has much to do with her loneliness in her own
marriage, however you cannot change this for her.
Though there may be some reaction from your mother-in-law
as she adjusts to grandmotherhood, she will most certainly get over
any feelings of rejection if you continue to include her in your life.
Send her cards, invite her to visit you and the baby even though she
falls silent. Expect this but do react to childish behavior. Consider
her frailty, but do not take your "cues" from her. Act with the maturity
of your new identity as mother and treat her with patience until she
comes around. It is unlikely she will continue to "cut off her nose
to spite her face", once some time has passed.
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