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Trying NOT to blow a fuse, but.... MiL issues! Advice needed, please!

(50 Posts)
Rowantree Tue 02-Sep-14 17:06:54

So yesterday we took Australian visitors, staying with us for a few days, to visit MIL's house in Esher. We went out for lunch and then back for tea with her.
During the conversation that afternoon, she went on and on about how huge her garden was, about the alterations they made to their 3-storey house, etc. I'm used to her bragging, but it's not that tactful in front of the Australian 'rellies' (her niece and family who haven't got much money). However, THEN she launched into going on about now my DD2 hasn't yet got her baby to sleep in her own room yet, whereas her other GD in Canada had successfully got her baby, who is 4 months old, to sleep in his cot in his own room. The way she was talking felt like implicit criticism of our DD and I was furious, but I felt I had to stay quiet though my heart was palpitating with rage. I managed to hiss out 'It's not a race!' but I don't think she heard me. I wanted to slap her (but I couldn't and wouldn't). I felt very angry, upset and hurt for my DD and very protective of her but didn't know how to respond.
All I could do was fume silently, but from then on I just wanted to leave. I had a rant later, on the way home, but I am dreading visiting again in a few weeks when her other GD, baby and MIL's daughter visit her from Canada. We are expected to visit for a big family lunch and our DD and baby are invited too, so both her great-grandchildren will be together. I don't want to go but there is no option not to and I'd miss seeing my DD and DGD anyway. I am really dreading the inevitable comparisons, along the lines of : ' Baby X is going xyz now - could Baby Y do that at that age?' etc etc.
I know that my reactions are very passive-aggressive and I am not good at standing up to her and being assertive - I never have been. Everyone wants to tiptoe round her for fear of upsetting her, but I am thinking that she ought to know when what she says is upsetting and hurtful.
I know she isn't going to change, and so I have to, somehow, but I don't know how to cope. Does anyone have any similar experiences, or any advice or suggestions on either what to say to her if (when!) she starts comparing them, or how to keep calm if I can't say anything?

I also don't get on with my sister-in-law and am not keen on her DD who is rather opinionated and arrogant - but I've tried very hard NOT to let that show, ever. It does make things more difficult to cope with though.

HildaW Tue 02-Sep-14 17:23:11

Oh Rowantree.....feel for you on this one....I too am the sort who shuts up and tries not to let tactless folks get me down. There does seem to be a whole group of people who see 'speaking their minds' as a sort of virtue where the rest of us just see it as bad manners. I was brought up to have a conversation with visitors in a polite and entertaining way. One can have opinions but you are supposed to consider who you are speaking to. You can also have a bit of fun and be light hearted but you are not supposed to get carried away and try to browbeat the other people.
Sounds like you MIL is a bit of a bore and probably a bit of a bully. I too am a passive aggressive type that would keep quiet but I think I'd say something like....'she speaks her mind.....I'm used to it but please do not take offense'.
As to her comparisons just let them wash over shows a smallness of know and love your GC, they are your blessings....who cares what she thinks!

Rowantree Tue 02-Sep-14 17:33:37

Thank you, HildaW- but sadly I DO care what she thinks, probably because DD has struggled with disability and mental health problems all her life and I suffered with comparisons between her other grandchildren; also I was compared unfavourably with my brothers when I was a child and the pain of that has never left me. Pathetic, I know, but it STILL hurts and I hate my own DDs being the butt of comparisons now!

I would love to let her tactless, unpleasant comments wash over me, but I fear I might drown in them! We only have one DGD and she might be our only one, as DD2 isn't planning to have more and DD1 is still single. DGD is just over one year old and dearly loved (of course!)

sunseeker Tue 02-Sep-14 17:34:16

Perhaps if she starts to make comparisons you could say something like "well it doesn't matter - they are both gorgeous!".

Could you start comparing her unfavourably with your own Mother (sort of turn the tables - although not if you have visitors as that may make them feel uncomfortable and you are far too polite to do something like that)

Elegran Tue 02-Sep-14 17:37:49

Not at all easy! You are in the wrong if you argue and seethe if you don't!

Could you try smiling sweetly when she starts the comparisons and say "Yes, they are all different, aren't they? Some are quicker at one thing, some are quicker at another but they all get there in the end. There are not many who are not (fill in whatever you want here) by the time they are (whatever age seems appropriate) And, of course, there are very few adults who have not mastered these basic skills."

Then you could ask her innocently what age she was when she was dry at night or sleeping in a big bed or eating with a knife and fork or whatever.

Or maybe that would set her off again. Perhaps miss that one out and tell her how you have read that doing this that or the other too early can affect them in the future, can even make them over-anxious to please and prevent them developing into successful independent people who can make their own decisions without worrying about conforming to artificial parameters imposed by parents for their own convenience.

Prepare a few comments like this in advance and have them ready to launch into as soon as you hear her starting up. (invent some statistics. You can say that they come from someone on Gransnet. We won't contradict you)

Do it before you have time to feel nervous about it. Don't just sit there suffering - in a subtle way tell her that her boasting is not impressing you. The rest of the family will be as fed up as you are and will probably join you. No need to go on about it being hurtful and upsetting or make a fight out of it, that will just trigger her labelling you as too sensitive about your inferior grandchildren. You are not! They are not inferior, they are individuals!

suebailey1 Tue 02-Sep-14 17:38:29

It does sound horrible but its sounds as if you are the better person so rise above it and keep your standards. My understanding of passive aggressive is that mostly you keep quiet but then will on occasion blow a fuse - try to avoid that if you can you will upset yourself and say things its hard to withdraw. Beat a tactical withdrawal with some of the children into the HUGE garden and have a good ruin of her lawn.

Mamie Tue 02-Sep-14 17:45:27

How difficult for you and I can understand how angry you must feel. I think it helps to have a mantra which you just repeat with a sweet smile.
I favour, "Such a good job life isn't run on a first past the post system, isn't it?".

Elegran Tue 02-Sep-14 17:56:19

You are not passive aggressive, Rowantree That is described here and is nasty behaviour - a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior - sulking, self-pity, deliberately withholding praise where it is due because of envy, engineering things so that the other person appears to be victimising you.

Generally being sneaky and whingy, in short, and attacking people without being openly aggressive. We all know someone who does it, but it does not sound as though you are.

You are not doing all this, you are just overwhelmed by MiLs bullying tactics and wishing that you could deal with them.

HildaW Tue 02-Sep-14 18:15:05 definitely not that.....just a bit backward in stating my point of view.
Its not you either Rowantree....though it sounds as if a lifetime of criticism has worn down any natural self-confidence. That I do recognise. You need to recognise that you are a decent person with perfectly respectable qualities. I think I began to like myself when I realised I was being a much better parent than mine.....someone commented that I had broken the cycle of bullying and undervaluing. I have two daughters...neither is rich, famous or Olympic champions....they are however, loving daughters and lovely human beings...two people I am very proud of. If you start to look at yourself with a bit more kindness then what others say will not seem nearly so important.

Soutra Tue 02-Sep-14 18:23:14

This is your MIL right? What does your DH say to it all?
Or does he also tiptoe round her? Maybe a jokey (?) comment from him along the lines of "Come on Mum it's not done to brag!" or "You're beginning to sound like Hyacinth Bucket! " (and retreat rapidly) But seriously it sounds like profound insecurity on her part - I would be tempted to have a diplomatic headache. You have my TOTAL sympathy - what a dragon!

Mishap Tue 02-Sep-14 18:23:56

Inject a bit of humour? Make a joke of some of her statements? - e.g. "Heavens no - she will probably be coming back to sleep in her Mum's room when she is at university!"

What a very irritating woman - when she is getting right under your skin, imagine her on the toilet and that will bring her down to earth!

Best not to be over-sensitive about it - it truly is her problem and not yours. Take every opportunity to say how proud you are of your offspring - just in passing of course!

littleflo Tue 02-Sep-14 18:35:22

When people like your MiL make these comments, they are doing so to get a reaction. I bet she watches you like a hawk when she tosses these verbal grenades.

If you make any remark, no matter how pleasant, it is like loading the gun for her to fire more bullets. I agree with those who say you are clearly the better person. Pretend to be deaf and blind when she speaks, I know from experience like yours that is the only way. Others may think it is cowardly not to speak up, but we stay silent out of self preservation.

Once my husband made the mistake of telling my mother about my promotion (something I kept silent about). She said "Bank Managers are two a penny these days. Years ago they were well respected, but nowadays any old Tom Dick or Harry seems to get the job".

The air in our car used to blue when ever we drove away, but as soon as we were home we pretended to ourselves that she just did not exist.

Unfortunately we can never get away from the bullies when they are very close relatives.

Nelliemoser Tue 02-Sep-14 19:28:59

Rowantree I can understand how having felt put down for a lot of your life you would be likely to still react in the same way.

Laugh this bad mannered woman off and keep it as a joke within your family. Start making a jokes about people boasting about their children , she might get the message. As Soutra and Mishap have suggested.

When she starts on about how wonderful the other side of the family are. Make up some crazy stories of your children's successes and enlist one or other of your family to play with you. Well she got a Phd in Quantum physics when she was 12, and he was reading Shakespeare when he was 2.

The more outrageous the better and keep upping the stories. Your Mil might not get the point but at least it might make you feel better able to laugh at the situation.

annodomini Tue 02-Sep-14 19:43:08

A wake-up call, I think. I always try to remember not to make explicit or implicit comparisons between GCs. Having four of them between 6 and 11, it's quite difficult not to compare them and it would be extremely tactless to do so. Luckily they are all good at different things and have different sporting interests. Rowantree, take your MiL with a large pinch of salt. I doubt if anyone else is taking her seriously, so take some of the advice offered on this thread and laugh off her silly boasting.

penguinpaperback Tue 02-Sep-14 19:50:13

Hi, you said everyone wants to tiptoe around MiL so I wonder if they all realise she speaks a lot of nonsense and loves to pit one family member against another? I expect she is fully aware of who and when she is upsetting someone. She sounds as though she thrives on a reaction, don't give her one. You know all this is petty behaviour from MiL but I doubt she will change now. You can change how you react to her usual predictable tactics though. Surprise her. smile She will be so peeved.

rosequartz Tue 02-Sep-14 19:58:40

Just ignore her nonsense. I expect everyone else is thinking the same as well.
So easy to give this advice, often difficult to follow it - DD's MIL is worse!
I did challenge her once when she was telling lies about DD to me (why would you do that?) and she was left open-mouthed and silent for once!

Elegran Tue 02-Sep-14 20:13:49

I am not all that good at sticking up for myself (yes I know some on here would disagree)

But a few days ago I was standing in a queue in a bus shelter and those in front of me were trickling onto the bus. I had shuffled just about to the end of the shelter, with one person dawdling in front of me, when someone shot up the outside of the shelter, on the kerb side, and proceeded to get on.

Without stopping to think, I said loudly "Hold on a minute! I think you were after me!" He got off rather shamefacedly and apologised. I could just have left it - the man in front of me was clearly going to just let him through, but why the -****- should I ignore him taking advantage of a bottleneck to overtake the more patient passengers?

Sometimes you have to say what you think, sometimes not. If you are going to spend the rest of the day angry about it, you might as well be angry at the time and maybe make a difference.

Elegran Tue 02-Sep-14 20:16:33

I've just seen a side effect here - we have often been annoyed on the forum at not being able to use four stars to substitute for a four-letter word we would rather not show. I have accidentally solved that by putting a dash befiore the stars and a dash after them. Brilliant!

Rowantree Tue 02-Sep-14 20:36:57

Such a lot of good advice from Gransnetters as always, and I hope I am up to the challenge of taking it! Elegran - you did the right thing with your bus queue situation. Funnily enough I'd have no problem being assertive,as you were, in that situation - because there is no emotional attachment to the other people, I suppose! I simply cannot do it with MIL or her daughter or her daughter's DH who is completely arrogant and a total t***er and always has to be Right - MIL thinks the sun shines out of his backside.
Mishap I like the thought of injecting humour, IF I can think of something to say which diffuses the situation, but as other Gransnetters have warned, sometimes making a comment might give her more ammunition to fire back, so I'd have to be carefully prepared.
However part of my intense anger and frustration stems from not feeling I am able to respond assertively or have a right of reply, so on balance I think I do need to practice responses which diffuse, ease my irritation and maybe inject humour whilst making a firm point. None of which is going to be easy!

I still do think I am passive-aggressive, as I recognise, with deep shame, some of my responses to this and to other similar situations. I DO sulk - I suppose I sulked yesterday, sitting seething and tight-lipped and wishing to goodness that DH would get up and say it was time to go home!
He finds her irritating too, but doesn't want to upset her unecessarily (!) and is better able than I am to let her tactless and thoughtless comments wash over him. I wish I could do likewise, but they seem to eat away at me, however hard I wish they didn't!

etheltbags1 Tue 02-Sep-14 22:24:05

I had the MIL from hell and for over 20 years I was subject to hints that I wasn't good enough, my house not clean enough etc etc. It made me miserable so I sympathise with anyone who has this to put up with.

Now my mother has become similar and at 82 she thinks she is right, she has digs at other people and just says 'tough' if they don't like it.
I have learned to cope by being quiet and just living within myself Im not strong enough to cope.
I do think that a larger family such as rowantree's could get the MIL together and tell her, her behaviour is unacceptable and she would have to listen. Im alone so my mother takes no notice of me, Im just a kid to her. Its a no win situation. Many people don't help as they pander to older people, my mothers friends often say 'ahh, bless', when she's doing a rant. Its as if older people are allowed to be rude because of their age but I don't think any age is ok to be rude.

Faye Wed 03-Sep-14 03:07:06

Rowantree don't go! If your MIL wants to know why be honest and tell her. Life is too short to waste on someone who is a fool. Have a nice day with your own family instead. flowers

suzied Wed 03-Sep-14 07:05:51

I also have a rude, unpleasant MIL who compares my children unfavourably to just about anyone else's children, compares me unfavourably to all my DHs exes etc, whilst boasting about herself and how she won the war singlehandedlly etc etc you have the picture. I have dealt with this by limiting my contact with her, my DH takes her shopping etc but we no longer invite her round for meals , if she is present at any family dos I avoid her company and open the wine!

Aka Wed 03-Sep-14 07:21:42

rowantree I'd suggest you give it a miss too, but it you can't do that then sit as far away from this awful woman as possible. You say it's 'a large family lunch' so that ought to make it easier and if you include you husband and daughter in this seating arrangement (explain beforehand) then even better.

Leave the MiL to bore and bully her end of the table.

J52 Wed 03-Sep-14 07:39:02

I sympathise with this situation. My MIL was very similar. One day I confronted her, when she said something dreadful about my DSs. She didn't speak to us for 2 years. It was bliss! During that time we went to family events, acknowledged her presence and then ignored her.
After breaking her silence with us, she then went NC with one of her other son's family. Missing out on another set of GCs!
I feel such behaviour is a weird form of attention seeking. It tends to backfire into a lonely old age! X

Stansgran Wed 03-Sep-14 10:34:59

I do think that when someone close makes an adverse criticism there is a feeling of shock that takes a ready response away. And being silent and seething is not necessarily passive aggressive. It's possibly sensible to shut up if your DH doesn't pick her up on it. I do compare my DGC but I hope in a positive way. DD says I'm a bit concerned because of XYZ and I tend to say ah yes but DGC1 did that but has now grown out of it. I do think your DH should say" give us a break and stop wittering on with comparisons "to her. I also think from what you've said on other threads you visit her far too often. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.