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

(51 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.

Stansgran Wed 03-Sep-14 10:40:05

Elegran I'm going to copy and paste the bit about 'artificial parameters imposed by parents for their own convenience' if you don't mind. Just love it

Elegran Wed 03-Sep-14 10:50:42

Some people really DO suffer all their lives from the artificial rules and standards their parents drummed into them when they were young. There are only a few unbreakable rules - and not to be always comparing one child with another to make them or their parents feel inferior is one of them.

Rowantree Wed 03-Sep-14 10:57:46

Faye - the rest of my family is also invited and expected to go. DD2 with her baby too. She is looking forward to seeing her cousin - doesn't feel the same animosity towards her these days, but I haven't told DD2 about her grandmother's bitchy comments and dread her saying something tactless when the babies are together.
I'm used to saying nothing and seething inwardly, whilst visualising pushing MIL off a nice high cliff!

Once we had taken her out to a NT garden and she was asking DH about his retirement (he was made redundant and there was no retirement do, or present either, which he was philosophical about but I felt for him). MIL couldn't resist telling him that her younger daughter - DH's youngest sister - had just had a huge party in her honour at work and a gift of a £500 leather armchair, just for being there for 20 years! I felt it was incredibly hurtful and tactless of her to rub poor DH's nose in it and he was very hurt but didn't show it. Thankfully DD was with us at the time - it was before she was pregnant - and was so shocked she said, 'Oh, thanks, Grandma, for rubbing dad's nose in it - that's not very nice!' She was braver than I was - I was speechless with rage - but MIL merely giggled and continued to justify what she'd said....'No, but I was only saying....' (and then repeated it!)

I am still angry with her for that and actually find it hard to forgive her for her comments. Very hurtful - poor DH was struggling as it was, with feeling a sense of failure, even though his redundancy was part of a bundle of cuts in academia at the time. (As it turned out he negotiated a good settlement, so was happy at the way things turned out, but that's beside the point).
DH thinks she's trying constantly to big herself up at the expense of other people and loves basking in reflected glory (bragging!). I hate it.

Rowantree Wed 03-Sep-14 11:09:32

Stansgran you're right about the feeling of shock taking away a ready response. I rather like your suggested form of words - wish I had the guts to say them - I might practise saying something like it, in front of a mirror!

And yes - we visit far too often, but we alternate with DH's youngest sister. As we are away for the next two weekends though we won't now be seeing her for a while - probably not till the Big Summons to the Family Lunch at the end of September. So hopefully we will have a break from her for a while.

After that, I will have to think carefully about how often we're seeing her. We usually take her out somewhere - to a NT garden or house, usually, and out to lunch or similar. She rarely shows any enthusiasm. It's only later we find she might have told DH's sister she enjoyed the day, but she rarely says so to us.

When we visit a house, she irritates us by comparing the stately house contents to her own furniture (she has several antiques and considers herself a bit of an expert on them!). She will say loudly, 'Oh look, that dinner service/chiffonnier/coffer is just like mine!' and often make a point of telling the volunteers in each room too.
That irritates the f* out of me so much that I tend to ignore any such comments and make sure I walk ahead into the next room so I don't have to hear any more.
It's long since got to the stage that I really dread her opening her mouth because it's either very irritating or worse! But I do feel guilty for feeling as I do and try my best to hide it for the sake of harmony (!)

rosequartz Wed 03-Sep-14 11:29:37

Not my MIL, Rowantree but a 'friend' who says the most dreadful things; often I am ready with a response (then flee to the bathroom to shed tears of rage), other times the shock is too great. Difficult to deal with when that person is part of a group of friends. Worse for you when it is family (like my DD's PILs who are worse than your MIL - honestly!).
It sounds to me as if a lot of people may be looking at each other in astonishment or sniggering when she has passed on her stately way!

'Relatives you've got whether you like them or not, friends they come and go'.

I'm used to saying nothing and seething inwardly, whilst visualising pushing MIL off a nice high cliff!
Someone once told me when people are talking like this, just look at them with a little smile on your face and imagine them sitting on the toilet and having a good turnout! That way you don't have to listen to their verbal crap rubbish either.

rosequartz Wed 03-Sep-14 11:35:33

At the same time hum 'zen, zen, zen' in your head and put your fingers and thumbs in the yoga position. That will stop you listening or poking your fingers into her eyes.

Elegran Wed 03-Sep-14 11:37:51

It will also stop her in her tracks with astonishment! Good move!

Stansgran Wed 03-Sep-14 12:49:20

I do remember telling my MIL that my grandmother had died and as she professed affection for my mother I thought she might like to send condolences to my mother. Her response was oh well you never liked her anyway. Which was odd as I don't think I had ever mentioned my GM to MIL. she always finished unkind remarks with a rather silly giggle which many many years later were remarks that she had planned and rehearsed. The giggle somehow was very artificial. Like your MIL these silly women need understanding and when you understand what they are trying to do it doesn't hurt. I still think once a month visiting is once a month too often. It's setting yourself up for misery.

littleflo Wed 03-Sep-14 16:26:33

Rowantree you summed it all up when you said you feel guilty. I am sure every one of us who has such a relatives feels guilty when we retaliate of try to distance ourselves. Goodness knows why.

I love this site because I was not aware until now that I am not alone in having to put up with this behaviour.

Rowantree Wed 03-Sep-14 16:47:40

You do make me laff, Gransnetters - which has to be better than seething and raging smile
stansgran my MIL has a silly giggle too - after anything boastful or tactless she says. Maybe they went to the same school!

I dread visiting her but she doesn't get to go out to places of interest unless we take her and I'd feel bad (and so would DH) if we didn't go. But I think I'm off the hook for a few weeks at least now.

I will practise saying 'zen' in between visualising her on the loo, elegran, Rosequartz and someone else who mentioned visualising her on the toilet! I recall my father told me that trick years ago when faced with teaching with a very unpleasant headmistress in charge. I wasn't really able to visualise long enough to take the fear away, but I might practise doing it when I think of MIL and see how it works wink

rosequartz I too had a friend - actually I was very close to her at one time - who also said hurtful and irritating things to me - put-downs, but in a subtle way so to speak out or object would have seemed petty. For the sake of our friendship I said nowt but felt increasingly resentful and envious of her confidence building as mine sank lower. It ate away at our friendship and in the end she told me (by email, and after a friendship of 25 years) that she didn't want to work with me any more (we had a small biz dyeing threads etc). I was devastated at the time. We had a very acrimonious split as we had to divide the stock 50/50 and that took ages - she used to send her DH to negotiate or say things she didn't have the guts to say to me herself - and after that we didn't see each other again. I got a card from her on my birthday a year later saying she hadn't meant to 'drop' me for quite so long and felt sad, but I was furious at the idea that she meant to drop me and then pick me up again when she felt like it! I sent a brief, courteous and dismissive card back and that was that. But years later, it still hurts - I had to give up all our mutual friends because it would have been too awkward otherwise, and leave all the groups we both used to attend, and make a new 'life' for myself. It's not easy to forgive and forget!

But I digress.....hmm

Nonnie Wed 03-Sep-14 16:52:06

Sorry, not read the whole thread so hoping I'm not repeating anyone. I pretty much agree with Elegran a few posts down from the OP. However, it you have the courage and she starts on about her wonderful home in Esher Perhaps you could say how you would hate to have all those parakeets around and prefer our native birds. A244 is a very polluted road and must affect her health and of course it is so unpleasant every time they have the races at Sandown and Esher is full of such awful people grin

I'm sure you can find some things about DD's baby which are better or at least different to bring up when she makes comparisons and give a big smile as you say them.

Its all in the preparation, arm yourself with a few choice things and use them as and when. Good luck.

FlicketyB Wed 03-Sep-14 17:07:28

In this case I think discretion is the better part of valour. If she says anything ignore it and carry on the conversation as if she hadn't spoken.

HildaW Wed 03-Sep-14 17:26:32

Quite FlicketyB....bit like training a dog....ignore the bad and reward the good!

HollyDaze Wed 03-Sep-14 17:32:20

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.

Very true HildaW - it's heard a lot nowadays 'I'm just being real', 'I'm just being honest' when what they are being is rude and ill-mannered. Any idiot can blurt out the first thing that pops into their head, it generally takes a few more brain cells to keep things civil.


I have never been passive-aggressive but I remember a shrink told me that when someone is annoying me but it is inappropriate (due to setting or time) to say anything, to construct, in my head, a Pratt Box and to place that person into the Pratt Box (the box has pratt written on each side)- quite slowly and deliberately: slowly lift the lid, slowly pick up the person by shoulder (like you'd see in cartooons that leaves their little legs dangling) and drop them unceremoniously into the box. Leave the lid of the box open so that you can see them looking up at you - and leave them there. It worked for me and I think the small, gentle smile I put on my face whilst imagining it did puzzle them which made it even better as they had no idea what was amusing me - because I would refuse to elucidate.

However, you say you keep quiet for the sake of harmony - how's that working out? It doesn't sound like it is very harmonious to me. When she compares the children again in that fashion, you can always say something like: all things being equal, I'd settle for my GC to grow into a person that understands the value and virtue of having a pleasant and kind disposition.

Faye Wed 03-Sep-14 21:07:12

Rowantree I think then you should forewarn your daughter. Have some responses (here she goes again and roll your eyes) ready or sit as far away as possible. Or as someone mentioned just smile or burst out laughing.

I had two horrible sisters who felt they could say whatever they like to my children. Especially my oldest child who was the first grandchild. I put up with things like being told off because my two year old talked too much, another time my two sisters stormed out of a restaurant because they didn't like the way my daughter then fourteen months was eating her food. confused I really wished I had not spent so many family times with my family, every Christmas, Mother's Day, every week nearly, our family did lots of things together. I regret not distancing myself from them when I had my first child.

When my eldest had her baby I knew there was going to be trouble from me if they dared say one thing to her, she was so precious to me and I was aware of how dysfunctional they were by then.

I also had mean grandparents, one of them often said nasty spiteful things to me. I can't understand why anyone would not adore all of their grandchildren. I get so much enjoyment from mine.

We will be waiting to see how you manage and report back about your Monster in Law. Good Luck. flowers

suzied Wed 03-Sep-14 21:09:03

If she's anything like my MiL she won't take kindly to clever ripostes, and will make that a excuse to fire off another barrage of unpleasantness, will never apologise or admit she is in the wrong. Just ignore her, have a glass of something pleasant and avoid her altogether.

Soutra Wed 03-Sep-14 22:10:52

Has your MIL always been this toxic or might this be signs of the onset of dementia? The thought of her trying to outdo a NT house could be quite amusing if not so annoying. I should not joke about this but you could of course whisper "Alzheimers" to the room guide.

rubylady Thu 04-Sep-14 01:39:47

Smile sweetly and inform her that Einstein himself didn't talk until he was four years old. And look where it got him. smile

NfkDumpling Thu 04-Sep-14 06:57:40

'Pratbox'! Love it. I think I've had a Pratbox for some time without knowing it's name.

I was told to imagine the person shrinking like Alice, their voice getting higher and smaller as they diminished until they're sitting swinging their legs and perched on the edge of the chair. It's your condescending smile that really does for them. I find that a "Yes dear/mother/ma" - as you would say it to a child, works too.

Try to feel sorry for your MiL. She's obviously got a very large inferiority complex if she has to prove how much more she has and brag about it. People who come naturally to wealth and good things tend not to flaunt it. Who got her the big house, garden, etc? If she inherited - well, lucky her, not everyone has her advantages; if her DH achieved it, lucky her again; if she did achieve it all off her own bat - well, good for her to have been born intelligent - and lucky. Where she's not lucky is in having loved ones who love you for yourself not what you have. Be confident in what you have and pity her - it's the biggest put down.

RedheadedMommy Thu 04-Sep-14 07:22:10

Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of the following symptoms:

Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
Requires excessive admiration
Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Sound familiar?
My MIL has traits of a Narc but not full blown.
I would not go to the meal and tell my DD not to go too..say you're both ill.
If you don't go, and are honest that you find her nasty. It'll make no difference. She will manage to turn it round, make you feel bad and act like she's the victim.

NfkDumpling Thu 04-Sep-14 07:26:13

[like] Redhead

Rowantree Thu 04-Sep-14 23:36:42

Well, my MIL doesn't have a lot of confidence in herself, particularly in her intellectual skills. She does keep an immaculate home, is an excellent cook and her garden also has not a leaf out of place. She's a hard act to live up to - and I spent years trying to, rather than being myself. She's not so much 'haughty' as smug and she bathes in reflected glory and can't resist comparing unfavourably - my sister in law's husband gets very irritated that she keeps comparing his parents' state of health to her own, which is very good, as if it was a sign of weakness to be unwell.
On the other hand, I am often envious of others, so does that make me narcissistic? shock

pinkprincess Fri 05-Sep-14 00:35:51

Difficult relatives are the reason we are allowed to choose our friends.

Our relatives have been chosen for us.That is my philosophy.And I have some very difficult relatives.

NfkDumpling Fri 05-Sep-14 19:55:47

No Rowan of course envy doesn't make you narcissistic. But, like jealousy, it's a pointless emotion which just makes you miserable. If the family Do coming up is to be a big one, she'll be shared around. She won't be talking at you all the time and you can spend time with your DD and DGD. You are the better person.

Rowantree Sun 07-Sep-14 20:31:14

I know it's a pointless emotion, but I don't actually choose to feel it. I'd prefer not to feel envious at all, but it seems it's a highly unpleasant part of me that I've had to face and admit to myself, after years of denial. I've been trying to fight it for years and it's just got worse rather than better the harder I try sad Believe me, I hate myself for it.