need advice: future family (MIL) who makes me feel taken for granted

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    Hi all,

    I recently got engaged to the man whom I knew was the one from the day I met him. He and I nearly never argue, and sometimes we think of the same things at the same time.

    His mom and I HAD a terrific relationship (emphasis on “had”). She raised him as a single mom, had dropped out of college, smoked, drank and never really held a stable job. None of this really bothers me. At first she seemed like a kind and genuine person and that’s all I cared about.

    My man and I started dating as I was finishing the last year of my doctoral degree, and she was just settling into going back to college for her undergrad degree. She frequently had trouble completing her homework, paying her bills or balancing life and school. She invited us over to her house frequently. To cheer her up from her many complaints about school or her age or her professors or the hardships of life, my fiancé and I would take her out to eat, celebrate steps she made in academics, help her study, clean her house, fundraiser for any outreach programs she took an interest in, listen to her, support her emotionally, etc etc.

    To celebrate her birthday, I had an idea to take her to visit Seattle. Both my fiancé and I paid for her trip. When she said her best friend was coming along, we also made travel and lodging arrangements for both her and her best fri md and best friends son. When the best friend volunteered very courteously to pay us back, the mom would often laugh and say: Don’t worry about it, the kids enjoy doing this for us.

    Well we had a great time on the trip. The red flags started cropping up after that. I was finishing the last stretch of my degree- writing my dissertation, finishing experiments. It was a very, very stressful time for me. When I shared with my future mother-in-law the difficulties of graduate school, she would only reply: “That sucks…” or “I’m so glad I don’t have to go through that.”

    She said she and her best friend (the one who traveled with us to Seattle) had planned a trip where we go to Florida for Xmas vacation. She did not even ask if I wanted to spend it with my own family. I had a feeling that my fiancé was going to propose on this trip, so even though it was literally ten days before my defense, I decided to make the road trip. My own best friend also wanted to come along. A week before the trip, I asked my fiancé if we had gotten any information on the lodging or details of the trip for us and my best friend. He messaged his mom who told us to check with her friend.

    My best friend naturally felt a little left out and on the trip, I made sure to spend time with her and my fiancé while the mother-in-law and her best friend hung out on the beach. But the night after my fiancé proposed, the best friend and the mom blew up at me, calling me rude for hanging out so much with my best friend when I should have been spending time with them.

    Flash forward months later. I’ve gotten my degree, I’m looking at some wonderful job prospects while planning my wedding and I’m planning a trip home with my fiancé, his mom and me to show everyone my hometown. My fiancé and I again ended up planning the whole trip; his mom did not mention or ask anything about flight tickets or where we are staying – not even asking out of courtesy. (We had mentioned we will stay at my family’s). We buy her plane tickets for her.

    But we asked her to be more proactive in planning with us. On top of that, while she frequently asks me to go over to her house to help her on her homework or accepts me paying for her when we go out, or asks my fiancé to go over to help her mow her lawn or take her dog to the vet or trim the dogs nails, she only texted my fiancé to lend her money. He helps her pay her bills. But since we now have a joint account, I felt this might pose future problems in our marriage. So we asked his mom to now be open to us both whenever she needed anything.

    She blew up at us. She called me disrespectful. She said she hates sharing her financial worries because she “can’t even really share them with her own son.” I said to her, “but you feel comfortable asking us to help you with everything else- your homework, your projects, your house- so why keep this one thing from me?” To which she replied: “See that’s not the same thing. You guys coming over to help me on the other stuff, that’s supposed to be fun for you. Money is something else.”

    Anyways, I texted her a bit more, setting boundaries and voicing my concerns until she and I appeared to reach an agreement. She said I made very good points and that she will try to be more open and not out my fiancé in the middle (of money issues, of trip planning, etc). She said I was helping her grow as a person. At the end she told me “love you and good night.”

    The next day, as we were rushing to go to work, she called my fiancé only hoping to talk to him. He told her that he needed to really get to work, but she said she just hoped this would not take long and that she felt talking in person to us would be better than texting. (Note she is only talking to him at this point) I walk in and he put her on speaker and I said Hi to her, to which she mumbled a hi and basically kept talking to him only. She said she would not be going to visit my hometown. She said she was very busy with school and gat money is just very tight for her now.

    We reminded her that we always have been busy too, with my studies this past year or my fiances fast-paced job, but we’ve always taken time to spend with her. At the end we asked that she check with her school about whether she could take just one week off right after school ended (when we are taking the trip) to make this important family trip. She said she would and, “I love you both.”

    My fiancé later shared with me that as he was rushing to work and driving on the highway, his mother called him again to talk. He told her he was driving but she kept pressing on.

    A few other things that have given me red flags:
    -My fiancé would often try to support my stressful graduate shook training by sharing my achievements at the dinner table. To which she would act moderately interested- or not say anything at all and change the subject!
    – She is most emphathetic when people are in a ditch in their lives. But when the same person rises and life is going great for them, she would make a snide remark like, “well hope it stays that way for them.” In short I just feel pretty down after hanging out with her sometimes.

    -she once tried to host a birthday party for her son but when it turned out ten people were as going to show up at her house, she ended up doing nothing and I set up the whole thing. When the guests came she just sat on the couch and didn’t talk to anyone, just petted her dog. I had to ask her permission if I could treat the guests to something to drink.

    What do you guys think of her behavior? Is this normal mother/ mother-in-law behavior? How can my fiancé and I keep our sanity while maintaining friendly relationships in our home, now and future?


    Dear ChocoChoco:

    My advice to you, as you get married to your now fiancé, to focus your resources, time, energy and money, on the two people making a life together: you and your husband, and on the next generation, a child or children you are planning on having, if you are.

    And not on the previous generation: his mother. I hope your marriage will not be about “raising” his mother, taking care of his mother, catering to his mother.

    A mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, should be contributing to you, to her son, to her grandchildren, and not to be taking away from you all.




    Reading your post you obviously have a lot to offer–smart, educated, resourceful, job, organizer.   My thoughts are slightly different from Anita’s–confirm you are comfortable with this MIL arrangement or find boundaries for yourself before you get married.  Simply put  I have walked a similar path.

    Your dear fiance has an understanding with his mother that goes back years before you arrived on the seen.  He takes care of her, bends to her wishes and she does not have to behave like a responsible mature adult.  For whatever reason, they are bonded and that works for them.  Consider the possibility that you may be a welcomed party because you multiple his ability to give to his mother. You joined in their dance and everything will be fine if you continue doing their dance.  But if you don’t, what will happen?  This is the answer you need to find out before you marry him.  The following are a list of questions, I wish someone had raised with me:

    Are you loved for just for  being a loving  and kind person or for what you can do for the fiance and his family?

    Does your fiance see you as first in his life now and building a life with you (with his mother second)?  Or is he always trying to fit her into your plans with him or squeeze in calls or visits to see her (particularly during a time that is supposed to be reserved for you) because she needs something or is upset?

    Is your fiance willing to set boundaries with his mother to protect what is important to you? (Asking him a billion times or explaining over and over why this is important with him quietly nodding does not count as a yes.)

    Will you have enough energy in the future to raise/develop your kids (possibly work outside the home at the same time) and cater to your MIL?

    Realistically, since she has little to no resources, have you thought about the real possibility she may ask if she can move in with you and your fiance someday?

    Personally Choco Choco, I think your intuition that motivated you to post is spot on.

    If you decide you definitely want to marry your fiance, my suggestion is to set boundaries for yourself.  With kindness and love, limit how much help will personally come from you.   If she comes over, find some place else to be. Let your husband be responsible for entertaining her and meeting her unreasonable demands.  With regard to money, have 3 accounts (his, yours, household) or he is on an allowance.  If he wants to spend his whole allowance on her that is his choice.  But her needs do not come before the financial needs of your household and future kids.

    My MIL was sweet but a TON of work and could never stop talking and a HUGE snoop.  She was sooooo much work for me when she visited–I cooked, cleaned and listened to her for hours. Meanwhile my husband would sleep or go watch tv.  When I complained he told me I was not like him–family oriented.   After years, I met someone who gave me the advice I am now giving you.  When she was coming, I reminded my husband to go food shopping, clean the guest bathroom, guest room. I encouraged them to go to the movies or just excused myself.  Guess what?  Before you know it he was complaining she was coming over too much. LOL.

    Listen to your inner voice.






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