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Dealing with mentally unstable Mother in Law


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#1 nicole910

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Posted 25 October 2012 - 09:31 PM

I am seeking advice as to how to deal with mentally unstable in-laws. DH and I have had problems with his parents in the past, which we have worked through to a point. They live on the other side of the country so we see them very rarely. Anyway, we had our first baby early this year. We have plans to visit MIL/FIL and the rest of DH's family for the week of Thanksgiving. Our plans were to stay in a hotel Fri-Tues and then spend Tues night - Fri morning with his parents, his brothers, their spouses and the one other grandchild in their lakehouse.

DH and I have agreed that while we would like to give his parents the opportunity to know our daughter, it is in a way that we see fit. His father was emotionally abusive growing up to DH and his brothers with yelling and name calling. His mother isn't mentally stable. She drinks to excess, literally cries asking why no one likes her (in public) and is extremely possessive of her sons and grandchildren. She also makes everything about herself. An example was when she finally congratulated me on being pregnant with our first child (6 months into my pregnancy), she said that she was so happy that she was finally getting the girls that SHE always wanted and it must be that HER mother (who had since passed) in heaven giving it to her. Very odd. Many other things have happened, none that I have ever received an apology for, but since we rarely see them, I basically ignore it.

Anyway, fast forward to today. This was going to be the first holiday that MIL would have her entire immediate family there to celebrate with her in at least 5 years. Yesterday, she called my husband and his brothers telling them that she had left FIL. She said that she did not give him any indication that she was unhappy, but left him a letter that he would find when he came home from work. Rather than talk to FIL about this, she called all of her sons telling them that she had left him. There had been no argument or reason other than she decided that this was the right time.

We think that this is a cry for help from her. She isn't mentally stable. DH's parents have never had a great relationship, but for her to involve her children in her own affairs before even figuring it out with her husband coupled with the fact that she did this very shortly before we all had planned this large holiday, which apparently meant so much to her, just strikes us as very bizarre.

Has anyone had experience with dealing with parents who have mental problems? We think that she needs to see a counselor to help her through her issues. We have extended our stay in the hotel for the entire duration of the stay, but I am very worried that things will magically heal between MIL and FIL in time for Thanksgiving and we will be expected to all go up to that house and spend 3 days/ nights together. I don't feel that this is healthy for our daughter and I worry for my husband. He is the oldest and as always felt that it was his role to hold his parents together.

I'm really not sure what to do. I don't plan on discussing this with either MIL and FIL as I don't feel that it is my role by any means, but any advice in order to help my husband would be very much appreciated.

#2 MBear

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Posted 25 October 2012 - 10:03 PM

This is a tough one. There are some issues here that are similar to my actual FOO. You have separated your life from them which sounds like a good idea. It sounds like they have a life of chaos. My family is a family of chaos. It can be exhausting and frustrating. As the oldest child I can identify with your husband on this issue. My solution with it is to separate my family life from them as much as possible like you have. I own a family business with my family so I still have to deal with them on a day to day business but my child and husband do not. I think that staying in a hotel the entire time is a great plan for you. I would never ever stay in a house with my family for more than one night, on vacations we have separate condos that we go to or we don't go on vacation with them. My brothers still get involved in the chaos and often times contribute to it. I have found a balance were I can enjoy the good parts of my family and stay out of the bad parts except some business related ones.

You just have to learn how to not get sucked into their issues because it is very easy to do so, example my own mother said that she was divorcing my stepfather (who I consider my father) on Monday... they are currently on vacation together now as one big happy family. It can be exhausting, but I have just learned to ignore and I never mention this stuff to DH, its pointless.

My stepfather was emotionally, verbally , and mildly physically abusive growing up and I feel that myself, mother, and siblings have lasting effects from that. I believe that 90% of my mom's issues are due to this. As far as her leaving FIL with no warning, or event happening to trigger this, maybe there was an event. My mom has hid a lot of stuff that happens from me in my life but I have found out through other ways. My stepfather is bipolar and I believe that this is most of the problem. I could see my own mom leaving my stepfather after a blow up and then saying that she just decided. She is too prideful to say otherwise and will actually take up for my step father to a ridiculous level. As far as calling her children, she is looking for support. I believe that this support should be looked for in other places, but that is what she is doing. I am not sure if this is the case here but my own mother is still childlike in a lot of ways and looks to me so many times to be the adult, even when I was very young. Maybe that is what she is doing. As far as the stuff that she says to you, my mom can give others their moment in the sun, your MIL seems to have an issue with that. But my mom is very me centered and believe that every thing leads back to people being jealous of her. Another exhausting behavior. As a child that grew up with this chaos, I am great at hiding the chaos from others, I had to in order to survive. So I feel that I can shield my son from it at this time. We only visit them on holidays and most of the time in public so everyone is on their best behavior and if my mom babysits it is only when my stepfather is out of town or she babysits at my home during times I know he will be busy. So far this distance stuff is working fantastic and as long as my stepfather is going between manic or depressive states at a slow pace the behavior is easy to work around. I also believe that my mother is afraid to leave my stepfather and that is another reason for the chaos. If I were you I would definitely keep the space and just monitor everything constantly and if it gets too much just cut them off.

#3 oscarsmaman

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Posted 25 October 2012 - 10:33 PM

I think I'd consider backing out of the Thanksgiving visit altogether, or finding alternative activities to give you a good break from them DURING the visit. I don't know from shinola about kids, but I imagine a one-year-old wouldn't know what was going on, even if they did misbehave...But I think the environment sounds pretty unhealthy for you and your DH!

She might be trying to manipulate your FIL in some way by pushing his hand through the threat of leaving. I'm always astonished when people choose the months prior to the holidays as the "right time" to make major relationship decisions, but there you are. And if this happened today, will she be "over it" in time for Thanksgiving? Sounds pretty knee-jerk. I think it is a cry for attention, too.

MBear, it sucks that you've had to deal with your FOO's chaos, but it sounds like you're a stronger person who learned to thrive in spite of it.

#4 nicole910

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Posted 25 October 2012 - 11:11 PM

Mbear - So much of what you said resonates with me. It is as if we are speaking of the same woman. The behavior patterns that your described are my MIL to a T.

OscarsMama - Thank you for the advice. I wish we could simply cancel the trip at this point, but the major reason we were planning to go there was for DH's extended family to meet our daughter for the first time. We have been together for 5 years and have NEVER spent a holiday with his family. While I am happy that we spend all of them with my family, DH has never had an interest in spending it with them. Because we had planned to come out, his other brothers had planned to spend the holiday together with all of us as a family as well. This would have been a first.

Also, I agree that I do not believe that MIL actually wants to leave FIL. While she is not a rational person, I would expect that if she was serious, she would have sat down with him, spoken with him about her intentions and either served him with divorce papers or planned a determined length of separation. Leaving a note with no warning for him to find and calling her sons while they are all at work before her husband even reads the note screams major drama to me. She thrives on drama. She also shares everyone else's business (including her own) with anyone and everyone who will listen. This makes me think that there was no major incident. DH spoke to FIL and it was sad listening to DH's side of the conversation. You would have thought that DH was the parent and FIL was the child in the relationship. The entire situation is very unhealthy and while we have distanced ourselves from it in general, DH still does love his parents and wants them to at least have some sort of relationship with our daughter. Since this incident has happened, I am so very weary of this trip. Ugh.

I am very fortunate to have very loving parents who are totally respectful of our marriage and all boundaries. They live 10 minutes away so DH has been learning that there is another way to raise a family/ live, which I am happy about.

It just seems like the drama and problems with his parents never end. I'm starting to get to the point where I would prefer to cut off all contact, but I could and would not ask my husband to do that.

#5 WhichWayU

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 05:28 AM

Since you posted mainly about helping DH, it sounds like you are on the right track. You were smart to have the hotel extended for the whole trip. Have that rental car w/car seat extended too. You don't want to be scheduled to be near that house for more time than a meal, even though MIL will be "back" by then. MIL revealed that she has it in her mind this family reunion holiday is The Stage for her dramatic performance. You will want to be able to exit stage left on cue - and without baggage. This is MIL's annual "Why doesn't anybody like me" tantrum times ten. All the sons are supposed to tell Mom she can't leave Dad! And then they're to promise to call Dad and tell him to beg Mom to come back because she's worth it! Holidays won't be the same if Mom leaves! See, then Mom'll know she's really wanted by everybody!

How great would it be if your BIL just responded "OK mom, hope you'll still have time to join us for a meal while we're in the area."

You are wise to have the understanding MIL's drama with FIL is between them, no matter who else she attempts to tries to drag into it. As it gets closer if DH talks like he doesn't want to go, then I strongly suggest you listen to him and back up his choice to avoid people who hurt him. Anyway, DH seems more interested in seeing his brothers and nephew. So I'd focus on the good stuff: seeing the brothers, wives and families. If it makes you feel better to have restaurant reservations in case no one's cooking turkey, then make a backup plan even if you cancel it later. Also, you and DH can come up with a code word or phrase or two that you two can use to signal to each other "time to leave now" no questions asked. He might never need to say "Jeanette called, did you get her message?" but he might feel secure knowing that as soon as he asks you about Jeanette you'll have DD packed up and the rental car warmed up. Just knowing there's an easy escape route can be reassuring even if its not needed.

Its sad that DH always felt his role was to hold his parents' marriage together. Can you imagine doing that to your kids? But he's grown up now, and the fact is he simply can't save someone else's marriage. DH doesn't have that kind of magical power he once imagined he did. The reality is MIL and FIL's marriage doesn't need a savior son in shining armor to fly in from out of town and make it better, it needs a committed husband and wife and maybe a marriage counselor. If the guy is bent on "helping" them stay married, then I hope he gives them the phone number of a professional marriage counselor in their area. If DH is uncomfortable when the brothers come to him with the drama mama laid on them, he can tell them his parents' relationship is not something he feels comfortable discussing. They are adults and they deserve privacy like anyone else. If DH is concerned about staying in a hotel, assure him there is no harm in granting them privacy and peace to work their issues out. Houseguests are stressful enough when things are going well. Why should his Mom have to entertain when she's going through such hard times with her husband. Of course, that's the idea isn't it. Everything will be back to "normal" by mid November. Except Mom is supposed to be extra appreciated for sticking around to make the holiday special for her sonny boys' sakes. Maybe before DD came along, you'd be willing to gamble on just pretending this previsit MIL baloney never happened. But unless you want risk DD witnessing MIL's Act Two, it might be smarter to hedge your bets. That's what shorter visits within the visit and an always easy exit plan offer you.

My contempt for this kind of drama and attempting to upset her grown kids for her own sick validation games is pretty clear. Using the visit for the holiday as an opportunity to drag her sons into her latest marital abandonment drama is low down. Desperate, shameless, and petty. She doesn't care what family she hurts in her quest for their attention and reassurances. I am trying to see where this selfish woman might be coming from. I have a mixture of disgust for the mother who did not protect her young sons from their father's abuse, and I do have some pity that she's married to an emotionally abusive man whom I imagine is probably emotionally abusive to her as well.

#6 Guest_GoogleEarth_*

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 01:17 PM

Also, I agree that I do not believe that MIL actually wants to leave FIL. While she is not a rational person, I would expect that if she was serious, she would have sat down with him, spoken with him about her intentions and either served him with divorce papers or planned a determined length of separation. Leaving a note with no warning for him to find and calling her sons while they are all at work before her husband even reads the note screams major drama to me. She thrives on drama.


If you want to limit your contact with them because you're tired of the drama, go right ahead. In fact, I agree that it's probably healthiest for your daughter because then people won't be modeling inappropriate coping mechanisms in front of her. I'll admit I'm a little put off by your assertion that b/c your MIL has left her husband in a way you didn't expect the she must be mentally ill. You know her best, but from what you describe, she's a woman who's in a bad/unhappy marriage, who has incredibly poor coping skills. To paraphrase from a blog I love, she's easily frustrated by life's frustrations. Does not necessarily = mentally ill. There are clearly some emotional problems there, however, I'm not running away from that.

I echo a PP suggestion that you do the entire trip in a hotel and/or cut your visit length.

I just wanted to offer an alternative viewpoint that how she went about leaving her husband doesn't necessarily mean she's mentally ill.
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#7 BlueEyedGirl

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 01:55 PM

I can understand still attending the holiday - but I'm not sure I would stay at the lake house. I think I would keep the reservation at the hotel for the entire stay and visit at the lake house if you must keep the holiday visit intact. If things go as they may - you are going to need a sanctuary to return to each night - for yourselves and your baby. You will need somewhere to recharge and rest. This wouldn't be negotiable for me.

As GoogleEarth said - her approach to leaving FIL alone doesn't necessarily indicate mental illness - you may not have the entire picture - it indicates a major life choice - absolutely- and one that you don't have all of the information about - and since she has a history of mental illness - it appears to go along with that certainly - but who is to say that their daily lives didn't finally just - snap - and she finally had enough? It doesn't always take a fight for a person to finally decide they are done. I'll admit the timing is off. But it is difficult for the people living outside of a marriage to know the details and easy for them to make assumptions based past experience. Her reaction could certainly be a mentally ill response - or a perfectly sane response to years of a bad marriage. Only time will tell.

However....most importantly - if you feel compromised or unsafe - period - then you have to do what is best for your child.

#8 mrsslant

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 01:59 PM

Personally, I would make other Thanksgiving plans and STAY THE HECK OUT OF IT. I would not want to touch that one with a 10 foot pole.
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#9 Elaine1954

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 03:59 PM

Has MIL been diagnosed with a mental or emotional disorder? We have learned here on the boards not to make our own opinions medical assessments. I do agree with Mrsslant that your family should reschedule the trip at a time where there's not as much turmoil.

#10 rosered135

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 05:25 PM

Nicole, I'm so sorry you and DH are facing this drama and dilemma. I can see why you think MIL is "mentally unstable," but Elaine is right - please be careful about making amateur diagnoses. As GE said, there could be other reasons for her "Drama Queen" (my words) behavior, besides mental instability.

And yes, it's possible that her odd timing and exit strategy constitute a "cry for help." But "help" of what kind, I'm not sure. It could be that she has mental/emotional problems. But it's also possible that, instead - or in addition - FIL is too abusive to her, even if only verbally (I hope, I guess) for her to confront him face-to-face. It might be that this recent development seems "crazy" to you (I know you didn't use that word) b/c you're missing some important details. As MBear suggests, there may have, indeed, been an "event" that triggered this. And MIL may be trying to go through her DSs b/c she's too afraid to deal with him one-on-one. DH and his brothers would know better than you if that could be true. But even they may not know or be able to admit it to themselves.

Regardless, I agree with you and PPs that you need to keep yourselves and DD out of the drama. As WWU says, it's not DH's job to keep his parents together. And, IMO, the best thing you may be able to do to "help him" is to encourage him to see that. (Don't push, of course.) BTW, if he's been trying to "keep" them "together," all these years, then there has been a problem in their marriage for a long time.

Anyhow, I'm afraid I agree with those who think you should skip this holiday with DH's FOO, altogether. Sorry but it doesn't matter, IMO, if T'giving is when DH's whole FOO was supposed to meet DD. It may just have to happen another time. If you still decide to go, I see no reason to change your plans back the way they were. Not even if MIL and FIL patch things up. Who knows what could happen, even during those few days that you're supposed to stay at the lakehouse? I know this may be easier said than done, but please don't stay there with DD, no matter what's "expected" by whom! Please remember that nothing anyone says can change your hotel reservations if you and DH don't do it, yourselves. Just don't do it. If DH tries to insist, either "just say No," or agree to an "escape plan" if any unhealthy drama ensues.

Chances are, the T'giving plans will be cancelled if MIL really goes through with her plans to leave FIL. And then the problem will resolve itself. But I can see where, if they tend to be erratic, yes, they may get back together and expect T'giving to go on as planned. Please keep us posted and let us know your decisions.... Peace...

#11 WhichWayU

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 07:17 PM

To be fair, I didn't see where Nicole said her MIL had mental illness or attempted to make any diagnosis. Mentally Unstable isn't a diagnosis that I'm aware of. (Though maybe I'm wrong and it is). I read it as a description; an adverb and an adjective. If someone appeared wobbly when they walked, I'd describe them as physically unstable, and I don't think that would be making an amateur diagnosis either. In my opinion, describing observations of someone displaying mental problems doesn't seem to be making an amateur diagnonsis any more than describing observations of someone who displays physical problems is. The OP mentions she wishes MIL would see a doctor - ostensibly so MIL can get any needed diagnosis(es) from a pro. "His mother isn't mentally stable. She drinks to excess, literally cries asking why no one likes her (in public) and is extremely possessive of her sons and grandchildren." I sure wouldn't describe drinking to excess and an adult who has public martyr victim crying jags as acting mentally "stable" or "non-problematic".

I am reminded of the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Debra shakes the bottle of Midol Raymond gave her
in his face and says (paraphrased) "But there's nothing on the label that says it fixes beachy, Ray!"
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#12 nicole910

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 08:24 PM

Hi everyone - thank you again for all of your support and ideas. To clarify, I never said that my MIL was "mentally ill" as, to my knowledge, she has never been diagnosed with anything. She is not mentally stable though. There is so much background that I did not include, which stems from prior posts of mine.

Among many of the things that she has done, she and FIL defaulted on a mortgage that their sons (including my DH) took out for them to buy their "dream" 4,000 sq ft lake house. (They already had a home in the city, but could not qualify for the mortgage). This happened (DH + BILs taking out a mortgage in their names only, yet MIL/ FIL somehow also got their names onto deed) before I met my DH. After they defaulted (this happened last year), MIL lied over and over about the status of re-financing the house in their (MIL/FIL) names. I still have yet to receive an apology for what they did to us. At the same time, we found out I was pregnant. I did not receive any sort of acknowledgement from them about the pregnancy until I was 6.5 months pregnant. When I did (and they knew it was a girl), MIL made the entire thing about her. She said the reason we were having a girl was because she always wanted a girl, never had one, but her dead mother in heaven is finally giving her (MIL) the girl she always wanted. There was no mention of asking how I was doing or feeling. Everything was about her. This continued throughout the pregnancy and since DD has been born. We have put this behind us since their mortgage is no longer in our names and no longer out concern, thank goodness, but I'm still bitter about my treatment. I also have a hard time softening to someone who continually behaves badly and never apologizes. Despite her strange behavior, an apology would go so far.

Additionally, when I commented on the way that MIL left FIL, you are all right - that in and of itself is not a reason that she is mentally unstable. While I would not have done it that way, that doesn't make her way wrong. But, her behavior over the years of making sure she is the center of attention, crying fits to receive sympathy from her sons, lying about both small and large things to immediate family members, and making herself into a martyr coupled with the dramatic way that she left DH just reiterates in my mind that she just isn't stable.

So far, we have no news. DH called one of his brothers to see what his thoughts were on making other arrangements for Thanksgiving. BIL seems to think that MIL and FIL will resolve this conflict so that we will all spend 3 days together at that house. DH has said that if there are any problems with bad behavior we will leave immediately, but I honestly don't even want to stay with them. I am sick of the drama and the way MIL is so possessive over my daughter makes my stomach turn. There is just something not right about it.

Anyway, DH has not talked to FIL or MIL since the day we found out the news, so there really isn't any news yet. I will keep you ladies posted and again, I am so appreciative of the advice that you have given me!

#13 Elaine1954

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 08:37 PM

Nicole did you post of this last year? If not someone else had the exact story, it sounds so familiar. I didn't copy and paste but I'm not losing my mind . It was October 5, 2011.

At leastt progress was made with the mortgage and it is no longer in DH's name.

#14 nicole910

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 09:05 PM

Elaine - yes - that was me! Fortunately, that situation was resolved. I mentioned it in order to provide some more background into our relationship and my experiences with MIL.

#15 Elaine1954

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 09:15 PM

Hi Nicole. I just read the thread. Belated congrats on the birth of DD. I'm glad you and DH have no involvement in that house. It sounds like your ILS have been nothing but drama throughout your marriage. Fortunately there is distance between you. If you have the plane tickets and think this will pass it really would do no harm if you went. If things get to be too much, you are in a hotel which means you don't have to spend that much time with them. If its a nice area you could find child friendly things to do with DD and visit other family members if you so choose.

To finish my statement book the hotel for the entire stay.

#16 nicole910

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 04:32 AM

Thanks Elaine :) Well we did book the hotel for the entire stay, but this is where things get tricky. We will be going Friday - Friday (7 nights) with our original plans being to stay in the house Tues, Wed and Thurs night. The house is about an hour and a half north from the city where DH's family resides. It's a weekend home for his parents. If we go up there for Thanksgiving, we basically have to stay there. Fortunately, we will not be alone. DH has three brothers. Two are married. One with a child and one with a child on the way (who basically despises MIL/ FIL). The third was a bonus baby who is 15 years younger than DH. He is the real loser in this whole situation. He is such a sweet kid and MIL/ FIL basically paid him no attention. While DH, the oldest, was a straight A student, went on for a full scholarship to college before getting his masters and also being a Div 1 varsity college athlete, BIL3 had no oversight whatsoever. DH is a complete self-starter though. He has been to a year of counseling for the "emotional abuse" he suffered growing up so it wasn't as though MIL/FIL were good parents to him and then just went off the deep end. MIL/FIL would leave BIL3 alone at home every single weekend while they went up to the house that they did not own. BIL3 got Ds during his senior year of high school, totaled the car that DH gave him as a gift and still MIL/FIL didn't seem to care one bit. He has been going to a junior college near the lake house and had to beg MIL/FIL to let him live there while he attends school. FIL originally did not want him to because he said he did not want to pay for the increased utilities. MIL, since the departure from the marriage, has apparently been staying up there with him. I cannot even imagine what she has been telling him. I truly feel sorry for him. I think another reason why DH really wants us to at least try to stay at that house with his entire family is to spend some quality time with BIL3, who really looks up to DH and I think could really benefit from sound advice.

The whole situation is really strange and very sad.

#17 Ginnie

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 04:42 AM

I would cancel. Whether they stay apart or get together, there is no way you are going to have a pleasant holiday. If your MIL is an alcoholic, she is mentally unstable--but there is nothing anyone can do about it.

There is nothing anyone can do about their marriage, their unhappiness their mutual abusiveness.

Just.
Stay.
Out.
Of.
It.

Stay far away. Thre is no way this can turn out well, and so many ways for it to blow up in your face. There will be drama, MIL and FIL will want DH and the siblings to take sides, there will be high emotions, crying, yelling, name calling. This is a set up. Why on earth would you want to get involved.

If the purpose of the trip is to have your baby introduced to the extended family, that goal has already been sabotaged. The entire trip will center around MIL emotion. Can you imagine how the tension will affect your baby? The trip itself is likely to be upsetting to your child, add the high emotion and tension and preoccupation with MIL's drama, uggghhh... don't do it.

In theory getting the entire extended family together sounds great, but it clearly is too over emotional for your MIL. It's better to figure out another way to show off your baby to DH's siblings and their families. It sounds like your baby is only 11 months or so; waiting another year might be a better choice.
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#18 Ginnie

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 04:45 AM

Invite BIL3 to your house, pay his way if you have to.
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#19 missmm

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 12:54 PM

I agree with Ginnie. Just invite BIL#3 for Christmas and pay for the trip. He'll probalbly have 3 or 4 weeks between semesters. DH and his DB could spend some time with your family and get to know his DB and family on an adult basis.

#20 Tinka

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 03:01 PM

Does your DH feel that he has to have his parents involved to have a relationship with the rest of his family? Because he really doesn't. He can see all of his brothers and extended family without his parents involvement. My DH had a hard time with this idea too, he had never really thought he could visit his extended family without his parents.