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RoseRed135

S/O of "Defining Toxic": How is it done?

45 posts in this topic

45 minutes ago, ImpishMom said:

Seems to me, if you're seeing anyone at all, then they're trying. It may not be the frequency you'd prefer, but it's still trying, b/c if they weren't, you wouldn't see/hear from them at all.

So, is that what needs to be said? "Mom and Dad, we've visited. We've invited you over. That's us making an effort to have a relationship with you."

The problem is, some folks, good folks, want more than others are able to happily give. For example, if folks think a weekly visit is appropriate, are they stepping back and seeing the big picture? Work, house chores, school schedules, baby schedules, life...and if both sets (sometimes more than two, in cases of divorce and remarriage) expect the same once a week visit, that's pretty much impossible to accomplish. And even at once a month, if you're dealing w/4 sets of grandparents, that's 50% of the weekends. I don't know many families that could manage that, especially if both parents are working.

Sometimes folks get caught up in what they want that they forget to look at what the other party's needs are...and that there's usually more than just two parties involved in any equation when it comes to extended family stuff.

Are you say that it's Ok for one party to dictate to another party what should be acceptable to them, what they should be "grateful" for. and that if that's not OK with them, that THEY are the problem.

Edited by skipped

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Just now, skipped said:

Are you say that it's Ok for one party to dictate to another party what should be acceptable to them, what they should be "grateful" for. and that if that's not OK with them, that THEY are the problem.

No, I'm saying that the accusation of someone not putting in effort is a slippery thing, b/c who gets to decide what's 'effort'? To *me*, if you're getting visits/communication, that's someone making an effort.

I'm also saying that, before deciding someone isn't putting in an effort, take a step back, and try and look at their perspective. Decide if what you're wanting is actually a reasonable thing to be asking, or if the other person is already doing as best they can.

The problem is? If someone's already doing the best they can, and the other person is complaining...well, what's the point of doing their best, if that's not good enough anyways?

Is it a reasonable thing to expect that someone gives up every weekend to visit grandparents? Is it a reasonable thing to expect that they give up half their weekends?

And isn't the reality of that answer: it's reasonable for them to do what they can do, with a glad heart? If that means once a month, once a week, once every 6 weeks, then that's what they can do. 

Demanding more from someone than what they can give won't make anything better. I agree that communication is key. But you also have to be willing to hear and accept that what you want simply isn't doable for the other party...and not getting what you want doesn't mean they're not putting in effort.

And here's the thing: someone's AC doesn't get to dictate what their parents get to be happy about...but the parents of the AC also don't get to dictate what AC should or shouldn't do, or decide if they're putting in 'enough' effort. Everyone has to make the best decisions they can, for the life they're living. 

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12 hours ago, ImpishMom said:

No, I'm saying that the accusation of someone not putting in effort is a slippery thing, b/c who gets to decide what's 'effort'? To *me*, if you're getting visits/communication, that's someone making an effort.

I'm also saying that, before deciding someone isn't putting in an effort, take a step back, and try and look at their perspective. Decide if what you're wanting is actually a reasonable thing to be asking, or if the other person is already doing as best they can.

The problem is? If someone's already doing the best they can, and the other person is complaining...well, what's the point of doing their best, if that's not good enough anyways?

Is it a reasonable thing to expect that someone gives up every weekend to visit grandparents? Is it a reasonable thing to expect that they give up half their weekends?

And isn't the reality of that answer: it's reasonable for them to do what they can do, with a glad heart? If that means once a month, once a week, once every 6 weeks, then that's what they can do. 

Demanding more from someone than what they can give won't make anything better. I agree that communication is key. But you also have to be willing to hear and accept that what you want simply isn't doable for the other party...and not getting what you want doesn't mean they're not putting in effort.

And here's the thing: someone's AC doesn't get to dictate what their parents get to be happy about...but the parents of the AC also don't get to dictate what AC should or shouldn't do, or decide if they're putting in 'enough' effort. Everyone has to make the best decisions they can, for the life they're living. 

Everyone lives their own life, "otherwise" you're in the Army. Why would anyone willingly give up autonomy?  

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I think a lot of this boils down to lack of compatibility which is true not only for IL relations but for all relationships.  In fact, if I had one non-blaming and non-judgmental word to use to describe why my IL relationship failed, I would say that we were 'incompatible'.  Divorce Courts use something similar when marriages end which is 'irreconcilable differences'.  And if marriages end - which are the most sacred of all relationships, so too will IL relationships.  

Also, I don't think a relationship with an IL needs to be "toxic" for it to fail.   Early on in my IL relationship, I felt like that my IL's placated me and had to acknowledge me vs. get to know me as a person, so that they could have access to my home, DH and our kids - the relationships that mattered to them.   I would wonder why the heck I had to be present when my IL's visited and used to bring that up to DH.  For a long time, I continued to play hostess to these relationships as a 'dutiful' gesture to DH and our kids since they got something out of these visits with my IL's, however over time, I couldn't even do that, which is why I asked DH to see his parents without me.  I didn't want to waste my time anymore.  I can say this feeling I had was completely validated when my ODB died last summer.  I had known my IL's for 25 years (including the years DH and I dated) when my ODB died, but my FIL did not know which brother he was when DH said his name.  Zero clue.  That is how little my FIL invested in me as a person.  I never even got a condolence card from my IL's.  It didn't even register on their radar since in their minds my brother's death did not involve DH or the kids.

I wouldn't call this non-interest in me as an individual person 'toxic', (compared to other things my IL's did which were toxic), but I think it is a common reason why IL relationships fail.   People want to be valued for who they are as a person and will gravitate to those who do that and distance themselves from those who are merely engaging with them for ulterior motives. 

Edited by BSW
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23 minutes ago, PattyGram said:

Everyone lives their own life, "otherwise" you're in the Army. Why would anyone willingly give up autonomy?  

I don't think it's even seen as giving up autonomy. I think, for some folks, "This is the right thing to do." and, "This is how you show love." is what's at play. They really are so set in that pov that different = wrong.

"We saw our parents every week. That's what family does. You make it work." "I would never have missed a holiday with my parents." etc.

When folks expect that their AC will do as they did, they are hurt when that doesn't happen. Nobody's doing something *bad*. It's mismatched expectations. 

The problems become when those mismatched expectations become rigid demands. "If they don't visit x amount, then they don't love us/aren't making an effort." And that increases the initial issues, and becomes an underlying battlefield.

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Thank you very much for all the comments and expressions of understanding and differing perspectives. It gave me a lot to think about. I’ve gathered thoughts and replies here, so this is a long post. Writing it has given me a chance to clarify some of my own reactions.

To Impish: Thank you for the moral support in general. And I agree expectations are huge. In brief, on many subjects and lifestyle choices, DH and I think completely differently from DIL and her parents. Also, they expect to spend much more time with DIL than we do with DS. I’m not sure how much they care if DS is there, but he understandably doesn’t like to spend a lot of time away from his wife although they can be quite critical of him and that stresses him at times. That is fine, but it can be a problem when we (DH, DS, myself) want to get together and can’t because their time is taken up with her parents, she needs to rest up from a visit before or after to/from her parents, etc. He likes to be with her and he likes to be with us. It is sad, I think he is starting to accept that she doesn’t want to spend time with us and recognizes she needs to be okay with him seeing us sometimes on his own. They also have an active social life apart from family which we respect.

To AEJ08 re forcing fake relationships: This isn’t about DIL resisting my attempts to go shopping with her or to have coffee together, that doesn’t happen. This is about her staring at the floor and frowning, at best being impassive when around DS and us; telling DS to inform us not to get her decorative things as presents because she doesn’t like our taste but to get her things that are useful; staying in her room the times we have been at their house for dinner while DS cooks (with our help if asked), coming down to eat and going back upstairs, etc. When DH and I sent her flowers when DGS was born, DS thanked us and said they were beautiful, DIL never mentioned them. To BSW, regarding the pain of the death of a close relative: When my DF died last year, DS came to stay a couple of days with us, DIL was out of town. We didn’t receive a condolence card, a phone call, a mention of sympathy about the loss from DIL then or later. (We didn’t mention that hurt to DS, what would be the point.) It’s not any one of these things, but the package. Getting this on paper helps me to see this behavior is enough out of the mainstream that she may have a problem in general, and I shouldn’t take it as personally as I have: DIL is probably doing the best she can, as Impish suggests.

To AE, MissMM, RoseRed: It would be nice if DIL’s stance softened. What I think makes that unlikely is that she is very attached to her mother, they talk on the phone often several times a day and have done so since DS met her, and I sense there doesn’t seem to be room in her mother’s life to recognize that another (female, older?) person may be important to DIL, and DIL thinks this is fine. So to some extent I think it could be somewhat like this regardless of who her MIL was. At first it surprised me, as DIL seems to be more clear-headed and less anxious than her mother, but who is to say about these kinds of matters?

To AE and Skipped: Good advice about stepping back and looking at the communication. In our situation, I think we are respectful and have always been with one regrettable exception. When they were married, four years ago, there was an awkward situation regarding wedding planning I helped to bring about at a very emotional time when tensions were running high. This was in spite of and trying to follow the advice to shut up and wear beige, which I knew.  It’s a long story and also involved some more extended family members with whom my and DH’s relationships have been fraught for 30 years. I didn’t mean to be hurtful, but impulsively I was. I apologized immediately, after a few months tried to sit down with DS/DIL to explain why I acted the way I did and the considerable pressures I was feeling. But I think DIL may not be able to let go of this grudge. And while the grudge may be well-founded, I also know it was a “one-off,”  and given the DIL family dynamics, a reason to criticize me may well have been found one way or the other at some point.

To MissMM and JanelleK, suggesting to take the long view and not worry: Perspective is so important, you are right. I try to be positive about the good relationship DH and I have with DS.  Another thing to feel good about is that while DH and I have a small family, we have a full life apart from DS and DIL, so we don’t need to focus on the negative, just enjoy what we can with DS and hopefully DGS.

To NewMama, Mame925 and others who gave descriptions of M/MIL for whom nothing was ever enough: I think I am aware of and respect boundaries in general because of  my experience with my own mother who fit these negative descriptions. When our children were young, if DH and I took a weekend to travel the 120 miles to visit her and left our home early Saturday morning, the question was why we couldn’t come Friday night. Etc. She was also very critical. So I can relate to D/DIL who are unhappy about being criticized or feel pushed to do more than is realistic to meet M/MIL expectations. I had to set boundaries with her and eventually stopped caring although there was never an actual CO. However, in her older age, she was a loving grandmother who truly loved and cared about her grandchildren on their own terms, not hers. Recognizing my experience with her, it is easy not to criticize DIL’s (and DS’s) behavior, tastes, child-rearing beliefs.

To BSW, Pattygram: I agree fathers should have a say in what happens with a child, and I think DS certainly agrees also. My comment was unclear. I meant that “as the mother she gets the say in what happens,” in the context that “she is very close to her parents,” because I think the message she gets from her own mother is that mothers take precedence, and so her wishes and her mother’s wishes come first, and those ideas probably won’t change.

To NewMama and RoseRed, regarding the question of paternal grandparents’ self-fulfilling expectations: From seeing comments on this board, I’ve sensed that a lot of GM/MIL feel hurt that the GC are being withheld from them, or that contacts with them don’t meet their expectations. My recent solution has been given DIL’s obvious dislike to have no expectations re contact with DGS, or with DIL. This doesn’t mean I won’t feel sad, but I don’t want to feel anxious about it anymore. DH and I want to have a good relationship with DS and expect he will want us to enjoy some time with DGS, and as RoseRed suggested, what that looks like will emerge over time.

Thank you again for the helpful comments and personal examples!

Edited by JuliaArmstrong
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A couple of thoughts, @JuliaArmstrong:

The request for practical vs decorative gifts: this I think is normal. Personally, I don't want anyone buying decor for my home, unless it was something I specifically requested. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, or even simply territorial (my house, I'll decorate, thanks) but I don't think it's an unusual stance to take.

As to the death of your father: please accept my condolences. I wonder if she thought your ds being with you, etc, was an expression of condolence from both of them, and that she didn't need to do a separate one? I'd have at least said, 'I'm sorry for your loss' the next time I spoke/saw you, though. I don't get folks who are miserly with such expressions.

As to the wedding issue: uh oh. That sort of thing does tend to leave a mark, especially if you tried to explain/excuse what you did, rather than leaving it as "I'm sorry, I did this, and I won't do it again." stance. Many ppl adhere to, "if there's a but, then it's not an apology" stance.

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On 9/21/2017 at 10:04 PM, ImpishMom said:

I think, sometimes, we all get blinded by our own experiences.

"Well, I had four kids, and I...."

But the other person isn't you. Their children aren't yours. Their spouse (if applicable) isn't yours. Their job, their house, their life, their priorities, their decisions, aren't yours. Looking back on how you did something 20, 30, 40 years ago is a completely unrealistic comparison. One, memory fades. The day to day grind of raising kids fades, and with it, the intensity of all the different stressors that go with it. (ETA: that's not to say that once kids are grown and flown you're done w/stress. It's simply different) Two, it's a different world, in many ways now. When I was a kid, it was still considered safe for kids to roam at will. Now, you can be reported for kids playing alone in their own yard (read a news story on that one). Many things have changed, some good, some bad.

I wonder if that's not one of the pieces of the puzzle, when it comes to extended family/inlaws. Folks applying their expectations based on what they/their FOO did, and not considering that the other party is dealing with a completely different *everything* than them.

 

IMO, it's very normal to use your (general) own experiences as a reference point. A problem arises when your attitude is that what you did was "right," so the other person must be "wrong" if they don't do things the same way ("I brought my kids to see their GPs once a week, so DIL is wrong/unfair/too controlling if she won't bring our GC over more than once a month!"). Unfortunately, I think this is a very common error. I've often done it myself when comparing someone else' behavior to my own. Happily, I've learned on these boards to think, instead, "I guess they (whoever it is) have a different perspective than I did" (or "different boundaries" or "different circumstances," etc.) Or to just remind myself that "different isn't necessarily right or wrong - just different." That negates any resentment, etc. I might have otherwise felt.

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On 9/22/2017 at 1:08 AM, JuliaArmstrong said:

Thank you very much for all the comments and expressions of understanding and differing perspectives. It gave me a lot to think about. I’ve gathered thoughts and replies here, so this is a long post. Writing it has given me a chance to clarify some of my own reactions. Glad our comments have helped!

To AEJ08 re forcing fake relationships: This isn’t about DIL resisting my attempts to go shopping with her or to have coffee together, that doesn’t happen. This is about her staring at the floor and frowning, at best being impassive when around DS and us; telling DS to inform us not to get her decorative things as presents because she doesn’t like our taste but to get her things that are useful; staying in her room the times we have been at their house for dinner while DS cooks (with our help if asked), coming down to eat and going back upstairs, etc. When DH and I sent her flowers when DGS was born, DS thanked us and said they were beautiful, DIL never mentioned them. To BSW, regarding the pain of the death of a close relative: When my DF died last year, DS came to stay a couple of days with us, DIL was out of town. We didn’t receive a condolence card, a phone call, a mention of sympathy about the loss from DIL then or later. (We didn’t mention that hurt to DS, what would be the point.) It’s not any one of these things, but the package. Getting this on paper helps me to see this behavior is enough out of the mainstream that she may have a problem in general, and I shouldn’t take it as personally as I have: DIL is probably doing the best she can, as Impish suggests.

If it's any further comfort, it's not unusual, today, for couples to have a yours/mine policy, as in "You deal w/ your FOO (family of origin), I'll deal w/ mine." While DS and DIL don't seem to have that policy since he spends time w/ her FOO, DIL might like the idea. Or she might be applying it in relation to you and DH b/c of the "grudge" that you mention below. Regardless, that POV (point of view) would account for DIL leaving the visiting (including the cooking) up to DS when you and DH come over. By the same token, she may leave all "thank yous," expressions of sympathy, etc. for you up to DS. IMO, since you sent the flowers to her, not thanking you for them herself was carrying this idea to an extreme, but she may not see it that way. Also, IMO, her "staring at the floor and frowning" in your presence is very rude. But overall, she may think it's very reasonable to let DS handle visits w/ his FOO on his own.

I don't think it's unusual either, in this day and age of registries, etc, for people to let each other know what kind of gifts they prefer. I can't imagine doing it, myself, but it's not unheard-of. IMO, it wasn't necessary for DS to let you know that DIL "doesn't like (your) taste." But the upside is that you now know how to choose gifts for her that she'll really like.

To AE, MissMM, RoseRed: It would be nice if DIL’s stance softened. What I think makes that unlikely is that she is very attached to her mother, they talk on the phone often several times a day and have done so since DS met her, and I sense there doesn’t seem to be room in her mother’s life to recognize that another (female, older?) person may be important to DIL, and DIL thinks this is fine. So to some extent I think it could be somewhat like this regardless of who her MIL was. At first it surprised me, as DIL seems to be more clear-headed and less anxious than her mother, but who is to say about these kinds of matters?

Sounds like DIL and her mom might have what is often called an "enmeshed" relationship - overly close. That's unfortunate, IMO, and could easily lead to distancing any MIL, as you suggest.

To AE and Skipped: Good advice about stepping back and looking at the communication. In our situation, I think we are respectful and have always been with one regrettable exception. When they were married, four years ago, there was an awkward situation regarding wedding planning I helped to bring about at a very emotional time when tensions were running high. This was in spite of and trying to follow the advice to shut up and wear beige, which I knew.  It’s a long story and also involved some more extended family members with whom my and DH’s relationships have been fraught for 30 years. I didn’t mean to be hurtful, but impulsively I was. I apologized immediately, after a few months tried to sit down with DS/DIL to explain why I acted the way I did and the considerable pressures I was feeling. But I think DIL may not be able to let go of this grudge. And while the grudge may be well-founded, I also know it was a “one-off,”  and given the DIL family dynamics, a reason to criticize me may well have been found one way or the other at some point.

As Imp said, uh-oh! Issues that surround important events, such as a wedding, I've noticed, are not always easily forgotten. If what happened upset DIL enough, no explanation may have helped. In fact, unfortunately, your well-intended explanation might have just seemed like "making excuses" to her (so sorry if that's the case).

To MissMM and JanelleK, suggesting to take the long view and not worry: Perspective is so important, you are right. I try to be positive about the good relationship DH and I have with DS.  Another thing to feel good about is that while DH and I have a small family, we have a full life apart from DS and DIL, so we don’t need to focus on the negative, just enjoy what we can with DS and hopefully DGS. Good to hear!

To NewMama, Mame925 and others who gave descriptions of M/MIL for whom nothing was ever enough: I think I am aware of and respect boundaries in general because of  my experience with my own mother who fit these negative descriptions. When our children were young, if DH and I took a weekend to travel the 120 miles to visit her and left our home early Saturday morning, the question was why we couldn’t come Friday night. Etc. She was also very critical. So I can relate to D/DIL who are unhappy about being criticized or feel pushed to do more than is realistic to meet M/MIL expectations. I had to set boundaries with her and eventually stopped caring although there was never an actual CO. However, in her older age, she was a loving grandmother who truly loved and cared about her grandchildren on their own terms, not hers. Recognizing my experience with her, it is easy not to criticize DIL’s (and DS’s) behavior, tastes, child-rearing beliefs.

So sorry about your difficult experiences w/ your MIL. But glad this gave you more insight as to how to treat a DIL. Please realize, though, that not all the comments in this thread are directed at you, even if they followed your post. As this is a general thread, some of the comments are just part of the general conversation,

 

To NewMama and RoseRed, regarding the question of paternal grandparents’ self-fulfilling expectations: From seeing comments on this board, I’ve sensed that a lot of GM/MIL feel hurt that the GC are being withheld from them, or that contacts with them don’t meet their expectations. My recent solution has been given DIL’s obvious dislike to have no expectations re contact with DGS, or with DIL. This doesn’t mean I won’t feel sad, but I don’t want to feel anxious about it anymore. DH and I want to have a good relationship with DS and expect he will want us to enjoy some time with DGS, and as RoseRed suggested, what that looks like will emerge over time

Good attitude, IMO!

ETA: Thought I said it, but I see I didn't  - my deepest sympathies on the loss of your dad.

 

Edited by RoseRed135
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I've said on this board often that my MIL was the meanest person I've ever met.  That meanness turned toxic on occasion and I finally did a CO/VVVLC.  If she phones me in the last years, I didn't pull any punches.  He dementia was no longer a factor for me.  I told her what I felt in no uncertain terms.  Actually at that point for some reason it worked.

I swore for years that I never word do certain things to my AC/CIL that she had done to me, and I haven't.  At some point DIL told DS that she wishes I'd do ______.  He asked me to explain why to DIL, so I did.  She said she understood, but she really wished I'd feel comfortable enough with her to do it.  I tried a time or two and it felt to me that I had inconvenienced her and it just didn't work out.  I no longer do it.  It has nothing to do with her really but it feels wrong to me, so I don't.

All that to say, that what feels toxic to one person might not even be on another persons toxic radar.  Toxic can be a personal thing.
 

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@JuliaArmstrongI was under the impression that you and DIL were estranged, but it does appear that you have a relationship with her in that you visit her in her home; she comes to your home with DS; gifts are given, etc.  This is a positive.  I understand that DIL is communicating to you through her actions that she does not enjoy time spent with you, and she has even stated to her DH that she has nothing in common with you.  One positive with a person like this is at least you know where you stand with her, as she isn't good at faking her emotions. 

I think you are onto something Re: your behavior during the wedding planning being an issue as to why your relationship with DIL is not good.  You have apologized to DS/DIL, which is great, but sometimes it takes a good long while for the other person to move on if he/she does.  Behavior surrounding weddings, childbirth and serious illness or death can be deal breakers in relationships, and if the relationship resumes it will look probably look differently.   You've apologized and shown remorse, so giving this time and not repeating behavior(which I understand you are not) is needed going forward.

Re: gifts to your DIL for her home. My MIL used to do this too, and I never kept any of them.  First, we did not have the same taste.  Second, our relationship was not good, and my MIL behaved poorly in my home, so I didn't want a reminder of that in my home.   It was too personal of a gift with too much negativity attached to it.  If you continue to gift your DIL I would stick to more benign gifts, such as a bottle of wine or a gift certificate to a mani/pedi or a gift card to a restaurant she likes, etc.  

Also, explore when you have seen your DIL if the gathering was a bit better in your home vs. her home vs. a more neutral place or at an activity such as a ballgame or does she respond the same regardless?   With my IL's, I responded the most negatively when they were in my home as I did not enjoy it at all, and interestingly enough had better visits with them when I went to their home, which very seldom happened as my MIL did not like hosting people in her home.

 

 

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I'd say that your DS and DIL each keep up with their own families regarding gifts, visits, photos, phone calls. I think most people take care of their own because they understand their family quirks and partly because it's a very fair division of all that work. It's a good thing to embrace.

I hate for anyone, except my husband, to buy me stuff for the house, hate it.
And, go figure, I always love gifts from my husband. Anybody else wanna buy me expensive spices, patio furniture like mine, or matching pieces of my dishes? Great. Gifts are a tough subject for people. I love to select, but the older I get - the more I realize nobody really likes what my husband and I like - except chocolate and wine.  ;)

In my experience, wedding planning dramas caused by outsiders are not forgotten. My mom was a micromanaging nut case at my eldest sisters wedding, she was a bit better for each of my other 3 sisters weddings. By mine (the 5th) she was a total cucumber. Nobody remembers or we all think it's hilarious because our mom was such a funny woman and we loved her so much. But my sisters could each remind people, to this day (50+ years later), what their MILs did wrong at their weddings. Fortunately for me, my MIL was so unhappy my husband wasn't becoming a Priest that she left all things wedding to mom - except she made all the women beautiful dresses from fabric mom bought overseas and gave a lovely rehearsal dinner. As others have said: wedding problems? uh-oh!

As BSW points out, neutral territory visits are best if things are tense. My sisters and I detested our XSisIL. To try to keep our much loved brother content
we included her in restaurant luncheons and girl things in the city. It wasn't easy, but somehow it lessened conflicts. We made our brother happy, that's what mattered.

Edited by JanelleK
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10 hours ago, RoseRed135 said:

IMO, it's very normal to use your (general) own experiences as a reference point. A problem arises when your attitude is that what you did was "right," so the other person must be "wrong" if they don't do things the same way ("I brought my kids to see their GPs once a week, so DIL is wrong/unfair/too controlling if she won't bring our GC over more than once a month!"). Unfortunately, I think this is a very common error. I've often done it myself when comparing someone else' behavior to my own. Happily, I've learned on these boards to think, instead, "I guess they (whoever it is) have a different perspective than I did" (or "different boundaries" or "different circumstances," etc.) Or to just remind myself that "different isn't necessarily right or wrong - just different." That negates any resentment, etc. I might have otherwise felt.

That's why I said 'blinded by'. Of course folks refer to their own experiences. It's when all you can see are your own, and are unable to look around or past, that troubles can arise.

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@JuliaArmstrong From your post, I think you've put a lot of thought into where things are with your DS and DIL and also considered your own role in it. I think that's great that you realized a mistake was made surrounding the wedding (very highly emotionally fraught time probably for everyone) and apologized for it. It seems to me like you have a good relationship with your DS, and that's where I think the focus always needs to be. Maybe DIL will soften, or maybe the two of you will just never click. But it seems like you're doing what you can in keeping up with your DS and remembering that you and your DH have a life outside of them.

I had some of my own drama with my MIL surrounding the death of my mother last year, and it was an eye opening experience that led me to taking a break from her. I know she's not happy about me not wanting to be around her, but it's important to my DH to see her, so we have arrangements where he sees her without me for now. I hope your DS and DIL are able to work out something between them that allows him the time he wants with you. 

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On 9/22/2017 at 2:50 AM, ImpishMom said:

A couple of thoughts, @JuliaArmstrong:

The request for practical vs decorative gifts: this I think is normal. Personally, I don't want anyone buying decor for my home, unless it was something I specifically requested. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, or even simply territorial (my house, I'll decorate, thanks) but I don't think it's an unusual stance to take.

As to the death of your father: please accept my condolences. I wonder if she thought your ds being with you, etc, was an expression of condolence from both of them, and that she didn't need to do a separate one? I'd have at least said, 'I'm sorry for your loss' the next time I spoke/saw you, though. I don't get folks who are miserly with such expressions.

As to the wedding issue: uh oh. That sort of thing does tend to leave a mark, especially if you tried to explain/excuse what you did, rather than leaving it as "I'm sorry, I did this, and I won't do it again." stance. Many ppl adhere to, "if there's a but, then it's not an apology" stance.

When DIL picked out a vase for us as a holiday present that DH and I don't find appealing, I put it on a closet shelf and on visits from DS and the more rare ones when DIL comes with him, I take it out and put it on a table with some flowers. It's not our taste but we honor the impulse, theirs and other family members and friends, to recognize/please us with a gift. In fact, the objectionable decorative present from DH and myself wasn't house decor, it was winter gloves. We did offer some house decor, a small wall hanging that had been in our family and was in the tradition of her family's culture, but it was refused with the reason that they already had three of these from her family. It would have made me feel appreciated to see it when we visit. Mementos and gifts from DIL's parents are in every room. At another time we bought a small kitchen appliance that could have been used several times a week to make food DIL likes. We were asked to return it with the comment that they didn't have room to store it. At the time they were moving from a small house to a larger one, and many items were in self-storage for a short period of time. The net result is that their house is filled with things from her family, and virtually nothing from us. I think DS is fairly oblivious, he's happy with the house as long as DIL is.  Last year for the holidays they asked us for $$ towards buying bicycles. We gave them a card with a check and they were happy. So it would be petty to feel bad about any one of these things, but taken together they feel like a pattern, along with the other behavior I've described of ignoring our presence as much as possible.

Yes, uh oh. The wedding was high stress for everyone. For us: DIL's parents told us where the rehearsal dinner we paid for was to be, her mother decided how the room was to be arranged and what the menu should be. It wasn't our taste at all. To DIL the rehearsal dinner seemed unimportant. My impulsive indiscretion wasn't about the rehearsal dinner. I kept that under control but yes, tensions were running high. It's the more galling because I had fully prepared myself to shut up and wear beige, but in the moment forgot to count to 10.  So 5 unthinking minutes has contributed to 4 years and counting of a poor relationship with DIL, but thanking our stars that DS understands and loves us. 

Re apologies: I did apologize full stop immediately after the incident. Because part of my upset had been caused by my awareness that some vulnerable family members I look out for had been hurt (by other members of my extended family, not DIL's), it was several months later that I tried to give some context. So a complicated situation. The point about not offering explanations ("buts...") with apologies is interesting to me. My context wasn't finger-pointing back at DIL's family, but explaining other circumstances in my life that made me feel more fragile. Personally, I like to know the other person's point of view.  Right now I'm just trying to be polite and figure out how to stop the anxiety and enjoy the part we play in DS's life and potentially DGS's life - without stressing DS.

Which is why this thread caught my interest. Evidently DIL thinks I am toxic, as Rose and Tricia think her MIL is. It's already clear that DS and DIL have a "mine/yours" relationship with us and DIL's parents. So given this situation, what can DH and I do to not further aggravate the situation? So far, DIL hasn't stopped DS from seeing us, although we also know there has been some complaining. With a new baby in the mix, it's probably realistic to expect that DIL's demands on DS's time may well increase. Since I don't think I will be forgiven by DIL, I guess I will have to wait to see how they work this out. 

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On 9/22/2017 at 1:26 PM, BSW said:

@JuliaArmstrongI was under the impression that you and DIL were estranged, but it does appear that you have a relationship with her in that you visit her in her home; she comes to your home with DS; gifts are given, etc.  This is a positive.  I understand that DIL is communicating to you through her actions that she does not enjoy time spent with you, and she has even stated to her DH that she has nothing in common with you.  One positive with a person like this is at least you know where you stand with her, as she isn't good at faking her emotions. 

I think you are onto something Re: your behavior during the wedding planning being an issue as to why your relationship with DIL is not good.  You have apologized to DS/DIL, which is great, but sometimes it takes a good long while for the other person to move on if he/she does.  Behavior surrounding weddings, childbirth and serious illness or death can be deal breakers in relationships, and if the relationship resumes it will look probably look differently.   You've apologized and shown remorse, so giving this time and not repeating behavior(which I understand you are not) is needed going forward.

Re: gifts to your DIL for her home. My MIL used to do this too, and I never kept any of them.  First, we did not have the same taste.  Second, our relationship was not good, and my MIL behaved poorly in my home, so I didn't want a reminder of that in my home.   It was too personal of a gift with too much negativity attached to it.  If you continue to gift your DIL I would stick to more benign gifts, such as a bottle of wine or a gift certificate to a mani/pedi or a gift card to a restaurant she likes, etc.  

Also, explore when you have seen your DIL if the gathering was a bit better in your home vs. her home vs. a more neutral place or at an activity such as a ballgame or does she respond the same regardless?   With my IL's, I responded the most negatively when they were in my home as I did not enjoy it at all, and interestingly enough had better visits with them when I went to their home, which very seldom happened as my MIL did not like hosting people in her home.

 

 

I like these ideas re gifts. We do give cash at times to family members, but if always feels a little impersonal. A spa gift or restaurant certificate might be appreciated as much as cash. We have given wine in the past which seemed to go over ok.

Hmm, .things seem about the same regardless of whose home. DIL stays upstairs whether at our house or hers. She seems most relaxed with us in her parents' home, we have had a couple of holidays down there. I offer to host or bring covered dishes but get turned down so we just bring a hostess gift. While I would like to host occasionally, the important thing is to be able to be with DS at holidays so we don't care where.  I've posted about problems with my own mother, and she was always insistent gatherings be at her house although my sisters and I would have liked to have these occasions in our homes sometimes. So we are happy being hosts or guests. We have had outings to a few events, there wasn't much opportunity for interaction and they went pretty well. Maybe we can suggest more of those in the future. 

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1 hour ago, JuliaArmstrong said:

When DIL picked out a vase for us as a holiday present that DH and I don't find appealing, I put it on a closet shelf and on visits from DS and the more rare ones when DIL comes with him, I take it out and put it on a table with some flowers. It's not our taste but we honor the impulse, theirs and other family members and friends, to recognize/please us with a gift. In fact, the objectionable decorative present from DH and myself wasn't house decor, it was winter gloves. We did offer some house decor, a small wall hanging that had been in our family and was in the tradition of her family's culture, but it was refused with the reason that they already had three of these from her family. It would have made me feel appreciated to see it when we visit. Mementos and gifts from DIL's parents are in every room. At another time we bought a small kitchen appliance that could have been used several times a week to make food DIL likes. We were asked to return it with the comment that they didn't have room to store it. At the time they were moving from a small house to a larger one, and many items were in self-storage for a short period of time. The net result is that their house is filled with things from her family, and virtually nothing from us. I think DS is fairly oblivious, he's happy with the house as long as DIL is.  Last year for the holidays they asked us for $$ towards buying bicycles. We gave them a card with a check and they were happy. So it would be petty to feel bad about any one of these things, but taken together they feel like a pattern, along with the other behavior I've described of ignoring our presence as much as possible.

Yes, uh oh. The wedding was high stress for everyone. For us: DIL's parents told us where the rehearsal dinner we paid for was to be, her mother decided how the room was to be arranged and what the menu should be. It wasn't our taste at all. To DIL the rehearsal dinner seemed unimportant. My impulsive indiscretion wasn't about the rehearsal dinner. I kept that under control but yes, tensions were running high. It's the more galling because I had fully prepared myself to shut up and wear beige, but in the moment forgot to count to 10.  So 5 unthinking minutes has contributed to 4 years and counting of a poor relationship with DIL, but thanking our stars that DS understands and loves us. 

Re apologies: I did apologize full stop immediately after the incident. Because part of my upset had been caused by my awareness that some vulnerable family members I look out for had been hurt (by other members of my extended family, not DIL's), it was several months later that I tried to give some context. So a complicated situation. The point about not offering explanations ("buts...") with apologies is interesting to me. My context wasn't finger-pointing back at DIL's family, but explaining other circumstances in my life that made me feel more fragile. Personally, I like to know the other person's point of view.  Right now I'm just trying to be polite and figure out how to stop the anxiety and enjoy the part we play in DS's life and potentially DGS's life - without stressing DS.

Which is why this thread caught my interest. Evidently DIL thinks I am toxic, as Rose and Tricia think her MIL is. It's already clear that DS and DIL have a "mine/yours" relationship with us and DIL's parents. So given this situation, what can DH and I do to not further aggravate the situation? So far, DIL hasn't stopped DS from seeing us, although we also know there has been some complaining. With a new baby in the mix, it's probably realistic to expect that DIL's demands on DS's time may well increase. Since I don't think I will be forgiven by DIL, I guess I will have to wait to see how they work this out. 

Honestly, a lot of folks take the 'mine/yours' approach not b/c anyone is toxic, but simply, it's easier that way. Your ds knows you. Your DIL knows her parents. They each 'speak the language', if you will. It's not always an indication of anyone being toxic, or disliked, but simply an acknowledgement that an AC will manage their own parents better than a CIL. Plus, a seeming growing number of women are becoming less interested in being the 'social secretary' for their husbands.

I understand what you say about feeling appreciated when you visit by seeing the decor, but I'll be honest with you: I don't put anything in my house for anyone else's benefit, other than those that live here. I wouldn't do what you do w/the vase example, either. I chuck/donate things that don't appeal to me. Gifts aren't an obligation. Once given, it's the recipient's choice as to what happens from there.

And your ds may well be oblivious. My dh only notices changes if I've had to ask him to participate in making them.

I think the best you can do is keep on keeping on. Being civil and respectful is always a safe choice.

I do wonder, given what you've said, if your ill feelings are actually more towards your DIL's FOO than perhaps your DIL. Her Mom seems like a piece of work. Makes me wonder how well your DIL has managed to leave and cleave from her FOO.

Which of course isn't anything you can do anything about, so the best thing you can do is just keep doing what you're doing, and enjoy the relationship w/your ds.

PS: You did better than I would've about the rehearsal dinner. I don't take kindly to anyone telling me how to spend my money.

Edited by ImpishMom
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On 9/22/2017 at 7:30 PM, NewMama said:

@JuliaArmstrong From your post, I think you've put a lot of thought into where things are with your DS and DIL and also considered your own role in it. I think that's great that you realized a mistake was made surrounding the wedding (very highly emotionally fraught time probably for everyone) and apologized for it. It seems to me like you have a good relationship with your DS, and that's where I think the focus always needs to be. Maybe DIL will soften, or maybe the two of you will just never click. But it seems like you're doing what you can in keeping up with your DS and remembering that you and your DH have a life outside of them.

I had some of my own drama with my MIL surrounding the death of my mother last year, and it was an eye opening experience that led me to taking a break from her. I know she's not happy about me not wanting to be around her, but it's important to my DH to see her, so we have arrangements where he sees her without me for now. I hope your DS and DIL are able to work out something between them that allows him the time he wants with you. 

After DS's wedding four years ago, I joined this community, didn't post until this month but would read threads from time to time. I think one of the things that has kept me grounded was the frequent emphasis on maintaining the relationship with the AC that you and others have mentioned, and letting go of expectations re in-laws. So I have been aware during this time of the importance of not criticizing DIL to DS but staying positive re him and times together, not sure that the significance of this would have been as clear to me without these boards. What has led me to become active here is our new DGS. I have seen a lot of posts from grandparents who have been hurt because they have felt undermined or ignored and frankly, especially given DIL's very close bond with her mother, these are feelings I could get trapped in. I want to be able to enjoy DGS and not keep score regarding number visits, whether DIL uses presents we give, etc etc. As others have commented, a good thing about DIL's frank dislike of me is that there won't be surprises here. 

I'm sorry about your mother. I hope my DIL is as open-hearted about giving DS time with his FOO as you are in recognizing the importance to your husband of seeing his mother. I guess that is much of the point of this thread. 

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8 hours ago, JuliaArmstrong said:

When DIL picked out a vase for us as a holiday present that DH and I don't find appealing, I put it on a closet shelf and on visits from DS and the more rare ones when DIL comes with him, I take it out and put it on a table with some flowers. It's not our taste but we honor the impulse, theirs and other family members and friends, to recognize/please us with a gift.

This^^^ is the kind of thing I've always done, too, as did my mother before me. But even back then, some of my friends thought it was "crazy," and I don't think it's very common today. In fact, we often hear on these boards of people asking family/ILs to get/not get this/that kind of gift for them, etc. Times change, I suppose.

In fact, the objectionable decorative present from DH and myself wasn't house decor, it was winter gloves. We did offer some house decor, a small wall hanging that had been in our family and was in the tradition of her family's culture, but it was refused with the reason that they already had three of these from her family. This seems rude to me. If they were concerned that you would keep bringing more of the same, I could understand their asking you to stop. But one more of an item? I'm very sorry they didn't accept it.  It would have made me feel appreciated to see it when we visit. Mementos and gifts from DIL's parents are in every room. At another time we bought a small kitchen appliance that could have been used several times a week to make food DIL likes. We were asked to return it with the comment that they didn't have room to store it. So "useful" gifts aren't always the answer either... At the time they were moving from a small house to a larger one, and many items were in self-storage for a short period of time. The net result is that their house is filled with things from her family, and virtually nothing from us. I think DS is fairly oblivious, he's happy with the house as long as DIL is.  Last year for the holidays they asked us for $$ towards buying bicycles. We gave them a card with a check and they were happy. So money what's appreciated, especially cash contributions to items they would like to have. Good to know! So it would be petty to feel bad about any one of these things, but taken together they feel like a pattern, along with the other behavior I've described of ignoring our presence as much as possible.

Yes, uh oh. The wedding was high stress for everyone. For us: DIL's parents told us where the rehearsal dinner we paid for was to be, her mother decided how the room was to be arranged and what the menu should be. It wasn't our taste at all. To DIL the rehearsal dinner seemed unimportant. My impulsive indiscretion wasn't about the rehearsal dinner. I kept that under control but yes, tensions were running high. It's the more galling because I had fully prepared myself to shut up and wear beige, but in the moment forgot to count to 10.  So 5 unthinking minutes has contributed to 4 years and counting of a poor relationship with DIL, but thanking our stars that DS understands and loves us. 

Bravo for holding your tongue about the rehearsal dinner! Traditionally, IME (in my experience), the grooms' parents are in charge of that - and I don't just mean in charge of paying for it. I can understand if DIL wanted to have it at a certain place (as long as it was affordable for you). After all, it's still all about her and DS' wedding. But her mom deciding the decor and the menu? That was totally overstepping on her part. In fact, I agree w/ Imp that DIL's mom may have helped to cause those initial tensions. If she's prone to overstepping, DIL may have her hands full enough w/ her that she just can't deal w/ another "mom" (not that you're trying to be that) in her life, unfortunately.

Re apologies: I did apologize full stop immediately after the incident. Because part of my upset had been caused by my awareness that some vulnerable family members I look out for had been hurt (by other members of my extended family, not DIL's), it was several months later that I tried to give some context. So a complicated situation. The point about not offering explanations ("buts...") with apologies is interesting to me. My context wasn't finger-pointing back at DIL's family, but explaining other circumstances in my life that made me feel more fragile. Personally, I like to know the other person's point of view.  Right now I'm just trying to be polite and figure out how to stop the anxiety and enjoy the part we play in DS's life and potentially DGS's life - without stressing DS.

Hmmm... So the "incident" only involved your own FOO... but you said earlier, it has to do w/ "wedding planning," so I'm guessing it impacted DS and/or DIL in some way (you don't have to say how if you'd rather not.) That just might be something DIL hasn't been able to get over. I get your wanting to explain your perspective at the time. And some people would have appreciated that (me included). But some, apparently, wouldn't and DIL might be one of them... sigh... Or it may just not have made a difference to her... IDK... You tried and sometimes that the best you (general) can do.

Which is why this thread caught my interest. Evidently DIL thinks I am toxic, as Rose and Tricia think her MIL is. It's already clear that DS and DIL have a "mine/yours" relationship with us and DIL's parents. So given this situation, what can DH and I do to not further aggravate the situation? So far, DIL hasn't stopped DS from seeing us, although we also know there has been some complaining. Even though you see him when she's out of town? What "complaining" could she possibly have done about that? With a new baby in the mix, it's probably realistic to expect that DIL's demands on DS's time may well increase. Since I don't think I will be forgiven by DIL, I guess I will have to wait to see how they work this out. 

Very wise of you, IMO. Is there any way you can tactfully let DS know that while DIL is always welcome to your home, you also understand if ever she doesn't want to come? That may make it easier to continue visiting you on his own though, granted, probably not as often. And, perhaps, in time, he'll be able to bring DGS along, as well. (Granted, if she's breastfeeding, DGS might not be able to come w/o DIL very often or, if he does, the visits may have to be rather short.) This can be tricky - you (general) want it to sound like, "We'd really love her to come, but we understand if she doesn't," and not, "She can come or not, we don't care." You'd have to be sure that DS would repeat it in the spirit it's intended, though, and that she would take it that way... So IDK...

 

Edited by RoseRed135
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4 hours ago, JuliaArmstrong said:

After DS's wedding four years ago, I joined this community, didn't post until this month but would read threads from time to time. I think one of the things that has kept me grounded was the frequent emphasis on maintaining the relationship with the AC that you and others have mentioned, and letting go of expectations re in-laws. So I have been aware during this time of the importance of not criticizing DIL to DS but staying positive re him and times together, not sure that the significance of this would have been as clear to me without these boards. What has led me to become active here is our new DGS. I have seen a lot of posts from grandparents who have been hurt because they have felt undermined or ignored and frankly, especially given DIL's very close bond with her mother, these are feelings I could get trapped in. I want to be able to enjoy DGS and not keep score regarding number visits, whether DIL uses presents we give, etc etc. As others have commented, a good thing about DIL's frank dislike of me is that there won't be surprises here. 

 

Speaking totally as a moderator here for a moment - this ^^^^ made my day! Always good to know when posts here have helped members, even those who were not yet active. Thanks for letting us know! And kudos for seeking advice more actively now that DGS has arrived! :)

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