I feel like my in-laws have taken over my life to the point that my only hope is for my family to move. Over 15 years of marriage, the time they expect to spend with us has escalated from weekly Sunday dinners to weekly lunches, every holiday – even Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day that I feel are immediate family holidays – and so much more. After going to a couple Expos together, my mother-in-law expects to go with me to all of them.
I don’t spend half as much time with my parents or sister combined (they also live in town) and it is hard to compete, because I feel like we should spend equal time with each family, but then we would never have any time to ourselves! My in-laws then say things like, “Why should we be ‘punished’ because your family won’t spend as much time?” It seems like they think our lives should revolve around them.
I have struggled to have a friendly relationship with my in-laws from the beginning when they disapproved of our marriage. My mother-in-law tried to get me to reschedule my wedding shower because she had a hair appointment and she does the same kind of thing today whenever I try to plan something with anyone else but her or on someone else’s schedule.
I am an at-home mom with two children and my in-laws are my only babysitter, but they say things like “I know you don’t want us watching the kids.” My father-in-law does the driving but frankly, he scares the crap out of me whenever I ride with him – to the point I refuse to ride in his car.
I have tried on and off over the years to bring things up, to encourage we talk instead of emailing, but things only escalate, all the time everyone acting like things are fine.
My husband is no help, he won’t talk to them, although he agrees with me about them wanting too much. It is just what his mother is used to.
It looks like everyone is afraid to protect your little family, so it’s time for you to step up, speak out, and make things really uncomfortable.
First, you’ve got to find a new babysitter. While using your mother-in-law is free and convenient, the drama that comes attached with her helping you is costing you your mental health. There is no price tag you can put on your sanity, so I would start there. The more you can decrease your dependency on her, the better. She’s not a safe person to rely on, as it will come back to bite you with unrealistic expectations.
Second, it’s time for your husband to “cut the apron strings,” as they say, and cleave to his wife. Fifteen years of marriage is plenty of time for any spouse to make that transition. This will take a lot of strength and courage on your part to consistently expect this of him, but it’s the only way these two families can get back in balance.
Your husband and his father clearly are scared of her and have learned that it’s better to be passengers in their own lives, allowing her to take the wheel and tell them where they’re going and how things will be. Your father-in-law isn’t the only scary driver in this family, if you know what I mean.
Your mother-in-law will never be satisfied, no matter what arrangements you make. So, let me teach you a life-saving phrase you can use over and over when you want to take back your marriage and family. Ready? Here it is: “That’s not going to work for me.” Variations of that include, “That’s not going to work for us, our family, etc.” You get the idea. No explanation needed. Just say it and carry on with your life.
Healthy families have a balance of separateness and togetherness. It’s unhealthy to lose your identity as a family unit and always be defined and swallowed up by the parents’ needs.
You can do this. With your husband, figure out the boundary of where your family stops and the extended family begins. Then, have the courage to consistently enforce that line over and over again. No permission needed from anyone else. It’s your family, and you have to protect it … together.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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