Ask Amy: ‘Best of’ column discusses monster in-laws
Dear Readers: Every year I step away from my column for two weeks to work on other creative projects. (Anyone interested in my non-advice oriented personal essays and photographs can subscribe to my free newsletter: amydickinson.substack.com).
I hope you enjoy these “Best of” columns from 10 years ago. Today’s topic: “The trouble with in-laws.”
Dear Amy: I cannot deal with my “monster-in-law.” She’s bossy, antagonistic, and gossips about my personal business.
As much as I try to care about her, my dislike for her has been surfacing more and more. I cannot seem to come up with an effective way to cope with her.
I almost called off our wedding twice, partly because of her. Antidepressants helped.
Now I am pregnant, and the only thing I hear from her is how we must name our son (if it’s a boy) the family name “Bernie” (he would be the fourth one).
Neither my husband nor I want to use this name, but she is adamant that we must, and says that if we do not, she will still call him “Skipper” – the nickname the family uses for all of the other Bernies in the family.
No matter how much I ask her not to, she insists.
I am beginning to hate her for it. I don’t know what to do, and the more I get upset about her behavior, the more my husband and I argue.
Any advice for us?
Dear Angry: Every time your mother-in-law successfully riles you, she ignites a little spark in you. Then you oxygenate the spark by reacting to her – or fighting with your husband – and before you know it, you’re in flames (and you’ve made her day).
Rather than allow her to create discord, focus on removing her access to combustible material. If discussing your baby’s name always leads you down the same path, then stop discussing it. You just say, “Well, we haven’t decided on a name, but we know your preference.”
If she wants to call your baby “Skipper,” you can say, “You can call the baby anything you want to, though it might be awkward, if that isn’t her name.”
I suggest you and your husband seriously discuss strategies for drawing and enforcing boundaries. [July 2012]
Dear Amy: I am a fellow sufferer of a “monster-in-law.” I came to realize that since I can’t change my mother-in-law, I might as well find humor with my situation.
I found myself looking forward to her saying insulting and insensitive comments so I could write them down to share with my friends. I had enough to write a book!
– Fellow Sufferer
Dear Sufferer: When you can’t change the dynamic, laughter definitely helps. [August 2012]
Dear Amy: I strongly suggest that the mom-to-be realize her problem isn’t with her mother-in-law but with her husband, who won’t stand up to his mother when she oversteps.
I had a similar problem of a boundary-crossing mother-in-law, which almost cost me my marriage until, in counseling, my husband realized that his mother was his problem to deal with, not mine.
Once he took care of business, our marriage became more unified and loving.
– Been There
Dear Been There: I agree that the burden for creating boundaries falls mainly to the offspring. Couples do best when they create a united front. [August 2012]
Dear Amy: “Angry” brought back so many memories. My mother-in-law was an overbearing meddler, too, with a bad reputation in town. Your advice was good, Amy, but this couple should do what we did – move 1,000 miles away.
Dear Peaceful: This seems like the “nuclear option,” but I’m glad it worked for you. [August 2012]
DEAR AMY: I was amused by the letter from a pregnant woman whose mother-in-law was insisting on calling her baby “Skipper,” regardless of the child’s actual name.
I would have said, “Great. And we’ll teach him to call you Gilligan.” End of discussion.
– Suggestive Reader
Dear Reader: Bang. Zoom. Everyone’s a comedian!
Dear Amy: I had a similar situation with my father-in-law. He absolutely refused to call my daughter by the lovely name my husband and I had chosen, and instead came up with a European nickname that, if shortened, would translate to “Ham.”
My husband’s brother had a nickname that, when translated, was “Egg.” One day when my daughter was playing with her uncle I remarked to my father-in-law, “Oh look, isn’t it nice to see Ham and Egg playing together!” No more “Ham.”
Dear Relieved: One little nickname, and these two were yoked together for life! [September 2012]
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