My mother-in-law is so needy! How can I get her to back off?

She’s lonely, says our elder. Set some ground rules, and try to build a relationship with her yourself.

Dear EWC

My husband’s father passed away when he was only eight. His mother has relied on him a lot ever since. He went to work at 14 to help her pay the bills. He has been married to me for a year, and she still cannot get over her husband’s death. She’s constantly asking us to go over even if we just saw her not too long ago. Today she yelled at us for 30 minutes over us not going to visit. I walked out and we left. I don’t know what to do about this situation. I’m tired of it. Can she give us our space? He’s not an only child. She has three other children still living with her.

Grandpa-Bill replies

It sounds like your mother-in-law is lonely and views your husband as taking her husband’s place in a way, for some things. She is used to depending on him.

It might help for you both and her to sit down and talk openly and honestly and set some ground rules. For example, you can sit down with her and say that you have your own life as well and so can’t be at her beck and call. Say that you think it will work out better for both of you together to decide when you or your husband can visit her and for how long so that she will know when you will be coming and won’t call asking you to come all the time. She can make a list of anything she needs help with for the day he is designated to come. If you two ever have children, she is going to be their grandmother, so you might try to establish a good relationship with her. While your husband is doing things for her, you could offer to help her with her chores, bake something, cook dinner, clean her car, run errands, iron or mend, do laundry, etc. Then she will start to see you as an asset and not someone who took away her son. She will start to look forward to seeing you. You can’t and shouldn’t expect your husband to sever ties with his mother, so try to turn it around into a pleasant visit. There must be something you two have in common that you could do with her while there (a craft project, etc.). Never talk about any personal problems or say anything negative about her son to her, but instead ask her to share her life story, how she met her husband, what her life was like growing up as a child, etc.

Some day you may be in the same boat and would want someone to help you. By specifying what day and time she can expect you, it will make it easier for your own time as a couple. Your husband can also talk to his siblings and explain that he needs help and ask them to help out their mom and pull their weight by taking their turn visiting and helping her.

Letter #: 408270
Category: Marriage

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