Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, February 27, 2014


From the TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (and I'm paraphrasing):

Maria, the overbearing, narcissistic MIL is complaining, "I don't feel welcome in your home."

Debra, the DIL says "But you are over ALL the time.  You never give me a chance to welcome you."

This is a sentiment I feel with my in-laws a lot.  They are here.  All the time.  Well, not ALL the time, but enough that it doesn't feel like I get much of a break from them.  And they are coming down, again, on their monthly trips to babysit the other grandkids and park it over at my BIL's house for the weekend (they always stay the ENTIRE weekend, Friday morning to late Sunday night).

I'm feeling annoyed by that again, and partially I know that I don't really have a right to feel that way.  I didn't make the plans, it's not my house, and I don't have a say so. 

But part of me feels, again, that we are just expected to go along with everyone else's plans.  Sure, we can say no.  But there always feels like some sort of pressure to go along with every one else's life.  Like we are expected to fit into THEIR lives, but no the other way around. 

As usual, BIL and MIL schedule these weekends and we fit around BIL's social schedule.  Or MIL and FIL make plans to come in for their social schedule and we are expected to fit around that.  I always feel like we are an "add on".  Something to round out their weekend. 

Which would be fine once and awhile.  But we are never the priority.  MIL never tries to work out coming into town, or making plans with us, it never feels like it's about US.  About actually making an effort to treat us like grown ups with our own family and schedules.  About trying to communicate with us and get together with us on an adult level.  I'm not sure if I'm conveying that well.  But it just feels that it is always about MIL, or BIL, or football games, or whatever.   And not about finding time to spend together in which we can all feel comfortable or valued.

And on the flip side, there is lots of pressure to invite them down to our house, to make plans with them.  MIL, despite her intensely controlling nature, likes to sit back and have people create plans for her.  To come to her and ASK her to be around us.  To WANT her to be around and to prove it.  She's very covert in how she does conveys that, but I always feel that.  It comes across in that she never just calls up and says "We would like to spend time with you.  What would work for you.  What would you like to do?"  It comes across in the subtle ways she hints to my husband (and he in turn gets upset with me) that she'd like to stay.  She talks a big game about wanting to create family time and family memories and all of that, but she doesn't seem to want to do any of the actual WORK to make that happen.  It's so, so subtle but it always feels like it's a choice between doing all the work for her, or fitting in around her.  I just don't feel like we are considered at all.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense with this.  I have a hard time really understanding my feelings myself.  And, being a big hypocrite, I actually don't want to spend more time with them.  But I think it's times like this that seem to highlight how enmeshed and self-centered the family is.  I don't feel like plans are made between adults, but that we are children expected to just "go along" with things.   I don't feel like it is negotiated time in which everyone can feel comfortable.  I feel like we are just puzzle pieces fitting into MIL's (and BIL - or in this case SIL's - grand schemes.)  And I can't really say anything.  What would I say?  You can't come down?  Don't invite us along to your things?  Even telling them to make more of an effort to involve us specifically would have an outcome I wouldn't want.

So, maybe I'm just here bitching because it's a shitty situation all around.  I don't really want it to be fixed (because to "fix it" would mean more time with these thoughtless people, which I don't want) but I don't like feeling like an "after thought" all the time.  I dislike feeling so marginalized and unimportant.  I dislike how all the toxic and negative behavior is hidden underneath "family" dinners and the like.  I dislike how I'm always cast as the one who doesn't invite them down enough (when they are ALWAYS here) or make an effort to plan things (when they never do that themselves).  There just is no good solution


  1. Sometimes, a rant is about clarifying your own feelings.

    1. Yes, thanks Judy. I really struggled to figure out what was really annoying me. And it's hard to explain to DH. If I said "I want them to consider us and make plans with us specifically" well, that wouldn't really solve my problem ;).

  2. "And, being a big hypocrite, I actually don't want to spend more time with them." <-- I totally understand, that cracks me up. It's nice to be ASKED so that you have the option of saying NO and having boundaries. It sounds like everything/everyone sort of melts together and that would feel like drowning.

    I love sayings like "I've been thrown out of better bars than this!" and "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have ME as a member!" because they crack me up in the same sarcastic way.

    How can I miss you if you don't go away?

    1. ASKED?!? What the hell is that? :) And yes, they are one big damn blog, so why would any pieces of the blob need to be considered. I often feel like I'm drowning (but I've always described it as feeling smothered and bulldozed.) Asking would require that they accept that other people are "people" too.
      Good to hear from you Gladys. Hope you are doing OK.

  3. BTW I quit going to the gym because I couldn't stand the mother in Everybody Love Raymond and that was on all the TVs.

    No easy answer. I made the break at Thanksgiving time several years ago of not spending it with my parents but I feel a bit of a hypocrite since I love spending the day with my kids. No matter which way you jump it is not comfortable. One of the many reasons that there is so much debate about going no contact... reality, people really wish they had parents that enjoyed being around them and were pleasant people. I made some decisions of how much contact I had. Discovered later that it really didn't matter much what I did. Someone at church criticized me for living so close to my parents but not go to see them. I responded that I ate breakfast there almost every Saturday. The person was shocked. They then confessed that my mother told people that I never went over to visit her. The catch. I didn't go to just talk to her. Since I also talked to my dad and sister in her mind it didn't count. This is when I realized I needed to set the limits I could handle. Venting does help clarify thoughts. Isn't that what a blog is for?

    1. Yes, Ruth, my blog is for that ;). I just don't want to feel like I'm bitching for bitching's sake.

      I used to love ELR. It ran "on air" when DH and I first were dating and married and I found it SO validating to point to it and say "SEE, that is your family." It actually did help DH see so much of the dysfunction. But, now, it's hard to watch how everyone in that show continued to dance around the mother. I felt it sort of "normalized" her mistreatment and made it seem like DILs should put up with that shit no matter what.
      NC: In this case, it is so complicated. DH would never, ever give up seeing his family. And I don't want my kids to completely lose all sense of extended family (with narcs on all sides, we'd have to disconnect with a lot of people). And although my boys are big enough to handle "some" contact with MIL without me, I don't like to leave them around her very often without supervision. I try to limit what I can for myself (like they are all going to a sporting event with a bunch of people, so MIL has less opportunity to "get" at my kids and so I'm not going.) But in other situations, I need to be there for my kids. DH has been good about scaling back a lot and working with me, but we are still not completely on the same page. With my narc/bp sister, it was much easier to go NC, as it really only had to do with me and her. But when there are other people involved, it's just not that simple.
      Sometimes I think I'm just angry that the decent people are forced to make such awful choices while the assholes can do whatever they want. And act like saints while they do it.

      This -> "They then confessed that my mother told people that I never went over to visit her. The catch. I didn't go to just talk to her." That is such a resonating statement for me. DH often used to tell me that time with his family didn't "count" because we were doing an activity (meaning that it WASN'T his parents coming and staying at our house.) To me, all of it "counted" if I had to be around them. My NM also pulls this "counting" crap too. It only counts if it's completely HER way. And even then, it's debatable. I've learned that I just need to do what I think is best....but, MAN, it can be so damn hard at times.
      Thanks for the thoughts, Ruth.

  4. Ah, yes, the feeling of being a pawn in someone else's chessboard. I didn't like it either, hard to explain how de-humanising it feels to people who haven't experienced it because on the surface, it doesn't look that bad. In my case it was easier to walk away because it was a friend (Mr. Ego). He was forever organising social events and/or days out. These events always sounded good "on paper" but I always cam home feeling empty. Like if you told people that you're spending the weekend seeing family, they'll go: "Oh, wonderful!" NOT ;)

    1. Yes, a pawn in a chessboard. I was thinking today how I felt like furniture. Just being moved around and around.

      And yes, I also thought after I wrote this about how much like an object I felt. Just filling up space in someone else's life. I think that's what it really was about. I don't care about the spending time, but I really resent being "set dressing".

  5. I never really thought about Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond being narcissistic, but I think you're right. She just seemed more human than my mother ever was.

    There was one episode I saw recently when Marie declares to her husband, "I'm not just a trophy wife you know!"

    To which he responded with incredulity, "Trophy wife? What the hell did I win?"

    Sorry for the tangent.

    My mother would --behind his back -- tell me she didn't feel welcomed by my husband. It really was that she felt uncomfortable with him not buying into her narcissistic fantasy bullshit.

    1. Your last paragraph, yes! MIL makes it all about me being unwelcoming or whatever (she's convinced my SIL that we should not all spend time together because I'm "different" when SIL is around....really it's just that SIL provides good another "obstacle" for MIL to get to me.)

      ELR: If you watch that show again, pay attention to Maria. She is a covert narc if I ever saw one. The constant sly put downs, the put downs by comparison, the push to always have everyone revolve around her, the manipulation to get her way, the forced enmeshment....
      BUT, as with any TV show, I think they added a level of "humanity" to her in order to make her somewhat likeable. Like she's a good kids grandmas don't have that. Lack of emotion in grandma extends right down to the kids as they both try to suck all they can from the kids (instead of the other way around).

      Another issue I have with the show, NOW, is that I can see how the work out the endings in order to tie it all up neat in a bow. Like the DIL will confront her, and in the end they hug and make up. Marie will "see" her point. This would never happen with my MIL. I'd never be able to confront her in the first place (she starts screeching from the onset, so you never get past the first line) and then she runs and talks shit behind my back, holds a grudge, and nothing gets resolved. I shows like this put on an idea that, if you just work hard at it, issues with personalities like this will dissolve. I recently watched "Silver Linings Playbook" and it was the same thing. It was a great movie until the end when all the issues they were dealing with magically disappeared.

  6. Hi Jessie,
    I feel so much the same way when it comes to SiL and BiL (DH's brother). And the hypocrite part too - OMG I totally don't want to be manipulated and have my needs not be considered and at the same time I don't want to spend time with them because there is no real relationship. Ugh. It is such an awful place to be in.
    DH and I struggle with this and argue about it. Although the discussions are a bit different after discovering narcissism, it still feels like I am 'fighting' a battle with the in-laws and at times with DH. We are not on the same page either. I can imagine it is 100 times more complicated with children. And I think you are doing great by letting them make up their own mind about the relationship they have with their grandparents. I understand why you don't want to leave them alone with her - I would not trust her by reading the past stories about her.

    I am sitting in the same boat (minus children) and I am beginning - only started to come up in me - to see that DH and I don't have to be on the same page. He doesn't like my mother at all. And he doesn't have to come with me to see my parents. I have told him to do what he is comfortable with for him when it comes to my FOO. However, this isn't true on his side. He expects me to do these things with his FOO even when he himself can see it is unhealthy. I asked him why and he got really angry with me - this was telling. Because he didn't answer my question and the only response I got was 'because it's family'. But I am beginning to think that DH has a lot of feelings stirred up - new ones - because of my own recovery with my own family that he is started to feel and see that it isn't that healthy when interacting with them either. He now has to face a lot of the emotions that I, in a way, took on for him. I was doing the emotional work for him as well when it came to his FOO - especially by taking the brunt of their abuse. And it alleviated the stress for him of dealing with it on his own, in his own way. I essentially became his coping mechanism.

    I understand that our situations are different and wanted to share with you what I recently am beginning to realize when it comes to my in-laws and DH as I'm facing the same challenge. It was a really new perspective after this last visit. I don't mean to equate our situations or suggest a solution for you.

    I hear what you are going through with them and I understand how you feel. Hugs, TR

    1. TR, it is so nice to be heard and I appreciate you sharing your story. And I don't think the fundamentals of our situation are all that different. I hear a lot of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences echoed in your comment.
      I admit, sometimes I like having my DH around when my NM is around. Not really as a "coping" mechanism, but because it keeps her from dissolving down into the negative mess she can become when it's just she and I. And recently, we recently worked out that when she starts spiraling downward, I can excuse myself and he will change the subject with her. BUT, although he doesn't like my mom, she doesn't really bother him that much. I wouldn't ask him to do that for me if he couldn't. And, as I get stronger, I won't need his help as much. But I can understand how your DH might find your presence comforting.
      For my DH, although he can discuss narcissism regarding his family, he struggles to find his way to deal with it. Like yours, my DH feelings have been stirred up a lot lately...and often his anger about that is directed at me for bringing it to his attention. And we've only recently established that I don't have to LIKE his mom. That was a hard one. He felt that I HAD to like her, while I felt it was cruel to expect me to like someone who is horrible to me. And that's another part of it, although in each experience he can see (somewhat) how awful she can be, he struggles to "add it" up and believe that she is horrible to me. He still has the image of her as generous, loving, and fun....despite the evidence to the contrary. It's been really, really hard. And I think too, because he doesn't get abused (as the golden boy) like I do, it's much harder for him to see. AND, because she is a master of the covert crap, it's really hard to pin it down. Sometimes I wish she'd just start a fight, or call me names (to my face), so I had something to point at. But she is like a drip of water that has slowly eroded any chance of a relationship due to her nastiness. Each drop doesn't seem that big, but it's the constant dripping that is the problem. And that's hard for my husband to see (partially, I think it's due to his inability to see how some women operate with each other. MIL is a master at passive-aggressiveness and a lot of that goes over DH's head.) And to complicate it more, he loves his father (who is mostly a really nice guy) and so I think he fears that dealing with his mother threatens his relationship with his father.

    2. Part 2 to my reply (it wouldn't take it all):

      The kids are hard. Not only do I need to look out for the physical safety of my kids around her, but with both grandmothers, their covert nature leaks out around the kids too. They've both already tried to push boundaries, lay the groundwork for enmeshment, and have inflicted emotional discomfort on my kids. Not to mention that both mothers feel the need to "take me down a peg" in order to make themselves the "center" of the family. And, as my kids are so little, they often have trouble spotting this manipulation and dealing with it. It is easy for children to be coerced, especially by someone who has a level of "parental authority" built in just by the nature of their relationship with me and DH and a child's natural inclination to trust a "parent". It is a fine line to walk. I've limited the contact we have with the grandparents to some degree, I try and supervise as much as I can, I try and teach my kids appropriate ways to stand up for themselves and to spot (and share) things that make them uncomfortable. And if I felt the grandmothers crossed a line too much, I'd stop visits all together. And, as my DH doesn't always see what I see (or thinks I'm over reacting) and he IS their parent too, it's hard to just pull the "I'm their mom and what I say goes" card. As with any parenting decision, it is a matter of negotiating (having a very involved husband is a wonderful thing but it means I don't always get the final say on parenting.) And many, many people have told me that I'm "too controlling" when it comes to my kids, that I need to "let go", that I'm over reacting, that "of course grandparents love their grandkids", and that I can't deny the "right" of a grandparent/grandchild relationship. NM has even stuck up for MIL in this regard, despite agreeing that MIL is unsafe and "off". Plus, so many people we know see that MIL takes care of my niece and nephew and think it's "wonderful", which further points to me being the problem. I struggle every day with trying to make sure I'm doing what's best for my kids, that I'm not working out my own issues with MIL and NM through my kids, and not trying to control things that are not mine to control. And still protect them as best I can.
      Thanks again for your comment, TR. With my own FOO, it's a lot easier to deal with just because the decision lies with me (and NM's behavior is a lot more overt). But when it comes to in-laws, there is so much more to consider and work around. And it's comforting to know that someone else out their "gets" it.

    3. I totally get what you mean about having DH there with your NM. I needed DH too when I broke No Contact. The 'because it's family' threw me for a loop that I didn't think it was support anymore with him.

      That is so weird. DH expected me to like and love his mother. And we finally made the same realization that that doesn't have to be the case. Same here, I wished she would have done something overt. The covertness and subtleness is so hard. It took me a really long time to see it because with my FOO it was more overt. My DH has too put his anger towards me - I'm a safer option, I think, for him. I think he fears losing his mother's love (when she was alive) and now his father's love today.
      I was wondering can your DH see the covert behaviors in the people married into your family (SiL, for example)? It is weird because when it comes to his immediate family (his father, brother) he has a hard time but he can't stand SiL or his friend since grade school's wife. He can see it clearly with people outside his 'core'. And this often would puzzle me because SiL behaves similarly to MiL.

      Oh man, that is unbelievably difficult to deal with with children. The 'cards' they pull - 'our right'. You don't trust them and why would you leave your children with people you don't trust. It is the same with baby-sitters or anyone else. Because they have the title by birth that automatically makes them safe? The recycled, of course a mother loves their children becomes of course grandparents love their grandchildren. Ugh.

      I can see how that is a daily struggle - with the 'community' putting in their opinions. I think the fact you worry about not working out the situation through you kids already shows you are working through it courageously and healthy for you and your family of choice.

      So true, it is easier when it comes to my mother. There is so much to consider with in-laws. Thank you for sharing your story as well, it helps me too in looking at my approach with them in different ways instead of getting stuck in it. xxTR

    4. I get what you are saying about your DH and "because it's family". It's that sense of obligation that we are trying to break free from. The "you need to put up with the abuse because they are family" crap. I get that too. My DH pulls the same thing. I've tried to tell him that I AM "family" too. And that, as his family, he needs to be looking out for me and our kids' best interests too. But that's a big hill to climb. I also get that when it comes to the kids. Both DH and my own father (in defending my MIL. I have NO clue why he was defending my MIL) say that there are different "standards" when it comes to "grandparent care" of the kids than with a babysitter. WHAT?! I don't understand their logic, but they both seem to believe that I can't have the same expectations of grandparents as I do of babysitters. The logic is lost on me. But they feel, because they are family, grandparents should have a "right" to see the kids without their mother being "overbearing" over the situation. I get that people may need time "alone" to bond, but when this is the situation, I think all bets are off. And aside from MIL being unfocused and not safety minded, I don't think she can be there to emotionally comfort my kids (as she struggles with this as it is). And to top it all off, she sucks love off of my kids. It's all easy for me to see....but others think I'm making a big deal out of nothing.

      Yes, interestingly, DH doesn't like SIL at all (and she doesn't really care for him either). They sort of ignore each other though. He can TOTALLY see how SIL is an ignoring and negligent mother. For me, SIL is a lot like MIL (BIL, being such a momma's boy, it doesn't seem to me a stretch to realize he married someone who is emotionally detached just like his mom). But DH doesn't see that. He always says that his mom is a "much better mom". Blech. He always says he doesn't understand why BIL married SIL. Well, duh! But you can't get someone to see connections until they are ready.
      Lately, DH has been able to see a lot of the nasty behaviors in BIL too. I think it's been shocking to him to finally "see" that the "All-American, goofy, funny, "nice" guy" is really a shallow, selfish ass. Just the other day he said "but I really like hanging out with BIL when it's just the two of us." Well, sure you do, DH! Narcs can't prey on people if they are assholes. I've tried to show him that, despite "having fun" together, they have no depth to their relationship beyond that. He's starting to see it. And he can see MIL's behaviors too, if we take them individually. Sort of, he can see the "trees" but not the "forest". Maybe he gets overwhelmed at trying to see the totality of her behaviors? I try to be patient, as I know how difficult coming to terms with all of this is. (One advantage of having an ACoN spouse is being able to understand this.) But man, oh, man sometimes it can be hard to be patient with him "waking up" when his slow pace enables MIL to continue to inflict pain on me and my family. I also want him (and this is maybe more important) to "wake up" because I don't want him passing along some of his dysfunctional fleas along to our kids. And until he acknowledges them (and he has a lot of them), he can't fully change how he parents. I'm not sure why it is so hard to see things in our own families but not in others, but maybe, as you remove the "emotional ties", your brain is not so clouded and you can see more clearly.
      I appreciate you sharing your story too TR. It's so comforting to have people to sort this out with. XX

    5. Hi Jessie,
      Wow, you generously shared so much of what I am feeling at this moment with DH. "But man, oh, man sometimes it can be hard to be patient with him "waking up" when his slow pace enables..."

      Man, I struggle with this. Like you say, it is helpful that he is also an ACoN, he is my biggest supporter when it comes to my FOO and he struggles on his side. He is making strides and I want to be supportive and listen at the same time I may have to 'let go' so he does some the work. I don't really know. It is a sticky situation. I'm trying to find a way to balance being supportive and having boundaries with DH and his FOO.

      It is the same with SiL. DH does not like her but hasn't made the connection that BiL has married his mother. I think he wants to hold onto a 'great mom' image even though he himself has struggled with the fact he was never himself around her. He is starting to realise that BiL isn't has 'fun' as he thought. He is beginning to see the selfishness of his brother especially after he married SiL.

      Thank you for sharing this. I feel not alone. xx

    6. It is interesting how they "see" things once the other person gets married. Unfortunately, I think my DH tends to blame SIL for BIL's changes more than he should. He can admit that BIL is a selfish jerk a lot but he's said "if he hadn't married SIL, I don't think it would be as bad...." And because his mom is more of a "do everything" kind of mom (she takes care of everything in the home - FIL is pampered and MIL likes the "martyr" attitude of "giving everything selflessly" (while complaining) ) and SIL does nothing that falls into domestic chores (cleaning, cooking, a lot of the child care), DH doesn't see the connection. But to me, because they are both emotionally shut off, the both do things for the "image creation" (SIL will do a ton of stuff for others if she thinks it makes her look good), and both use their kids as accessories, they are the same to me. Plus, I think it's unfair of DH to blame SIL completely, as that is what happened to me with his FOO. Because DH changed (for the better in my opinion) they "blamed" it on me. I think his "true nature" has come out and I think BIL is the same way (it's just that BIL's true nature is not all that great.)
      And yes, it's hard to be "supportive" and protect yourself at the same time. And while my DH is supportive of me with my family, he often has that "it's your family" ingrained mentality of an ACoN, so he doesn't always understand my need to put my foot down with them. He takes way too much off of "family" in my opinion
      I'm glad to know I'm not alone either. Having N parents is one thing. Add an N sister makes it worse. And then having an NMIL, well that's a one-two punch that has almost destroyed me at times. I had no one to "ground" me and give me a sense of "normalcy". No one for support. And often, even though NM and N sister would tell me that MIL is crazy and horrible to me, when THEY were angry with me, they'd throw it back in my face. It was hard when I got a lot of "you can't get along with ANYONE" - meaning NM, NSIS, or MIL. I had to really fight against that message and remind myself that, outside of my family, I actually got along with a lot of people. (But my life was so filled up with narcs and their "needs" that I often didn't put time into friendships like I should have.)
      Anyway, I'm rambling. You are not alone and I'm glad we can share and discuss this.

  7. 'MIL, despite her intensely controlling nature, likes to sit back and have people create plans for her.'

    This is perfect....pick an activity that the kids love and that she hates. It will piss her off but she can't say no without looking like she doesn't care about the grandkids. Heh, heh!

    1. Thanks Anon. Unfortunately, MIL is such a phony, that she'll agree to almost anything...even if she secretly doesn't like it. It looks like, on the surface, she's "easy going" and willing to do anything.

  8. I'm sure I'm about to repeat what others have probably already written. YOUR FEELINGS ARE LEGITIMATE AND YOU ARE NOT GUILTY FOR FEELING "LIKE AN AFTER THOUGHT." . I know exactly how you feel. For years, my NM who lives 3 miles from me would expect me and my DH to drop everything for her. She had no consideration of our full time jobs, schedules etc. Now, she has gotten somewhat better due to the fact we have set up some strict boundaries and started saying no. It sounds like your husband is still not quite there yet with how you are feeling. It took my DH a while too. Hang in there and keep doing what you are doing. Start setting more boundaries when they come. If anything, in time, these feelings will be come less. Do they just schedule these trips at the last minute or are they at the same time every month so you feel like you are expected to "save that weekend" every month for them? Boundary establishment is the best lesson. Read the book's an eye opener. Love your blog!

    1. Thank you for your comment anon.

      Boundaries are easier with my NM, but it is hard when DH doesn't fully understand them (we go over it a lot, but the actual practice of it is not as easy). And he doesn't always see things as much of an issue as I do.

      And no, they don't come at the same time. They come whenever BIL or SIL calls them up and wants a babysitter. We often only hear about it days in advance. Other times, I can predict when they'll come through (some of their behavior is very pattern specific) but they still don't bother to let us know ahead of time. If we have something going on, we don't feel we have to save the date, although I think DH always tries "make something work". And I think he "saves space" to see them, even though he doesn't always make that clear.