Releasing the past in order to find myself

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Processing an Apology

So, I came home from the grocery store and DH and I sat down for lunch.  He immediately told me that he'd gotten a text from MIL this morning, asking him to call her back when he had the time to talk.  He was instantly anxious, he said, and worried that someone was ill or dead (his grandparents aren't well, as are other family members) and called her back immediately.  She never asks him to call her like that.  She rarely talks to him on the phone.  She usually goes through FIL. 

But no one had died, she had called to offer an apology.  She told DH that she feared that she'd been a bad MIL.  That she had noticed the growing tension.  That she felt she'd done some things wrong.

WTF, you say?  An apology?  From the woman who has never (if rarely) ever claimed responsibility for the way things are?  Who's never even acknowledged "the way things are" (we are one big happy family, don't cha know?)

Don't worry, I was instantly skeptical.  But let me back up a bit.

Around a month back, we had DS's birthday (for those of you that don't know, every birthday of my kids has been run over by the Ns).  As usual, NM and her husband came.  And MIL and FIL come.  And as an added bonus they all went to DS's soccer game.  I was ready, and as prepared as I could be for the weekend.  I handled NM well enough (can you ever say well?)  We hadn't seen the ILs much over the summer.  During YS's birthday in June, MIL had showed up 45 minutes into the party and clearly had given YS's birthday very little thought. 

So, MIL comes into the soccer game nervous, fidgety and weird.  I had decided to just "hang back".  Not be rude, but not extend myself in any way.  No "hello" first.  No phony smiles.  Just a wave.  MIL pulled her chair up so close to DH that she was practically sitting on top of him (she nudged FIL out of the way to get to him).  The whole hour and a half, she peppered DH with, what I can only call an "interrogation".  She dominated his attention, the entire time, in the guise of "trying to make conversation" (or so DH called it, just claiming she was nervous).  It went something like this "What kind of party is DS having?  Is he having cupcakes or cake?  What kind of cake?  Does he have a man teacher or a woman teacher?  Does he take his lunch or eat at school?"  (Seriously, these are direct quotes.  And it went on for an hour.)  There was a particularly tense moment when I stated an opposing point of view (MIL just bristled and didn't say anything).    It was so weird.  You'd think we'd had a huge falling out, with the way MIL was so tense and agitated.  But the thing was, I wasn't rude.  I hadn't been rude (or even much different that I'd always been).  I was quiet, distant, and a bit to myself.  I just hadn't extended myself at all.  When we got home, DH stated that we'd "both" been difficult.  I asked him how?  What had I done that was so "difficult"?  I pointed out that this tense, icky environment had always been like this for me.  He'd just had the comfort of hiding in the conversation with his father, leaving me alone with his mother, and me putting on the fake smile and phony talk to get through it all. 

The next day, MIL, FIL, SIL, and BIL all walked into the party without acknowledging me.  That didn't make a "point" of doing it, but how they could walk two feet from me and not see me was crazy.  FIL and BIL never spoke to me the entire party.  I doubt it was totally intentional, but just shows how little class they have if it was clearly a mistake.  How do you come to your nephew's party, but not ever greet his mother, the hostess?  MIL approached me (cornered me, while alone) to offer some patter about the cupcakes (she kept complimenting the taste -which came from a box - but missed the artistic, and complicated presentation of the cupcakes.  I know that sounds silly, but the artistic component was really unique and to not say anything just seemed....odd.)  She also offered (as usual) to help me once everything else was done.  They left their dog tied up to a tree in the parking lot.  The anxiety ridden barking dog.  And when I suggested to MIL that it was barking at people trying to entire the facility she seemed annoyed.  The whole thing was odd.  MIL never once went to play with my kids.  She stood in the area between the two play areas (as is usual).

Oh, and FIL made some comment about it being "all about Jessie" to my mother (who, somewhat gleefully related to me) when I had objected to my son participating in a sport.  It was a bit of a sucker punch to me. 

So, that was a few weeks ago.  FIL and MIL have not called once to see about coming to any other soccer games.  I haven't ventured enough along thinking about why.  They've been in our town for many of the weekends.


Saturday Morning:  MIL calls and says they are coming into town (the attend sporting games in the fall in our town about every other weekend from September through December).  She leaves a message that she wants to "get together".   My guess is that she wanted to stop by our house and "hang out".  This is their m.o. and it drives me crazy.   They just want to pop by, when it's convenient to them and around their schedule.  They never considered nap times, or that it's almost dinner time (and that I would either have to just eat around them, or scramble to find food to feed them.  And the kids HAD to eat.)  We've tried in the past to schedule at different times (like before the games, so they had to LEAVE, but they often wiggled out of that.  Once, they'd been "up drinking" too late and didn't come, so said they'd "just stop by after the game instead."  Um NO. )  They also just want to stop by (often on Sunday evenings) when they are driving through our town.  And then they just want to "hang out" and be a part of the family, as if we don't have chores, baths, dinners, or school to get ready for.

This time, our house was a mess and we had plans to be out for the day.  I'm sure MIL assumed DH was staying home to watch the game, but we had gone out to a family outing instead.   DH texted his mother that we could meet for dinner at 5 (dinner works much better for me, I told DH.  I feel less trapped - both physically and emotionally.  MIL often physically corners me.  They also don't know when they've over stayed their welcome, so dinner -with and "end point" helps....although they still drag it out.)  We hear nothing from MIL until after the game.  She sends a text at 3:30 "Just got back to the car.  That is a little late for us."  Then, in another text "Can't we just drop off the apple sauce and then leave."  She always has "something" to drop off.  She's well aware that, unless she has something, which she guilts us into having to accept (we don't want the applesauce, fruit, or whatever else she has.  And she only brings one or two things at a time.)  DH was annoyed.  He's beginning to see how it has to be all about them.  I thought the whole thing was over complicated.  Why not just call your son and ask what his plans are for the day and when, if any, would be a good time to meet up?  And then try to be accommodating or say that you'll have to catch them next time?  DH didn't respond.  It wouldn't have mattered, we couldn't have met up anyway, as we were still at the family event.  Later, FIL called and left a message that they had to get back to their town  for something (DH didn't really know what and later I saw MIL on FB).  And they wanted to get together the next time (two weeks) they game for a game.


So, DH calls MIL back and she tells him she's done some thinking and fears she's been a bad MIL to me.  DH agrees (whoo hoo!).  She states that she's been offensive, she thinks.  Yes, very offensive, DH agrees.  She says that she's tired of saying things and then thinking later that she shouldn't have said them (hmm, think before you fucking talk!)  DH points out that she has really offended me by getting another dog (I'm very allergic) by adopting BIL's dog (whom they didn't want to care for anymore.  That's how MIL got her first dog.  She also used to invited FOUR other dogs -BIL's dogs- to holiday gatherings and then refuse to understand why it was difficult for me to attend family holidays.   She wouldn't even put the dogs outside.  She also used to tell people that she didn't understand why I didn't visit more.  BUT, she wouldn't get a cat because BIL and SIL are allergic - and not deathly allergic like me.  They could take an antihistamine and be fine.  )  She says she knows, and that the next dog will be hypoallergenic (I've heard this before from her, when her last dog was about to die.  She was unwilling to hear me as I tried to explain not all hypoallergenic dogs are.)  DH pointed out that is not the point.  The point was also not that she HAD a dog, but that she made it much worse with the dog and by inviting all of the others. 

He pointed out that things REALLY would take effort to change.  That boundaries would be put up.  That things would never be like they are with BIL and SIL, whose house they just come and go at.  That it would take work.  Lots of work on her part.  Willingness to change and hear criticism.  That she needed to quite being so superficial with me and really take the time to get to know me.  That he   needed to quit communicating compliments THROUGH HIM.  That she needed to quite communicating with me at all through him.  She said "well Jessie is one of the coolest people I know".  But she also told DH "I'm still going to compliment her hair or nails (the superficial compliments DH told her to stop.) because I DO like them."  To me, it sounds like she didn't hear a word he said.  She completely missed the point. 

She did say that she knows that she was wrong to "pressure" me into things so much.  This is her sanitized word for BULLYING.  MANIPULATING.  CONTROLLING.  STRONG ARMING.  I made sure to point that out to DH.  She ADMITTED pressuring me.  This woman is the most controlling person I know, but hides it extremely well (for the most part).  And she's AWARE of it.  This is a big thing, I think.

Oh, MIL had told DH that "all I want is to spend more time with you guys."  So, all SHE WANTS is to spend more time.  Not to heal things, not to change things, not to grow closer.  Her end game is to spend more time with us.  She wants to "hang out" with ME because I'm "cool"?  Not kind, considerate, thoughtful, fun to be around?  Sounds an awful lot like NS to me.  She wants to be associated with me.  (I often have felt this when their was a sudden switch in our relationship.  She suddenly went from putting me down to suddenly wanting to emulate me.  I read the other day that Ns like to "fast track" knowledge.  So, they find someone they admire and then try to model themselves after them.  But the whole premise is faulty, because they've done nothing to actually BE more like that person, but rather just "tried on" the other person.  I feel this is what MIL is now trying to do to me.)  I also note that she didn't say she wanted to be a bigger part of her grandkids lives, get to know them better, or be a more supportive grandmother.  Not that I expected any or all of these things specifically, but the fact that NONE of them were in the conversation and it was only about WANTING to spend more time, I am suspicious.  I also notice that never, in the whole conversation did she ask DH what WE wanted, needed, felt, hoped for.    I suspect, that because she views DH and I as the "good family" she's wanting to attach herself to us for the NS.  My sons are smart, handsome, and well liked.   We, as a family, are well liked and do well for ourselves (not to brag.)  SIL and BIL are not as satisfactory in meeting her needs, although they are JUST like her.  I don't see anywhere where this is any more than an attempt to insert herself in our lives. 

I suspect that when we didn't jump to meet her, she panicked.  It really was a very small boundary, and I think her intense reaction to it speaks volumes.  I think she's afraid we are moving away from her and is desperate to get us back in the "fold".  She's hoovering.  Do I think she genuinely feels bad and remorseful?  Quite possible.  I think, in the presence of consequences, she's really wanting to "fix" things.  But she really has no clue how to do it.  Because she's an N and she can't think about how to fix the relationship, only how to offer bandaids and platitudes.  I KNOW that she hasn't had a sudden bought of insight, like she claims.  Many of the things she pointed to herself, she has said before to me.  She knows the dogs are an issue (they have been for 16 years).  She clearly knows she's been offensive in the past.  She is offering lots of defenses and excuses for her behavior.  When DH offered her up specific things to do, she countered them and said she was still going to do them.

DH realized during the phone call that he was starting to ramble and told her that he really needed to think about it all and call her back.  He said he is not sure if things will change, and is rational enough to realize we will have to watch her behavior change.  He is shocked, as he said, "my mother has never done anything like this before (accept responsibility and apologize) and she doesn't have the balls to."  So, he is surprised by the gesture.  But, thankfully, he's not falling for it immediately.

We talked about it more afterwards.  I told him that I hoped he'd quit providing her with a "check list" of the things she needed to change, and start asking HER what she planned to change, what SHE saw as the issues.  I told him I hoped he'd stop saying that she was offensive to ME, but offensive to US.  He asked that, in the future, I would say to her when she was upsetting me.  At first I agreed, but then said I'd only do that when I felt comfortable.  I am unwilling to put myself out their as a "practice dummy" for her to work on her N rage on.   I told him to give her some very concrete examples of where she has crossed the line (like favoring one of our children over the other and claiming that God has told her my older son is "more special") but that to be careful and selective about what he shares.  Or to share slowly. 

The whole thing had me shaking.  I'm heading to my NM's house this weekend, and I didn't need more stress.  I didn't feel immediately emotional about the apology, but I definitely am concerned about what this means in the future.  I am very glad that the elephant in the room has finally been spoken about and I know longer have to "put on a happy face" around this woman.  I know she KNOWS now.  (I always knew she knew what the fuck she was doing to me, but she would act like everything was fine all of the time.  If I ever tried to bring anything up, she raged until I shut up.)  She can't deny she knows.   I don't buy the "I'm a mad MIL" thing either.  She has always claimed to "not want to be THAT MIL" so how she is with her DILs is always on her mind.  She just has chosen to be THAT MIL.  I've heard this before too when it started to dawn on her that she hadn't prepared her sons well enough.  Then, I got lots of "I haven't been a good mom."   But she never changed anything. 

At any rate, I feel thankful that DH is finally defending and protecting me.  I think MIL would've gone on doing what she was doing forever until we finally decided to not do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted.  (Seriously, all of this because we asked to meet for dinner and then wouldn't meet any other way?)  I'm glad he sees that it will take tons of work and will be a long process (he told MIL not to expect an instant relationship.)  I'm thankful he isn't just accepting what she says and going back to playing pretend. 

I don't see her changing.  At all.  But if she does, at least that will be a good thing.  And at worse, I know longer have to play the "crazy one" who is seeing things that aren't there.  MIL has admitted she knows she's done wrong and she can't take that back.  But I don't see her trying, at all, to be any different in the future.  Hopefully, this will help keep her at arm's length away from me. 


  1. Hello my dear friend,

    A couple things popped out at me right away. (Here they are at random):

    1. "I told him that I hoped he'd quit providing her with a "check list" of the things she needed to change, and start asking HER what she planned to change, what SHE saw as the issues." This is SO huge, I really wish DH had realized it on his own while he was talking with his NM. (Even though it wouldn't really have made a difference in her behaviors, it would have gone far in terms of SHOWING her that he is really on your side, and that there has been a huge shift in the way he processes his NM's behaviors). I hope he gets another opportunity (or makes another opportunity) to do this. I see it as a really pro-active step on DH's part if he can do it. Moreover, I'd be really interested to see if your NMIL could come up with anything tangible, specific, detailed, and genuine, if DH asked her an open-ended question on what SHE thinks she needs to change.

    2. It's both good and bad that she's trying new tactics - good because it means she's recognized that you are changing and making bold attempts to accept less of her bullshit, bad because it will mean you have to deal with issues you haven't yet had to deal with, which can be scary and overwhelming. I'd guess your NMIL isn't done yet, the harder you attempt to maintain those boundaries, the harder she'll push back. And she'll do as much damage as she can through your DH, because he's sort of the weakest link. (I know he's trying and has come a long way, but I still think he needs to do more in terms of protecting you and the kids, and himself as well).

    3. He pointed out that "she needed to quite communicating with me at all through him." But a good portion of his conversation with her had to do with exactly this! She called to say (however insincerely) that she 'feels' she's been a bad 'MIL." And she talked to him about it. But she's not DH's MIL. She's yours. SO, shouldn't this conversation have been yours to have with her, if you had so chosen? And if you had said, "No thanks, not having this conversation with you, Lady," then that should have been it. DH had the right idea and he said the right thing - he's totally right, MIL should be communicating with you in all things pertaining to you, and this conversation (at least as I see it) might have been a great starting point - even if you weren't willing, able, or interested in having it, or chose to communicate with her about the issues on your own terms.

    4. As you pointed out, the moments when DH brought up areas where he wanted her to change her behaviors (like, how damn simple would it be to just stop with those stupid comments about your hair or your nails??) and she would say, "No, I'm still going to do that." That's just blatant, in your face disregard for something SIMPLE that your DH was asking of her. If she won't do that, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for her to do the harder shit.

    5. Her apology appears to be nothing more than a ploy. It's bait, plain and simple. It's merely a tactic, one that she hasn't tried before, in the hopes that she'll get either you or DH (or both) to slip up in the boundaries you have already set up. She's hoping to worm her way back in somewhere, cause a hairline fracture in your walls. That's it. In no way can I see this woman changing even in the slightest.

    1. Hey, thanks for your thoughts.
      1. I felt she sort of was extracting what my issues were from DH, because I'm guessing that really doesn't know. In the past, when things were going along just fine (for her), I don't think she troubled herself with what was going on with me at all. She HAD to know, but it wasn't until there were consequences for her that she bothered to investigate. Poor DH, I think he finally felt an opportunity to "clear the air" a bit (we've all been there with our Ns) and started sharing our issues. I was so thankful that he was able to regroup and pull himself from her influence and stopped telling her any more without thinking about it. My NM has done this too me so many times, and I know it doesn't end well to share too much too quickly.
      And I should say, DH has changed tremendously in the past few months. He's finally really getting it and stepping up to my side and not colluding with his FOO. I know it's going to take some practice on his part, and he's been really open to suggestions I've had of concrete ways to SHOW his FOO where his priorities are. And more importantly, his confidence and self assuredness in what he is doing has grown. He knows now he's doing what is best for his family and that has made it so much easier for him. He will definitely, I have no doubt, take the opportunities to step up for our family again. He told me he will definitely approach her again and was very willing to hear what I felt was important to say (or not say).
      2. Yes, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the situation. I really didn't expect (at this point) for her to call the situation out, so to speak. She loves to play pretend too much. And I stress about being forced to "reconcile" or "make an effort" or share too much of my feelings with her. I mean, where the hell would I even start explaining to this lady what is wrong? (especially knowing that she will not get it at all. I am glad to be moving past the pretend game, but it is definitely uncharted territory. I think, having the therapist to build up my confidence (and what I shouldn't have to tolerate) will help. Having someone to say "nope, she really DID step over the line" is so validating.
      3. Along with #2, it's a good reminder that I can deal with her when and how I want to. Just because she's ready to "share" and "make it better" doesn't mean I'm ready too. And DH did tell her that. BTW, I'm guessing she had hoped DH would say "no, you're a good MIL!!" I wonder what the hell went through her head when he agreed with her. She's often used her children to bolster up her images of herself as a mom and MIL, so I bet this threw her for a fucking LOOP.

    2. 4. So much of the conversation took me a bit to process (there was so MUCH of it). But when I looked back on the fingernail compliments, and how EASY it would be to do that, and how she replied "Well, sometimes I will HAVE to, because I DO like them!" really spoke to how much of it was all about her. And how she really has NO clue what the point of any of it is. And nope, I have NO faith that she will do the harder shit. And maybe that's a good place to start. Let's see how she handles the simple stuff and then move on.
      5. I didn't see her apology as more than a ploy either. I tried to tread very careful and not come off as bitter and scoff at it all. I stand nothing to lose by holding my ground and maintaining my boundaries. Time will tell what her end game is and I can be patient now that I feel more safe. Contact will not be increasing with her any time soon (and DH agrees) and it will be a slow process (DH flat told his mother that. He also told her to never expect we would hang out all of the time or have the same relationship as she has with BIL and SIL. I felt that was a very good "boundary".) I think she's just being tricky but we'll see. Not that I want to "win" in this situation, but I finally feel I have some sort of advantage in the situation. Or at least, I don't feel so caged and trapped by it all.

    3. I was just thinking more about what you said about her rejecting the "please don't compliment my wife on superficial things" boundary. And it just keeps sort of dawning on me in different ways, that this a really SIMPLE request to grant someone. I know it may seem silly (to her) or ridiculous (to her; I mean WHO wouldn't want a compliment?) but it COSTS HER NOTHING to give this to me. And she can't do that. She can't suppress her urges so that she can do something simple to make me more comfortable. It's so hard, sometimes, to wrap my head around that and not think that I AM the bad guy for not being "willing" to accept her "compliment."

  2. 6. She can't genuinely feel bad and remorseful about anything if she's still offering up excuses and defenses for the way she's behaved.

    7. It's a great sign that DH was self-aware enough to get off the phone when he realized he was rambling (i.e. losing sight of how to deal with her manipulating and letting her win). He took back some of the control of the situation by doing that. (That deserves a pat on the back - took my DH AGES to be able to do that with his NM).

    8. I just noticed your tag "fauxpology." Ha. I love it. I've got to start using that one.

    1. I didn't see anything to suggest she's remorseful at all. I don't even think she actually apologized. She suggested "things she may have done", or more specifically "things that Jessie was offended by", but she offered very few specifics or an actual apology (and I think she does owe DH an apology too. Not accepting his wife, making his marriage complicated, not trusting his judgment in a wife are very big offenses to me and ones I would not want to make with my kids.)
      And yes, DH, like I said above, has really made some huge strides lately. Things have shifted dramatically. It's not perfect, or easy, and still is work, but there is (finally) progress!
      And the fauxpology, I saw that somewhere on a blog, so it's not mine. But it is a great term!
      Thanks for stopping by and offering your thoughts.

  3. MIL is IMO the most dangerous type of Covert MN: A Skin-suit MN. You're absolutely right-she wants to BE you and that's just plain creepy, bunny-boiling territory. She's in competition with you in every way, Jessie. (And I do mean every-yeah, yuk.)
    When the chasm between the words and the behaviors is so obvious you have to believe the behavior: That's who she is-fighting you every.step.of.the.way. Looking for ammo-"What/How have I offended Jessie?" is another way of probing for your vulnerabilities so she can do it harder/more frequently. And as you notice, she's using DH to deliver the news "momma ain't happy" which is her covert declaration of war. Don't buy "showing the soft under-belly" tactic. Expect hostilities to increase along with more outrageous denials of her perfidy and obnoxious behavior. "She knows she done wrong and she can't take it back" is so non-specific it's meaningless. (What a classic non-apolgy.) I think she's hoping DH will fill in the blanks for her so she can target her behavior for maximum effect.
    Hey, BOTH you and DH have come a long way, Jessie! Please, don't underestimate yourself-that's what ya have NM and NMIL for ;)

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, TW.
      What a good term: skin-suit MN. I once watched a show about a serial killer, in which his therapist said (I paraphrase) "I don't know you. I've had to peek through the cracks of that person suit you wear to catch glimpses." And that is just down right creepy.
      When you figure out that their is little "underneath" the person but some conglomerate of coveted mannerisms bandaged together, it is unnerving.
      I didn't buy her crap at all....I just hope DH can hold onto his conviction. I feel this is a huge turning point in dealing with her, but it can easily spin out of control. I know she is going to turn up the fire on the frying pan, and it makes me anxious.