Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Don't Stand So Close......

My relationship with my NMIL has never been easy.  While I don't think she's malignant, like my mother, she has caused conflict in my marriage, tainted all important events, and generally makes me miserable.
She is a woman with a very fragile ego and demands constant stroking from her sons and her husband.  She likes to be adored, likes to be "the best", and likes to be told she's above all others.  She likes to be admired and likes to be in control.  Having four sons whom she groomed to cater to her, she has been very successful in maintaining her control over her sons and the family.  She created an environment in which everyone was to believe the same things, think the same things, like the same things, and behave the same way.  Individuality was offensive.
Along I came.  I was young and fresh off of dealing with the after effects of my parents divorce and coming to realize something was really "off" with my own NM.  I admired the closeness of my (now) husband's family.  They were big, boisterous and "complete".
However, I soon came to realize that, in order to fit in, I had to give up all my individuality and confirm.  I had to accept I no longer had boundaries and control over my own life.  I didn't recognize it as that at the time.  I was just trying to be liked and fit in.  I was very in love with my husband.
At the very beginning, NMIL told me she was afraid of losing her boys to future DILs.  DH and I had barely been dating and I'd given her no reason to believe I would "take" her sons from her.  From that point on, she seemed to be determined to control me so that she wouldn't lose her son.  She worked through him, manipulating him, gas lighting him, and convincing him to do what she wanted/when she wanted.  If I objected, I was being difficult.  She tried to control everything from where we lived, how we lived, to what we ate and how we spent our money.  She very covertly shamed, blamed, and undermined whenever someone didn't do what she wanted.  She used the family to bully people into submission (if someone didn't do what she wanted, she would send someone else in to "convince" them).  But it was all very under the radar.  My BILs still don't seem to see how much she controls them.  (When they go on vacations with her, MIL plans them with her son.  The DILs are left out.  MIL is consulted for all major decisions.  MIL takes on co-parenting duties with my niece and nephew....and in fact, sees her self as the sole guiding force of the kids.)
As you can imagine, this didn't sit with me well.  I spent a lot of time feeling bullied and controlled.  And I felt helpless.  My husband would become angry if I wanted to do something different.  We spent a lot of time working on it.  Finally, he started to wake up and see the truth (that something was off with his mother) but he still believes that it is something "fixable" and "we" (she and I) can work it out.  However, he did start setting boundaries and we went LC.  Particularly when he started to see how she was with the kids (and the influence she had on my niece and nephew and their perceptions of life) he put up boundaries.  She is not a loving or sweet grandmother, nor is she particularly safe with the children (she tends to take the easy way out on things and does not supervise well).  She does not make emotional connections with the kids.  Rather, she has a superficial and shallow transactional relationship (she actually told me once she was bribing my child to get him to pay attention to her) and she uses them for narcissistic supply (among other things).  She does not know the kids as individuals at all.  (In fact, she doesn't even ever ask questions to them to learn about them.  She just makes statements "at" them.)
When she started to see she was losing control of me (and my husband), she took another tactic.  She started in with phony flattery (especially to my husband).   She thought by showering me with compliments, I would suddenly like her.  But she still tried to be controlling, still felt entitled to us and our time, still tried to force us into her box.  I actually preferred her to be more overtly bossy, as opposed to this fake nice lady who was all over me.  Around this time, she also started to physically follow me around.
It started by eaves dropping and hanging on the fringe of groups of people I was talking to when we were in public.  She'd suddenly butt in and I'd turn, shocked to see she'd been standing there (she had plenty of other people to talk to).  She was often listening in when I'd talk to my husband.  She couldn't stand to be "left out" of anything and inserted herself into my proximity.  She definitely lacks some social awareness, but she's not stupid.  She's awkward, but behaves well enough that most people think she's a nice, normal lady.  So these odd behaviors towards me really struck me.
When we would take the kids to visit, she'd say hello and then latch on to me.  I had expected her to spend time with the kids, but nope, she would sit next to me.  And follow me around.  And distance I tried to put between us, she'd squash.  I used to be closer to my SIL and we would arrange all visits so that she and my BIL would also be there.  It gave me an alternative outlet.  NMIL told SIL that I "acted weird" towards her when SIL was around and so asked SIL to see her separately from us.  SIL agreed (which began the down fall of our shaky relationship).  MIL had me isolated again.
She would offer up trite and ridiculous compliments to me ("I like your toenail polish"  "you grew lots of vegetables in your garden"  really stupid stuff that was not really a compliment.  She never complimented anything of substance, lest I be perceived as "better" than her.)  But to my husband, she would call up saying she wanted to spend more time with us and hadn't been the best MIL.  She wanted to know what she could do.  She claimed I was "the coolest person" she knew. And she wanted to hang out with m. (blech).  She even HIM.... for her behavior (I heard none of this).  He asked her to back off and give me space and respect our boundaries.  She backed off, but only a bit.  She continued to demand to drop by, demand us to fit into their plans (instead of coordinating things WITH us), demand we give into her "want" of spending time with us.
But whenever she was around us, she'd hound me.  If I went into another room, she followed me.  If I went outside, she followed me.  She ignored the kids to try and make (lame and shallow) conversation with me (again, more like statements she would make AT me, instead of showing genuine friendliness and interest).  One time, we were sitting across from each other on opposite sofas.  She slowly slid off her's to the floor.  Then, she inched closer and closer until she was at my feet.  I felt backed into a corner.  Another time, I moved chairs no less than four times in a room.  She followed me every damn time.  It was unnerving.   At this point, I expressed to DH that I'd only like to meet them in public and that we had to coordinate were we sat so he buffered her (she lacks other physical boundaries and liked to eat off my kids plates which drove me nuts.  When my oldest was an infant, she helped himself to his baby snacks while we were out.  She also has serious emotional incest issues with my husband and his older brother.  She doesn't respect privacy and has walked in on me several times while changing.  However, she is very buttoned up with her own personal space.  She has insisted that I "cuddle" with her at a coldfootball game and was offended when I wouldn't.  During my husband's teenage years, they didn't have a TV in the living room and everyone watched TV in her bed together.  She bought all of her DIL's underwear for them to wear on their wedding night.  ICK.  I could go on and on.)
We had pushed back to LC and shortly there after she got sick.  For six (glorious) months, she was hospitalized and was very close to death (don't get me wrong, I wish her no harm.  And I was sorry she was suffering.  However, it was so peaceful while she was gone.  I finally felt free from her hoovering around us all the time and dropping in whenever. )  For almost a year, she was too sick to do much and we hardly saw her.  That was a year ago, and now we are seeing her more and more.  DH still struggles with wanting a "normal" family for his kids.  He loves his dad and wants him to be around (although he is starting to lose his hero worship for him).   He believes his mother is "trying".  I believe she is white knuckling it.
In the last few months we've been seeing them more and more.  DH sees that as coincidental.  I see it as "give them an inch" they'll take a mile.  They have suddenly decided to start attending my kids sports functions (that's a whole other story, as being a star athlete is very big NS for my ILs.  Up until now, they haven't put much attention into it, as the kids are young and not "stars" yet.  They ended up no-showing several times when they said they'd come to watch.  As "important" as we are, it's easy for them to ditch us, or expect us to change plans, for something better to them.)
I consented to one game for my kids (to feel supported) and my husband.  It wasn't bad, but it was uncomfortable.  She sat behind me tense and pouty (she complained a lot about having wet feet).  She's usually loud and boisterous, unless she's somewhere she's not in charge and she acts very cowed in those situations.  She just generally seems cranky.  My FIL, while a nice guy, also thinks it's funny to point things out and make a big deal about them.  It really bothers me, as he's always laughing at the kids playing.  I'm not sure if he thinks these things are "cute" but he makes such a loud guffaw about it that it feels a bit like making fun of them.  At this game, my young son's shoe came untied and he couldn't get out the double knot.   FIL drew tons of attention to it by laughing and pointing it out.  (I feel really uncomfortable during these situations, but feel pressured to join in the I'm being a stick in the mud by not joining in.)  DH's FOO teases relentlessly (expect MIL.  No one teases MIL, she gets pissed) and makes big deals about things and laughs loudly.  I felt the shoe tying things was ridiculous and make a big deal out of it for so long could embarrass the kids (sort of "look everyone!  Look at him!!"  It just sort of has that feeling about it.  My husband, accustomed to this sort of teasing, misses it a lot.)
I thought I'd be done for a bit with them, but no luck.  They invited themselves to my son's football game yesterday.   I get very anxious when they are coming around (I realize I often feel helpless.  I feel if I say or do anything they perceive as "different" or "not going along" my husband will get upset with me.  He often gets cranky with me after we see his family.  I'm not generally a difficult person, but he accuses me of it with his family.)  I was not thrilled about them coming and, since my husband is a coach, I would be stuck with them by myself.  I worked with a friend to arrange our chairs so that it left no spot next to me during the game.  I told DH that I did not feel like entertaining them during the game and planned to be polite by keep my distance. (I wanted to enjoy the game too, not listen to FIL and MIL cackle at all the things they found funny.)  They arrived just as the game was beginning (they can never be on time, so that works to my advantage) and I could see FIL was frustrated with the lack of room.  He also expressed annoyance that the game had started before the game time (all the kids were there, so the ref started.  Be early next time.)  I was polite and greeted them and shrugged off the "game started" comment.  And then I turned back to watch the game.  He went down to sit in another spot (with my nephew.  They were babysitting my niece and nephew.  They were supposed to come to the game last week, but rearranged it all at the last minute because they, now, were needed to babysit.  So, I spent two weeks very anxious.)
However, MIL remained parked right behind me.  Parents rarely actually sit during these games, so I was standing.  She stood right behind my chair.  The energy coming from behind me was uncomfortable as I could "feel" her intent on me.  Eventually, she hollered (she always hollers) up at me to ask where my other son is.  I'm not sure if she expected me  to have him waiting there for her or what.  I told her he was playing.  She said something stupid in return ("oh, he plays too?")  I turned back around.  Pretty soon, she's inching up between the chairs, standing to my right,but behind me.  I move down to a friend of mine and make conversation.  She moves closer again.  She's standing all by herself, without my FIL, so it's clear she's trying to get to me.  I again involve myself with the game and move further away.  I HATE this stalking she does.  I hate feeling like she's forcing herself on me.  I hate feeling my space invaded.  If I had wanted to talk to her, I would have.  If I wanted to interact, I would have.  Why couldn't she just go sit with her husband and watch the game (that she was supposedly here to see)?  I feel misplaced guilt about what I'm "supposed" to be doing (chatting them up, making MIL feel comfortable -everyone is responsible for her feelings, making sure everyone knows DH's parents are there.)  I've often felt this pressure in the past to "give" them myself and do what they want.  I hated feeling that way and felt I was putting on a show instead of being myself.   Any other game, I walk around, chat minimally with other parents, and I watch the game.  Why should this be different because they are there?  My husband doesn't sit and chat the whole damn time.  Hell, he hardly ever sits and talks with his mom at all.  Why should I have to?
Later, I go back down the sideline to give my son some water.  She is standing right behind the players (which is weird.  Most of the parents don't stand there.  They give the coaches and players some room.)  But not NMIL.  She's got my niece (who she's using as a shield, she does this a lot) and trying to get my son's attention.  "(OS)! (OS)!  Did you see who is here?  Your cousin is here?!"  He waves a bit and goes back to focusing on the game.  She tries again to get his attention and he walks away.  (He wasn't being rude, he really was so focused he wasn't even paying attention).  I think it's ridiculous that she's demanding his attention while he is supposed to be focused on the game.  It makes my stomach churn.
Luckily, my nephew got stick (not for my nephew, obviously) and they have to leave.  They do not say goodbye to me and take off.  (I was so glad we didn't have to sit and chat after the game.  They tend to "linger" and you can't get rid of them. It takes an hour to say goodbye to them.)
I couldn't help but feel that they were annoyed with me.  I know I didn't live up to what they wanted and I'm sure they saw me as "rude" and "stand offish".  And while I certainly wasn't interested in talking to them, I wasn't acting any different than I would have had they not been there.  I struggle with the feelings of guilt though.  And then I get annoyed remembering how she stalks and lurks around me.
Anyone have any suggestions on how to deal with this?  Holding my ground does nothing (and only rewards her and encourages her.)  If I grey rock, she sees me as rude.  She has none of these expectations for her own son.  I don't want to feel I'm running away from her, but I also don't want to be pinned and cornered.  And I don't want to be forced and pushed into being friendly and social with her.  If she would just be friendly, but distant, with me, I would be just fine with her.  If she could just back the fuck off of me, I'd be good.  I do not want to be friends with someone who's been cruel and mean to me.  I have no illusions that things will get better if we just "try" (she's too self absorbed to be friendly with and friendly only gives her license to control you.)  I feel a bit stuck.  Any thoughts are welcome.


  1. Hi Jessie,

    I'm in a similar situation with my MIL and my husband has been a lot like yours over the years. I totally understand that feeling of being stalked and when she touches me my skin crawls! That last line you wrote especially resonated: "she's too self absorbed to be friendly with and friendly only gives her license to control you." I don't have much advice to give - just encouragement to "keep on keepin' on" as it will get better with time. My kids are now almost 13(daughter) and 11(son)and they are a huge comfort to me. They see MIL's shenanigans on their own now and will often "create" diversions. I have never taught or asked them to do this, just been honest with them about her behaviour whenever it directly affects them. Kids are amazingly perceptive ;)

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Dyan. Fortunately, my MIL never actually touches me, so that helps. (She's actually quite cold and particular about her own personal space. I don't think she's every hugged me.)
      I hope my kids stay out of her control. She tried really hard to make my oldest son the golden child (even going so far as to say she had a "vision" that he had some holy mission from God). I have tried to keep her at a distance from him. And because she doesn't know how to connect on a personal level, that helps keep him at a distance too. But she is very good at bribing them and giving them things, which keeps them close. I will just have to keep my fingers crossed.

  2. Yes, the religious abuse and manipulation has happened to me and my kids too. I've gained some great insight from you Jessie; I'm so glad I was able to give you some encouragement too! Thank you for sharing your story, it's meant a lot to me!