Care and Feeding

My Mother-in-Law Is Trying to Take Our Relationship in a Super Inappropriate Direction

I’m experiencing some difficult emotions.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother died shortly after my now-husband and I started dating 5 years ago. He never met her, but knows many of the details of our difficult relationship that caused me to distance myself as an adult. I didn’t cut off contact entirely, but we didn’t have a mother-daughter relationship, instead we were more like polite acquaintances who make small talk.

While we were planning our wedding, his parents made a few comments about how it must be difficult to do without my mother. With my blessing, he shared some general info with his parents so they would better understand the dynamic that had existed between us and not bring it up again. Instead, his mother seemed to take that as an invitation to begin a mother-daughter relationship with me. She gave me a gift on our wedding day that is the traditional mother-daughter wedding gift in their family (she made sure I knew that, too). And she told me to call her mom, which I find really uncomfortable. I mostly just find ways to never refer to her by name while around her.

Now that I’m pregnant with our first child, she tries to have very personal conversations where we share all the gory details of our pregnancies with each other and has asked if she can be in the delivery room with us (nope, absolutely not!). Besides being a private person who doesn’t want to share all the details of my life with her, I do find it brings up some difficult emotions for me. I’ve asked my husband to talk to her about all this and emphasize that I don’t need that specific type of relationship with her. We are working on coming up with how he can best approach it. She is a very sweet woman who gets hurt easily, so any suggestions on how to shut this down gently but emphatically are appreciated. If it makes any difference, she does also have a daughter (who she has a very caring relationship with), so it’s not like I’m her only shot to experience this kind of relationship.


Dear Motherless,

I think what you’re describing is totally reasonable, and you shouldn’t feel guilted or forced into having a relationship with anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s clear that your MIL’s heart is in the right place, but she also needs a kind (but firm) lesson in boundaries.

First off, I agree your husband should talk to her about this since it’s his mom, but most likely it will require you to speak to her as well. Simply tell her that you love her, but also tell her how you want your relationship to be going forward. She may get hurt, but if she’s reasonable, she’ll realize that what you’re asking isn’t mean-spirited. You have every right to stand up for what you want in life, and this is no exception.

Last, but certainly not least, you should seek therapy if you haven’t already. I’m a big fan of mental health assistance, and it seems like it could really help you now and in the long run.


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