Time for DIL's to speak out

lost1of3December 5, 2008

Ok - so I get it, my DIL does not want me in her life. We have had very limited interaction so I am not sure why she does not like me. Part of me believes she doesn't want me in their life to feel more in control of my son. The other part wants to believe that I have done somehting to deserve this so that I can try and make amends. With that in mind, what would be the best way to start this process? What does my DIL really want from me? What would make her feel less threatened by me? Ect. I know the only way to work towards a relationship with my son is through her because they are a family now and this is has to be between them or it will never work.

What kinds of things would/do work for you in building a relationship with your MIL?

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Hi lost,
I'm speaking from the position of having an ex-MIL.

First, why do you think she doesn't like you/want you in her life?

I always wanted my mil in my life, made an effort to be kind and welcoming when she was in my house. She was completely different from me, and I think both she and her daughter were threatened by me. They had this little mother/daughter bond that was really annoying and exclusive. It made it hard for me to feel like a part of the family. Plus she was a liar. I tended to hang more with my FIL because he was more mellow and we could just talk or not.

It's so awkward to be the DIL. There is so much pressure. Have you invited her to do something that you think she would enjoy? Just the two of you?

How about sharing funny stories about your son? I always liked to hear stories. But usually my MIL would tell mean stories, and I'd get defensive. Or, bringing up ex-girlfriends. That's a big yuck topic.

I think you're smart to cultivate the relationship. I wish I had better advice for you.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 2:19PM
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We only met a handful of times before the estrangement. All but the last meeting seemed fine. I invited her and her mother to my wedding, our home for dinner, & out to eat. Both she and my son lived out of town (in separate cities) during this time and so when they came to town I tried to include her mother (widow) so that she wouldn't have to give up time with her mom to be with me. I was never invited anywhere but to the park after going out to eat once. Once my son and her moved in together I only saw her once and she seemed stand off-ish but it wasn't something I really noticed until I realized later she was upset. I hadn't wanted my son to quit school (talked about that in an earlier post) but never didn't want him to be with her or blamed her when he did it. She may have thought otherwise but she never said a word. Basically that is all I know. That is not to say there isn't more I just don't know and I don't think unless I know what really happened that she will believe my intentions are from the heart.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 2:36PM
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I wonder if your DIL has heard things about you from your son that make her standoffish? Is there anything you can think of that he may have talked to her about you that may have altered her feelings about you?
Sometimes we blame the "in-law" when they are only reacting to what's been told to them by their spouse.

Like,if my husband knows I'm mad at my mother or she hurt my feelings,it makes him not want to talk to her.Likewise if he tells me something about his mom.

I think the best thing to do is to call her out on it.Tell her maybe you are over reacting,but you sense that she is a bit standoffish,and that if you've done something wrong you'd like to know so you can make ammends.
It will most likely catch her off guard that you are taking this approach.Also,I'm certain she wouldnt want your son to be mad at her for being rude to you in anyway,so she'll probably come clean.
If not,she'll tell you it's not about her but between you and your son.
It's worth a try though.Have you tried asking your son what the deal is?

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:58PM
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I have not talked to either of them in almost 2 years. Every attempt I made at apologizing and trying to understand was met with either silence or denial.

You could be right about her reacting to things my son may have said about me. I didn't realize that my son and I had any unresolved issues before she came into his life but that does not mean they were not there.

I probably should give up but if there is anything I could do I don't want to live with the regret that I should have or could have done something and didn't.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 4:09PM
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If you really have ZERO idea as to why she doesn't like you, I would straight up tell her that it's very important to you to have a relationship with her, and you think that you may have done something to impede that. I'd say, I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me what those things are?

If she tells you things, think hard about them before you respond. Even if you feel it's a bunch of BS, or she misinterpreted something you said. Even then you can still say, "I'm sorry that when I said xyz it hurt you. I didn't mean for it to have that intention, but it hurt you all the same, and I apologize for that. I'll be more careful with my words in the future".

That's a good way to apologize. Not, "if I did something, than I'm sorry". That's a non-apology. Avoid non-apologies.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 4:17PM
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I think I would write a letter or an e-mail and say something like "I miss you and my son very much and I am so sorry that we are not seeing each other or talking to each other very often. I want both of you in my life very, very, much and I am proud that my son has found someone like you to love. Please let me into your life and your heart, I would like to love you also. If something I said or did upset you, I truly don't realize what it is and I would like the opportunity to say I am sorry if I hurt you or made you angry in any way. I promise that if this is the case, it was not done intentionally. I have been happy with my son's choice of a wife from the beginning and I truly want us to be a family that enjoys being together.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 6:36PM
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I wonder if she is also reacting to something your son could have said to her. I think my husband made the situation worse with my MIL, because of his poor communication and also he was so afraid of her rage. His sister also reacted with hostility and jealousy towards me and she poured oil on fire with her manipulative behavior by going behind the scenes poisoning the relationship with gossip and side taking. She did that with everyone. I never stood a prayer. I think sometimes that mil's are quick to blame the dil's instead of their own family members--maybe because knowing your own family members may be at fault is harder to cope with. (I'm not saying this is true in your case.) I would not assume she does not like you or want you in her life. I wanted my mil in my life, but she didn't want me. She also never took responsibility or even allow the possibility for talking about what happened. (I see that you are different and wanting communication and trying and that is positive.) I think it all my husband's issue with his mother. I also think his sister didn't want me as competition. She killed any prayer of a relationship with anyone. She made a comment to my husband about enabling her mother (right before she died) that she couldn't please her no matter what she did, so there was no sense in trying. I believe she didn't have the type of relationship that she wanted to have with her mother and didn't want me to have one at all, or with anyone in the entire family. I don't know whether I could have had a relationship with my mil or not, given her behavior, but one thing is certain I believe my sil made sure of it and my husband with his spineless, stick-his-head-in-the-sand, non communicative approach was not helpful either.

I agree with iloveexercise and angela. Also I would agree to avoid non apologies, especially if you have no idea what the problem is.

Lost1of3 I'm sorry for the pain that this is creating for you...I would have loved to have had a good relationship with my MIL.

Here's a good article on apologies (it is written for corporate, but I think it applies in general to personal apologies as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Art of the Apology

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 1:13AM
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I also imagine that she is responding to things your son has told her, your son may have shared some things in spite of that he had moved past them and forgiven them but her reaction may have stirred it up for him all over again if that makes sense.
If you have tried to apologize or address whatever it is that has come between you and they don't want to address it, maybe you could try a different approach. I took a different approach with my former sister in laws (their brother, my husband was deceased) and it was more effective than any other attempt. I sent a long letter to them saying that I was sorry for all that had happened between us and for my part in it (even though they did some horrible things to me after my husband died) and I said that I forgave their part in it as well and that I did not want to rehash who did what to who anymore as that would be unproductive and hurtful to everyone involved but that I would like to start fresh if possible and maybe build a bridge among those of us who loved their brother. Two sisters accepted, one of those two was able to truly start fresh, the other wanted to wallow in the past issues so we dont keep in touch. It was more productive than I expected anyways, just a thought..

    Bookmark   December 7, 2008 at 8:37PM
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It may not be you 1of3. In the case of my MIL, if my husband and I were perfect people with no other stressors, we would probably still have a relationship with her.

The reality that we have more other life issues and stressors that occupy our time and use up our coping mechanisms means that there is not enough energy left to address the relationship with her to the degree it would take. (Serious therapy might help but she doesn't agree that there is a problem.)

You don't sound like you are out to be manipulative, guilt tripping or even negative yet your son may still not have the resources to have a relationship with you and deal with the other things in his life at the same time. Has he said there is no issue with you? You seemed to suggest that in you first post in this thread. Then believe him. The rest of his life may be needing a great deal of care right now. You said its been two years? What makes you think hes mad at you if he says he isn't?

I think my mother in law would love a relationship with us but whatever the dynamic there between us all is...it is just very difficult. We tried to work it out but talking about the relationship...even suggesting there was anything that need to be looked at made her so rageful... If my husband and I could handle her angry responses we'd still have a relationship but frankly, it is too much for us. Our marriage and kids are our priority. If she ever seems to have taken ownership of her issues, great, but while she hasn't there just isn't a safe way to be involved with her.

I cannot speak for your son or DIL but what I would like from my mother in law is for her to be very happy and involved in her own life. I'd like to hear from her about both the positive and negative in her life.

Without her dropping all of her problems on us as though we can save her or fix things for her. I'd like her to be honest about difficult things and positive things. She tends to tell us whatever will manipulate us into doing as she wants and then we find out that what she said was not fully true. It makes trusting her again seem a far off thing. I deeply need to be able to talk out the problems very openly. I do not have that with her.

My husband hated that she tried to 'appease' us. I thought it felt very fake and was super uncomfortable with it. Perhaps she was ruled by the fear that she would 'lose' us if she got more honest about how much resentment she had towards us when we didn't meet her expectations? Anything is forgivable but there is no trust where she would be rageful and resentful and then deny that she behaved that way. She would say snide things in front of me and then pretend she didn't. If she got over her resentment in private or with her friends she never told me honestly what the problem was so when she would be all happy and nice again I was still afraid of that other side of her coming out at me again. She gave us the silent treatment on several occasions and I fretted for weeks about how I could 'fix' what ever the issues was when she wouldn't talk to us about it but made it clear to everyone else that she had a problem with us. She got over it I guess. She seemed to get okay again after a while. But because there was not honest talk about it I remain guarded. When we moved I was relieved. When she moved 'to be near us' I was physically ill. I insisted we sit down and talk honestly about the relationship and what her expectations were. She was enraged at the mere thought of talking with us. We tried to sit down with her anyway. She denied everything. And said that we were wrong about everything including what our experience of her was. It was stressful to be treated with resentment and manipulated. It had an effect on us. Being told it didn't was...hurtful and a breaking point that she wouldn't talk it out.

Her problems are her own. I'd like her to have a great life without us in it just like I thought she had before my husband and I had a child and she became determined that our children would fill the void in her life. We don't have the closeness or trust to just throw our doors open to her. We do have boundaries for everyone in our lives and she doesn't want them to apply to her apparently.

I'd like her to be well and enjoy herself, to use her many talents and gifts to do the great things I know she can do but may be putting off because she can't get us and her other family members lined up just right. I want her to be happy. I don't want her to only be happy if she feels she has what we 'owe' her. (For giving 'the best years of her life raising her kids'.)

I do not want her to put her life on hold for us. We don't want her to 'give up' anything for us. Her gifts come with a heaping helping of resentment and snotty teenager-like attitude or they come with so much pressure that all be perfect and we prove our love to her by being very emotional in return, it doesn't feel like a safe relationship...I can't deal with the pressure honestly. I will not go into the effect communicating with her has on my husband, it isn't pretty when she is mad though.

When she is 'herself' she is lovely and pleasant. We can laugh and talk and all is well. When we get a taste of the other kind of treatment and then she denys that other kind of treatment ever existed? We don't have the resources to let that kind of behavior into our lives unless she will become responsible for it. I don't expect her to be perfect, none of us are, I do expect her to be honest and responsible for her actions 98% of the time.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 8:01PM
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I just want to thank all of you for the valuable information that you have given me. I realize that most of the trouble seems to come from miscommunication. Just becasue someone doesn't "INTEND" to hurt another does not make it so. So to apologize effectively I will need to understand better what I did in order to not give a non-apology. I am working on that, by asking questions, reading, and doing a lot of self examination. I don't want to even try to talk to them again until I am sure I can listen without getting defensive. I am such a dang people pleaser that to think they thought I meant to hurt them has been hard to take. I love my son and want him to be happy and that includes his marriage and his family. I have asked them to agree to talk to a counselor about the issues they have with me so that when I went I could understand better what I have done in order to make changes not just empty promises. So far they have not responded. My son told me 2 years ago to not contact him and I have done my best to honor that request. But it does not mean that I don't think about him and wish things were different.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 10:33AM
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If, like some of the other posters I could offer some comfort or insight to you, then I am happy to know you appreciate that. The last thing I would want to do is to offer you any cliches (I've had enough of listening to those empty words myself). However, I do want to be encouraging. I also want to say that I believe that self-introspection takes a lot of courage and it is an act of faith in oneself. I admire the steps you are taking and it demonstrates to me the depths of your sincerity. I hope that one day your son will eventually come to realize this about his mother. He probably already knows this, but maybe he is in a situation with other issues and outside stressors are occupying his time. I can empathize very much with the type of MIL organic brice speaks of above (which you are NOT).

The steps you are taking demonstrate to me that you are not at all like my MIL, and if you had been then I'm certain I would have wanted a relationship with you. You sound like a lovely person to me and I think are made of good, strong stuff. For what it is worth I recognize how much you love your son. You are demonstrating the depths of that with your actions and taking healthy steps for yourself.

Also for what it is worth, I am a recovered people-pleaser too (with occasional lapses). I would like to offer you some encouragement that when you are reading, try not to beat up on yourself (that is sometimes difficult for PP's not to do).

I've done a lot of research and reading and I wrote down some books on another thread. They've helped me tremendously, but like you I still feel emotional pain at times and I do wish things were different. Even though our situations are different, I can empathize more than you probably know.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 11:40AM
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Awe Flowergardenmuse you about made me cry. I don't know why but when I "feel" understood it is like a moment of relief rushes over me and for that moment don't feel so alone in my grief. Thanks for the encouragement and I wish you were my DIL.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 12:28PM
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I know exactly what you mean about feeling understood and the relief. Grief can make one feel very alone and loss can feel overwhelming....I understand and know that feeling too...If my words can bring you some comfort than I am glad for that. You are not alone.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 12:49AM
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lost1of3- You seem to be making an assumption that could be the heart of the problem.

You seem to assume that your son and his wife have a healthy ability to respond to you with love if you just get the words right. They may not have that ability, that much energy or the needed maturity.

You say you are doing a great deal of introspection and self examination and that is great. It can be a healthy and uplifting thing to work hard at seeing yourself. I hope you are doing it more for your health and well being than to get a specific response from them.

I am concerned that you are focusing on doing this in order to 'fix' something that is not yours to control. Their hearts. You can't control their response to you.

All the work in the world can't get you inside them to straighten them out. Only God can do that and only if they are willing. Your trying too hard with no results only hurts more, right? Working towards being happy with yourself no matter how they are is a worthy goal in my opinion. You deserve happiness with or without them in relationship with you.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 10:54PM
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Organic_brice - I appreciate what you are saying and agree that if the only reason I am doing any of this is to "get a specific response from them" then I am not doing this for the right reasons.

I have spent over a year blaming myself in general, almost as long blaming them, now I am at a point that I am willing to believe we are all to blame. I can't control what they think or feel. You are right they may not have the desire or the ability to change this and that is what has taken me two years to come to terms with.

I on the other hand love my son, I do not want to die or have him die with regret on my hands. Therefore I feel self-examination is vital. If I have done anything that has caused my son pain, I want to understand that, take responsibility for that, and apologize. What he does with that knowledge will be on him. But just on the slimmest of chances that one day he was to wonder why I gave up or if I cared, I don't want there to be any doubt.

If I have been disrespectful or hurtful to my DIL I feel the same obligation because of no other reason then she is my son's wife and the mother of my grandchild. How much more could I be disrespectful to them if I don't take repsonsibility for my actions toward her.

I'm ridding myself of resentment and now I want to eliminate regret.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 10:16AM
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I'm glad you wrote what you did and I feel as you do. I sensed that about you from what you wrote previously. I, too, feel that self-examination is vital.

I believe my husband is living with regret. He was afraid of his mother's rage and it controlled him. He is still controlled by her rage, despite the fact that she died. She never took any responsibility for her life and choices. She blamed others. She chose alcohol, bitterness, control, rage and anger, even when she was given a second chance at life and an opportunity to make amends. Living with regret can be a terrible burden.

I am over-responsible and absorb too much blame. I've had to work a lot on myself and it is a continual process. I realize that other people have a responsibility in the relationship too. Standing up for my truth and personal integrity was a difficult thing for me to do, because I knew that I would risk their disapproval and alienation and I feared abandonment. I recognized that some of the relationships may not survive, but I had to make the choice for me for my own health and well-being.

You are very different from my MIL and I respect and admire you for that. She never made the choice that you are making now. I did want a relationship with her, but she was incapable, or maybe she was, but she didn't really care. She didn't possess the courage you have or the strength of character and I think it takes both to be willing to look at yourself. Had she taken the steps that you are doing now, there is no question in my mind that I would have wanted her in my life. Intially, I very much wanted a relationship with her. It was not to be. She lacked generosity of heart and spirit towards me, or even towards her own son. Everyone was wounded by her and no one felt close to her.

If I'm not writing this well, what I'm saying is from the heart. From what you wrote, I can see who and what you are--you are lovely, strong and courageous to me. And for what it is worth I think both your son and DIL are blessed to have such a loving mother.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 12:15PM
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I am wondering as others have wondered too if it is not your DIL but maybe your son? You mentioned the last meeting with them. You wrote: "All but the last meeting seemed fine. I invited her and her mother to my wedding, our home for dinner, & out to eat. Both she and my son lived out of town (in separate cities) during this time"

Do you know whether your son might have some negative feelings about your marriage? About your husband? Sometimes adult kids can have a hard time accepting their parent's new partners and that their parents have moved on. If it is that, your son might not want to talk about it. Your DIL might know but not feel as though she should be the one to say anything.

Any possibility that it has something to do with your marriage?


    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 1:39PM
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My ex remarried just a couple of years after our divorce to the woman he claimed he had only been friends with. My son seemed to have a hard time with her at first but it is better now. I waited almost 10 years before I remarried and my son commented to many how happy he was I met my new husband and how good it was to see me so happy. He even gave me away at the wedding. So though it could be, it never felt that way.

How would you interpret this? I hand smocked a beautiful christmas dress for my granddaughter and sent it by my ex to give to them. I didn't send with any type of expectations other than the desire to do something sweet for her. My ex said that when he showed it to them that my son immediately started complimenting it, how pretty it was, what a good job I did on it, and how pretty his baby would look in it. My ex said that at the same time DIL shut down completely and had this look in her eyes that said my son would be hearing a ear full later. Up until this point my ex has waivered between who is to blame for the estrangement and yet what he saw in her eyes finally convinced him it was her. A few days later my son called to say that he would be returning the dress the next time he visited.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 11:01AM
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Wow. That's odd, lost. From what you've said, it sounds like she must believe something that is simply not true. Could be she jumped to the wrong conclusion about a situation, misunderstood something that was said, or just has a preconception of how mother in laws are and is judging you by that. I don't know. How frustrating. It just really sounds like she is acting on some feeling, assumption, belief that is just not founded on facts. All I can figure is she read something into harmless words at some point and rather than let it go she feeds it.

Maybe maturity will make her see things differently. I know I hold a different view and respect for my MIL that I did 15 years ago. Maybe if your ex has new insight now he can fascilitate some understanding.

Honestly, my MIL can drive me nuts. We are just two different kinds of nuts and do not see the world alike. She is not a bad person, she can be very nice, she just doesn't have the interests or values that I would look for in a friend. And I know I don't fill her description of a "girlfriend" either. So we are just MIL and DIL and that's enough.

If you continue to approach this with your son with the honest, open mind you seem to have here, I have to believe it will eventually get sorted out so that you can at least give a gift to your grandchild without fear it will be rejected. I think you have the attitude to work it out, maybe it will be contagious. ;o)

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 11:16PM
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lost1of3-From my own situation having a third party deliver a gift without having heard from the gift giver directly is okay only when there is no outstanding conflict, it is accepted like the regular gift that it is.

That is not the case with your situation so having a third party deliver a gift for you was not okay. You said your son told you two years ago to not contact him. What reason did he give at that time and since then? If he was very clear that he wanted no contact your contacting him and sending gifts would be very inappropriate. Did he give any indication at that time or since then of why he needed you to not contact him?

Pay close attention to his stated reasons. No work you do on yourself will better the relationship more than learning to respect another persons clear boundaries.

If your son has given you mixed messages before now that is probably a bad sign for his marriage. How really can his wife know how to have a relationship with you if he is back and fourth about it? He has to figure out exactly how he wants the relationship to go and take the lead. If he set the relationship at no contact and then acted as though he didn't I can't see how she would know which way to go. It was very difficult for me to determine how to interact with my husbands mother. I saw how his resentment and avoidance of her effected our marriage and frankly it was scary.

I really recommend reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend to anyone struggling with in-law relationships or any relationship that is very out of balance like the ones you describe.

When there is an estrangement, at least this is true of my case and of those I have discussed with others, it is viewed as using the deliverer and as being manipulative to do what you did in sending the gift. The gift being delivered by your ex was likely seen a successful attempt to 'get in' without having mended the relationship issues or reestablishing the broken trust and respect with your son and daughter in law. The look on her face could have been the same as the one I had when my husband once again flip flopped in his take on his mom. If I gave a look like the one you described in such a situation that would have been a big part of it.

Triangular communication is a huge no no from the healthy boundaries perspective too.

My sister in law refused to 'just leave a few extra blankets' with us for our kids from her mother when her mother told her to. SIL knew from past experience that her mother will go around people she is in conflict with instead of working through the issues. We as a married couple worked hard to establish some healthy boundaries and figure out how to be have new adult to adult relationships with our parents. It was very uncomfortable at first but with practice and patience from the important people in our lives it worked out well. My husbands mother refuses to have that kind of relationship though and it is very painful and stressful unlike all the other relationships. She will not acknowledge or respect boundaries.

I understand it is a hard transition for her also and have told her as much but that doesn't mean we will throw out the rules of our home for her or let her plant herself in the middle of our marriage. She has a major problem accepting or even hearing us say no. She will press and press to do as she feels and her emotions get spread around in our marriage like hot sauce. She is a walking conflict at times because 'she LOVES us SO MUCH'. It is not her love but her lack of respect that is very destructive.

It was also my husbands baggage from the past and now mine from the more recent past that made things hard. She'd do what she wanted regardless of what we said and then she would deny, minimize or justify her behavior. I beleive she always did what she felt was good but we didn't seem visible to her when she would break a boundary that we had clearly stated. That in itself was a problem. Who wants to have a relationship with another adult who respects their own feelings and decisions but who purposely disregards yours?

If the boundaries don't apply to her she will have a say so in our marriage that makes me feel walked on and my husband a withdrawn and depressed and destructive individual. He often put on a blank face but I got to live with hours of angry resentment after he would let her do what she wanted without standing up for what he wanted. It was bad for everyone.

My sister in law told her mom no way about the blankets. I don't know how her mom reacted. I didn't ask. I was just grateful that my sister in law is not the side taking emotionally overburdened individual she used to be. Saying no is actually respectful. It would have been a breech of trust between us and sister in law for sister in law to 'accidentally' leave or give things for our children when MIL won't speak to us. I respect it when someone can identify and maintain a boundary. There is no safe feeling or trust without the ability to say and respect someone elses yes or no.

I can't speak about your situation or read your DILs mind but from my own experience the look in my eyes at a situation like you described (father in law delivering a surprise gift from mother in law that has been asked to not contact) that would have been because I was upset with the deliverer of the gift for 'dropping an emotionally laden bomb' without warning.

It is not okay to have a third party, in this case your ex, deliver a gift for a child when you have outstanding issues with the child's mother and with your son. Your son liked your lovely work but that doesn't mean that he is ready to accept the gift and maintain boundaries with you in a more normal way, so the estrangement from your DILs perspective might be a measure of weather or not her marriage is stable or not. It is a very frightening place to be in as a wife. If that is the case I feel sorry for you both, your pressing with the gift or anything might make her feel as though she is on a roller coaster instead of in a stable marriage. It is no ones fault but your son will have to work out where he wants to stand and how to handle himself with both you and his wife.

The look could also have been a look of hurt because your DIL thought your ex was there to have a good visit with them and ended up being your errand boy instead. In her place I would have lost a deep trust with my father in law for not being sensitive to the fact that she and her husband need to work out their own issues and instead he just blundered rather rudely into the middle of it.

Her shutting down being interpreted as her being to blame is also not a good sign for his relationship with her or by extension your relationship. Just as he was reading her expressions she might also be reading his. Why does he feel he must take sides and judge? Instead of you and she working it out he stomped into the middle by being a go between and is now taking your side. That is not something that will help you in the long run. It is another example of poor boundaries in your familys situation. It is too bad he didn't simply say no to delivering it in the first place.

Your son or at least your daughter in law is likely on the receiving end of advice about how to be a married couple that conflicts greatly with your own tendencies if you are the 'people pleaser' you describe your self to be.

In my experience being a people pleaser means feeling very responsible for the emotions and lives of those around you even when it is unhealthy and inappropriate. You cannot reach in and 'fix' your son and DIL without breeching boundaries left and right. And your desire to spare him and yourself from future regret at the expense of being respectful of their boundaries now, and to be so overly responsible for everyones part in the relationship concerns me.

My mother used to make many mistakes along those lines and was very difficult to know because of the extreme over responsibility she took on. Her over feeling and doing and people pleasing made it unsafe for me to express genuine needs and emotions with her. You want to help and they want you to respect their separateness from you. Does any of that seem relevant to your situation?

Your exs stepping in delivering anything and taking sides will make you look bad according to the boundaries interpretation of how to deal with in-law relationships. He should be able to have a relationship with them that doesn't involve you. You should be able to respect the fact that your son asked you to not contact him. He is responsible for the consequences of his own decisions as an adult, you want to spare him from later regret but you are only managing to disrespect a clear boundary which is probably the main problem that you have.

How many times have you contacted him and his wife since he asked you not to? How many times has he contacted you? Did he clearly state that he had changed his mind about his request that you not contact him? You are likely right that communication issues are probably a very big part of the problem.

You do not sound like you have rage issues or a genuine habit of manipulating people as my poor mil does, you do sound like the information on healthy boundaries would really help you see your own responsibilities clearly and help you stop feeling that you must continue to flog yourself until any possible fault comes out so you can apologize again and again and fix their issues. You are taking on too much in my opinion.

It is good that your son will be returning the lovely dress. If the situation were worse and your daughter in law more angry than hurt or trying to protect the boundaries they are trying to create then the gift would likely have been thrown out. They certainly have some issues that they need to address honestly if they are returning the dress but the issues are theirs to be responsible for.

There is much more going on in their marriage probably than you know about and having a separation from you is an expression of that. It is not your place to fix it. You will at least have an opportunity to talk to your son about why they don't want the dress and what kind of contact you can expect to have with them. I hope when he returns the dress that will be a step in the right direction.

I am certain from the things you have described that much of the issue has to do with your sons communication to his wife about you and probably about his own unresolved issues from growing up or his ability to respond honestly to you and her both now. None of that is your responsibility.

It is his and it sounds like by bringing you back the dress he is at least trying to maintain a boundary that he set. (After he said not to contact him how did you respond?) For his wife that might be much more about weather he is willing to be a man in their marriage than it is about you personally.

I am assuming that you made the dress and sent it with your ex without calling to see if it would be welcome at this time. Is that so? If so why? Is it easier to not face a possible no on the front end than to apologize afterward or be hurt that it wasn't welcome?

From my experience with my husband it was three years after our marriage before he stopped habitually doing a very destructive communication dance between himself and his mother and I. Once when I started to be direct with his mom he cut me off and told her that I was just tired. I wasn't, he just didn't want me to be direct with her. I wanted her to speak to me before taking my child out of my arms. Her timing was not always great. He later refered angrily to her about her habit of treating me as though I were merely babysitting her child instead of parenting my own but he actively interfered with my being direct with her about how I'd like to be treated. He was afraid of her feelings, either teary and over responsible or rageful, sometimes both. But his position of not wanting to be direct with her and then being direct but not following through left the situation worse than if I was allowed to simply talk to her about it.

We all had communication and relationship problems that made the situation worse. My husbands setting boundaries with his mother was actually a stabilzer for our marriage though. I believe it is more than your DIL not wanting you around that has gotten you the situation that you have. You have mentioned your son possibly having issues. I know that was true of my husband. His parents were also divorced and his father was also unfaithful. No one gets through divorce unscathed really. There first priority needs to be their marriage if it is to work.

The dress sounds like it was lovely and if they had no other issues might have been appreciated but maintaining a boundary is, by the sound of it a higher need to keep their marriage on course, than accepting the gift at this time. Respecting boundaries is not a small thing.

That is what I make of the situation you described. I do not think it is a matter of your DIL not wanting you around. I think it is a matter of her loving her husband and wanting him and their marriage to be stable and not whatever it is she has experienced him to be in relation to you before. I think the issue is more with your son and his wife and less with you. His setting and maintaining boundaries with you, and your respecting them, will help his marriage and in the long run that will help you to have a relationship with them.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2008 at 7:16AM
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Wow, I believe you hit the nail right on the head Organic Brice!! I have the book that you've suggested 'Boundries', and it was a hard read, at least for me. I need to go find it and try again. LOL! Very, very good advice, lost1of3, I hope you can hear it without being offended or defensive. My being a DIL, MIL and a daughter in this same kind of situation (not all at the same time of course! LOL!) I can wholeheartedly agree with Organic Brice's veiws and advice. It really will change this relationship for the better if you can. Best wishes for you and your family. Nancy

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 9:07PM
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Thanks for all the responses. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I truly appreciate the time you took to respond and to give me your insights. I am not offended in the least, I truly want to look at these things from different eyes than mine.

In error I thought I was honoring their request for no contact by not trying to contact them directly. I sent the dress as a gift to my grandchild with no expectations but to honor thier beautiful child. I would have preferred to have not known what they did or didn't do with the dress because it was not sent to illicit any response from them. I sent a similar easter dress last year that they kept so felt that they would allow such efforts as long as they did not have to personally deal with me. I know I can't see my grandchild, get to know her, or be a part of her life but I also don't want her to grow up and think I never even tried.

I'm learning and I think the boundaries book could be helpful. Thank you again for sharing your views and insights. It appears I need all I can get.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2008 at 11:28PM
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I agree with organic brices observations about third parties (I think some times this is unintentional), however the result is where the focus needs to be and not the intent. I also agree that learning to respect another personÂs clear boundaries is vital. I would also pay very close attention to your sonÂs stated reasons.

My husband sent mixed messages to me and his family, which made the situation worse. He also would not talk about his feelings, despite my always asking him how he felt about the situation, and he would focus on mine and then complain like he felt in the middle. (To outsiders, not understanding boundaries and emotions, he would appear sweet and "nice".) I was not asking him to speak for me, I was asking him to examine his own feelings and stand up for himself. If he didnÂt like their treatment towards me, I was hopeful that he would express that, as it was/is his family.

I agree 100 percent and can really relate to this observation, "

"If your son has given you mixed messages before now that is probably a bad sign for his marriage. How really can his wife know how to have a relationship with you if he is back and fourth about it? He has to figure out exactly how he wants the relationship to go and take the lead. If he set the relationship at no contact and then acted as though he didn't I can't see how she would know which way to go. It was very difficult for me to determine how to interact with my husbandÂs mother. I saw how his resentment and avoidance of her affected our marriage and frankly it was scary."

It was obvious to me that he was angry with his mother, but he didnÂt tell her that. He reacted in passive-aggressive ways. He did confront her a few times early on, but then her angry, rageful response prevented him from dealing with the situation. He chose to ignore it instead. This is not how I would have liked the situation to work out. He would talk to a few other relatives, mainly spouses and the consistent comment was that "no one talked to each other, but they talked about each other."

The few times that my MIL sent anything, IÂm certain I would have had a similar expression of sadness or unhappiness. I feared their negative influence (which it was) and quite frankly their relationships (all the no talking about issues) was very scary to me. I would have preferred honesty and being direct, but that was never the outcome. My husband would flip-flop with them. What was a consistent pattern is that he wanted his unhappiness known by allowing someone else (me) to be the expression of it, rather than take responsibility for his own feelings of unhappiness and anger. When we saw a therapist (the man challenged him and directly asked him why he allowed me to take the heat for him). I see this as all his issues, because he didnÂt want to be the recipient of anyoneÂs anger, especially his motherÂs. It was okay, if I was placed in that position (and I often was and not just with his family) and that was a horrible position for me to be placed in.

I agree that triangular communication is a huge NO WIN situation from the healthy boundaries perspective too. Lack of appropriate boundaries is a huge issue in his family and also in the types of people that he brings into our life together. They are needy and manipulative and neither respect or acknowledge other peopleÂs feelings or boundaries, so I very much agree with organic briceÂs observations, "It is not her love but her lack of respect that is very destructive. " Just about every observation she has about her MIL, IÂve experienced the same, but it is in the entire family, although it is expressed in different ways. My SIL though is an enabler and manipulative herself, so I didnÂt have any allies. In fact, she made a difficult situation worse.

I always felt like I was on a roller coaster instead of in a stable marriage. Anything that dealt with his family was like that. To make matters worse, my own family had their problems and was very non-supportive. His fatherÂs 3rd wife left him within the past few years and his sister (my SIL) seeks unstable relationships. She has gone through several marriages and live-in relationships with men, always framing the men as inappropriate. These are insensitive, manipulative people who walk all over other people, but outwardly they possess a lot of charm and seem likeable and nice to others. People always respond about herÂthat she has such a sweet smile.

I was over-responsible and took on too much for other people. They blamed me for the problems, as that is their dynamicÂto blame others for their inappropriate and destructive behaviors. My husband has a lot of unresolved issues from growing up which prevented him from responding honestly to his family and even to me. He did exactly as organic brice described, "He was afraid of her feelings, either teary and over responsible or rageful, sometimes both. But his position of not wanting to be direct with her and then being direct, but not following through left the situation worse than if I was allowed to simply talk to her about it." I donÂt know if I could have talked to her about it. I never attempted given her behaviors, and I now believe that it wouldnÂt have been a good idea, given my husbandÂs inability to be supportive, direct and to follow through.

If he had learned to set boundaries, stand up for himself, follow-through and openly discuss situations, it would have been helpful. He didnÂt. He has regrets now, although he doesnÂt like to talk about it. He buries issues, because he is just like them and it feels safer emotionally. After she died he expressed to me that he had been in denial, because her behaviors were so hurtful. Eventually, I didnÂt want to be around his family, but that has mostly to do with my husbandÂs lack of setting appropriate boundaries. Had he handled the situation better, my feelings probably would have been different, but as it was I felt like I was a target for her rage and anger and the inappropriate hostility of his father and sisterÂs anger, because of their deficiencies and inability to look at their own destructive behaviors.

His parents went through a bitter, acrimonious divorce. Sadly, they forced everyone to take sides, rather than deal with conflicts and issues in a less destructive manner. His father later, talked about his sexual exploits to his son and his last wife was much younger than him. Everyone in his family has been through a lot of divorces and unstable relationships and they always frame others as the problem. Nothing changes.

I know that you are a very different person from my MIL, and that my situation is different from yours, but I hope that discussing boundaries is helpful. My situation is more like organic briceÂs and I think she hit the nail on the head with her observations. I really wish you the best outcome with all of this.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 12:25PM
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You have no idea how greatful I am that so much time and thought has gone into your answers. I really am trying to let it all sink in. Perspective is such a key here. You have written from being in a situation as my DIL must/might feel she is in. Something I can't imagine. I was truly blessed. I never had any trouble with my ex MIL or nor current MIL and FIL new wife. All of them have been unique and yet each of them have been very easy to get along. No one in my family has ever gone through an estrangement of a family member that I am aware of. So finding myself in this position is like being on an island. I am trying to survive the best I can with the limited knowledge I have.

To answer a couple of the questions asked. I did not ask prior to sending the dress because I was trying to respect their wish to no contact. I didn't see that sending a gift to my grandchild was breaking that because I didn't expect it to lead to any return contact. I see that differently now.

My son will be sending the dress back through his dad. I do not expect to hear from him or DIL on this at all.

My son and I was always close and talked about everything. I don't think he was afraid to talk to me, but if he was I guess I wouldn't know that since he shared so much with me. I remember when he was a young teen that we were discussing some world issues when he finally turned to me and said something about me not letting him have an opinion and was shooting down ever comment he made. I honestly did not realize that I was doing that and I was sick to have it pointed out. I rememebered how my dad always did that to me and the one thing I didn't want to do to my kids was that. I remember saying over and over again how horible I felt about doing that and that I would do my best to watch that in the future. It took a while to learn to listen better and to give him true credit for what he was thinking and feeling. I can't say that after that one incident that I ever forgot that moment and it did make me a better listener. Over time we learned to really respect the others opinion and at times to agree to disagree. Even when I told him I thought he would regret quitting college with only 4 months left to graduate he responded "Mom, I know you just want me to be happy and I feel this is what I need to do to be happy." I thanked him for understanding that the mom in me just needed to say that. He sounded more like his own man at that moment then he ever had. This son convinced me that we had a good relationship. I truly hate to think that it was all a lie.

I may never know, but I can tell you this, I love him and miss him more than he could ever know.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 6:00PM
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I was a DIL. Hated it. My MIL thought that I wasn't good enough for her son. She had more influence on my marriage than I did.
That is what I thought 27 years ago. Most of it remains true. However, I now realize that I compounded matters because I was an arrogant little twit obsessed with "running my house my way." Compassion is something every young bride should take into a marriage.
Geez, if I knew then what I know now..........

    Bookmark   January 1, 2009 at 8:21PM
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