The MIL/DIL dynamic

Mother-in-law, Age 72

I recently moved near my son to be near him and the grandchildren, and I had an incident the other day with my daughter-in-law that was the last straw. She has ignored me for years, despite my every effort to engage her in conversation or treat her to outings, restaurants, and presents. I have tried to honor her in every way I can think of. I have invited her a couple of times for a girls’ day out, and she hasn’t responded to anything beyond saying that it would be nice. Most recently, I treated her and my son and two grandsons to overnights at a vacation cabin to honor her and the wonderful job she has done coping with issues and raising kids during the pandemic, and I continued to be ignored…without even a “thank you.” Sometimes I withdraw; other times I try and engage. I compliment her cooking. I never offer advice. And I never talk about her with my son behind her back.

The last straw was when we all went out together recently. She and my grandson were sitting at a table while we were waiting to be seated at a restaurant, and when I went over to sit with them, she promptly got up, walked away from me, and went over to where my son was, acting all happy and cuddling up to him. This is fine, and I’m glad their marriage is so loving, but it hurt my feelings that she moved away from me so suddenly when I was simply trying to hang out with her. And as if this weren’t enough, every time we get together, most every Sunday, I continue to be ignored.

Consequently, I don’t know what to do with myself, and because I have allowed her to make me feel so nervous, I invariably say stupid things that may even aggravate the situation.

Several years ago, we were at a family reunion, and she was ignoring me, as usual, and I asked my son if she was OK because she seemed so distant. Naturally, he mentioned this to her, and he told me later that she was highly offended by what I had said.

I understand that my son’s allegiance is to his wife, as it should be. But does he not notice how rude she is to me? She constantly reprimands her children about proper manners, yet she doesn’t exhibit them herself to me. Her behavior, in fact, feels cruel.

Why do I have to be involved in such a stereotypical MIL/DIL relationship? How did this happen? It seemed to start when the grandkids were born.

I just don’t know what I did to create such a state of dysfunction. And now that I’m 72, it’s not so easy to up and move. And besides, am I going to move every time an unpleasant situation in life arises? I would be moving on a regular basis if this were the case.

The precious neediness of my dogs and my volunteer work with Hospice make me feel of some value. My grandkids do love me, but soon, they will become adolescents, and I would imagine the relationship will shift when that time comes as it happened between my own grandmother and me. And yet, I have allowed my DIL to make me feel devalued and unappreciated.

My conclusion is that there is nothing I could have done or can do to rectify this horrible situation. I thought I would see a therapist, so I contacted two via email, and they didn’t respond. They were 30 years younger than I am anyway, and part of me felt as if it would probably be more beneficial to connect with someone closer to my age who has had more life experience.

Jane and Ellen recommended I check out Barbara Greenleaf, who addresses this DIL/MIL relationship, so I bought her book, Parents of Adult Children: You Are Not Alone. The chapter on the dynamics of the DIL/MIL relationship was most informative.

Strangely enough, a woman I had met 20 years ago suddenly came to mind. She has been clearing past life patterns with clients for the past 40 years. She’s got to be in her 80s by now. I’m not sure if I really believe in past lives, but I contacted her anyway, and she gave me a session. And so, my energy has shifted dramatically. I feel much lighter. One of the things she recommended was to forgive my DIL as she is — in my heart — and to forgive myself as well.

I also started listening to YouTube videos of BK Shivani. Her teachings have provided a philosophy that resonates with me. Finally, after years of agony, I am feeling a positive shift — a feeling much more productive than getting nowhere while talking about this problem ad nauseam with friends. Some of the things that Shivani talks about are acceptance and that when people behave with meanness and cruelty, this is simply an expression of their own pain. We will add to their pain when we react to their behavior in anger or talk about them behind their backs. We absorb their pain and make things worse. We must live at a higher frequency of compassion. We must love them unconditionally. Eventually, their energy will likely shift, too.

In no time, I have moved forward from my own state of crippling pain to a much higher frequency. I even feel grateful that my DIL has given me this opportunity for growth. In the meantime, I’m going to live every moment and day as if it were the last. I want to break the old toxic family patterns of anger and abuse and be the positive influence on my grandchildren. I certainly hope that this will be one of my legacies.

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4 Responses to The MIL/DIL dynamic

  1. Susan says:

    You asked about our mil/dil experience. My mother-in-law was very critical of me when I started dating her son. We had different belief system backgrounds and I hadn’t finished college.

    I did go back. As I was the only member of the family to attend an Ivy league school, she quieted down. That I went through college (took 8 years part time raising my children) and on to grad school (4 years). I graduated with high honors which pleased her. Funny thing was that we got to be great friends. We mentored one another until she passed.

    We spoke about her assessment of me at 19. At 30, she told me I had outgrown her son. That she wanted more for me than he could provide. I returned to college that year and loved every minute of it. Over the years, she spoke about her own fears because she never finished college and it always bothered her. She had been the valedictorian of her high school class. We do super-impose our fears on one another.

    Much of what I have learned is because of my mother-in-law. She was dearly loved by all her grandchildren, though her own children always looked down on her. My youngest granddaughter is named after her.

    I’m not so sure people will go to college/grad school in the future. Unless they are in a specialized field, there really isn’t a need other than personal fulfillment. And, it is indebting people for decades now.

  2. Patricia says:

    I think you did great moving away from your daughter in law her deceitful cul attitude.. Who needs the aggravation. I am 74 and like you am excited to find other roads to loving kindness dness. PlEase look at Insight Timer App. IT has music, interactive classes on every subject including light an deeper Buddhism, all schools of thought, even bedtime stories hoping you sleep all ages etc. I am very excited there are free introductory courses
    I chose the 19 dollars for one year. As far as your daughter-in-law Give Up you are not here forever and your doggies need you. Enjoy your life, you can you know it.
    Let go and breathe into your life. Hope this helped a little.

  3. Evelyn Eskin says:

    What a wonderful story!!! You have learned so much!!! A friend of mine advised me when I was complaining about my son-in-law, to accept him as he is and only do what you feel comfortable doing without any acknowledgement or reciprocity. That worked for me. Concentrate on the relationships with your son and grand-children. And you’re right that they will withdraw as adolescents – but they’ll be back as adults! Good luck and congratulations!!

  4. Susan says:

    What wonderful insight you have gained!

    I absolutely love your resolution with this and can relate to all of this. Having studied many of the world’s great belief systems, I resonate with Buddhism. While this is not a Buddhist book, it does follow some of the tenets. One of the books that helped me enormously was Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D. “You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For.” He is the founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS). He basically talks about the way we have all been socialized, that we have exits (escape) and shut down. I read this after reading and studying Buddhism and years of teaching mindfulness meditation. At 73, I admit I do get stuck sometimes so I refer to mindfulness, walk in the woods and let things be as they are. Most of the time (said with laughter).

    I bet your family admires you greatly. You have planted wonderful seeds as a way to be in the world. Sometimes people just are not at a place to show their appreciation. Years down the line they will probably have an ‘aha’ moment. And, it will all make sense to them.

    Thank you (and of course Jane and Ellen for their generosity with this site) for your candor.

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