Saturday, November 8, 2014

Help! My Sister-in-Law is Driving Me Mad!

A reader wrote: My sister-in-law accused me of not caring about my boy’s low weight gain. Sent me into tears. How do you deal with difficult in-laws since you have to deal with them? It makes me so mad I don’t even want to spend the holidays with them.

First, let me say that I’m sorry about your sister-in-law’s hurtful dialogue. Of course you care about your boy’s health. How insensitive of her.

Unfortunately, my recommendation is basically for you to be open and honest with your sister-in-law. I do, however, have some specific advice. From my years in therapy and school, I have learned to use statements like the following for helping me to voice my feelings: When you ________ I feel _________. I would prefer _________. 

The “when you ________” part of the statement is designed to let the person know what specifically it is that is problematic. The “I feel ________” part is designed to make it about you and your feelings rather than blaming the other person. Making “I” statements helps prevent people from getting defensive. The “I would prefer _________” part is meant to give the person a specific idea of how to fix the problem.

Either you or your husband can be the one to speak up to your sister-in-law. I know it can be awkward to talk to family members but if you don’t say anything, she’ll keep thinking her behavior is acceptable and you’ll keep being gnawed up over her dumb comments. It may take a few times of you or your husband having this conversation with your in-laws for the problem to be resolved because people don’t like hearing that they are acting like douchebags and changing behavior isn’t always instantaneous. If they choose to keep mistreating you after you’ve clearly expressed your feelings, then you may want to consider drawing more boundaries between you and your in-laws. If they are given the opportunity to change and choose not to do so, then you may consider limiting your contact with them and visiting with them on your own terms, which leads me to my next point.

You are a grown-up and it’s your holiday. You do not have to spend it with your in-laws. I feel like this point is one that most people forget. You do not owe them your time even if your husband rented out their uterus for 9 months. If they are toxic or abusive and you’ve clearly expressed how their behavior hurts you and how they can act differently, then you are certainly more than justified in not spending the holidays with them. If they ask why, you should be honest with them and tell them that the questions and comments about your boy’s low weight gain hurt your feelings and you’d rather stay home or do whatever it is that you are going to do. You can also limit your time with them and or see them on your own terms. It can feel very empowering to start setting boundaries with them that you are comfortable with.

I’ll end by saying, again, how sorry I am that you are having trouble with your in-laws. I know people can be very judgmental when your baby isn’t fat. You’re a great mom and you take terrific care of your baby. Know that I’m with you and I’m giving your sister-in-law the middle finger right now on your behalf.

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