Ask Amy: ‘My mother-in-law does a lot of taking and not a lot of giving’


Dear Amy: I am in my first year of marriage, trying to navigate a tricky in-law situation. My mother-in-law does a lot of taking and not a lot of giving. This dynamic is increasing at a fast pace.

Not only does she ask for my help constantly, but she also makes everything extremely complicated and frustrating for everyone involved. She will not tolerate being told no. She becomes passive-aggressive and at times has been mean enough to make me cry.

In the last month, I have (involuntarily) assisted her in planning a surprise birthday party for a woman I have never met. My husband and our toddler son even traveled four hours away to attend the party because she would not take no for an answer.

Now she has asked that I help her make a scrapbook for this same stranger, using my wedding photos, which would involve hours of work.

I have also helped her move furniture out of a storage unit.

She never offers to help with our son, even though she lives five minutes away, is retired and in excellent health. I already have a lot on my plate. I get no privacy and no alone-time with my husband.

I’d love to have a date night, but she always claims to be so busy, while I’m just down the road pulling my hair out!

— Daughter-in-Law in Training

Dear Daughter-in-Law: You are going to need to establish very firm boundaries with your mother-in-law, basically training her (and yourself) toward a new way of relating and communicating.

You should have a meeting with your husband to discuss your concerns and intentions. Keep in mind, always, that she is his mother and that his attachment to her is the one that you should respect, but unless this current dynamic changes, it will negatively affect your marriage.

Let him know that you need to reduce your own frustration and anger when you feel pressured to do her bidding.

This should start with you learning to say “no” and managing your own fears regarding the way your mother-in-law might respond or retaliate. (If she won’t take no for an answer, then “rinse and repeat.”)

Do your best to be both frank and polite — even if she isn’t.

When you have asked her to help you out, she declines! Let her teach you by example: “Sorry, but I’m busy.” “I’m going to have to say no.” “I’m going to say no. I have a lot on my plate.”

Rehearse responses and train yourself to stay calm. Do not lay on layers of excuses or details. If you need a date night, you should hire a babysitter.

Author Susan Forward has called this type of mother-in-law “the Engulfer.” You might benefit from reading her book, “Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage” (HarperCollins, 2010).

Dear Amy: I’m a woman in my mid-30s living and working in a major metropolitan area. My problem is that I am not social media savvy and don’t wish to be, but I feel that I am missing out on many social opportunities as a result.

I found the concept of sharing even happy news over social media as attention-seeking. I would much rather have old-fashioned phone calls or get-togethers with friends to keep each other in the loop about what’s going on in our lives.

But most people I know use Instagram, etc., and, as a result, I’m usually the last to know what’s going on in their lives. Should I just bite the bullet and start using these platforms, even though I find it daunting, or should I stick to my principles? I wish social media didn’t exist!

Dear Old-Fashioned: Every new technology and communication system creates dilemmas and challenges. You seem to believe that being on social media platforms needs that you share your own news. that is not the case.

You can have a presence on Instagram, follow your friends’ accounts and see their posts without sharing your own. You can then follow up with phone calls and in-person meetings without feeling that you’re out of the loop.

Dear Amy: “Concerned Bride” had gotten married privately and was now planning a “celebration,” many months later.

Your advice was okay, but you referred to her upcoming event as a “wedding.” She has already had a wedding — the next event on her calendar is a reception.

Dear Concerned: You’re right! I was mistakenly referred to the reception as a “wedding.” I apologize for the error.

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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