Question: Dear Luise: My mother-in-law is a good, kind woman. She has one daughter and one son, my husband. At various times throughout our 10 year marriage her daughter has lived far away. During those times my relationship with her gets much harder for some reason. She limits the amount of time she sees us and/or talks to us if she hasn’t seen or talked to her daughter. Every time we do something fun with them sans daughter she talks about how she wishes her daughter could be there. I don’t think she realizes that she does this but it bugs my husband and I feel hurt by it sometimes. Literally every time we suggest doing something she brings up her daughter and whether she can come. I’m not sure what or if we should do something about it. Do you have any advice for me/ us? Sincerely, S.
Answer: Dear S.: First of all, I want to say that such behavior would pretty much drive me nuts, too. That said, I wonder if your MIL just has a concept of her two adult children as a “set” and when only one is present, it makes the absence of the other very apparent to her. If so, I think you are right and she probably has no idea she does that. You are wise not to address it with her because there is little chance she is going to change and it probably would make things worse. Possibly any get together without her daughter being present is incomplete for her. There are people who get stuck in their biological role and can’t let it go because their identity lies there.
We are all imperfect. That’s just our nature. To give yourselves (not her) peace, I would suggest you see her behavior as an emotional short-circuit. That’s pretty much what it is. If she were crippled in some other way…and maybe using a cane or a wheelchair, you wouldn’t criticize her for it. If you can do it, go one step further and agree with her that you miss your SIL and even bring it up first. I know that sounds like a strange solution but I think it would appreciably reduce your own stress. Blessings, Luise