The MIL Chronicles
The MIL Chronicles
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What Does Forgiveness and Moving Forward Look Like?

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Can you have one without the other? That is, moving forward without forgiveness?

For me moving forward is a combination of knowing where you stand, accepting a person for who they are, and establishing boundaries “from this day forward” so to speak; never again being caught off guard or expecting someone to behave in a manner other than their true character. But does forgiveness mean you’re supposed to welcome the person back into your life as if nothing ever happened? Wipe the slate clean for instance? And if you’re not able to do this, does that mean you haven’t actually forgiven the person?

What does it mean if you simply don’t desire a close relationship with your MIL after years of a tumultuous dynamic at best? Does that make you a horrible person incapable of forgiveness? Should you just take on an “it’s water under the bridge” attitude and be open to becoming “BFFs”? I know of many daughter-in-laws that struggle with this, and begin questioning their ability to forgive. I especially do when my mother-in-law wants to have small talk, for example, like we’re old girlfriends. It’s honestly uncomfortable for me because I don’t want to let her in; which means not having much to say.

It makes me wonder, it is ever just too late to foster the type of relationship that should have been established and nurtured from the start? And moreover, “Can you ever just start over?” My MIL asked for us to “start over” after she gave a seemingly sincere apology for her absolute horrible behavior at my son’s 1st birthday party. I immediately thought to myself, that’s not how it works. You can’t just start over. You can never undo actions and/or things you’ve said after you’ve had an “epiphany.” And sometimes the wombs are so severe, the scars never truly heal, but rather become just visual reminders of never wanting to forget or let your guard down. So the only option is to move forward armed with the history you have.

Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in this unfamiliar stage of forgiveness and can’t get out. I often think about whether my feelings will ever change, or if this is just a stage of forgiveness and simply part of accepting where I stand and the established relationship as is.

What does Moving Forward and Forgiveness Look Like?
Should there be boundaries with forgiveness?
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“When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them”

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It’s one of my favorite quotes from the great Maya Angelou, and it’s so very true in every sense of the phrase. Yet many times we naively think, “he or she will change”, and “it will be different this time”. Then we’re surprised when someone does something that is in their true character to do, after turning a blind eye to the realities of the situation. I remember talking to a counselor and telling her about my mother-in-law’s behavior following a recent visit. I was surprised as she seemed so nonchalant about what I was telling her. In contrast, I was livid!

My mother-in-law’s horrible behavior had reached new heights! Then she looked at me and said “I’m not surprised, and I don’t know why you are either.” She continued by telling me that my mother-in-law had been consistent, and had shown me who she truly was a long time ago, so why was I surprised by the things she continued to do. I was dumbfounded. All I could do was be silent and reflect on the magnitude of her incredibly simple summary of the situation. I realized I naively thought things would eventually be different; that with time she would change. I had given her the benefit of the doubt time and time again, but at that moment, I realized I hadn’t accepted her for who she truly was.

Accepting someone for who they are goes hand in hand with the saying “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.” I remember a friend of mine calling me while her mother-in-law was in town for a visit. After a horrible series of events during my friend’s baby shower, it was the first time she was seeing her mother-in-law since everything unfolded. Her MIL had offered a “side eye” apology and thus far the visit was going well. She was being respectful and inclusive which made my friend tell me that it might be ok to let her guard down. She was optimistic because her MIL had just suffered the loss of a dear friend, so she thought that her loss had caused her to reflect on how short life really is and re-evaluate her behavior. She was very hesitant to say the least, but naively thought things might be different. She thought just maybe she had been sincere in her apology for her behavior and that she may have actually misread her “not so sincere sounding” apology for her wrongdoing.

But no sooner had we had the conversation was my friend calling me back fuming! Once again her MIL had proven that a zebra never changes their stripes, even if they sometimes dress up like a lion. She had almost been fooled twice! The great thing about knowing and actually accepting someone for who they’ve shown themselves to be is that, you’ll never again be caught off guard or upset with yourself for thinking things will be different.

To some, it’s better to not know or not acknowledge certain things to avoid getting hurt, or actually having to confront a difficult situation. Which begs the question, would you rather know, or not know the true character of someone you have to deal with on a semi regular, to regular basis?

When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them
Would you rather know, or not know the true character of someone you have to deal with on a semi regular, to regular basis?
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“It’s Not Your Time”

#It's Not Your Time - Revised

The scene is set. It’s Olivia’s 4th birthday and Olivia’s mom Renee is very excited about hosting her daughter’s annual birthday party. She’s made all the necessary preparations; the perfect cake, check; the perfect decorations, check; the perfect dress, check; and a special visit from all the Disney Princesses, check. The problem…Olivia’s grandmother has her own ideas for her birthday and has bought a separate cake and a second dress despite her mother’s wishes and expressed disapproval. She feels after all, it’s her right as a grandmother to do for, and buy her granddaughter whatever she wants, whenever she wishes. So each year, Olivia has two birthday cakes and two dresses because of one reason, she has an overbearing grandmother that doesn’t understand the concept of our blog title, “It’s Not Your Time”.

In general, I think people have a hard time understanding when it’s not about them, but this really comes to pass during big celebrations like weddings, showers and birthdays. Because the concepts of “It’s Not About You”, and It’s Not Your Time” are lost and overtaken by a sense of entitlement, a need for control, and at times a feeling of jealously. Olivia has two cakes and two dresses at her birthday parties simply because her grandmother doesn’t know her place, and doesn’t realize that it’s not her time. And more importantly, that she had her time with her children. So the question arises, “Does this mean I can’t be a grandmother to my grandchild?” And the answer is “Of course not.” I’m not suggesting that a grandparent can’t or shouldn’t be a part of those special memories and new traditions, and spoil their grandchildren rotten. But it does mean giving the parents the space to embrace their time as parents, and respecting their choices, decisions and boundaries.

I have a girlfriend whose mother-in-law constantly tells her granddaughter to call her “mom”. My friend has spoken to her mother-in-law and expressed her disapproval, but her MIL still tells her granddaughter to call her mom despite her daughter-in-law’s feelings and concern. What would make a grandmother want to take the time of being a mom, and the experience of being called “mom” away from anyone? To want to be called mom instead of grandma.

It’s every mother’s right to have their time as a mom. That is, to be able to make your own choices and decisions as it relates to your children, and to have those decisions respected. To create your own unique traditions and relish in the lasting memories you’ve created. I would also argue that saying “no”, or standing your ground when there is something you as a mother want to do should not translate into spitefulness or beg the title “horrible DIL”. But rather someone that is embracing their precious time as a mom that won’t last long. For their will come a time when every mother will have to go through their own “Rite of Passage”. That is, allowing the next generation to have “their time” once they enter into adulthood and have children of their own. It’s the natural progression of life.

The ironic part about the dysfunctional dynamic most often created by mother-in-laws, is that it should be a joy for all grandparents to witness, not take over, this very special time in their adult children’s lives. But because of the inability to recognize the importance of not only letting go and respecting boundaries, but also embracing the very person that would allow them to be part of that next chapter in their life, mother-in-laws end up realizing their fear of isolation become reality, and blaming everyone but themselves for their predicament.

It makes me want to ask, why would you risk missing out on this very special time? And, would someone else overstepping their bounds with your child, and not having your choices, decisions and marriage respected, have been what you would have wanted while experiencing motherhood for the first time?

"It's Not Your Time"
Is there ever a time when a mother should sacrifice her wishes for her child to please her MIL?
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“When You Marry Him, You Marry All of Us”…

When You Marry Him - Revised

Has anyone with a strained in-law relationship ever thought to them self, “This is not what I signed up for?” I know there have been many times that I’ve not only thought this, but I’ve even uttered the words! However, it’s a phrase everyone has heard at least once in their life regarding marriage; “When you marry him, you marry ALL OF US!” But is this really what you sign up for when you say “I do”? To be committed till death do us part to an entire family?

While I think most people understand that marrying one person, means having to interact with the other person’s extended family with some level of frequency each year, but are you pledging the same vows to your spouse’s family as you are to your actual spouse? For the purposes of this blog, this question really comes into play when there is a strained relationship between a wife and mother-in-law. When there is continuous disrespect on all accords with no hope in sight, as in the case of Melissa and Betty, should you continue to forgive time after time and work on continuing a relationship because it’s your spouse’s family? Or is there ever a point in which you say, “I married you not your mother/ family and I’m done?”

According to Dr. Phil, one quarter of divorced couples report that in-laws were “somewhat” responsible for their marriages ending. That’s 25% of divorced couples! It’s amazing to me that people outside of a marriage can have that much influence on what goes on between two people within a marriage. Maybe as our expert, Kimberly Gist Miller explained as it relates to the field of psychology, there are not only 2 people in a marriage, but at least six and maybe more! To some degree you do marry your spouse’s family when you say I do. You have intentions on building genuine relationships with them, taking part in family gatherings and accepting and loving them as “family”.

And ideally you move forward with a new “extended” family. But does this mean you must have, and/or feel, the same level of commitment to your spouse’s family as you do with your actual spouse? Are you saying vows to not only your spouse, but to his or her parents, siblings and extended family? To know your spouse is to know their family in most cases. But is “to know, to love”? Or better yet, does being committed to your spouse mean you must be committed to his/her family?

Bottom line, when you get married who is the commitment really with?

When You Marry Him, You Marry All of Us...
When you get married, who is the commitment really with?
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Rite of Passage – You Can’t Say “I Do” and Still Be a Boy

Bride And Groom With Minister Holding Bible During Wedding Ceremony

“All I can do is go to her and ask her about it, when she denies it, what am I supposed to do? It’s my mom.” This situation and statement from Tiawanda Foucha’s ex-husband is all too familiar for daughter-in-laws, and ironically was recently discussed on an episode of Divorce Court. Which brings me to the title of this blog post, “Rite of Passage.” The show introduced Tiawanda and Tyron Foucha, who were recently divorced but contemplating getting remarried. Both were 27 years old, have 3 children together and had been together for 12 years.

According to Tiawanda, her family welcomed Tyron with open arms, yet his family, i.e. his mother, did not, and was never welcoming from the beginning of their courtship. Three kids later, and Tyron has to tell his mother and sister to acknowledge and speak to Tiawanda when they come to HER house to visit HER kids. I think most people are saying to themselves right now that Tiawanda is a better person than they are because the mom and sister wouldn’t step foot through the door if they had a problem acknowledging the lady of the house. Her problem is his inability to step up, translation, have her back and put her first. His problem is he feels she’s forcing him to choose. To him, the situation is no big deal and something she just needs to get over. And like so many DILs, Tiawanda is screaming inside.

The mother’s disdain and discontentment was further revealed during their wedding. The new “Mother-in-Law” didn’t give a gift, a hug, any acknowledgement or congratulations at all to her new daughter-in-law; another all too familiar scenario for some DILs. To her she hadn’t inherited a daughter, but had lost her son to the other woman. It’s interesting how major life moments or celebrations bring out the best or worst in people. I know of so many situations that have the same fundamental scenario. One friend experienced the same situation where her mother-in-law never said one word to her at her wedding, and another friend whose mother-in-law asked her to get out of their “family” photo at her wedding. The commonalities between these situations are so ironic, but then again maybe they aren’t. Could there be something to the Single MIL Syndrome and what our expert, Kim Miller describes as “Enmeshment”?

In all situations, the Mother-in-law downplays or lies about her actions to her son to save face when questioned, and then the son is terribly confused as to who to believe and what to do because he hasn’t gone through his rite of passage; that is, realizing that as a man you can and should be able to hold your parents accountable for their actions, make it known who comes first, and require that they respect the person that you’ve chosen to share your life with. Unfortunately, so many husbands don’t know that this is what they must do to have a successful marriage in this situation, and what is part of transitioning from being a boy to a grown man, no longer relating to your parents as a child.

While we can’t understand the full dynamic of Tyron and Tiawanda’s relationship in thirty minutes, Judge Toler summed Tyron up quite quickly as being “half a jerk and a full plate of mama’s boy.” Her response to his question of what he was supposed to do was quite simple and spot on. In her words, “You Man up!!!” You can’t get married and still be a boy. In other words, you can’t get married and still relate to your parents as a child. “When you say it’s my mom what am I supposed to do, you’re still being a boy, because as a boy you can’t say anything to your mom. But once you’re grown, you hold your mom accountable and say, “Mom, my wife is upset. If you love and respect me you have to respect her, be welcoming and loving to her. If you can’t be that way with her you can’t be that way with me. She comes first. “ Judge Toler went on to say that this is something a man must require, and that this is what a man does. It’s not being disrespectful. It’s being a man.

Bottom line I think it’s hard for husbands to believe, let alone acknowledge the woman who gave birth to them can actually lie, be conniving, and behave in such a way. But if a mother would gladly trade her life for her son’s under a guillotine, as one mother explained to her son, is it that hard to believe she’s capable of this sort of behavior with the threat of not only losing control, but also losing the very person she would trade her life for?

Rite of Passage - You Can't Say "I Do" & Still Be a Boy
Would you say your husband has gone through his rite of passage?
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“Enmeshment” – How This Concept Can Hinder the Ability to Cleave

room with pendant lamps and blackboard blackground

It has been said that when we marry, we must “leave” our family of origin and “cleave” to our spouse. Additionally, when two people marry there is an idea of the couple joining to become “one”. Two people join together, bringing all of their life experience, beliefs, and hopes to create a hybrid sense of “oneness”. Ideally, that sounds so sweet and blissful. Yet practically, it can be a challenge. And for many newly wed and not so newly wed couples, it is a huge undertaking. Sometimes, it’s a disaster. I suspect the reason this blissful joining is so challenging for some is because of the relationship with their family of origin.

I would like to propose that one of the biggest challenges of “two” becoming “one” is that “two” really isn’t “two”. “Two” in actuality tends to be “six”.

In the early stages of my clinical training, a very wise clinical supervisor said to me, “Kim, when you are in a room working with a couple there is at least six people in that room”. In my very green and inexperienced way, I looked at him and said, “huh?” “He then responded, “When you do couples therapy, you have the couple and two sets of parents in that room with you”. In my 20 years of experience, I have found that to be quite true.

When we marry and become “one”, we tend to bring our family of origin with us. This is often unspoken and subconscious and is primarily conveyed in our beliefs, values and expectations. In some marriages, one or both partners are still very bonded with the family of origin. In my world, this is called being “enmeshed”. This bonding shows up in the partner’s inability to “leave” and hesitancy to “cleave”.

This can play out in many ways, but often it shows up in marriage in the form of the partner or spouse feeling unsupported, unprotected, or less important than the family in law. Other times, it shows up as conflict between the partner and the in laws. When the issue is shared or expressed to the partner, they often respond with “Oh, you’re being sensitive” or “You know how my family is……” This response is a result of the partner still being in the role of “child” and not having established an adult relationship and healthy boundaries with that family of origin.

When we become adults, we are often faced with having difficult conversations with our family and re-defining the roles and boundaries in those relationships. So often, those conversations don’t happen because they are avoided like Ebola or some families refuse to have such conversations. I have heard it said on more than one occasion, “You may be grown, but you are still my child”. This mindset is one that often discourages an adult child from functioning as an adult, even if married.

So, if you are reading this and saying, “How do I we deal with this? How do I get my partner to understand how I feel about his or her family:” I would first reply by saying, “I understand how challenging this can be and it is a fairly common problem for couples”. It can often cause individuals to second guess their role and value in the eyes of their spouse. This tends, more often than not, to lead to repetitive, non-productive arguments, and if left unaddressed it can create hurt, anger and resentment that over time leave marriages vulnerable and at risk for divorce. My second response is, “It’s likely you may benefit from the assistance of a licensed and professionally trained marriage and family therapist”. The reason I suggest this is because “family” tends to be a highly sensitive subject, and I know many people become very defensive and even angry when comments are made about their “family”. For many of us, our loyalty, love and allegiance to our family is very strong (enmeshment), and our brain is set ablaze by a negative comment about family. So, this makes this a tough conversation for partner’s to navigate. A good therapist can help you and your spouse communicate in ways that are more effective and productive.

If seeking the assistance of a professional is not an option, I encourage you to approach your partner in a very calm, loving, non-confrontational manner and respectfully share your feelings without blame or attack. Be willing to listen and seek understanding. Be especially mindful of tone of voice and language used and convey that you want to work through and resolve this issue because your relationship is so valuable!

Guest Blogger
Kimberly Gist Miller, M.S, LMFT

Enmeshment - How This Concept Can Hinder the Ability to Cleave
If you could only choose one, which would you prefer to have from your spouse or significant other?
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