This weekend I was involuntarily dragged, kicking and screaming into the midst of my sister and brother in laws’ marriage drama. We went out to dinner with them on Friday, and I learned far more than I wish I had. The whole experience however did get me to thinking, so to speak, about where the line should be drawn in the case of Mothers-in-law.
My brother-in-law (forthwith referred to as BIL) is a momma’s boy. Early thirties, and he still lives with Mommy (referred to forthwith as MIL). BIL and wife (SIL) attempted home ownership for a few months. They impulsively bought the first house they saw, without really researching or pricing things out. They got into a mortgage they could barely afford even when they both worked. And frankly, aside from SIL hating living with MIL, the only other reason why they decided to buy as house was because we were buying ours and they felt left behind. That’s a perfect example of the kneejerk decisions they tend make as a couple.
They are typical of Gen-Y. All about the ‘now’ and the ‘me’. They can’t afford to pay a mortgage, but they have a quad, a motorcycle, an X-box 360, a blackberry, two new cars with payments, a piece of land somewhere for recreation that they never use, and they have the greatest moneypit of all; TrendWest. My favourite justification I’ve heard from my BIL is his excuse for having the TrendWest; “It’s like a retirement plan,” he exclaimed to me with alacrity. It took every fibre of my being not to laugh in his face. On top of all this, SIL got pregnant with her fist kid and decided she wanted to be a stay-at-home Mom.
Today, they have two boys, one about two, and the other not even a year old. They still haven’t put a shred of thought into savings for education or retirement. He has no 401K to date.
Anyway, SIL's decision to quit working lost them their cookie-cutter development house; costing them a huge mortgage penalty for selling against the mortgage agreement. They not only lost most of what they made on the house on that, they also had to pay capital gains tax of course, having not been in the house more than two years, and they promptly spent the rest on goodness knows what. Quite the venture.
They agreed as a 'step forward' (direct quote from BIL) to move back in with MIL. Two years later, SIL is still home full time—the cabin-fever has long set in, she's obviously unhappy, but working is still not an option. Keep in mind, she is now living with MIL again… something she hated before they bought the house. It allowed her to stay home though, so she was able to suck it up in the beginning. Now the depression is permeating her; and then add on the post-partum depression that reared its ugly head with the advent of the second child, and boom, she is prescribed Effexor. Their relationship has been progressively swirling down into the toilet.
She whispered to me from behind her menu Friday that she doesn’t think her anti-depressants are helping enough. BIL then promptly threw a toy at her to make her stop talking about their private issues with me… SIL managed to tell me other things as we ate, between kid screams and tossed French-fries and her controlling, obviously angry, toy-tossing husband.
After they sold their house, they lived with MIL in the same house for a while. Then recently, MIL bought some acreage with a manufactured home on it, and offered to rent it to them, and she’d live in a camper on the property. Naturally, they couldn’t afford the rent so BIL now has an endless ‘Mommy-Do’ list of things to do to compensate his mother for their rent; which now includes caring for livestock MIL bought. He righteously complains that ‘it’s getting old’. I can imagine so, however I say strap on the cross, baby, and start dragging it around – I’ll get you a crown of thorns to complete the whole look, martyr-boy. You reap what you sow.
SIL is upset because he does all this work for ‘his mother’ and she never sees him and she never gets a break from the children; and BIL says ‘I'm doing it all for us’ and acts like the whole burden lies upon his shoulders. Yes, this bickering was going on all through our dinner Friday night (while the boys made all sorts of noise and threw food all over the floor). I commiserated with every annoyed face that turned our way whenever the ear-bursting squeals pierced the already tense atmosphere. SIL is beyond caring any more.
As my husband and I predicted long ago, Mommy-in-law inevitably can’t keep her nose out of their business. She's strongly enabled in her intrusion by her son, who righteously believes he's only doing the right thing, and SIL is failing him. MIL is in and out of their house like she’s the wife. She pretty much controls the household, and has a large say in how the children are reared. SIL just lets it happen; she's given up; all her power has been taken away. MIL has now decided to ramp up a campaign against my SIL—so harsh and cruel, that it’s almost caused SIL to pack up the kids and to leave. She’s already depressed from being home with the kids 24/7. She hardly leaves the house. Nobody seems to notice the depression issues. Darling BIL and MIL gang up on her with constant criticism. She is wholly unhappy, almost everyone in the restaurant could feel her ire whenever she spoke. Their marriage is going to hell in a handbasket.
I cannot imagine what it would be like to have no allies in my own household. Worse, the person I would expect to be there for me no matter what, undermining me? I couldn't bear it. I could not suffer a third party meddling in my marriage. What really chaps my behind about this whole thing is that BIL has no inclination to fight for his marriage, and instead buddies up with his mother and stands at her side when she rails on SIL. That's just wrong. SIL isn't perfect but kicking her when she's down isn't going to turn her into what they want her to be, it's just making things worse.
MIL recently gave SIL a four-page letter listing SIL’s flaws; telling her exactly why she is a terrible wife and mother. How thoughtful. BIL doesn't think she did anything wrong.
How does one deal with that kind of meddling? I told my husband, as we made our desperate scramble to escape the bickering which had stressed us out immensely, that if that happened in my house, I’d pack up and leave. I would not tolerate a mommy in my marriage. I certainly would not tolerate my husband choosing to add a third person into our relationship.
That’s not what women sign up for when they say yes and accept the ring. We don’t say "I do" to a husband + mommy. MIL needs to step-off and live her own life--BIL needs to cut the umbilical cord and figure out who he really wants to be married to. He also needs to man-up and get himself off the dependency train. Get their own house and their own space, and give SIL back her power over her own household.
Grow the heck up.
What they also really need to do is to get this all hashed out before the kids get older and these issues really start to affect them.