When Her Questions Feel Like the Inquisition

It was the Summer of 2014 and we sat together on the back deck of a large house overlooking a beautiful lake. Sally had married in 1980 and her MIL had passed away a few years ago. Being on the MIL side of things these days, I was initially surprised to hear that as a young DIL, Sally had not welcomed her MIL’s interest. Well, at least not the way it had been expressed.

See if you recognize yourself on either side of this scenario.

“I felt, when we first got married, that she kind of wanted to treat me like a daughter and I didn’t want to be absorbed into this family that I really didn’t know. And the little that I did know, I wasn’t crazy about.”

Hmmm. How many of us MILs have heard ourselves say to our DILs something like “I’m so happy to have you as a daughter!” or “Now, I have a daughter!.” or “I love you like a daughter!” In fact, in a previous post, Fran said that exact thing to her DIL. In each case,the motivation was very likely to welcome the DIL into the family wholeheartedly and express delight in the woman whom our son chose. From personal experience, these best intentions are not always received very well – which is exactly what Sally was talking about. Too close – too quickly.

“My MIL was a very emotional, clingy, manipulative woman” she confessed. When they arrived at her in-law’s home for a visit, her MIL would be in tears, so happy that they were there. Then, she would ask “When are you leaving? Oh, can’t you stay longer? When are we going to see you again?” More tears.

Then, there would be “20 questions”. Sally says that there were times when she felt “emotionally raped” because of all the questions. Her interpretation was that her MIL wanted to be a significant part of their lives. So, she would move closer – figuratively. As a result, she as the DIL would “retreat” a bit, feeling that her personal space had been infringed upon. Which caused the MIL to push in further, asking more and more questions. Which … well, you get it. A vicious cycle. Sally admitted that she hadn’t had, at that point, the skill set to deal with this.

“I’m sure she was just trying to make conversation, but …”

Here’s one example of how it would go: Her MIL would phone and ask to speak to her son.

“He’s out.”
“Well, where is he?”
“At a meeting.”
“What type of meeting is he at? What is he doing at that meeting?”

Her MIL would keep pushing and pushing for more specifics. She wouldn’t accept a general answer. Now, Sally had been raised to answer every question put to her, whether it was appropriate or not. Finally, she would feel cornered and admit that her husband was at a therapy session.

Does the word “boundaries” come to mind as you peak into Sally’s world?

Another scenario:

“What do you want to do?”
“Well, what is there to do?”
“Well, we’ll do anything you want to do.”

They rarely did anything together except have these conversations.

“What do you want for dinner?”
“Well, what are you going to have?”
“Well, we can have anything you want. I can make tuna salad, but you can have anything. You don’t have to have tuna salad.”
“Let’s have tuna salad.”
“We can go out to dinner if you want.”

I can picture a MIL so wanting a good relationship with her DIL that she would try to be very accommodating. And that might appear to some people as fawning or being wishy-washy.

Is it?

This is GinnyLiz thinking aloud: When do accommodations and questions become negative and destructive and barriers to a good MIL/DIL relationship? Where is the handbook on this stuff?

I can see, being a MIL, that some MILs would ask lots of questions thinking “I want to know about you so that we can find things in common so that we can talk. I want to know about your life and where you came from.” And when they confide in their DILs, they might be saying “I want to tell you about me, who I am, where I come from and what occupies my interests.”

Why would DILs not understand this and embrace it?

What’s your take on this? Can you shed any light on this subject?

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One thought on “When Her Questions Feel Like the Inquisition

  1. Truthfully, I don’t think a hand book on MIL/DIL relationships would even be possible. Because each party in this scenario, this relationship , (that YOU had no say in to begin with,) come from a unique place. Different life experiences in relationships, different upbringing, parental relationships. THIS coupled with the your child’s influence , and their relationship with you it can be a whole different “animal” in every situation. I think 2 factors are universal, respect, and forgiveness. But then again you can just do YOUR part, you will go crazy thinking you can expect/demand the same.

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