*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Having a close relationship with your extended family after you get married will need patience and plenty of determination on your part. But what do you do when you try to compromise and you realize your in-laws don't listen to anything you have to say and think it's fine to make every decision for you like you're a kid?
Would you still try to improve your relationship as a family, or would you just focus on your marriage and forget about visiting your in-laws?
My friend Margaret, who lives in Dallas, Texas, has been married to her husband, Patrick, for nine years. They have two daughters together, and Margaret is a stay-at-home mom.
"It didn't feel ok for me to go back to the office after I gave birth. Even if we hired a babysitter, my little girls wouldn't have the same kind of love and attention they receive from me. And my relationship with Patrick also got better since I'm home because our place is warm and tidy, and I make dinner for the two of us, and we go on dates when mom and dad can watch over the kids," Margaret said.
Patrick is happy with his wife's decision to focus on their home and kids, and he's able to pay for their bills from his salary, so their marriage wasn't affected by arguments. They got closer after becoming parents because Margaret found time to think about little gifts or tasty dishes that she wasn't able to come up with while doing overtime in the office.
While Margaret's mom and dad didn't hesitate to come over and take care of their granddaughters when the couple needed some time for themselves, not the same thing happened with her in-laws. Not only did Patrick's parents not babysit even one afternoon, but his mom also uses every visit as a chance to tell Margaret what to do.
"Each time we go over there, I feel criticized and looked down on. Angela, his mom, is just so difficult to get along with. She treats me like a kid and won't listen to what I say. I'm visiting because I want my little girls to be close to their grandparents, but she's not interested in them at all. And my father-in-law will usually find an excuse to leave a few minutes after we arrive," Margaret said.
While she's not happy with how Angela treats her, Margaret thinks their relationship could improve if her husband was more firm about the issue. Unfortunately, Patrick doesn't want to get involved and told his wife she shouldn't mind so much what his mom says.
"She's overreacting. I know mom likes to tell people what to do, but it's not like she's got to do anything. She can just listen to her, be polite, and smile for a bit. I don't think it's too much to expect," Patrick said.
He'd like to avoid any kind of arguments with his mom, but this is gradually causing an issue in his marriage. Margaret doubts he cares enough about their relationship to make it clear to his mom that she needs to respect her as part of the family.
"It's not just about being nice. She's trying to make decisions about when we go on vacation, telling Patrick what he should do with his salary, and even making suggestions on how to spend mine. I don't want her to tell me how to spend what I earn. And if she's not excited about being a grandmother at all, I don't know if it's worth keeping up this stressful relationship," Margaret said.
She told her husband he could visit his parents on his own for a while, and he agreed, but she's still not pleased with his attitude. Margaret also talked about what's going on with her parents, and they think she should take a break from visits but not give up completely on having a positive relationship with her mother-in-law.
They think Angela is likely to start missing her granddaughters if only Patrick goes to visit her for a month or two, and when that happens, she will be willing to find a way to get along with Margaret.
What do you think about this situation? Is it fine for Angela to keep telling her daughter-in-law what to do and try to organize the couple's expenses even if they didn't ask for any help with that? Should the mother-in-law apologize and try to get along with Margaret so she can still have a close relationship with her granddaughters?