Hi Dr. Laura,
Thank you so much for being available for our questions and concerns--really appreciate that! Like the previous poster, I also have a challenging (borderline abusive) relationship with my mother-in-law. I have know her for nearly 20 years, and at first thought she was an extremely supportive mother to her children, but after so many years, I see her behavior much differently.
MIL is a very manipulative person, and quite emotionally abusive in my experience. I am not a professional, but after multiple therapy sessions, I have come to accept that my MIL likely has a narcissistic personality disorder. She has an extremely close relationship with my husband, and there is little emotional boundary between the two of them. There are many things I wish that I had paid more attention to when we were dating. We have now been married for over 8 years, and those years have not been easy for a few reasons, one of them being his mother's treatment of me. He always defends her behavior and says she could never mean anything negatively--of course, I know differently as I have experienced it directly, but I no longer expect him to be supportive or protective of me in any way. What is happening now with our children is what is concerning me.
Now she is starting to manipulate our 5 year old daughter to get her way on things. For example, my daughter was in a ballet recital recently (like the previous year), and I knew that having a large crowd of relatives there might be too much for her. She is only 5, and that is a lot of attention. In my husband's family, they typically would do everything together, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents...everyone (this is how MIL likes it). So, after arguing with my husband for several days, he agreed to inviting only the grandparents, which is what we did the year before and seemed to be fine. Well, we had MIL down to babysit the week before the recital and she made a point of talking to my daughter about the ballet, asking her if she was excited about it and about her and grandpa coming, and then making the point to "not forget about Aunt Jenny." She told her that if she asked mommy, maybe mommy would let Aunt Jenny come too. I was pretty angry about this, but didn't let my daughter see how I felt, as I don't want to put her in the middle anymore than she already has been put there by MIL. My daughter was then very concerned about whether Aunt Jenny would be coming, and I just told her that her father and I had already decided who would be coming.
Also, knowing how MIL can be, I have been concerned that she was saying undermining things about me to my daugher, but didn't really have proof of it--just know intuitively. Today I was making pasta and apparently making pasta reminded my daughter of the last time MIL came over and babysat her. My daugher told me that MIL asked her if mommy made her stand back when draining the hot water off the pasta, and my daughter said, "no." Not true, but anyway, then MIL said, "Well, you tell your mommy that she needs to make you stay back when she is making pasta because that is dangerous." I just told my daugher, "I am very careful when I am cooking and it is my job to make sure you are safe. This is very important to Mama." I consider this exchange between MIL to be undermining of my competency as a mother, and it puts my daughter in an inappropriate position. I am concerned that these types of interactions are happening a lot, because this is how she acts when I am around, quite frankly. My husband would see this as MIL is just trying to help and doesn't mean anything by it. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
I don't know what to do. We can't really afford to see a therapist, but I feel like I need some advice I can live by. Thanks!