MIL is very Catholic, we're very NOT - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 24 Old 03-19-2014, 08:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm not sure where to post this, but hoping someone will have some insight/experience. My MIL is extremely Catholic. Of her five adult children, only one is still practicing. My husband and I are decidedly not Christian, and in fact feel strongly that the Judeo-Christian paradigm is oppressive and harmful. So far, other than the occasional invitation to church, she has not pushed it on me in 8 years of being with her son. Our baby just turned one, and up until now she has given appropriate token gifts - a stuffed animal etc. She has expressed to my husband, but not to me, that she was disappointed the baby wasn't baptized, his way to (not) deal with it is to just make a joke and change the subject. For the baby's first birthday last week, MIL brought a gift of a statue of a guardian angel and two books about guardian angels which were very heavy with ideas about God and Jesus which we strongly disagree with. My husband's plan was to "lose" them. I feel if we don't nip this in the bud and express that it's not ok with us for her to proselytize, it will get worse. My husband feels because her faith is so important to her we shouldn't hurt her by expressing our views, but just ignore it. I don't think we should "condemn" her views, but simply state that we are not Catholic and do not want these kinds of things in the house. I presented to him that either he could discuss it with her or I could. We have not made any decisions yet. I would appreciate any suggestions.

 

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#2 of 24 Old 03-19-2014, 11:54 AM
 
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I would encourage you to be gentle with your MIL. For her, faith is very important. Many MILs, in her place, would be harping on you about the not-baptized state of the child.  She has instead given gifts. I think that she probably thinks she's being very open minded about the situation. It's going to be a long while until baby is old enough to request books. Why not keep them on the kid bookshelf, and at a time when they are requested read them-- even just look at the pictures, explaining that while some people believe this, you and your family do not. The statue I'd keep as a token of a different culture-- much like small tokens of travel many people have in their homes. 

 

I don't think this will evolve into a war unless you make it a fight. Be gracious, be gentle. When your children are old enough to ask, explain your values.

 

 

I am (was) in a similar situation. I married a non-practicing catholic from a devout family. His mother never made a deal of my non-catholic-ness. I am very grateful. 

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 My husband feels because her faith is so important to her we shouldn't hurt her by expressing our views, but just ignore it. I don't think we should "condemn" her views, but simply state that we are not Catholic and do not want these kinds of things in the house.

 Regarding this-- I agree with your husband. These items have no power. 


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#3 of 24 Old 03-19-2014, 02:10 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I appreciate your feedback, Red Pajama, and to be clear I'm not looking for a war. Just respectful boundaries. I seriously wouldn't dream of trying to convince my MIL that her religion is wrong(even though I disagree with most of it), and I don't understand why it should be graciously overlooked when she pushes her religion on my child. I also believe she will push more. She is a deacon in her church, her life revolves around it. The books are really quite offensive, and the statue is large, not a small token thing.

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#4 of 24 Old 03-20-2014, 07:21 PM
 
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To be honest, it sounds like she has been respectful of your choices in the past, so I would also be inclined to gloss over this isolated incident and see if it happens again. I'd put the statue in a box, maybe, for my kid to decide about when they're older, send the books to the Goodwill, and call it a day. We are not religious, either, but I did save some things my kids were given as babies that are religious, because they were given with kindness and love, just like I kept some non-religious things (like the set of very old-fashioned baby spoons my great aunt sent).

 

If you feel obligated to address it, a better way might be to suggest something that might appeal to your MIL and also be acceptable to you.  For example, would a securlar-ish Christmas thing be acceptable to both?  We are not at all religious but now own several books about baby Jesus and the Christmas story because the kids got curious about it.  So now my kids can tell you all about Jesus and the stale and the shepherds and angels and wise men, but because we treat this as a great story and not as the one true story, it's not more powerful than any other great story they know.


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#5 of 24 Old 03-20-2014, 08:09 PM
 
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Have pity on her- it can't be easy on her to feel that her son AND grandchild may be going to Hell. She's trying her best to toe the line between respecting your wishes but sharing herself and her faith with her grandchild. It's gotta be tough! (Though I do understand your perspective on this.

She's reacting quite graciously for a devout Catholic lady- some of the Catholic matriarch types can be fierce when it comes to matters of family and faith! I'd say to have a calm discussion about what type of gifts you feel are appropriate.

Btw- I'm a "Catholic agnostic"- was raised in a Catholic/Christian home and am married to a Catholic but am agnostic myself. There are no female Catholic deacons. Just a point of clarification.

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#6 of 24 Old 03-21-2014, 08:15 AM - Thread Starter
 
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"Btw- I'm a "Catholic agnostic"- was raised in a Catholic/Christian home and am married to a Catholic but am agnostic myself. There are no female Catholic deacons. Just a point of clarification."

 

Sorry, obviously I'm not Catholic; she participates in services. She cantors. I pulled out the wrong word. The whole idea of going to "hell" is one of the many things about the religion I find disturbing, I cannot pity her if that's what she thinks. I don't know how to not be offended.

 

This is what I would say to her: "This is difficult to say because we don't mean to cause you any grief, but we cannot accept these gifts. We respect that your religion is important to you, but we are not Catholic and we ask that you not give any religious items to our child, or teach her about your religion unless asked. We ask that you respect our wishes about this."

 

I am willing to be the bad guy here, but I really think it would have less weight than if my husband set the ground rules with his mother.

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#7 of 24 Old 03-21-2014, 11:15 AM
 
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No worries, I wasn't trying to nitpick. Deacon is a pretty high role in a parish- so I was trying to clarify.

Regarding pity- I can see why you'd be offended. But I was more trying to point out that many people in her position (religious with non religious loved ones) aren't necessarily saying "you're an awful person and are going to hell!" in a judgmental way. Oftentimes they are just truly concerned. (If you believed an objective truth, in a hell that unbelievers are sent to, wouldn't you be sad that your loved ones might very well be on their way there? That wouldn't be you trying to be intolerant or judging.)

I just wanted to throw that perspective out there as someone formerly Catholic/Christian.

That said, I don't know your MIL or her motives. And I definitely understand your desire to raise your child as you see fit, away from religious influence. So I think ground rules are definitely in order. Firm but kind. I like your phrasing and agree that having your husband say that would be best. That way it's you guys being unified as the parents/heads of your family.

Good luck!! I'm sorry you're going through this. I haven't really come out to anyone yet that I'm agnostic and so I haven't had to deal with it yet, but I'm sure some variation of this is in my future. Religious fanatics abound on both sides and I know no one will understand me walking a different path.
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#8 of 24 Old 03-28-2014, 02:00 AM
 
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I also respectfully agree that, although you have strong feelings about this, her actions have not been enough for me to potentially cause a rift between the two families. You have the most control over the religious views of your child, a book or two from grandma, even attending a service or two (at his choice later on) is most likely going to have little effect on your child. (And clearly her brand of evangelizing doesn't work.) Having a loving grandparent and nurturing that relationship would be more important to me than being an absolutist about Christianity. We don't like professional sports but if a grandparent gave some children's books on baseball, I'd have no problem with it. Now if she or he continually told my ballet loving boy that that he was stupid for dancing instead of playing ball, that is a boundary that needs to be set. It sounds like Catholicism is particularly triggering for you. Would you mind so much if it was a book on Judaism? Or a grandma hanging a dream catcher? Or a gift of an amber teething necklace and book on homeopathy? My therapist reminded me that really, unless it's a situation of abuse and custodialship, she's never had someone come visit her because of their grandparents.

Your baby is still so little. As long as she is generally a respectful and welcome presence in your life, this seems an ok thing to let go.
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#9 of 24 Old 03-28-2014, 08:40 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Very interesting trend here on Mothering; I posted this same question on another parenting board and received an outpouring of "Nip it in the bud now!" But the people who are responding here on Mothering seem to be siding with "being gracious" and "letting it go". I wonder why. It's also interesting to me that you phrase it as "potentially cause a rift between the two families". Seriously? A respectful boundary? "Triggering"? Why, yes, I refuse to teach my daughter that woman was made from a piece of a man and that she got herself kicked out of the Garden of Eden for curiosity. (Yes this was in one of the books about angels.) And I refuse to teach her that it pleases God when she obeys her parents. Because I want my daughter to grow up knowing she is an empowered person who can think critically and make decisions for herself. I find most of the church teachings very problematic. Yes, I suppose if you call that "triggering" you would be right. I am not seeking a rift, simply respect. I think that is more than fair.

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#10 of 24 Old 03-28-2014, 09:48 AM
 
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Clearly your feelings on this are very strong. It's not likely you'll be any more accepting later on, so your other advisors are probably right. You're uncomfortable with any level of religiosity so you should define that limit *now* for the sake of clarity.

Kindly but firmly explain to your MIL that you do not accept her beliefs as truth and will not be teaching your daughter religiously. Let her know that you see her religious gifts as problematic and will not be giving them to your daughter. This will hurt her, as she likely has pure noble intentions in sharing her faith with your daughter, her granddaughter. But at least things will be clear and you can all move forward from there.

FWIW I can't speak for others on the Mothering boards, nor do I know exactly what you're insinuating. But the response here "be gracious", simply takes others' thoughts and feelings and beliefs into account. Of course you are your child's parent and the gatekeeper of what beliefs you'd prefer being taught in your home; of course you are the ultimate teacher and authority in your home. That's not in question. For me, as an agnostic, I've found that I don't mind including various beliefs into our home. I can say "yes, grandma gave you that nice Angel statue because she believes it will protect you. I don't believe in Angels but Grandma does. Wasn't that nice of her?" And it's not a threat to me. I prefer for my children to be raised exposed to various beliefs because I view it as their choice. Later on, if they choose religion, it's not a problem for me. We can be different. (FWIW, children are more likely to side with a parent's atheism- especially the father's- than a relative's spirituality....)
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#11 of 24 Old 03-28-2014, 06:27 PM
 
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I don't believe that graciously accepting a gift and then throwing it away, donating it, boxing it up, setting it on a shelf, or even looking at it critically with my child, will "teach" them anything. Well, not about religious views I'm opposed to. Just about being kind.

If what I would do doesn't work for you, then I think your words sound like a kind way to set a limit that's important to you.
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#12 of 24 Old 03-28-2014, 07:28 PM
 
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I'm going to be a voice of dissent here. Your husband doesn't want to hurt his mother, that's fair and I suspect you don't want to hurt her either. However sharing your own views on religion (obv in a respectful way) is not any more hurtful than her stating her catholicness. You have every right to set boundaries within your family regarding your child. If you believe the religious gifts are the beginning of a trend, then it makes sense to clarify your boundaries with your MIL. I'm sure she would prefer to give gifts that will be used an appreciated, rather than "lost".

If you can't get your husband on board then you should absolutely talk to her yourself, but I agree it would be best if he can have that conversation. It would show that you are united in your views regarding religion in your home.

For us, DH is an atheist child of Christian parents. I'm more agnostic/neo-pagan, from atheist parents. We don't have religious items in our home, and did not expose our DD to religion at all until she asked. When she was five or six she heard about Jesus from a friend and asked me about it. We had a thoughtful discussion about different beliefs, I explained that she can choose her own beliefs when she's ready. I also stressed that we respect others beliefs, even if we think they're wrong. Mostly we avoid the subject with my inlaws, and they respect our wish to not discuss it. She's ten now, and we've had many more conversations on the subject, she currently believes in fairies but not god. Works for me.

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#13 of 24 Old 03-28-2014, 10:47 PM
 
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I think she's too young to understand what is going on and will be confused if you hide or throw out her grandmother's gifts. If your MIL starts getting worse with the talks and gifts, you may need to tell her you are uncomfortable...explain it in a way that she would understand. Tell her it's like a Jew giving a Catholic a statue of (insert famous Jew from Torah) or a Star of David and trying to convert them.

 

We live in the Bible Belt. Most of the pre-ks here use religious curriculum. My kids went to "chapel" at pre-k sometimes and they got by fine even though we don't go to church. My daughter would say grace before she ate, and it was cute. My son had developmental delays, and when another kid would ask "how come you can't do X" he would say "that's just how Jesus made me". Bad comparison...but music with inappropriate lyrics...kids at that age have no idea of the true meanings of what they are saying unless the meaning is taught to them. 

 

My kids were curious and would ask questions about God and I would answer "some people believe X and some people believe Y and Daddy and I were raised to believe Y." Sometimes I would tell them I'm not so sure what I believe any more and that I am still learning. I would read them children's books about different religions. We just accept that religion is all around us here, but we don't have to believe the same things as everyone else.

 

Basically, my kids were both baptized, but I went alone to church, only briefly after each baptism. My son has a cross in his room. I guess some would think it is confusing for them and we should pick a religion or non-religion and stick to it but we don't. So far, just avoiding church and celebrating holidays in a generic way has worked for us...they accept the occasional religious card or gift without questions. I figure if I do an all out ban or take away anything religious, that will create too many questions and could actually backfire somehow! 

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My family is devout Catholic, and also very generous.  They all know that I don't like The Church but no one has ever asked me about my beliefs.  Anyway, after a couple of small Christian themed gifts I asked my family to stop.  For me it was equally the content of the gifts as the accumulation of "stuff" as I am somewhat of a minimalist.  So, it wasn't hard for me to limit gifts to very special occasions as well as request that any presents be useful (i.e. not something for me to dust).  This has worked out pretty well for us, at least so far!

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#15 of 24 Old 03-29-2014, 08:09 AM - Thread Starter
 
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"I'm going to be a voice of dissent here. Your husband doesn't want to hurt his mother, that's fair and I suspect you don't want to hurt her either. However sharing your own views on religion (obv in a respectful way) is not any more hurtful than her stating her catholicness. You have every right to set boundaries within your family regarding your child."

 

Yes, thank you, LTurtle! Exactly. Neither of us want to hurt her. Definitely not the intention. My MIL just doesn't seem to get it sometimes, in other ways. My daughter and I are allergic to wheat, dairy and eggs, and even though she is a registered dietician she ALWAYS brings food we cannot eat and then with a fake nice-y voice says, "Oh I know you can't eat it but your husband can."  EVERY single time she comes over. As his sister told me recently, "Mum can be very dense."

 

After several days of discussion, my husband decided that he should be the one to talk to her. (Yay!) He didn't want her to try and subvert me. (double yay!) He very gently gave the gifts back to her and said, "Thank you so much, we really appreciate the thought, but my wife and I are going to take care of religious stuff with the baby. But we really do appreciate it." And while she appeared disapproving, she put on the nice voice and said, "Oh...ok." And that was it. So we will see if there is any fall out.

 

Yeah - the hard part is nobody wants to hurt anybody's feelings and it's really tricky to navigate stuff like this when it is so loaded. Of course we know what it MEANS to her. But she knows her son hasn't gone to church in 15 years. We got married outdoors, barefoot, by the friend who introduced us, a doctor who got ordained on the internet. It's not really a surprise to her that he's no longer Catholic. And there have been many conversations in her presence about my meditation practice - I'm loosely Buddhist but really more a liberal neo-pagan/ancestral nature0based religion, as is my husband. But yeah, it would be so much easier if we didn't care about hurting her feelings.

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#16 of 24 Old 03-29-2014, 07:15 PM
 
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"I'm going to be a voice of dissent here. Your husband doesn't want to hurt his mother, that's fair and I suspect you don't want to hurt her either. However sharing your own views on religion (obv in a respectful way) is not any more hurtful than her stating her catholicness. You have every right to set boundaries within your family regarding your child."

 

Yes, thank you, LTurtle! Exactly. Neither of us want to hurt her. Definitely not the intention. My MIL just doesn't seem to get it sometimes, in other ways. My daughter and I are allergic to wheat, dairy and eggs, and even though she is a registered dietician she ALWAYS brings food we cannot eat and then with a fake nice-y voice says, "Oh I know you can't eat it but your husband can."  EVERY single time she comes over. As his sister told me recently, "Mum can be very dense."

 

After several days of discussion, my husband decided that he should be the one to talk to her. (Yay!) He didn't want her to try and subvert me. (double yay!) He very gently gave the gifts back to her and said, "Thank you so much, we really appreciate the thought, but my wife and I are going to take care of religious stuff with the baby. But we really do appreciate it." And while she appeared disapproving, she put on the nice voice and said, "Oh...ok." And that was it. So we will see if there is any fall out.

 

Yeah - the hard part is nobody wants to hurt anybody's feelings and it's really tricky to navigate stuff like this when it is so loaded. Of course we know what it MEANS to her. But she knows her son hasn't gone to church in 15 years. We got married outdoors, barefoot, by the friend who introduced us, a doctor who got ordained on the internet. It's not really a surprise to her that he's no longer Catholic. And there have been many conversations in her presence about my meditation practice - I'm loosely Buddhist but really more a liberal neo-pagan/ancestral nature0based religion, as is my husband. But yeah, it would be so much easier if we didn't care about hurting her feelings.

Perhaps your husband could stop her when she begins to say "I know you can't eat this but..." and he could say "so why do you bring it every time? Did you ever think to bring something wheat free as well? You are a dietician after all!!"

 

I suspect there are some things my parents don't like about my husband but they treat him like their own son because he is my husband.

 

My MIL is very Catholic. She gives my SIL religious gifts sometimes, but not us. She knows my husband doesn't go to church any more. 

 

It sounds like your MIL has some serious issues. It's like she's not even trying. It almost sounds like she's doing these things to be spiteful. The food thing shows this is not just about religion, and I would be insulted.

 

Start talking to her about a good book you read about another religion, or give her a little Buddha statue....if there is any food she absolutely hates or can't eat, bring it to her house next time you go or cook it next time she comes over....I know, I know, you don't want to stoop to her level...but sometimes people just don't understand until they are put in the same situation. Either that, or look her in the eye and tell her straight up how you feel and let her know you won't be happy until she tells you what her problem is (in not so many words). Don't let her dance around the subject any longer. Make her say "I blame you for my son not being Catholic" or whatever her problem is. 

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#17 of 24 Old 03-29-2014, 09:44 PM
 
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Yeah... the food thing brings a whole new meaning to this. Glad it went well for your husband.

I can see how on one hand the food thing is just about her bringing food to her son, food she's comfortable making. But on the other hand...I don't even know if this is passive agression or what but it definitely says something. Let's just say this kind of thing is not foreign to me.
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#18 of 24 Old 03-30-2014, 07:37 AM
 
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The food things makes me think she has trouble coping with anything "different" from what she knows. This really reminds me of my own in-laws, who can't stand how "weird" it is that I eat differently than them or have different life views. It's supremely obnoxious and annoying. I think I'm understanding your situation better now and definitely think it's wise to lay down the law now. Just let her know the way things will be going forward.

"In this house, we don't eat wheat. We are not Catholic. I would really hate for you to disrespect that because it will mean seeing less of you. We respect your right to do/believe as you wish, and we expect the same from you." It's awesome your husband is on board because it will mean more coming from him.
Of course, she'll probably still blame YOU for her son being different than she'd like. (That's what happened to me). But at least him communicating your joint beliefs shows her that he's unequivocally on board.

Let us know how it goes!
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#19 of 24 Old 03-30-2014, 08:26 AM - Thread Starter
 
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The issue with the food thing is mind-boggling. There is a strong inflexibility going on, she does things a certain way because that's how you do it. You always have to serve Greek salad and breadsticks because that's what you always do when family gets together. It seems to go along with the conservative mindset. Her daughter has been avoiding wheat and dairy for years, and yet she still thinks her daughter loves Greek salad and breadsticks. Hence the "mum can be dense" remark. I've talked with my husband about the food stuff because I grew up with the "food is love" idea and in my family, you get people's favorites for birthdays and holidays. So we just always plan to have (or bring) our own special things. She is very set in her ways about food.

 

I don't think she can fully blame me about her son leaving the church - he did that years before he met me. Who knows.

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#20 of 24 Old 03-30-2014, 05:42 PM
 
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My only comment is that, given your strong reaction to religion, you should prepare yourself for what happens if your child grows up and joins a religion you don't approve of. You don't want to repeat this cycle with your own children. That doesn't mean you have to accept people foisting their religion on your child of course, but it would be good to make sure that your child understands that you respect your MIL's religious views even if you don't agree with them.

 

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Yeah... the food thing brings a whole new meaning to this. Glad it went well for your husband.

I can see how on one hand the food thing is just about her bringing food to her son, food she's comfortable making. But on the other hand...I don't even know if this is passive agression or what but it definitely says something. Let's just say this kind of thing is not foreign to me.

If she weren't a dietician, I'd just call it forgetful and habit, possibly passive aggression. Even my partner occasionally offers me wheat products out of a combination of forgetfulness and politeness, and we live together so it comes up daily. My dad still doesn't know what gluten is. It can be hard to avoid allergens in cooking when you're not used to it- it's very overwhelming at first. It's easy for a person to, just out of habit, make their child's favorite food then get there and realize that most of the house can't enjoy it as well, and there also might be a failure to realize just how serious the allergies are.

 

Because she's a dietician, I find it incredibly concerning. I don't understand how food allergies could be something "different" to a dietician (as waywornwanderer suggested). Passive aggression towards her daughter in law is one thing (not acceptable, mind), but towards her grandchild?

 

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Originally Posted by ndrasmith View Post

 

I don't think she can fully blame me about her son leaving the church - he did that years before he met me. Who knows.

It's possible that, like how she thinks her daughter likes breadsticks, she refused to accept her son had left the church or saw it as a phase and that he'd be back. I'm guessing you two didn't have a Catholic wedding, she may have seen that as the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, and blame you. People can be very irrational sometimes. :/


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#21 of 24 Old 03-30-2014, 07:06 PM
 
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Whoa. Somehow I skipped over her being an RD. In that case, her offering you and DD wheat isn't just passive aggressive. It's aggressive aggressive! Yikes.
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#22 of 24 Old 03-31-2014, 09:59 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Right. So because my SIL was in town for a wedding this weekend, we learned through her that MIL thought it was awful of us to return the gift, that she thinks we should have just put it in a closet or something. And that supposedly she thought I was Christian. Which is mind-boggling. It makes me think she really doesn't pay attention to anything, or that she just believes what she wants to believe. I have a Buddhist altar on full display, and we have never attended church. My husband is not surprised, he said this action was the biggest "game changer" of his life in his relationship with her, and he believes she will get used to the idea in time. He has a gay brother who came out 9 years ago and it took a few years for her to be ok with it, but she seems to have figured out how to live with it graciously by now. It's just so hard for me to grasp because in my family of origin, there would just be a conversation. It would be a learning experience.

 

sillysapling wrote: "My only comment is that, given your strong reaction to religion, you should prepare yourself for what happens if your child grows up and joins a religion you don't approve of. You don't want to repeat this cycle with your own children. That doesn't mean you have to accept people foisting their religion on your child of course, but it would be good to make sure that your child understands that you respect your MIL's religious views even if you don't agree with them."

 

I have been EXTREMELY tolerant of her Catholicism for 8 years now, apparently so tolerant she thought I was Christian. I have four older children from a prior marriage, and we talk openly about all things, and I have taught them to be tolerant of my MIL, even when we don't agree with her views.

 

also, "It's possible that, like how she thinks her daughter likes breadsticks, she refused to accept her son had left the church or saw it as a phase and that he'd be back. I'm guessing you two didn't have a Catholic wedding, she may have seen that as the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, and blame you. People can be very irrational sometimes. :/"

 

Good point. Thanks for that perspective. It does help to try and understand the situation better.

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#23 of 24 Old 03-31-2014, 04:54 PM
 
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Yeah, some people are like that- they prefer bad-talking people behind their backs to just addressing the problem. Probably thinks she's being "polite" by not saying it to your face, even though she's telling others about a situation that is none of their business and letting bad blood fester. It's hard to deal with people like that, because you never know if they have a problem with you until you hear about it from someone else. Sometimes even if you try to address the problem, they'll just brush it off or get affronted.

 

She certainly seems like the type to only accept her own reality. Not a whole lot you can do about it, unfortunately. It's still VERY disturbing that a dietician could forget/not care about her family's allergies, though...


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#24 of 24 Old 03-31-2014, 08:31 PM
 
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I am guessing she just pretends to be ditzy to get away with offending people. She told your SIL she thought you were Christian when it is VERY obvious you are not...that's BS. She just doesn't want to look like the bad guy. I have a hard time believing she is OK with gay son also. With the way she acts, it seems like she would always be trying to fix him up with a girl! 

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