Pooh, the answer to your question about whether my inlaws do these things only to me is both yes and no. MIL does comment on everyone's appearance, especially women, weight, hair clothes etc. incessantly. It's not personal. Because of my own insecurities I have reacted more than others. Other people in the family find it rude an annoying, but don't seem to get so upset about it. Both inlaws are extremely weight conscious and don't hesitate to comment on people's weight. (Examples: FIL told my son he was getting fat when he returned home from college. MIL told my mom how nice and trim she was looking when she was dying of cancer and had lost so much weight for that reason. ) As far as I know no one ever confronted them about this until I did. Everyone was aware of it and doesn't like it but they just put up with it. Now MIL says she is working on not doing it, so maybe I've done her a favor.
As far as the food issues, it is about MIL wanting to feel needed as Fangle said was the case with others she knows. MIL is all about wanting to serve others in that way. There is nothing wrong with that except when people specifically ask you not to, in my opinion. When I invite people over for a dinner party to my home, it is a gift that I am giving them and so I do feel like I have the right not to have it taken over by my inlaws. I tried to explain to my MIL that it's like if I was making a quilt or something to give to someone as a gift and she came along and said "oh I want to help" and took over and finished it. Then it would no longer be my gift. She just looked at me and I don't know if she understood or not. She is such a nurturer that it seems really hard for her to accept that she can't do it even in my home.
I have not observed my inlaws doing this to others. My grown children have had family gatherings and I noticed my inlaws didn't try to take over and didn't over do it with what they did bring, if they were asked to bring a side. The only other family is my husband's brother's family who live across the country from us and inlaws recently moved near them. BIL is recently married and I have not visited there since inlaws move there, so I don't know how that is going. My ex-SIL was very strong willed and didn't allow it. She was also not well liked by them. MIL was very nice to her but I heard what was said behind SIL's back.
The hardest thing for me to tolerate with MIL is the excessive complimenting and "niceness" that comes across as disingeniune. My MIL really wants to and tries to be a nice person. There is a defense mechanism called reaction formation and I think that is what my MIL does. It's when someone feels anxious about having bad feelings toward another, so they over compensate by behaving in the opposite manner. MIL tries really hard to be nice to me, mother me, compliment me etc. I can see her looking for something nice to say to me. Occasionally she blurts something very insulting out. I have come to the conclusion that that is when her true feelings come out. The complimenting makes me uncomfortable because it is really excessive and it doesn't seem sincere to me and also because I don't have good feelings toward her. I tried to talk to MIL about this and said "I question your sincerity" That was a big mistake because she said I called her insincere and that hurt her to the core. I don't think this is something I will continue to address in the future, because I don't think it will do any good and only hurt her. I don't even think she is aware that she does this. I have not noticed MIL doing this to her sons or grandchildren, the way she does with me.
MIL has a listening problem too, but I have noticed that when her sons and grandchildren make requests of her she listens.
Pooh, I have been too sensitive and taken things too personally and this has made it worse for me. And I have developed a pretty negative attitude toward them too and have dwelled on their bad qualities. They do have some good points too. They are not bad people, but even good people have bad feelings toward others. I am a good person and I certainly have bad feelings toward them. I think they resent me for not fitting into their family culture and I resent them for trying to impose their family culture on me.
I am still struggling with how to move forward. I find it hard to turn my hurt and anger off like a switch and I feel like there is never going to be the resolution that I had hoped for. The best I think I can do is to make occasional visits with my husband and try to do this without giving up my power to them and without becoming so angry with them. This is how I hope to handle it.
1.Pay attenton to my reactions to them and do a lot of supportive self talk to get me through it. For instance if inlaws say something critical to me, instead of taking it to heart, I will tell myself that that is just their opinion of me and not my opinion of myself. It might even help to say that out loud so that they can hear.
2. I plan to stay in a nearby inn or motel. Under the circumstances, I think that would be best at least until we see how things go. My inlaws will probably object and feel hurt by it, but rather than allow myself to be guilted into something I am not comfortable with I will stand firm on that. I thought I could explain: "I am an introvert and my down-time is important to me. It's hard for me to be around people 24 hours a day. ( and this would not be a lie) I think it will be a more comfortable and enjoyable visit for me this way. You want me to be more comfortable and enjoy the time, don't you?"
3. If inlaws visit us in the future and try to take over I was thinking I could respond by saying: "I am happy to let you provide food and serve me when I visit you. Please show me the same consideration and allow me to provide the food and serve you when you are my guests. " My husband has told them that for now he doesn't think we should all be under the same roof, so if they come visit they can't stay with us. That seems harsh to me, but I agree with it. This could change depending on how things go in the future, but for now it's probably a good idea.
4. If MIL makes comments about my appearance I think I will just gently remind her what she is doing.
I struggle with assertiveness and this has caused a lot of my problems with my inlaws. Things would not feel this bad if I had only been honest and upfront with them from the beginning. It is a new skill and I will probably make some mistakes. It's hard to find the balance between being passive and going to far to the point of becoming aggressive. I would be interested in your feedback about how I can be more assertive with them without going too far and please tell me if the way I intend to handle these issues seems to aggressive or not assertive enough. I hope to be able to address things as they come up rather than waiting until I feel angry.
Other than that I feel like I will need to detach, lower my expectations and not force myself to spend too much time with them and pay attention to my own needs.
In case you are wondering where my husband is in all this: He is not a passive person but he has been quite passive with his parents. He's been well aware of the problems but like me, he has avoided dealing with them. However since the big confrontation, he has been completely supportive of me and I think he will have my back. ( I hope). He has even told me that I don't ever have to join him for a visit with his parents unless I want to. Well I don't really want to but I'm not going to feel good about just writing them completely off. I feel like they would be hurt by that and I feel like we all deserve another chance to do things differently.