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Introduction and help with retiring MIL

Started by canary, March 04, 2012, 01:20:17 pm

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Hi! I have been reading for a few weeks and read the 'open me first.' I am hoping this is a good place for me to get advice and maybe offer some DIL insight.

I want to give an idea of how I ended up where I am.

DH and I met about 10 years ago in our late 20's, early 30's. I want to be clear there were no issues with drama, fighting, drinking, anything like that which could make a MIL weary of a new DIL. Everyone but MIL thought we were a great match and was thrilled.

MIL and FIL divorced when DH was in high school. FIL remarried years later so I get a bonus MIL (SMIL) with the package :)  Anyhow, DH has an older sister who lives locally and a younger brother who lives overseas. His siblings are the crown jewels and DH is more or less an afterthought.

When we started dating MIL resisted meeting me. Meanwhile FIL and SMIL had us over a few times for dinner. FIL is intimidating, but SMIL was easy going so we hit it off right away. I met SIL at these gatherings and we are very different people but were always cordial. I have met DH's brother only a handful of times in 10 years.

I was thrilled to finally meet MIL after a few months of dating. MIL is a very smart woman with a lot of interests. I respect that about her and was glad to start a relationship.

She was less enthused. I think there were two issues. I think there was some fear of change, although from my POV I assumed she would be glad he was finally happy. The other issue is that SIL was single at the time and MIL was fixated on her getting married. She seemed to resent that DH and I were forming a serious relationship while SIL was still looking. When DH would talk to MIL about what we/he had been up to she would change the subject back to her golden child, SIL. DH confronted her about but it never changed.

For what it is worth, SIL can be flat out rude to MIL and BIL left the country and has nearly cut off his FOO. DH is the respectful one and gets the shaft.

When DH and I moved in together, MIL flipped. Not due to religious obligations (she is an atheist) but rather a panic that we were getting more serious. Flash forward 2 years when SIL moves in with her future DH-she made a big fuss and bought them a big housewarming present.

When DH told MIL that he was going to propose he took her out for a nice lunch. While everyone else was thrilled for us (SMIL started bawling she was so happy), MIL told DH that she 'no longer believed in marriage' and he should think long and hard before making this step. Poor DH came home depressed because he thought it would be a touching moment to share and she rained on his parade.

Flash forward. BIL is going to propose to SIL. Keep in mind that SIL *hates* her ILs and refuses to ever visit them because they are "rural." She insists all holidays are with her family. BIL's mother has the exact reaction to the announcement that MIL did. When MIL tells me about it she says "can you imagine the NERVE??? Who does that when their son makes such a special announcement?" My eyes bugged out and I quickly shoveled food in my mouth. She either thinks I don't know, forgot or is in another planet.

We get married and I involve MIL as much as I can. I wanted it to be special for her. We paid for the wedding and told IL's to invite who they wanted. There were no photographer issues or other imbalances at the wedding. There was boundary stomping, etc on MIL and SIL's part, which made me start to fear the future.

This is where I started to reach a breaking point with MIL. I am shy, so I am sure I did not bounce into her life and light up the room. However, she had made me really uncomfortable. She made rude comments about my family (my family does have its share of issues and is not at the same social level as the ILs). She was fully aware that I am a Christian but made derogatory comments about my religion at nearly every dinner. When I would say something she would say "oh, I know, but you don't really believe XYZ. No intelligent person believe XYZ."

In the early years I made a real effort to include her. If I saw a movie that I knew would interest her I made plans with DH to take her. On weekends I would say "honey, let's call your mom and see if she is free for lunch." I gave SIL and DH gift ideas for her bday and had them take credit. I reminded him to call her and made sure he spent time alone with her as well. DH actually prefers that I am with him when he sees his family (he sees me as a buffer) but I always say that I imagine a parent would like to sometimes have their kids to themselves. He would always return from these mother/son lunches and tell me how happy his mom was and that I was right. We split holidays so no issues there. My mom was a big help to me and gave me great ideas on being a good DIL. Nice, considering MIL thinks my mom is low rent.

In return for this MIL starts in with the "son is a son till he takes a wife" line. I was shocked. She was blaming me for taking her son away from her, when in fact 99% of the time he spent with her was because *I* had arranged it and sometimes downright nagged him. He was perfectly happy to be at home with me but I wanted him to maintain a relationship with his FOO. I was willing to overlook her slights against me because I felt it was best for my husband.

So I stepped back. I was happy to make the effort but I was not willing to make the effort AND accept blame. We still saw her when she made plans, still did holidays together, etc. But emotionally I was done. During this time I was pretty bitter and complained to my friends quite a bit. I think this only fueled the fire.

When we had our first child I knew I needed to make a change. I wanted to foster a good relationship between my IL's and my children. I stopped complaining to friends and thought of ways to include the ILs. At the same time, now I had worth to MIL and FIL. I was the vessel carrying their grandchild (hooray for me, haha). Honestly, it was fun watching them become grandparents and I am happy my kids have them in their lives. That is my overall feeling, but I there are problems at times.

Basically some old issues are still around. SIL is not having kids (does not want the stretch marks, late nights, etc. more power to her). SIL has said "I'll just help raise my nieces and nephews." Well, thanks, but we are not looking for a third parent. I swear, MIL and SIL think I had my kids for THEM. It drives me up a wall. 

That is not the big thing now, though...

Deep breath...This is a really sensitive thing to put out there, but 2 years ago our middle child became suddenly ill during her infancy, spent months in and out of the hospital and passed away. I am still reeling from this loss. I don't want to go into much detail, but the experience created distance in our relationship with the ILs again. MIL has a hard time keeping thoughts to herself-her classic line is "I know I shouldn't say anything..." then she goes ahead with whatever is on her mind. I CAN NOT have certain conversations about my daughter. I can not. I CAN NOT hear anymore how it was even harder for her because she lost a granddaughter and had to watch her son suffer. I made impossible medical decisions for my child, held her in my arms while she died and live with the aftermath everyday.

Now I am in survival mode, and need to protect myself so I can heal and be a good mother to my surviving children. I know my IL's have their own grief, but I am in no position to be their source of support. Also, for the record, we have since had another child and the ILs basically feel that we should be over it by now and will barely mention younger daughter. They are NOT in the same place as we are emotionally.

All of this leads me to now. I see MIL on a regular basis (at least once a month). The main change is that I no longer talk to her on the phone or spend time alone with her. She resents this, but I feel I am doing what I can.

I am fine where things are-the kids see the ILs and love them. I do not go overboard with them having time alone with the kids because they have different values than we do and I am not interested in them trying to turn my kids into mini-SILs.

The thing is, MIL is retiring soon and expects her access to the kids to change. She can no longer handle watching them alone physically, so I would have to be there (I stay at home). I have NO interest in this. Being around her without DH present makes me anxious. I never know what she is going to say. I am not willing to worry for days about getting the house perfect and worrying about conversation so she can have more time with the kids. I am not willing to spend my precious time with my children filled with another source of anxiety. THe other option is MIL taking the kids when SIL has a day off, but them alone together on a regular basis is not my favorite idea (once every few months is fine, not weekly). Like I said, the ILs have different values than we do and I do not want them talking poorly about my FOO to my kids, etc. This is starting to create tension the closer we get to her retiring.

How do I go about maintaining the status quo? DH and I are working hard on our marriage and dealing with grief. I do not have it in me to expend energy on my relationship with MIL. At the same time, I do not want to cause drama. I do not want to hurt my husband's feeling and tell him why I do not want to be alone with her.

I feel for her-it would be great if we had a comfortable relationship where she could stop in and it would be great to have coffee together. I am sure that is how she envisioned having grandkids-easy access, lots of overnights and pouring her values into them. That is not the relationship she has nutured over the years with our family, though. In my opinion I am not going to sit around crying that she is not reaping what she did not sow in the first place. I know she wished it was SIL that had the grandkids and not me, but I can not help what SIL wants. That has nothing to do with me and I am not going to hand over my kids to them so they can make believe.

OK....That was MUCH longer than I intended, lol. Bless you if you made it through the whole thing.


Welcome Canary :)  And thanks so much for reading our material :)

First, I am so sorry for your loss. 

IMO, you're on the right track by pulling back until you're ready.  Just a question, but does your DH know how you are feeling in regards to how his mother is treating you during this time? 

I think he should be the one to address this with her and put a stop to it.  You do not need this right now and shouldn't be expected to be on the receiving end nor fight it.

Glad you found us and keep on posting.  We're here for you.
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift


To be clear, my MIL is not the devil in heels. I do love her and want her to be a part of our lives, but we have different expectations at this point. As always, I get the blame.

I have appreciated reading here and getting insight. I have heard several people comment that their sons and DIL's do not invite them over and how hurtful that is. I realized we have only had MIL over for dinner twice. We have had some gatherings here and of course see her out and about, but do not have her over for dinner. My parents live several hours away and we host them here for weekends. I see now that it may be hard for MIL that she does not have the same time here.

In my defense, MIL frequently gossips about other peoples homes and housekeeping. One time she dropped in unannounced and made comments about my dust. One year when she remembered my bday she bought me a book on housekeeping (no, I am not a domestic type that would enjoy that). If she is here and the place is spotless she acts like it is amazing.

It is hard for me....my parents are nonjudgmental and have no issue ordering Chinese for dinner. MIL expects Martha Stewart dinner parties and that is not our thing. DH does not like hosting his family because he feels he is being judged on putting on a performance.

So I am starting to think she may have issues with me that I did not notice before. I never realized I may be hurting her feelings by not having her over. I thought if we invited her to dinner (and paid) that would be just as good. Now I see what that is not the case.


Thank you Pam!

We have talked to MIL about some of the comments she makes but it has not made a difference. She can be really sweet, but sometimes it feels like she is going to say what she wants no matter what.

DH has mentioned to me that he wishes she handled things more like FIL, who has a better handle on what to say/not say. He said MIL has said some really painful things regarding our loss regardless of him asking her not to. She seems to have better control when we are together, but not always. I have not talked to him about things she says just to me because it hurts to repeat it and I just want to let it be. So he has only addressed what has been said to him or the both of us.

I am not sure what to do when being frank does not help. This is not a new issue. The ILs say "she can't help herself" but that makes no sense to me. She is not 90 yrs old with dementia. If she can remember complicated details for her job why can she not remember simple things we ask her to not bring up? It seems more like she can't be bothered.

I feel stuck...I feel things are OK as they are but am at my capacity. I am not interested in expanding my relationship with her, or frankly with expanding her and SILs relationship with my kids. I like where things are at.

I recently told DH I could not travel with MIL on a long (14 hr) drive to a family reunion. There are many reasons, but I think that much time in a car with little ones is enough stress without adding MIL in. I think it hurt his feelings so now I am reluctant to tell him how I feel about her retirement plans. It has no bearing on him because he'll be at work.


Me again, sorry. After I posted this my mind kept going around and around.

I have twice gone to DH for help with MIL. Once was during our engagement when she and SIL were going to see vendors behind our back and trying to make major decisions without our input. He really can be clueless-he mostly tunes MIL and SIL out (I carry the conversation for him, which is a bad habit). So I pointed out what was making me uncomfortable and asked him to speak to her.

Then after the loss of our daughter we talked about some things she had been saying and he spoke to her several times. Nothing changed, and it has been a year and a half at least since he talked to her about it (that I know of. I guess he did interrupt her a few times and ask her to stop but he did not tell me at the time). My way of handling her was to step back, stop talking on the phone and stop seeing her without DH. So that has worked for the most part, although she objects and wishes I would call, etc. I rarely ever saw her without DH in the past, but we did speak probably once a week for an hour or so. I realize that is quite a change.

So now I do not know how to respond when she is retired and tries to set up a get together. How do I say no without creating a fuss? I am terrible with confrontation and am a very reserved and shy person. To complicate matters, FIL is semi-retired and has been for years. He has been in the habit of taking the kids on outtings maybe every other month. He is physically well and a confident driver. She does not like to drive the kids (therefore we are not comfortable with it). I think from her POV it will seem unfair that FIL gets the kids during the day and she does not. I don't want that to pressure me into doing something that will cause me anxiety and I also do not want to cut off FIL from his outtings to be "fair." Does that make sense? It would be easier if she could handle the kids on her own and I would not have to be involved.

I would love advice and maybe some guidance in how to approach DH (I dread this) or what to say to MIL when it comes up. I am happy she gets to retire but man I do not want it to change things for me.


Canary, have you or DH gone to counseling?  IMHO, you should be able to talk freely with your husband and since you feel you can't -- well, maybe that's the place to start for right now.  With your marriage and counseling is a safe place for you to bring it up at.  I go by myself for the most part to work through issues MIL has brought up and it does wonders for me, however I found a gal I really like and that may be hard for you to find.  It's an option though. 

It's just concerning to me that you feel you can't speak to him about this.  First of all, what your MIL is doing is very serious and extreme boundary crossing.  It's not something small or insignificant anyone could overlook, this is serious. 

And it will affect DH even if he doesn't have to physically be in her presence while she's coming around.  It will affect him because she is hurting *you*  It will affect your marriage, your well being and your children's. 

And it doesn't have to be that way.  You do not have to entertain MIL in her retirement.  You do not need to subject yourself to critcism and negativity.  Heck, you don't have to be around anyone you don't want to but we're not even talking about that, we're talking about a seriously hurtful person who is trying to take over and at a time you are most vulnerable.

Your husband can easily handle this.  You just have to say no and refuse to lay down and take it. 
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift


first, my sympathies for your loss.  There is nothing that compares to having a child die, not even a grandchild, so don't listen to your MIL about suffering more. 

If your DH wants his mother to spend time with his children, then he can arrange it.  If MIL calls to make plans, just direct her to him.  If he's not willing to take off work to make it happen, so be it.  If he asks about it, just explain that you can't deal with her on your own.  You are happy to see her with him around, but the bottom line is, if he's unavailable, you and the kids are, too.  Don't explain it to MIL.  Just keep repeating, "You'll have to ask Jim about that."  No matter how she tries to put you in the corner (But he'll be at work, But it would be nice to have a girly time, but why can't you come without Jim) just repeat "You'll have to ask Jim about that.  Occasionally you can start off with "Bless your heart, you'll have to ask Jim about that.

Good luck.


People like your MIL count on other people being shocked and too polite to call her on her poor behavior. The thing is, there are some very polite ways of stopping this sort of behavior while still be polite and above reproach. Miss Manners is an excellent source for this sort of thing. Read her come backs, memorize them,  and practice them so that next time MIL comes off with some horrible comment, you can stick up for yourself.

Frankly, I think a lot of your issues come from feeling powerless to do anything about it. Love, you hold all of the cards here. You are the Mama bear, and you have control over your children's schedules. If you are going to be blamed anyway, then do what you think is right. Why pay the consequences without doing the crime?

Think natural consequences with your MIL, think about how you deal with your children when they misbehave and use the same techniques with MIL. She says something untoward, you politely let her know it is a subject you won't discuss and then change the subject. She won't let it go, you leave, hang up, ignore her email or other attempts at communication, etc..., tell her you will talk to her when she is in a better mood, and don't have any contact for a period of time. Essentially, put her in a time out.

Please tell your DH about MIL's comments. He is not a child and does not need you to protect him from his M, and you playing silent victim does no one any good. It only breeds resentment on your part. Share them so he can comfort you and protect you. Trust him to do what is good and right.

I wouldn't worry too much about MIL re-programming your kids in her belief system. I am an atheist and my M is fundamentalist Christian. I never kept M from seeing my children and she did her best to make them in her image. She failed miserably. She pushed so hard, she pushed them towards non-belief.  Your kids will grow up to believe how they believe, which may be totally different than how you believe, no matter what you do. Sort of like your DH believing differently than his M. Have faith in your own parenting. You are teaching your children core values that they will always come back to. I always thought it was better for my kids to be exposed to different ways of thinking so that we could talk about it at home rather than them running across it later in life and not knowing what to do about it and too afraid to talk to me about it, because I was too rigid with them when they were kids.

My M did, however, have a negative impact on my relationship with DS, well on DS in general, and this is why letting my children spend so much unsupervised time with her was a mistake. The story is long, but she sounds a lot like your MIL. Your MIL should not be criticizing you or your FOO in front of your children whether you are present or not. She should also be supporting and following your parental decisions if she agrees with them or not. If you are present when she behaves badly, see above about short circuiting this sort of thing. If you know she does it in your absence, then she has given up her ability to see them alone.

I agree with the other posters that if or until she learns how to be decent towards you, your DH should be present for every visit. She is his M, if it is important to him for her to have more access to your children, then he needs to be responsible for that.

And about the "fair"thing, life isn't fair. MIL treated each of her children differently, because they were different people and each one grew up in their own special circumstances, some of which, but not all, they shared with their siblings. She and FIL are individuals with different circumstances and you will treat each as you think best. Besides, your children are not little pieces of property to be used and divied up for their GPs amusement. They are people in their own right and if you are concerned about anyone getting a fair shake, it is them. They are your first priority.


Canary - I'm so sorry for your loss and for the stress your still living under regarding your MIL.

I'm sorry to say it, but you're going to have to grow a strong backbone when MIL retires.  You're going to have to say 'no' and mean it.  So if she shows up, you'll have to say "Now is not a good time, please call before coming over, we'll see you another day." and close the door.  If she calls and you remotely don't 'feel' like having company, then say that it's not a good time.  It's important to not JADE (justify / argue / defend / explain).  It's none of her business "why", it's just not a good time.

If you're feeling generous and do have her over and she comments about the dust, you'll have to say one of 2 things, either "Here's a dustrag, go to town!" or "If you don't like my housekeeping, you can leave."  The thing is, you'll have to be strong about it, you'll have to stare her down over it, until she realizes that in YOUR home, YOU are the "alpha".

As for comments about your daughter, I really hope that ONE TIME, you will FLIP OUT on her head, to such a degree that she will finally REALIZE, deep in her soul, that these comments are not acceptable. 

Dr Phil says you teach people how to treat you and it seems that you've been letting MIL get away with quite a bit.  I hate to make this analogy, but it's SO true, it really is like training a dog or a small child.  You have to be firm, you have to be consistent, you have to immediately correct undesirable behaviour and you have to immediately reward desirable behaviour.  And first you're going to have to break MIL of her bad habits with respect to how she treats you.

You don't have to be mean or rude or do any of this in anger, just like you don't discipline your kids or your pets in anger.  Natural consequences and a firm hand, that's what you need for this MIL.


Hi canary.  I just wanted to say welcome and how sorry I am for your loss.  I am very sorry you are having to deal with all this, on top of dealing with your pain.
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. -
Joseph Campbell


Thank you so much for taking the time to reply-I really appreciate the feedback!

Yes, we are in therapy, but so far we have only really dealt with issues related to grief. At our last session we finally started to talk about our marriage. I am really hopeful that we can repair and make our relationship stronger. That being said, I hate to throw in IL drama if I can help it.

MIL has not made comments to me in some time (last I can think of was Christmas), and I think this has a lot to do with how I manage the situation. I am almost never alone with her and we rarely speak on the phone. In person I tend to drive the conversation away from sensitive issues by asking her a lot of questions about her life. My fear is that if I open the door back up to "free" conversation that she will take off and run with it again. I am getting better about speaking up for myself, but it is hard. I think I need to sit down and think of some responses so that when it happens I am not so caught off guard.

If it was happening on a regular basis still I would not be spending time with her, period.

I do not feel she is malicious, but maybe clueless? That in itself is bad enough. For example, if she just saw a movie and we tell her we are going to see it, please don't give away the ending she says "Oh no, I wouldn't do that!" She then goes on and tells us the movie despite our interjections, etc. Another common example is if we both saw the same documentary. She'll say "Oh, I saw this great film XYZ" We say "Yes! So did we! Wasn't that interesting how they said ..." Rather than engage in discussion, she just carries on as if we have not seen it and tells us the whole darn thing.

The worst of it is that she will sometimes tell us about the same documentary 3 or 4 times regardless of what we say.

For my part, I accept this is how she is (DH says it's how she's always been, it is not a sign of aging, etc). I listen and nod along because everyone else has tuned out and I figure my attention is a small thing I can give her.

The problem comes when you combine her repetitive conversations with a sensitive topic.

It goes like this....she's says something bothersome and is gently told not to say it again. Next time, she says it again, seemingly forgetting last time. Now our response is firm and very direct. Third time, she says the same thing, the response back is upset, and she says "Well I never know what I can say or not! You are so sensitive!" That of course can not be the end of it.....now she just says "I know I should keep my mouth shut, BUT..." rinse, repeat....

In our 10 years I have yet to see her drop a sensitive topic for any of her kids.

It honestly baffles me. I mean, she has an intellectually demanding job. Could she really have memory problems? I don't think she would choose to be this dense. Or I am in denial?

What Pam said about not entertaining her in her retirement hit home. I know that I am not responsible for her happiness, but I have a hard time applying that knowledge.

In general, the way I handle being a DIL is by thinking of things from her POV. I know if she buys the kids clothing, she would like to see them wear it, so I make the effort to dress them in those clothes when she sees them. When we have a big event (family wedding, etc), I know she likes to rehash the event, so I suggest to DH that we take her to lunch the next day so she can talk. Etc, etc.

So when I see her going into retirement and I know that is a hard change, I think, I know she wants structured time with the kids. I know she wants more time alone with them and SIL. But now it makes me uncomfortable and I don't want to sacrifice my comfort to give her the retirement she envisioned. I feel like a terrible person, though, when I deny her something that I know would make her happy.

From the outside (DH, SIL, MIL) I think they all see it as a no-brainer. Why would I not want to hang out with her-we will both be home during the day. Why would I not want MIL and SIL to take the kids? It would give me a break. I don't think anyone would understand why I do not want to spend time alone with her. I am afraid I will be seen as the stereotypical controlling DIL and mean.

In order to say no, I think I also have to say "How things are now works, and I do not want to risk hurting our relationship." Just in saying that, though, will expose that we are not in fact friends and cause discomfort. I worked hard to let go of past hurts and I feel like I have let go of the past. At the same time, it affected how our relationship grew and we just are not friends and I am not comfortable being alone with her.

I am going to talk to DH about it so we can think of a way to approach her. She has asked several times to have 1-2 set days a week that she visits and then 2 days a month for her and SIL to take them for the day. I have told her each time that I do not like having our time set in that way and we will talk when things get closer. I just haven't found the words to say "no" without bad fallout. Maybe that is like asking for having my cake and eating it, too.

Oh, and as far as limiting their influence, it is not religion I am so worried about. Since the kids were born the ILs have been more respectful about that and I will intervene if that changes. It is more that they are.....pretentious and have ideals that I do not want pushed on my children. They are very "you should speak 2 languages, play at least one instrument, attend certain schools, eat certain foods, etc" Those are the things that give a person value. This pressure landed all three kids in therapy and is one reason the youngest left the country. In their family manners are sort of like a contest rather than a way to help people feel comfortable. They also do things like tell the kids not to cry when they get boo-boos, etc, regardless of how often I tell them to stop. (although in most every other regard they respect our parenting wishes-I really do not mess around with how my kids are treated).

When MIL and SIL get together, it is the worst of it. I think they are afraid they are the only chance my kids have at developing class, lol. It is not as though I am backwards, I just want my kids to be down to earth and loving towards all people, not just the ones who know the right wine to drink. Again, them having them alone every few months is fine, but I am not comfortable with more than that.

I know I am focusing on the bad here. They do have redeeming qualities and I know they love our kids. That is why I make the effort.

I do want to work on having her over more often, but only when DH is here. I think that is something I have been too tense over. There are things I could improve, like I should have told MIL a long time ago that I am not interested in talking on the phone rather than letting the machine get it.

Why is this so hard???


Canary, you sound like an extraordinarily thoughtful person, I think that's why it is so hard for you.

Another thing a lot of people in similar situations are advised to not JADE.  Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain.  While DH should take the lead on this, if it is brought up to you I think you can politely say "That won't work for us" and then change the subject.  Repeat it as much as necessary.  It's hard to say no at first but gets easier the more you do it.

It might even be helpful to run the conversations through your mind and different scenarios and practice your responses.

For what it's worth, I think it's an extremely poor idea to set up any kind of schedule with them.  I'm glad you're not doing that and maybe their expectation of one is what you can discuss in therapy with DH.  It's kind of shocking that they would even ask for that and the therapist should be able to explain to DH how to handle their expectations and entitlement of your time a bit easier.  Then it would not only help you out but also give DH some food for thought and some tools to cope quickly with the situation.  It's something that should probably be nipped in the bud rather quickly before it takes on a life of it's own.
People throw rocks at things that shine - Taylor Swift