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Why can't MILs and DILs get along?

Started by Vasilisa, April 28, 2012, 01:31:02 pm

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Why do so many MILs and DILs dislike or even hate each other? Has it always been this way?
Here are some of my thoughts:

1. There are problems that all in-laws have with each other simply because we get thrown together when we didn't choose each other and lack the common history and hereditary similarities that nudge most of us to love our own annoying FOOs in spite of everything. It's worse for women, though, partly because by nature we tend to be more emotional and relationship-oriented, partly because we live in a culture that expects women to bear the emotions of the family and carry its social life. An emotionally out-of-touch bachelor who barely holds up his end of his relationship with his mother becomes an almost completely detached husband who expects his wife to manage his family for him, remembering to send the birthday cards (with her even signing his name for him), shopping for Christmas, hostessing family events, even doing things with his mother and sister while he isn't present -- and no one asks her whether she wants this, whether she's comfortable with it, whether her in-laws are happy with it. To some extent this is even embedded in our etiquette, with the bride having the responsibility of writing thank-you notes for wedding presents to her new husband's family and friends as well as her own. Writing a few letters may not be a big deal, but the husband's detachment can become extreme -- as in my own case, where I suddenly realized that both my MIL and my husband were using me as a proxy for him so that they didn't have to deal with each other and their own troubled past. Which brings me to

2. The new wife inherits not just her husband's family name, but -- at least if it's negative -- her in-laws' attitude about him. If they believe he is immature, rude, entitled, etc., they tend to assume (perhaps not consciously) that his wife is the same. This is a problem for men, too, but I think that it's worse for women because of the expectation that we will deal with family on a more intimate level (see above), whereas Mr. Husband can just go hide behind the newspaper or in front of the computer screen when difficult relative are around and probably no one will think much about it. Notice how often in-laws given the cold shoulder by their son blame the DIL? This could be an outgrowth of number 1, too, with the wife becoming responsible for her husband's emotions and personal life. Conversely, parents-in-law may inherit their child's spouse's attitude toward her own parents, which may be full of anger and mistrust.

3. Men and women in past generations married younger, often tying the knot right out of high school or college. They never lived alone and were probably much more submissive to their families simply by virtue of their youth and inexperience. These days, we often don't marry or have children till we're in our 30s. It's harder for a woman with a college degree, a career, and over a decade of living alone to suddenly be expected to fit into someone else's family, and hard for her new in-laws to know where they fit in to this busy person's life. The greater age and experience of new wives probably also has something to do with the notorious problem of MILs being unable to give their DILs gifts for themselves and their children that they like. When you have your first baby when you are 35, you've had a lot of time to develop your own taste, and more time to plan what you want for yourself and your family.

4. Women's roles have changed radically in a relatively short period of time and are still in a state of upheaval. A lot of us struggle to relate to women in our own generation, much less to women of our mothers' generation. We tend to have strong feelings about our own life choices, whether we are stay-at-home mothers or work outside the home, and we are almost all touchy and defensive, quick to think we are being judged. Due in part to an explosion of self-help books and information ad infinitum on the Internet, there are also more parenting "styles" than ever before and probably less security about them. My MIL parented my husband as most mothers of her time did, with regular formula feeds, a crib to sleep in, a vaccination schedule that was not questioned, and "crying it out". I parent as do many "crunchy" types of my time, eschewing all of the above. What do we make of each other? Can we each assume the other did/does the best with the knowledge available at that time, or do we judge each other harshly as bad mothers?

5. For better and worse, mothers end up being the "gatekeepers" of their children, especially before they enter school. Even mothers with demanding careers are still usually spending more time with their children and know more about their likes, dislikes, how they're doing, and what (ha!) is good for them. Eager grandparents may end up feeling as though they are negotiating with a stony-faced bodyguard for some grandbaby time and various grandchild-related privileges, and they understandably may feel hurt by this, especially if they are paternal grandparents who see the maternal grandmother "getting more" than they do. It seems unfair and makes them push harder, which in turn makes the new mother feel as though she has two or three babies instead of just one. She can also become hurt and resentful when she feels -- sometimes legitimately -- that Grandma is competing with her for the child's affection and that she doesn't really care about her DIL as anything except a source for grandchildren.

Obviously this is colored by my own experience and I assume others will see things from a different angle. Does anyone else have any thoughts?


My take is that we are all so different that there is no way to be able to generalize. Culturally we're always shifting and adapting...rebelling and reframing. I think there are a lot of success stories out there that don't hit the Boards for obvious reasons. My relationship with my MIL is one of them and is under that category (Success Stories) on this Website. Sending love.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Very interesting list, Vasilisa, though none of those points apply to my situation. I think perhaps the stereotypical 1950's pre-feminist housewife may have run into those issues, but most of the MILs I know who are my age have had lifelong careers, were conscious about raising independent yet kind sons & daughters, didn't want to overindulge, etc. Even those of the generation before us (such as my mom) worked, read Adele Davis (early health food advocate), made gifts and other items by hand, did not overindulge (we had expectations, chores, limited allowance, curfews, etc.) & valued family time around the dinner table (be there at 6 or go hungry.) At least that's how my friends & I were raised in the '50s and '60s. Granted, we came from middle class, well-educated folk in a college town; can't speak for those of different circumstances.

My take on the whole DIL/MIL thing is that there are some DILs who want to cut a DH away from his FOO (or at least make his FOO look pathetic), and some MILs who will never accept anyone their precious DS brings home. If one starts w/either of those agendas or even milder ones on the spectrum and DS doesn't speak up, the DIL/MIL relationship is likely to be doomed. I have a DIL who set out to make us moot. She's been pretty successful at it w/help from her FOO. My DS spoke up early on, but bling is blinding & he's been drinking the kool-aid (gotta love a mixed metaphor, lol.)

IMO, the MIL is the one who loses the most when the relationship goes bad, so there isn't a lot of incentive for a "DIL w/an agenda" to work towards turning things around.
Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


What I've noticed from my own family and watching others, is that daughters seem to stay more attached to their FOO, and if they don't marry someone who's willing to speak up for his own family, they get sucked into DIL's FOO as well. I think on some level it's a man thing - my brother has less contact with my mom, because he honestly is just oblivious to it. They see my SisIL's family more (and we love her, she's great) and I guess we just see it as the way things are. My mom has said she just expected that when DH and I got married, it'd be different from when my DB and SisIL got married. Same thing with babies. She expects to see our babies more than theirs.

My own issues with my MIL (which are fairly recent) I think stem from the fact that our own life experiences color our expectations. She was a stay at home mom with an essentially useless husband, so she was the gatekeeper in their family. She expected the same of me. I didn't quit work (a big sore point). She also thinks I dictate what goes on in the house, when the reality is I married a guy who's a fantastic, hands on dad, works as much as I do, and shares the household work with me. Any major decision is discussed between us until we can come to an agreement. But she is always genuinely surprised when DH backs me up, because she thinks it's all me. Same thing with visiting - she thinks I run the schedule. DH decided not to have an overnight visit with her on Christmas (I said I'd do whatever he wanted) and I get the blame for it. Reality is, if someone wants to visit (or us to go visit) we always run it by the other. I'm happy to maintain a relationship with her for DH and DS, but I know I'm being painted as the DIL who's stealing her DS away. She's been complaining to DH about not seeing our DS enough, but I don't think that the responsibility for it should be placed squarely on my shoulders. DH is frequently the one who torpedos visits because the travel screws our son up for the day (and we're the ones who are up with him all night when that happens). But again, me and my family get the blame for it because in her experience, she ran the family and made those decisions. And I think it's just easier to believe I'm talking him out of visiting her instead of having to face the fact that it's her own DS's doing.

I hope someday to return to the loving relationship I used to have with her, the green eyed monster came out big time when our son was born. So I put my big girl panties on, visit when asked, invite her here, and paste a smile on my face when she's picking on me. I hope as he grows and is able to talk to her she'll calm down.


Some of the things I sloppily put down as generational differences might be differences in subculture, I don't know. I grew up in a conservative religious family where mother (an educated woman) stayed home and father made all the big decisions, and just about  everyone I knew at church or school was the same. I married in my 30s and had my first (and so far only) baby at 35 and became a SAHM, and many of the mothers I know are also, although most of us have college degrees and aren't '50s types. My MIL, on the other hand, always had a job, and I don't know if she actually looked down on me for staying home, but she seemed puzzled and confused by it and said that all the mothers she knew worked. Part of our problem, in my opinion, is that she is just not used to being around women who aren't like her. 

It is natural if unfortunate that maternal grandmothers would be around their grandchildren more since they have (usually) a close relationship with the mother already. It isn't fair, but we all know that life isn't. I think any woman who has sons and is looking forward to being a grandmother should do her best to have a loving relationship with her DILs for this reason, if for no other. My MIL, however, was nice to me until I got pregnant, after which she was -- not really mean -- but intrusive and dismissive of me, literally ignoring me when she came over to see the baby. It hurt me very badly, made me feel used, but I didn't know how to speak up about it. Now it's too late.


hi Vasilisa,
I think it is too much of a generalization, i also got on with my MIL most of the time. Even when towards the end of her life she developed a severe anxiety condition, where she would phone constantly to locate all off her DS's (but her youngest one in particular) (my hubby is the middle son and we were the most easy to contact.) And that she practically starved herself to death because of it. Indeed I was the only one who was with her when she died (my poor DH was minutes late  :( he just couldnt get there in time). And whilst it wasnt the best experience in my life (had never been there when someone had died before) I am glad she knew she wasnt alone. She could be intrusive as you say your MIL was after you had children, i listened but never let her make me feel bad about myself and took on board it was part of what she could be like.

However I have two DD and i have to say my relationship with my YDD isnt easy, she a lot of the time acts more like you say a DIL should/does. I never did anything to make her feel that way, we were closer than we are now when she lived with me and i do hope it gets better as my GC get older.
I am not one to go where I am not wanted so am holding back, i would love to have a closer Mother/Daughter relationship with her but at the moment is not possible, partially i think because she is also trying to please her BF whose family is very much in your face and she wants to appear equal and not favour us (which as i say doesnt work out as they are more pushy and forceful). It hurts that i feel like that.
So generally I would say its not always MIL's and DIL's that dont get along its also sometimes DM's and DD's, its just the luck of the draw or family dynamics.


I should have said that I can think of four women off the top of my head who dearly loved their MILs. One of them was my own mother. I've also seen the daughter who acts like a creepy, neurotic DIL -- my sister. Who does it with everyone.

I should also say that I think my own situation is abnormal -- that I've had some of the normal MIL/DIL problems (which I handled in the usual inadequate fashion), but that the family situation itself is extremely weird and toxic and was before I was ever on the scene. That colors how I view in-laws, which I know is unfair.

I would like to have a conversation about some of the really common problems that I keep on reading about to figure out why they come up so often and what could be done about them -- like the conversation we're having about grandmothers giving unwelcome gifts over on the other thread.

forever spring

I hear what you are saying, Vasili. There is a lot of good and true stuff, especially what you say about the difference in childbearing and marrying age. In the past, the age gap was smaller and equally expectations must have been different.
I don't think your MIL should criticise you for not going to work. The early years with the children are so precious and if you can be there for them in a relaxed and steady manner, that's priceless. I'm from the 60's generation where women were expected to work. I didn't have a job then and stayed at home but I was always a bit envious about other women who went out to earn a crust. Now in hindsight, I'm happy to have had the time with my children. However, I don't forget that this was also a privilege and some women just have to go to work - no choice there.
FOO and maternal GM rule! I read somewhere that this can be explained by genetics. The mother knows that she is the mother, so the maternal GM knows that the baby is carrying her genes. Nobody can ever really know who the father is (before DNA testing, that is) and therefore the paternal GP aren't so involved because the offspring may not carry their genes - and according to this study, this is what it's all about!

Like Luise said, every story is different and a lot depends on the cultural and social background.

I considered myself an amiable, easy to-get-on-with, loving, non-judgemental person until I made the wrong decision and moved from a safe distance of 20,000 miles near DS (on his request) and DIL to help look after the GC. I can honestly say this was the worst thing I've done in my life because I turned into the opposite of everything I believed myself to be - and to this day I'm not sure why all of this happened and why only one person should have brought about the change? I'm not blaming anybody. There is something in the chemistry ot DILs and MILs and if it's the wrong mix, it goes BANG!

So anybody out there: if you are considering leaving a well paid job, your house, a country you love, close friends etc. to become a 'MIL from hell' be warned!  :o

I own up to having been a 'MIL from hell' for my xDIL and now it's so hard to pick up the pieces to believe in myself again.  :-[


Quote from: Vasilisa on April 29, 2012, 03:27:03 am
I would like to have a conversation about some of the really common problems that I keep on reading about to figure out why they come up so often and what could be done about them

I'm also in the camp that thinks that there is no generalizing about this.  This is a specialized population here - MILs/DILs came here because we have situations we need help with and I think we're a fraction of the population.  Otherwise we would just have all the help we needed because everyone was going through it.  A lot of us just feel like we are the only ones in the neighborhood with our problems.  So maybe it's not all that common. 

I do think that the fact that we are learning as we go contributes to various problems.  Before my OS married, I'd never been in the role of MIL.   I thought it would be an extension of being a mom but boy, was I wrong! 


Another thing that makes us unique is that we're here to try to make it better. A lot of MIL/DIL/DS combos need help, but rather than seek that help they continue to fight and/or ultimately institute a cutoff.
Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


Quote from: Pen on April 29, 2012, 10:37:25 am
Another thing that makes us unique is that we're here to try to make it better. A lot of MIL/DIL/DS combos need help, but rather than seek that help they continue to fight and/or ultimately institute a cutoff.

I'm here to learn from the other side. Some situations can't be worked out and I think in those cases a cut-off, while tragic, is the least damaging option for all involved.

I'm curious to know how someone loving and thoroughly well-intentioned can become the MIL from Hell. A good cautionary tale for those who might come to that fork in the road someday.


Vasilia... Good and thoughtful post.  I think both sides reach an impasse when both sides refuse to listen and respect one another.  That is when I requested a cut-off.  She obliged.  DH can't believe she acted like this... he has concluded both his father and mother are mentally ill.  He only has contact when absolutely necessary.  Their behaviors were obvious to our kids... and they want nothing to do with grandparents.  So... If that is their legacy...so be it.


Vasalisa, that's why I'm here too but of course my curiosity is regarding DILs who suddenly change. You may have read a few MIL back stories on the site. If so, you know that the "so and so from an evil place" isn't limited to one side or the other. It's safe to say that most of us MILs/DMs came here out of confusion, shock & pain when a seemingly accepting DIL suddenly turned on us or a previously loving DS/DD suddenly became rude, distant, or emotionally abusive.

What makes the MIL experience different from the DIL (and I've been both) is that we DILs do have a chance to meet the Ps, observe the FDH/FOO dynamic and run like heck if it creeps us out. I didn't do that, shame on me, when I married the first time. Luckily my 2nd MIL was very kind & we got along well.

Conversely, we MILs are stuck w/whomever DS chooses. In many cases we either put up w/abuse or risk losing DS/GC. My FDIL was sweet & charming before the wedding; suddenly we became disgusting losers (after our share of the bills were paid & certain legal matters DIL needed help with were cleared up) and worthy of shunning by her and her FOO. Luckily DS stood up for us & DIL has been willing to see us occasionally so we can maintain a relationship, although awkward & oddly superficial, w/DS.

My mom had a horrible MIL, my GM. She truly was heinous and I resolved to never ever ever be like her. She had lost her FOO due to various tragedies, sadly. Her DH (my GGF) was distant and quite a bit older than she, so she put everything into her DS (my narcissistic DF.) She just could not deal w/her precious baby boy, the only family she had, moving out & creating a FOO of his own. She turned from a seemingly sweet, accepting MIL into a raging, bat-poo crazy monster out to destroy my mom. This mean woman lived to be over 100, happily senile; so much for karma.

When DS announced he was engaged, DH & I chose to give them space and did not hover; no texts, no phone calls, etc. unless absolutely necessary for logistical reasons. Never a drop in, no demands of any kind. We gave no advice, did not push for involvement in wedding plans, went along w/whatever they requested even though at times it was out of our budget or inconvenient. My first inkling that DIL was becoming bridezilla, other than her DB calling her that, was when we were given 6 invitations for our side out of over 100.

I spent the next few weeks alternating between sadness and anger. DIL's FOO had gained a wonderful son, but we'd lost one. They absorbed him into their FOO w/o a bit of consideration for his own FOO, taking all holidays, vacations and most weekends. Only after DS complained that he wanted to at least spend EO Christmas w/his FOO did they back down a bit.

It was such a sudden shock that it took awhile for us to adjust, and we're still dealing with it a couple of years later. We get no where near the time w/DS that the ILs get (I know, I know it's not about the division of time, just making a point) and DS hasn't figured out how to be accepting of us while also fitting in w/ his new family who are very different from us. We are not looking too great in comparison to all their luxurious wealth, lol.

Wow, I haven't written a post this long ever! Sorry  :-[
Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


Quote from: Vasilisa on April 29, 2012, 10:48:21 am
I'm here to learn from the other side. Some situations can't be worked out and I think in those cases a cut-off, while tragic, is the least damaging option for all involved.

Many of the posters here are dealing with this exact "option." 

I am curious to learn from your side specifically what situations can't be worked out. Under what specific circumstances is a tragic cut-off warranted? Are you talking about a mutual decision or a unilateral cut-off? How do you quantify how much damage this option does to all involved? 

I ask these questions because I don't think you can answer them. I agree with what everyone is saying here, generalities don't really answer anything. The only real answer is...it depends. It depends on the situation and the personalities involved. The situation one person claims can't be worked out, another person doesn't even see as a problem. This site is great because people here are individuals. Some are timid, some bold. Some are tender, some tough. Some are serious, some try to inject humor. People post their most painful heartaches and others respond with sincere insight and sometimes advice, hugs, support and caring.  I have found that everyone here has treated me as an individual, not a demographic. That's what I like about this group.

It's not about labels here, or "sides" as you put it.  Yes we are MILs and DILs and DMs and DDs.... but first we are people. We each have a story that cannot satisfactorily be reduced down to to generalities.

forever spring

Believe me, I have asked myself how things could go so pear-shaped in a relationship with my DIL.
She was polite before she married my DS, but I was never myself when I was with her and I'm sure she wasn't at her ease either. |We never had a hearty laugh together. I was always accommodating, gave lots of presents etc. and tried to woo her. Neither my DH nor I could ever fully understand why our son had chosen her. We paid towards their wedding etc. but it was always an uphill struggle and my DH feared that it wouldn't last. We did everything for the sake of our DS, believing him to have found his source of happiness.
Then the first child was born and things became difficult because they didn't seem to be able to cope even though her FOO was always at her beck and call. When the second child was on the way, I decided to come and stay near them. My son had expressly asked me to. I left DH who works in a different country, so was on my own. Then the whole tragedy started . I believe, she never really wanted me there and only went with it because her DH had asked me. The older GC was very awkward with me (he was only a 2 ½), so quite understandable that he reacted like this. I was like a stranger.
DIL tried to include me in the beginning but I didn't want to be in the house when her DH was there, I wanted the couple to have time together and not with DM/MIL, so I always left soon after he came. Not sure whether this signalled to her that I didn't want to be with her. The problems became worse when she accused me of not doing things right and not being a great help anyway. Towards the end of my stay in the house near them, I spent a lot of time on my own waiting to be called but she hardly ever asked me to help any more. She only asked for my help when she knew I was doing something else and would have to decline.
We had become unable to talk to each other, communication had broken down completely. I have never been in a situation such as this in my life.  I felt really lost and unable to deal with my situation or try to improve it. Everything I ever knew about communicating with people had gone out of the window and I didn't know myself any more. This was so strange.
Then I decided to move back to DH because it didn't make much sense to be at a loose end near them and DH alone in the place where he worked.
The problem from the start was that we didn't have clear boundaries. I wasn't assertive enough (I'm just not wired that way) and maybe even too servile so that she couldn't respect me. I think the lack of respect was the worst thing. I admit I'm easily hurt, I'm not  tough that way and maybe I took some things that weren't meant to hurt me too seriously?
My DS left her five months ago which shows that the marriage was on the rocks when I was there, even though I always thought they could work things out and even if they were not exactly happy, their relationship was durable. Since then I have spent a lot of time thinking about how she did see me and what I did wrong.  I think I became a MIL from hell because I was too quiet and accepting and maybe gave off vibes (without wanting to) of disapproving with everything which must have been difficult for her.
The fact that my lovely GC will not grow up in a stable family pains me very much because my DS grew up in a 2 parent home. I don't know what made him leave. I do hope that xDIl will be happy with somebody else and so will DS and above all that my GC will not suffer too much from this situation, after all they didn't chose it.
I would like to establish some kind of relationship with my xDIL but how, I don't know - any idea?

WHOOPS a long post - you seem to have struck a chord, Vasilisa!