Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: My mother-in-law interferes too much 

In this week's podcast, Viv answers questions about an interfering mother-in-law, a six year old with bad spelling, a wedding proposal, and office life after freelancing.

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv, 

My mother-in-law seems to think she should be involved in every aspect of our life, and will not stop interfering. When her husband died, she moved into a flat a few roads away. Since we had our twins, 2 years ago, she’s just been unbearable. Obviously I’m happy for her to visit lots, and to babysit occasionally, but her interference and judgement goes well beyond what’s necessary. It covers all aspects of our live - food, clothes, education, friends, TV. I understand that she’s probably lonely, and misses having control over her son’s life. He won’t talk to her about it, as he thinks she’s still grieving for his Dad. I’m worried that I’ll just snap one day and say something unforgivable. What can I do?

Oh poor dutiful daughter in law. I do feel for you. This sounds a horrible situation and I can really feel your pain and frustration in your letter. However. I also feel massively for your mother in law. She is trying desperately to get some control and some meaning back into her life after a terrible loss and you’re right to say she must be lonely and still grieving for her husband. It’s not easy for your husband either -- it’s his mum who’s going through this and he will have his own painful feelings about the loss of his dad.

As I think you probably already realise, it’s up to you to be the sensible and magnanimous one here. But I’m also mindful of you looking after your own interests. These are your kids and it’s your marriage and your life and you need to set some boundaries. What relationship do you want with your mother in law and how are you going to make that happen? I know it sounds insane but I think you should write it all down for yourself so that you can know where to start. You don’t need to show what you write down to anyone else or even tell them about it, but you do need to get it straight in your own mind. What can you put in place that is practial and achievable? You may not be able to change what she says to you about how you raise the children and how much telly you let them watch. But you can just go temporarily deaf when she says these things. Practise putting your fingers in your ears and going la la la. 

What you can change is the arrangements: if she is prone to ranting on when she turns up to babysit, make sure you have to walk out of the door immediately. You don’t have time to listen to this. Be calm about it. If you can face saying, “I love hearing your views on all this and I really respect you (please try to mean it) but I’m afraid I’m going to muddle through things my way, I hope you understand.” But only say things like this if you can say it and mean it. 

In short my advice is not very helpful because I’m saying that there is not a lot you can do to change this situation but you must do everything you can to manage your feelings about it and to walk away whenever you can. It may take your mother in law a while to come around. But if you are calm and ignore the worse, I can see a day will come when she says, “I used to be really interfering, didn’t I?” And you can say sweetly, “I don’t know what you mean.” Meanwhile, take maximum advantage of free babysitting.

Dear Viv, 

I’m worried about how my daughter is doing at school. She’s 6 years old and her teacher says her spelling should be at a higher level by now. I always help her with homework in the evenings and I don’t want to stress her by telling her she’s behind her classmates. Should I just wait it out and assume she’ll catch up?

Ah, concerned mother, we’ve all been here. What parent doesn’t worry about their child? I’ve seen this at all levels -- from children with severe dyslexia not getting the help they need to huge paranoia about children who are borderline genius. The only thing that I can say that is helpful is that your anxiety is extremely natural and shared by millions, possibly gazillions. I’m worried about the lack of specificity. What does it mean: “her spelling should be at a higher level”? If this child was in Sweden, they wouldn’t even know how to read or write yet. I’m a fairly laissez faire parent so I would say keep an eye on it, don’t say anything to the child and just see how it goes over the next year. But if the concerns widen out and your child is not enjoying reading or writing, then maybe seek a second opinion for your own peace of mind. In short you’ve already answered yourself -- “should I wait it out and assume she’ll catch up?” -- absolutely, yes. Six is too young to worry about winning the national spelling bee.

You can hear the answers to these and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years and was sort of expecting him to propose over Christmas… But he didn’t. We’ve talked about marriage and have said it’s what we both want, but he’s also quite traditional and I know he’d be upset if I proposed to him, rather than the other way around.

Dear Viv, 

I’ve recently begun a new 9-5 job after working freelance for 2 years. I was really looking forward to the camaraderie of being in an office again, but now I’m here I feel a bit trapped. How can I help myself feel like I’m here by my own accord, rather than by someone else’s ruling?

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

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