Q: I think of myself as a forgiving person, but I feel forgiveness isn’t deserved in the case of my mother-in-law. She’s controlling and mean to my husband. He always forgives her, and thinks I should too.
When my husband told her I was pregnant with our first child, she got upset and cried. She said kids had ruined her life and she didn’t want the same for her son. She doesn’t believe in love and marriage either.
Now she wants to be a part of our son’s life. She says she didn’t mean what she said, but it seems clear to me that she did. I know she’ll be in our child’s life because it’s important to my husband, but I have trouble not being bothered whenever she’s around.
How do I begin to forgive her, accept her, and deal with her when I’m not sure that she should be forgiven?
A: One of the tasks of parenthood is using your best judgment, for your child’s sake. It means accepting your mother-in-law’s presence, setting boundaries if her behaviour or comments around children are worrisome, and rising above small annoyances (but not the biggies).
You don’t need to be hung up about forgiveness. The fact that she now wants involvement means she can recognize that she’ll be the loser if she keeps expressing negative views. If she carries on with them, you and your husband have to remind her of that through time limits with your son. That’s her own doing.
However, don’t respond by controlling the situation as she would. Discuss this with your husband and ask him to monitor his mom when she’s with the boy.
She insists this is normal and good for the kids to see us still operating as parental partners, but it all seems one-sided to me.
A: Yes, it’s one-sided for you to do the tasks that are only good for her. Partnership with joint parenting is good for kids, but it doesn’t mean you do anything and everything that she finds inconvenient to do on her weekend.
Speak up, and don’t be pushed around. Being separated is time to develop your own voice as an individual while still being a good father.
I’m guessing that one of the marriage “issues” concerned you not saying what you really felt and feeling quietly resentful while she controlLed the relationship. This kind of dynamic doesn’t make for a happy environment and shows up in many other areas like intimacy.
One way to be “too busy” to do tasks on her weekend with the kids — except for emergencies of course — is to use that free time to get counselling and empower yourself for relating to people in the future, whether her or anyone else.
Controlling an in-law through rejection should only be done as last resort.
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