Thanksgiving Lump

by admin on November 20, 2012

This story starts about 2 weeks before Thanksgiving a number of years ago.

I had taken our young son in for a check up that included basic blood work. A few days later the doctor called and said they wanted to re-check his blood as his white count was very high. I took him back in and this time his count was even higher. Now the doctor is truly concerned and tells me that she has made an appointment for right after Thanksgiving for our son to see an oncologist. She has to consider that the high cell count might mean he has leukemia. Needless to say, our world collapsed. To make matters worse, we were to have a house of guests in a few days for Thanksgiving.

My husband and I were going to cancel the dinner but decided that since we were not telling our son anything at that point, we needed to keep life as normal as possible until we knew what was going on and the dinner must go on.

My MIL, to put it politely, is a difficult person. She uses a plate, it’s left on the table….wet towels and her dirty clothes are left on the bathroom floor. Her crumpled tissues fall and stay where they fell. She is a high maintenance houseguest at best.

I numbly went through the motions of getting ready for the holiday. My MIL who knew what was going on, watched me get up at dawn to start cooking. She sat, drank coffee and chatted at me as I worked, but as always, did not lift a finger to help.

By the time we had eaten and some of the guests had left, I was drained but started to haul stuff into the kitchen. My MIL looked at me and told me that I looked just exhausted. By the way she said it, I was sure she was going to tell me that she would clear the table. Instead her suggestion was that I should sit down and relax for a while before I started to clean up.

On a positive note, our son was ok! The oncologist drew blood and said that our son’s count had come down to an acceptable level and that he probably had had an inflammation somewhere in his body that triggered his high count. It was low enough he did not even feel the need for a follow up visit!   1007-12

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint November 20, 2012 at 4:32 am

I am so glad your son’s case had a happy ending.

But the rest…

*Where was your husband in this?!* My husband would NEVER let his mother treat me like this, let alone at such a terrible time. Actually, my husband would not leave me in the kitchen to do all that on my own to start with.

Why did nobody ask the MIL to help? Why did nobody remind her this was a difficult time? Why did nobody help YOU when you had to ‘get up at dawn’? Why did nobody else clear the table? Why didn’t you ask for help? Where is your husband? How old are your children? You sound like an overworked household drudge but everyone is going along with it , including you.

Just the idea of my husband leaving his wife to cook from dawn, clear up everything afterwards and deal with his mother’s grotty guest behaviour (dirty clothes on the bathroom floor?!) as she battles with a possibly seriously ill son is incredible. I am sure your husband had other things to do, but this day should have been seriously reorganised to avoid this nonsense.

I’m so sorry nobody stuck up for you, at a time when you probably were in no fit state to stand up for yourself.


josie November 20, 2012 at 7:12 am

At the very least, I’d hand MIL an empty Walmart bag to carry around for her used tissues…ewwww! Glad your son is okay now 🙂


--Lia November 20, 2012 at 8:10 am

It almost goes without saying that the mother-in-law should have been asked to help in an informal way long ago. “Mom, will you come in here and keep me company while we straighten the kitchen? You wash; I’ll dry.” “Oh dear, I didn’t tell you which clothes hamper to use. It’s that basket in the corner for your used towels and dirty clothes. I’m sorry I left you without knowing what to do.”

But that’s not the etiquette disaster I see in this story. What kind of doctor leaves parents with that sort of worry? How about “The white blood cell count is high, so it needs looking into, but it could be anything from an inflammation to something quite serious. I’m going to recommend you see this oncologist on the unlikely chance it’s leukemia, but I don’t see a need to worry over Thanksgiving.” I’m glad everything worked out.


Alicia November 20, 2012 at 8:24 am

Actually I think to expect someone to treat you differently when you say that you were trying to keep things as normal as possible is naive. Basically sounds like MIL acted like MIL always acted it just got harder to deal with when you were under a lot of stress personally. Yes husband should have been helping you but basically to expect a MIL who is always a sloth to suddenly become helpful seems unrealisticly optomistic.
Husband should have helped or you should have scaled back ie this is teh year for paper plates ect


Erin November 20, 2012 at 8:43 am

I’m so glad your son was OK!


Margaret November 20, 2012 at 8:44 am

Leaving dirty tissues around would have sent me over the edge. In grad school, I had a person who stayed with me while apartment hunting who was similar to MIL in terms of high maintenance. I noticed that when she got her own place (with a roommate) that it wasn’t littered with dirty tissues, plates, etc. Maybe the roommate made this her hill to die on.

One day, when “Betsy” was getting up to leave my office at school and her dirty tissues were still on my desk, I said, ” Betsy, really? You’re going to leave those viral Kleenex there?” And she smiled and said, with great condescension, “I won’t leave my Kleenex on your desk.” And that pretty much was that.

MIL is a person in a different category. Is her house a mess? Does she clean up after herself at home? If so, DH needs to step up and demand that she not treat his and OP’s house like a zoo, and to treat his wife with more respect.

This is a power struggle issue, pure and simple.

I am so happy that OP’s son was OK. I have had similar times where I had to slog through a holiday waiting for news from the doctor and it’s awful. MIL acted like a child.


barb November 20, 2012 at 9:20 am

I, too, am glad the little boy was OK.
But, is there a reason the OP did not say, when told she looked exhausted, “You’re right, I AM exhausted – could you finish the dishes/sweep the floor/clean the table?” or whatever needed doing still.

Don’t complain that people treat you like a doormat if you insist on lying in front of the door.


Audra November 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

Glad to hear OP’s son was ok!

As wives and DIL’s we have to pick our battles; for me, MIL’s disregard for my home (dirty clothes, used Kleenex) and my feelings (son could be seriously ill and not even attempting to help; you look exhausted, rest before cleaning up) during an already stressful time, would have been one of my battles. IF DH did not try to help or speak to his mother, he would have been in the battle, too. Attics, basements and garages are wonderful places to have a little holiday discussion.

IF this had been me, the issue with MIL would have been addressed in previous years. If I host you in my home, the least you could do is pick up your towels, clothes and used Kleenex.


Jmansmama November 20, 2012 at 9:49 am

I’m so glad that your son is ok. What a stressful Thanksgiving to say the least!


Jay November 20, 2012 at 10:10 am

I’m not really sure how the white cell stuff figures into this at all (though I’m glad your son is fine), but sorry about your MIL.


KMC November 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

I am so glad your son is ok. What a scary thing to have to go through.

As for your MIL, not cleaning up after herself is not acceptable (and EW! leaving your used tissues around?!!). But as for the rest, is she afraid of stepping on your toes by offering to help with cooking and cleanup? So many MIL stories are about them taking over in the kitchen. I know my own MIL is very cautious when offering me assistance in my kitchen.

@Lia, I’m not sure what else the doctor was supposed to do. Even the way you put it, the thing most parents (or patients) are going to zero in on is the word leukemia. Telling them not to worry about it was not going to make them not worry about it.


Kit November 20, 2012 at 10:23 am

I hope that you have asked, in the past, your MIL to help, not just always expected her to do so? Because if not, maybe she thinks it impolite to mess around in your (and especially YOUR – think how many MILs press themselves on their DILs announcing they know better!) kitchen without your invitation to do so, and her understanding of proper etiquette is to get up at dawn together with you and keep you company, and try to keep your mind occupied with chatting during your hard times. Maybe she even thought that working helps you, that you wouldn’t have much time to think and worry when you are busy?

I agree with Lia, e-hell for the doctor who wouldn’t even mention the most common reason for excess whities, an inflammation!


INeedANap November 20, 2012 at 10:35 am

Bint, I’m with you. I know traditionally it fell on the female head of household to the heavy lifting for throwing a dinner, but even old-school gatherings had multiple people to help clean up. And if this was recent, there was really no excuse for your entire family, especially your husband, to simply abandon you in that way.

My mother is like your MIL — the best thing you can do is drop them casual “reminders” and act as if that is what they had meant to do all along. They may refuse to do so, but for someone to come out and say “No, I will not put the clothes in the hamper” reveals them plainly as visitors from the planet Boor.


Cat November 20, 2012 at 10:53 am

I have an aunt who leaves used tooth picks wherever she happens to be. The notion of throwing them in the trash is not a habit she ever learned. I resolved it by saying, “Auntie Em, please throw your toothpicks in the trash and do not leave them on the table.”
The strain you were under was terrible and you should not have had to deal with your MIL at that time. That said, she needed some training in being a house guest or she should be told to stay at a hotel. Some people need directives: Please bring your plate into the kitchen, scrape it into the trash, and place it by the sink to be washed/rinse it and place it in the dishwasher; your clothes and towels are on the bathroom floor: the dirty clothes hamper for your use is in the closet; the wastebasket for used tissues is in the corner next to the TV.
You are a daughter-in-law, not a maid. You will be treated as you demand to be treated. Good manners do not dictate a need to be a door-mat for those who think they can walk over you. Your home, your rules. At worse, she will not be a frequent visitor.


Lisa November 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

I am so glad that your son is alright but perhaps it’s time that your husband grows a spine and either helps you out or directs his Mom to do so.


Kendra November 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

OP, I’m glad your son is ok. I went through a similar time with my son when he was very young. Thank goodness it wasn’t during the holidays. He turned out to have an infection that the antibiotics cleared up.

As for the rest of it, what Bint said. I, too, would like to know where your husband was during all of this.

I think a lot of women believe that others will just intuit what we need and give it to us. Unfortunately, besides Patrick Jane and The Great Kreskin, most people aren’t mind readers. We need to learn to “use our words” and ask for what we need. Honestly, if we don’t speak up and ask, how can we be upset with people for not providing what we need?

I hope your holidays since that one have been less stressful. Also, if you are still in this pattern with your mil, it’s not too late to change it. Start small and ask her to do what you need her to do, like Bint said, let her know what you need and how she can help.


Angel November 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

I couldn’t even imagine what you had to go through. I probably would not have canceled the dinner either, but, I would have given MIL specific jobs to do to help out. Chances are if you asked and kept the task specific, she would have done them.

I agree with the others, your husband should have been helping you clear the table at the very LEAST. Where the hell was he?

I’m glad your son turned out to be OK. Shame on your doctor for phrasing the issue to you like that–the “L” word is all you can think of after that! 🙁


Lo November 20, 2012 at 11:45 am

I know this is going to be an incredibly unpopular opinion but I’ll go for it anyway.

I don’t believe in ever asking for help with a meal, cleaning up, etc, from guests, beyond the most basic courtesy (ie: “If you don’t mind, could you leave the towel hanging up? Could you toss those tissues in here” and you present them with a small waste basket to make it easier on them. “Could you just bring your plate over here when you’re done?”)

It’s not my job to train my guests. I hope that they will offer to help me if I look overwhelmed but I feel it’s rude of me to ask when they are, after all, guests. And I shouldn’t be taking on a job that I can’t handle without the help of my guests. This includes planning a Thanksgiving feast when you’re in bad shape emotionally. Why not scale this back to what you feel you can manage? Maybe store bought side dishes or simpler fare? Maybe paper plates instead of good china?

I know your MIL is family but she doesn’t act like family so she’s essentially no more than a high-maintenence house guest and should be treated as one. Prepare for her coming in advance and invite her over as infrequently as possible. If she seems miffed about this explain it’s because the work involved is exhausting for you. No need to be passive agressive about it, just honest. She may or may not take the hint but I think that’s the most we can do.

A personal example: We recently had to decide which member of our family was hosting Christmas. No one was stepping up so my aunt said that she would be happy to do it but with the amount of prep involved, keeping after her own young children, and the fact that she’d already hosted a major celebration had left her drained and unwilling to take up the task of providing a big dinner for that many people. Another family member suggested that if dinner was the deal breaker we shouldn’t have a big dinner this year because no one wants to host it. Everyone agreed to bring a small appetizer, no heavy or complicated dishes, and meet at her place for gifts and family time; a minimal effort family Christmas. She happily agreed to host under these conditions. She would not have done so otherwise because you never take on more than you can handle. And she never would have asked other people to contribute so she could host. We offered so that we’d all be able to enjoy something to eat.

The less you expect, the less disappointment you will feel. Hope for nothing and be grateful for everything. I’m sorry you had to deal with this situation at all.


Library Diva November 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I agree with Alicia. While OP’s MIL sounds like a difficult houseguest, it also sounds as though she was not doing anything out of the ordinary for her. It was just harder for OP to deal with under the circumstances. MIL clearly has very different standards than the OP. In her mind, for example, dishes don’t need to be cleaned or even cleared immediately after a meal. It’s even possible that OP is reading her lack of helpfulness wrong — perhaps MIL is trying to stay out of OP’s way and not be seen as trying to criticize or run the holiday.

I agree, too, that OP’s doctor should work on his bedside manner a bit. He should have downplayed this over a holiday weekend rather than amp everyone up with worry. Mostly, I feel bad for OP that this happened, and also glad that it all worked out OK and that her son was fine.


Cat Whisperer November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm

First, I’m glad to hear that your son was okay. I know what it’s like to have that word “cancer” dangling over your future while you wait for test results to come in. It’s a terrible, terrible feeling.

With regards to your MIL and the difficulties she caused at a very difficult time, I’ve also gone through this sort of situation with my father, who was so entrenched in his belief that the world revolved around him that the thought that anything he did might cause inconvenience or pain to other people never entered his head. And here’s what I’ve learned from dealing with that experience:

People who have no innate sense of compassion and no desire to try to please others are never, ever, ever going to change. They are never going to “get it.” Light will never dawn and there will never be that Hallmark Theater Happy Ending where they suddenly morph into the loving, caring, considerate people we dream about. Not going to happen.

Realization of that frees you from the unwinnable task of trying to please them. Especially in circumstances where you are already stressed to the max and dealing with more important matters in your life.

In the circumstances that OP set out about her MIL and preparing a home-cooked meal for Thanksgiving, that means DOING SOMETHING about the ungrateful harridan, rather than suffering her unhelpfulness in silence.

There are several options: the option I’d have taken would have been to ditch the home-cooked meal and either found a restaurant to eat at, or bought prepared food to bring home so I didn’t have to do the cooking. There is no shame in admitting you aren’t Wonder Woman, that you can’t do it all, and taking a shortcut that makes it easier on everyone. And if anyone is mean enough, petty enough, or unfeeling enough to take you to task for not whipping up a home-cooked meal all by yourself, well, who cares? If they’re habitually unfeeling and uncaring, they’re going to be a pain in the patootie anyhow, so why not please yourself if you can’t please them?

There are other options: a really good one would have been for OP to tell her husband “I can’t deal with your mother just now. I need you to get her out of the house and keep her away from me since she isn’t going to be helpful and while I’m getting dinner ready. So what are you going to do about her?” And then have hubbykins make sure the momster is out of your hair.

Or, there’s always the direct approach: “Mom-in-law, I’m incredibly stressed out right now and I need you to help me out. Here are the jobs you can help me with!” and start assigning the old sow some actual work to do. And if she kvetches about it, just remind her of the circumstances, and tell her that if she doesn’t want to be part of your problems, she can either pitch in and help or clear out and stop making a nuisance of yourself.

There is no point, absolutely no point at all, in going out of your way to be considerate to people who are never going to reciprocate the consideration you are showing them. From an etiquette standpoint, you only owe them the courtesy of not being rude. “I’m sorry, mom-in-law, I can’t do everything for Thanksgiving myself this year, things are going to be a little different and I’m going to ask you to pitch in and help with preparations and clean-up, or else we eat out at a restaurant. Do you have a preference?” Say it, mean it, do it: and save yourself from the stress.


LiLi November 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I have to go with Lo on this. MIL is a guest, an obnoxious guest, but a guest all the same.


nk November 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

@Lo: While it’s true that if you don’t expect anything you won’t be disappointed, I’d prefer not to assume that everyone around me is a mannerless pig. If everyone stopped expecting anyone else to follow the rules of etiquette, polite society would quickly fall apart.


Lo November 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm


I don’t expect anything but the most basic courtesy. The leaving tissues around warrents a gentle correction in the form of a request. Help with dinner should be offered freely and never asked for, because it’s not expected.

I would hope that people aren’t being polite because they’re expected to. Etiquette exists to benefit the guest and the host and make social interaction easier. The presumption is that we want to make others happy and also to be happy, so we have little rules we follow to avoid awkward scenarios and unpleasant confrontations. I want to make my host happy so I do what I can to fill that need as a guest, not because the host expects it but because it’s good to do it. But without digging too much into the psychology of social mores, I would say it may have more to do with the way it’s being worded. I expect my guests will show at least bare minimum of passive courtesy, I presume my guests will go beyond the bare minimum and make an active effort to be polite because I try not to associate with rude people, and I hope they will offer to help because that’s nice to do. It’s just not expected. So when they don’t offer I can say,”oh well”, instead of feeling that they failed me.


Rmmuir November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm

OP: I’m so glad you’re son was well.

As far as I can see the OP has not put in any complaint about the doctor’s etiquette here. All she wrote was “Now the doctor is truly concerned and tells me that she has made an appointment for right after Thanksgiving for our son to see an oncologist. She has to consider that the high cell count might mean he has leukemia.” She didn’t go into the specifics of what had been said other than that. The doctor may well have explained what else could be causing it. However, as others have mentioned, as soon as cancer is mentioned – regardless of how sensitively – it is near impossible to focus on anything else.

A doctor’s job is sometimes to rule out the most serious/life-threatening condition, even if something else is statistically more common. I personally would prefer to be told why a doctor is following a course of action and not be lied to about the motivations. Additionally, the OP’s doctor was concerned enough to put in an urgent referral to an oncologist – how exactly is she meant to downplay that? Just not tell the OP and her husband until the appointment letter drops through their door because Thanksgiving is coming up? Never mind bad etiquette, that would be bad medical practice.


Missy November 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I was raised to never ask guests to help. Though asking your guest to throw out their dirty kleenex is not “help” it’s “being an adult.”

I remember one large holiday dinner I cooked by myself two days after (admittedly minor) surgery. I felt horrible. Thankfully due to modern medicine there were no huge healing incisions but the pain meds were making me nauseous. I didn’t think it was right to cancel at the last minute (surgery was unplanned.) I guess I was sort of in a daze because I marinated, roasted, baked, chopped and compiled and just let my family chat around me. When I was done my husband was cleaning up and expressed surprise that my family hadn’t offered to help or even talked much about what had just happened to me.

That was when I realized that they hadn’t even asked. I was chugging ginger ale to keep from chunking all over dinner and no one had said, “How are you doing?” or even “Do they have biopsy results yet?” NADA. I suppose I could have done more at the time to make the situation better but I was barely holding it together and wasn’t really hurt by anything until it was too late to ask for some support. At that point, I didn’t want to call up my parents and drag up everything they did wrong in retrospect. I hate it when they do that.


Basketcase November 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I had similar with my MIL recently (although not so dramatic).
We took several members of both sides of the family and a scattering of friends away for a weekend to some shared accommodation. They were all warned in advance that as part of their accommodation, they would need to help out with kitchen and cleaning duties, as it was the guests job to cook and clean up after themselves. I even reminded everyone of this when we arrived and had a safety briefing, asking them to use the sign-up sheet to take on some duties.
In the entire weekend I saw MIL help make the custard for the communual dessert. And vaccuum her own bedroom at the end of the weekend. While others helped cook for multiple meals, cleaned windows, detail cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, she sat in the lounge reading.
I had seen the same happen when her and FIL had come to my parents house for a BBQ after DH and I’s engagement party, but had written it off as “she didnt want to get in the way” (she has very set ways of doing things, and I have learnt not to get in her way when we are at her house for meals). Now? Not so sure…


Ellen November 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I’m so sorry you had to go through that and that your relationship with your MIL is so draining.

While yes, leaving dirty tissues around is disgusting, I have to disagree with those who condemn the MIL for not clearing the kitchen. Some people are highly offended by others helping in the kitchen. My mother, when she was living, was horrified at the thought of anyone else – even family – cleaning in her kitchen. When my SIL and I finally ganged up and said, “you are putting your feet up or else”, it caused her so much anxiety – to the verge of tears – that we never did it again.

If MIL has never been asked to help, she may assume her help is not wanted.


kendrajoi November 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Nothing to say really except I’m so glad he was OK. Kind of sad, though, that MIL couldn’t just once step up to the plate to make things a little easier during a difficult time.


Justine November 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Oh honey, how I can relate. When I had my 3rd child, the in-laws came for a visit. I had one school aged, one toddler, and now a baby. DH had to get back to work that is why they came. I stupidly thought to help. No, they informed me that on their vacation they would play with the kids. Not walk dd to school, just play. Around 11:30 MIL would inform me of what type of sandwich she wanted for lunch. On day 3 I had had little to no sleep the night before and was in no mood. I told DH to take them back to their hotel at 5:00 and pick up some chicken for us for dinner. They marched out, giving me a dirty look and could have solved the problem by offering to pay for said chicken and also picking up some paper plates for less dishes for me. But no.


Wendy B November 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm

This story annoys me because I feel like we’re supposed to feel bad for OP the martyr. Yes, I understand your son was sick and it was a scary time, yes I understand your MIL is not helpful, but you set yourself up for disappointment. Of course she’s not going to help you, she never has and you’ve apparently never asked. I think what we’re dealing with here is someone who needs to grow a polite spine with everyone in her family: husband, children, MIL and other people. Otherwise you will always be the person up at dawn doing all the work and all the clean up. I expect if you had just come home from major surgery nothing would have been different…you’d have been killing yourself and everyone else would have been sitting back and taking it easy.


Snarkastic November 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm

@–Lia: I’m with you. There should be a site for doctor e-hell! “Happy Thanksgiving: your son may have leukemia.”

@Lo: I hear you and I feel like we’re on the same page. However, Thanksgiving (for me) ends up being a small to medium-sized family gathering, so the women (and one-ONLY ONE, HARRUMPH-man) end up clearing the table. Nothing major, but we bring everyone’s finished plates and stack them in the kitchen, while the host inevitably protests, then thanks us, and begs us to stop. We are guests and we are family rolled into one. It’s a win-win.


Angela November 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm

This sounds like a good time for a restaurant!
I may have been the subject of some grumbling from my stepmom about not pitching in, but the fact is that she wants things a certain way and after doing it “wrong”a few times, I just stopped doing it. Now I help clear the table and put away condiments, etc. Anyone who feels “un-helped” might want to see if they’re throwing off those vibes.


RedDevil November 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Sliiightly off topic…

I read recently that a new study had been done on Men’s attitudes about Women. They found that despite women in the workplace and society in general being treated with more respect, Men’s attitudes about Women in the home and the way they discuss them when in a pub talking to their mates etc HAS NOT CHANGED in the past 30 years.

We need to start demanding more of our Men at home, I think. The OP can start with her husband picking up a dishtowel, or better yet, cleaning up after his mother. Wouldn’t take him long to have words with her about her behaviour, I suspect.


Twik November 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm

“What kind of doctor leaves parents with that sort of worry? How about “The white blood cell count is high, so it needs looking into, but it could be anything from an inflammation to something quite serious. I’m going to recommend you see this oncologist on the unlikely chance it’s leukemia, but I don’t see a need to worry over Thanksgiving.”

Probably the same one who once told me, “I won’t say you have pneumonia, because I don’t want to worry you.”


Stacey Frith-Smith November 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Self-care is not something that comes easily to everyone. But the epitome of self-neglect has got to be putting a huge holiday event together under the conditions you cite. Yes, sometimes you do just gut it out and deal with whatever you have to in order to get through. But there is no reason at all why all the work of hosting should fall on you. Where is your husband? Other family members? Maybe MIL did not need to stay with you that year and could have opted for a different family member’s home or a hotel. But really, complaining after the fact is not going to resolve anything. Either train those you interact with as to your expectations for acceptable treatment or suffer their apathy. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, either. Just “bring your clothes to the hamper, pick up those tissues and load your dish, mom. We don’t have a maid here.” “DH, what are your plans for the meal? We can cook together!” (Or he can field the guests, kids and MIL, whatever.) Dishes? MIL had the right of it. If you are tired and help isn’t forthcoming, take a rest first. Are there victims or volunteers including DH that you can press into service? The point is, if you don’t want to be a martyr to such a graceless group of clods, then DON”T be one. Speak up. People can become accustomed to their own poor conduct if it is tolerated for a long season by others. It’s not a pleasant truth, but it is exemplified in stories like this one. SO glad your son was okay! Hope this is a happier holiday season for you, OP.


Sugaryfun November 20, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I find it a bit unpleasant the way so many commenters on this site often jump on posters and tell them that whatever happened to them was all their own fault for not standing up for themselves. Not everyone is naturally assertive and it is a whole lot easier to say that after the fact than it is to do it in the moment. I know personally if someone’s behaviour is really off the wall crazy rude sometimes I’m too shocked to say anything at the time, and I sometimes find it hard to think of the right, polite thing to say until after the moment has passed.

OP I’m sorry your MIL was so rude and I’m glad your son is okay!


Shalamar November 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Are we related, OP? Because that sounds like my MIL. I remember her visiting us three days after I gave birth to my first daughter. I was sore, stressed, and exhausted. I asked MIL if she’d like something to drink. Without budging, she said “Yes, I’ll take a Sprite.”. Note that not only did she not offer to get it herself, the words “please” and “thank you” were nowhere to be found, either.


Cat November 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I distinguish between guests and family in my home. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws are family. I expect them to help out with necessary tasks, and I do not hesitate to request their help if I need it. Unless they are very old, ill, with child, or very young, I am not picking up after them or treating them the same way I would a guest in my home.
On the other hand, I found a sister who invited our 80 year old aunt to her home for two weeks while sister and boyfriend went on vacation to be very rude. She announced that aunt’s job was to deep-clean her home while they were on holiday. Aunt is too old to drive and I had to take food to her as sister didn’t feel it necessary to leave food for her “guest”.


Barbarian November 20, 2012 at 10:28 pm

The OP may need to make a computer-generated sign in large bold letters and post it in the living room, bathroom, in MIL’s guestroom, It would read as follows:

Rules of the OP Household:

No used Kleenex on the floor
Dirty clothes go in the hamper

If MIL persists in her slovenly ways, hand her the list. Or better yet – “out-sloven” her the next time she visits like this real life example below.

One year MIL demanded to come to our house from out of town and bring one of her friends because she was tired, needed a vacation, and just had to get away from it all. Never mind MIL is retired with day after day of free time. It was the week before school started in the fall. I took a few days off for my teenage son’s high school orientation, extracurricular activity meetings, back to school clothes and did not have a lot of time to spare at home entertaining her. I did minimal work cleaning and prepping for this on command visit. She got indignant, cleaned the main bathroom herself and departed two days later.


The Letter Writer November 21, 2012 at 1:06 am

I’m the person that submitted “Thanksgiving Lump” I can’t believe how many people commented
In response to the many comments: I have learned over the years that it is easier to do things myself rather than ask my MIL to help. As for her leaving a trail of dirty dishes, clothes and used tissues behind her, my husband rather than say anything, says he will clean up behind her, but he often does not see what I see. He tries, but he was raised by her after all.

Someone asked if she is the same way at her own home. Yes. But she has a woman come in and clean after her 3X a week. I don’t. There have been only 2 times I have said something to her. One was when she had stayed over for a weekend and washed her underwear and bra leaving them hanging in a bathroom used by my 3 teenage boys. I asked her to remove them which she did. Last Thanksgiving, I watched her blow her nose, turn around and with out washing her hands, go to pull a bit of turkey skin off to eat. That one I could not keep my mouth shut and asked her to wash her hands first. I swear this is the truth, but the response I got was “Why?” as she pulled of the piece of skin. I could not eat turkey that night.

She only visits 2 or 3 times a year, so for the sake of my marriage which otherwise is wonderful, I try to bite my tongue.

I LOVED Lia’s suggestion of “Oh my gosh I forgot to tell you which hamper to use” and Barb’s “You’re right I am exhausted….”


Charlotte Vera November 21, 2012 at 1:33 am

I can’t imagine what a horrible Thanksgiving you must have had trying to put a brave face on for your son! To have an ungrateful and unhelpful guest on top of that must have felt beyond exhausting.

A lot of posters have recommended asking your MIL to help. Is she the kind of person who helps when called on? My husband and I come from very different families. In my family, if people don’t offer to help, you don’t ask them to. It’s considered rude not to offer to help, and it’s also considered rude to ask people to help you. In my husband’s family, you don’t help unless asked. When you are asked, you jump up and help with alacrity. This is still difficult for me, because I still feel rude when asking, even though I know it’s what I’m supposed to do.


Dot November 21, 2012 at 1:46 am

I’m really glad her son is ok, but don’t really see how we needed that much detail on the issue. Yes, it was a stressful time, but has no real effect on MIL’s behavior, especially since she said this behavior is normal with her.

I agree with the others that said the OP should really just say something to her. It sounds to me just like 2 people with different levels of cleanliness and ideas of visitors expectations.


Kate November 21, 2012 at 7:07 am

I believe that guests in a home should not jump in and help unless given permission to do so by the host. While OP would have appreciated MIL’s help, some people are quite particular about how things work in their kitchen. I’m an extreme case – I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and I have a panic attack if my fiance starts trying to cook or clean, let alone someone who doesn’t live with me and is unaware of my issues, but even people without OCD might prefer to be in charge of the kitchen area.
Some people also use the clearing up as a refuge. My dad has a tendency to get anxious in social situations, so he always volunteers to clean up and cook when my parents host dinners so he can take a little break from the social interaction.
That being said, if OP’s MIL was asked to help, she should have (and I believe OP’s husband should have been helping without needing to be asked!).


The Letter Writer November 21, 2012 at 8:59 am

Had to respond….

With asking her to help, she will come to do what is asked, but by the time I have turned the TV around for her, gotten her all the supplies for whatever it was I had asked her to do, the moaning starts….”the chair is so uncomfortable; could you bring me another one?” “its hard to use my hands with my arthritis” “I forgot I need to make a quick phone call…” I could go on and on but thats the gist. Since we are both early risers and its usually holidays when we see her…my request is “why don’t you sit and keep me company”

And Dot, the reason my son’s blood count was important was that under normal circumstances I can deal with my MIL knowing she only usually stays a few days. However I was under extreme stress trying to keep a smile on my face for both my son and the other guests that I had not told about the upcoming oncology appointment. Given that my MIL knew, I would have thought that just that once she could have tried to help a bit.
I mean I am a happy joking type of person…that is normal for me, but if I were a guest in someone’s home who was just told their mammogram was abnormal and they needed to come back in for a 2nd one, I would A) know to tone myself down…its not a time for jokes and laughing, and B) I would quietly try to help as much as I could to take some of the pressure off of them


just4kicks November 21, 2012 at 10:59 am

As the mother of five children, I can only imagine how horrible it must have been to put on a brave face for the sake of your kids while worrying yourself sick, giving them a “normal” and happy holiday. That does not make you a “martyr” as one poster so rudely stated, it makes you a good mom! And your MIL knowing what was going on and not doing anything to help lighten your load, is beyond disgusting to me. So happy your son is okay. Many blessings to you and your family!!!


Skyline November 21, 2012 at 12:13 pm

OP, I want to address your statement that ‘it’s not a time for jokes and laughing’.

One thing I learned as a palliative care volunteer is that everyone handles stress/bad news differently. Some people prefer solemnity and others to act ‘normally’; some want to talk about it while others want to avoid the topic; some want quiet and others distraction etc. It goes without saying that what might be the wrong approach for one person is not for another.

I, and pretty much my entire extended family, prefer the ‘normality’ approach, which in our case consists of loudness, humour, and debating politics in the ‘main room’, with quiet, serious discussions re-bad news in side conversations. So, if you were a guest and were quiet and solemn, you would actually stress me out!

For example, at age 16 I was in the hospital with what they thought was a brain tumour (it turned out I was the 7th reported case in the world of a rare type of benign tumour–I am such a freak of nature!). My brothers came to visit and we watched this lame local dance show without the sound on, making fun of the people on the show. That made me feel better. One of my aunts visited and was all serious and ‘there there, dear’. Could not wait for her to leave.

We tend to project our own preference when we are the ‘outsider’ and it is important (but difficult) to be acknowledge that others react differently to bad news.


Audra November 21, 2012 at 12:32 pm

OP/LW- I would not have been able to eat turkey after that, either. I probably would have thrown the whole thing out. As an adult, MIL should know, at least, basic cleanliness. If she wants to be a slob at her house, fine, her house, her rules. But as a *guest* in another’s home, you should pick up your clothing and discarded tissues without having to be asked. It’s gross. She’s an adult and needs to act that way.

I was taught as a guest you offer help, especially with something as large as hosting/cooking T-day dinner. I understand your reluctance to ask her help, since she has so many “requirements” (TV moved so she can watch it, etc). It’s easier to just do it yourself- I so get that. But she could have, for once, thought about you/your family and what you were going through but she appears to be completely and utterly clueless. I would suggest letting her stay at hotel the next time she visits.


Toni November 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I was blessed with a wonderful, helpful mother-in-law. And it is no wonder she raised a son who would never allow his mother to treat his wife that way. OP’s mother-in-law is what she is…but it’s unfortunate that her husband wasn’t sensitive enough to help deal with her and assist in cooking and cleaning up.


Enna November 23, 2012 at 7:06 am

MIL sounds like a right piece of work. I agree with Bint, your husband should be more on the ball and help in dealing with her. To begin with I thought MIL might be old and loosing a few marbles but with 2nd post MIL is a nightmare.


The Letter Writer November 26, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! This year’s Thanksgiving for us was blissfully uneventful. The MIL was unable to make the trip but some old family friends did.

I just wanted to clarify one last thing that I noticed more than a few people commented on….my husband’s role in all of the holiday drama

I have been blessed with a wonderful husband. Thanks to my husband I don’t have to work outside the home and was able to stay home and raise our children. To me, it seems more than fair that I take care of the house and meals and do most of the fussing for holidays and when guests are coming over.


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