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Author Topic: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?  (Read 24299 times)

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Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« on: October 05, 2012, 02:59:22 PM »
Hello all - am hoping that I wasn't rude, but if I was, how can I handle this situation while remaining polite?

MIL has always been paranoid that we ignore her calls - when we had an answer phone we discovered that she would quite literally ring every few minutes until we picked up (often the phone was ringing as we got in the door). Once she left a message saying "I've been calling, I know the children have school tomorrow so I can't believe you're not in" (we weren't in!). We don't usually ignore the phone, and we mainly keep in contact with her by phone as we don't see her often.

She does however have a terrible habit of calling us during our dinner. We eat roundabout the same time each evening and we have repeatedly told her that we're in the middle of dinner when she calls and have suggested she calls earlier (we eat late) but she usually tries to carry on whatever conversation she's been planning on having instead of saying "Oh sorry, will call you back". If we say "Sorry, we're in the middle of dinner, we'll call you afterwards" she sometimes gets very upset and goes very quiet and does a bit of a snarky 'well I'm sorry for ringing' which because we know her, we know she's annoyed or upset but it's the sort of phrase that in the right tone of voice would be completely innocuous.

Last night she called, and we decided not to pick up and let the phone ring out. We'd call her after dinner. Phone went again, this time from a withheld number but we were sure it was her, we ignored it. She rang from her mobile. Then a moment later the phone rang for a fourth time so I decided to answer (because it was very disruptive and DH was getting really cross). I may well have sounded slightly irritated when I said 'Hello?' (tried to keep it out of my voice but I was annoyed so it may have come through). I wasn't 100% certain it was her, but when she said 'It's me' I didn't greet her warmly as I would normally have done, I just said 'Oh, we're in the middle of dinner. We'll call you back'. She apologised then said 'I just want to speak to DH for one minute'. I know that it's never one minute with her and I also didn't want her to get the idea that if she called multiple times from multiple numbers that we'd pick up eventually. So I said 'I'm sorry MIL, but he's just eating dinner, I'll get him to call you back as soon as he's done'. She went very quiet and said in a very frosty tone that she was so sorry for calling and hung up.

I hate to upset her, and I really hate that she's now mad at me and probably thinks I'm stopping her from speaking to her son but I'm also annoyed that she tried to catch us out by calling from different numbers and withheld numbers (she's done it before) because she thinks we would pick up if it wasn't her. That's not true - we don't want to speak to anyone in the middle of dinner!

I'm also annoyed that she doesn't respect that we either can't or don't want to answer the phone and rings until the phone rings off and then instantly tries again.

Do you think I was rude by not greeting her as I normally do on the phone - she must have picked up that I was annoyed from that?


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2012, 03:07:24 PM »
No.  And in the future can you make a policy of no calls during dinner and turning off the ringer on your phone?
"The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones" - Solomon ibn Gabirol


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2012, 03:08:07 PM »
Wow, so rude!

Your MIL, not you! :) I think you were fine. Is there anyway you can shut the ringer off or silence it during dinner so you can just let it ring without disturbing you? (I see MyFamily beat me to that)

DH had a friend like this.  The guy would call repeatedly throughout the day and if you didn't answer, he wouldn't leave a message at all, just hung up and tried again until you did pick up.  Thing is, it was NEVER an emergency or even a time sensitive thing as I'm sure is the case with your MIL.  I think that's the most aggravating thing.

It was just "Hey how are you?" Really, you're calling non stop to find out how I am?  ::)
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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2012, 03:11:26 PM »
Well she's learned that if she keeps calling she'll get her way eventually.  I don't think you were rude, I think she was rude.  However, I do think that you need to stick to your guns and not answer the phone when you don't want to. 

Also, if you do pick up, rather than having a conversation with her you may just want to give a stock phrase and then hang up.  There is a customer service rep at my company who does this and it drives me a little batty (I like to chat), but she is very polite and it is very effective.   It goes something like this (edited for your scenario:

You: Hello?
MIL: Hi it's MIL
You: Oh Hi MIL! It's so nice to hear from you.  Unfortunately *we're eating dinner* so we can't chat, but we'll call you as soon as we can OK.  Talk to you in a bit, bye!
And you hang up the phone.  The part between the ** can change depending on what you are doing.  But hopefully she will learn that if she wants to talk, it will be on your terms, not hers.

The key is to not let her get a word in edgewise


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2012, 03:11:51 PM »
She was horribly rude, you were not. I'm with everyone else - silence your phone during dinner whenever possible! I'd also have DH answer when it can't be silenced and say "We're eating. I'll call you back in an hour or so. Goodbye." and hang up.


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2012, 03:13:31 PM »
You've taught her that she will get her way if she calls during dinner. I would simply tell her, "we won't take phone calls during dinner time". Turn off the ringers during dinner and enjoy the time with your family.

She acts like a toddler because someone doesn't answer their phone. It is a phone call, not a summons to speak with the queen. I would ignore all the pouting and drama. If she can't have a polite conversation when you do call back, just tell her it sounds like she's not feeling well and you'll talk to her when she's feeling better.


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2012, 03:15:45 PM »
No.  And in the future can you make a policy of no calls during dinner and turning off the ringer on your phone?

POD. You're not rude, but your MIL is definitely being rude about this.

I don't know if this would help, but would your DH be willing to set up a specific time once a week to talk with her? (Provided that there's nothing else toxic going on or something like that, of course). Maybe if she knows that she'll be able to talk to him for half an hour every Wednesday or something, she'll get the feeling of connection she may want, and you guys will get a peaceful dinner.

Another option is to set the boundary clearly and explicitly, talk to her (when it's not your dinner time) and tell her, "MIL, we eat between X time and Y time every night. We are not going to answer the phone for anyone during that time - anyone at all, not just you." And then silence the ringer if you can or at least turn it down to the lowest volume you can if that's an option. More specifically, since it's your MIL, your DH should be the one to tell her if that's the route you decide to take. But be prepared for her to step up the behavior for awhile, because she'll almost certainly test the boundary.


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2012, 03:15:56 PM »
You were not rude; she was and terribly so (not to mentioned entitled).  She needs to learn boundaries and go find something else to do while you are at dinner.  Unless it's a dire emergency, she can wait.  One of DF's best friends is like this.  He thinks everyone should drop everything and talk to him.  It had even gotten to the point that DF picked up the phone and told him to stop calling because he was interfering with the task DF was trying to accomplish.  DF has a cousin like this also.  I've pointed out to DF that the only way these people will learn not to exhibit the entitled behavior is to not give in.  I think it's finally working (although it put me on his cousin's hate list since I'm sure she blames me for him no longer being at her beck and call, but her opinion means nothing to me, not to mention me not wanting to deal with a lifetime of her entitled behavior, so I don't care).


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2012, 03:22:20 PM »
I agree. Turn off the ringer or unplug the phone or put it off the hook. We have a policy in my house that we never answer the phone during dinner. When the kids were little it bugged them (the extreme curiosity to find out WHO is calling is very compelling) but as they grew up, phone ringing during dinner actually annoyed them as much as it did me and they became insistent that the phone would not be answered during dinner.

Anyway, the big question is, of course, when you say you (or husband) will call back after dinner, do you? If you always follow through and return the call, then you just have to put your foot down and if she is annoyed, well, that's her problem.

No, you weren't rude. But next time, don't answer in the first place. Make sure she understands that calling between x & y times will result in no one answering the phone, then stick with it.


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2012, 03:32:29 PM »
You need to start turning off your ringer during dinner.  Then when she calls you won't hear it but can check caller ID to see if she did.  Then her son can call her back and say that your family has a new policy of turning off the ringer during dinner because your family was being interrupted so frequently. 


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2012, 03:40:24 PM »
A simple solution would be to turn your phone off at meal time and check for messages/calls when you are finished with the meal.  Your MIL has learned that, if she calls enough and makes a big enough pest of herself, you will answer and then she gets to play the "offended card" on you.  Don't play her game.  Just turn the phone off (or turn off the ringer), enjoy your meal, and then call her back when it's convenient to talk.

You were not rude.  She was the rude one.


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2012, 03:42:15 PM »
As others have said, you've taught her that she has the right to demand an instant response whenever she calls. Reteaching her is going to be a long, slow and painful process. You probably got into this situation because it was easier to answer the phone/respond than to hear her whine. Unfortunately, you now have to pay for that ease and it's going to be much more expensive. "Begin as you wish to continue" is always good advice. Thus endeth the sermon.

Killing off this kind of behavior is a tough job and one that requires a great deal of fortitude. Once you start the process, you cannot give in, not even once. Decide when it is appropriate for her to call and when it isn't. Always respond when she calls at an appropriate time and never respond when it isn't. Yes, she is going to cry and whine and moan about this. You're going to get lots of PA things out of her during this process. Don't give in! Giving in even once just teaches her how hard she has to work to get the response that she wants.

Good luck.

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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2012, 03:56:11 PM »
LOL @ artk2002!

Thank you all for the replies. Glad I wasn't rude. I do hate upsetting her but she gets upset so easily.

To answer a couple of points; we have told her before that if she calls between 7 and 8 we're likely to be eating but it hasn't stopped her - I don't think she looks at the time when she rings and then feels snubbed if we don't want to talk to her right then.  This annoys DH who has sometimes retaliated by not calling her back (which I think is a bad idea because it reinforces her belief that he doesn't want to talk to her).

I answered on the fourth ring partly because DH was about to answer and be really, really curt (causes more hassle in the long run) and partly in case there was a real emergency - neither she nor her husband are in good health. I thought that not passing the phone to DH as she wanted would count towards not getting her own way.

I don't want to give the impression that she's always been a nightmare to deal with - she hasn't, she's just got a lot of health problems right now, most of them mental health issues, and I am always happy to listen if she's in crisis. If I'd got any hint of that on the phone I'd have listened there and then but I want her to differentiate between calling because she's in crisis (instant conversation and a shoulder to lean on) and calling because she just wants to say hi (that's great, we love to catch up, but not when it's inconvenient for us to talk).


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2012, 05:00:18 PM »
Does MIL call you on your landline phone?

This is what I've done in the past and would do in this situation as well:  when you do not want to be disturbed by phone calls, take the phone receiver off the hook and then disconnect the coil from the base of the phone.

When the phone is like this, anybody that calls will get a busy signal, and you don't hear the remarkably loud BEEPBEEPBEEP coming from the off-the-hook receiver.

After dinner, reconnect the phone coil and put the receiver back on the hook.


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Re: Think I've upset MIL - was I rude?
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2012, 05:24:25 PM »
Well, you just taught her that if she rings often enough, to enough different phones, you WILL pick up.

And you taught her that you DO screen your calls.

So maybe a sit-down with DH in which HE says, "Mom, we don't like to take calls during dinner, and that's the only reason we didn't answer. We don't like the disruption to our family--it sends an awful message to our children. It's an important parenting strategy. We will never again answer the phone during dinner. We will call you back."

And then follow through.

Even if she's in mental-health crisis, I betcha she can wait 45 minutes.

You might also head her off by automatically calling her as soon as dinner is finished. Prop the phone on your shoulder and chat while you're clearing the table.