General Etiquette > Family and Children

Being on the periphery of "she doesn't like me and I don't know why": IL issues

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GrammarNerd:
I will start this off by saying that I'm putting this out there as partly a hypothetical situation, b/c I know it's not my place to say anything to the person/people involved.

I have a cousin who I might see (at most) a couple of times a year.  She's a nice person (and I mean that sincerely), but somewhat 'cluelessly blunt'.  By that, I mean that she'll make comments that could be considered more forward than one would typically consider polite.  For example, my mother passed away several years ago.  I had been losing some weight for the months preceding this, and I had to buy a new dress for her funeral.  It was awesome, if I do say so, and it was in my mother's favorite color, so I know she would have approved.  :)  Anyway, cousin hadn't seen me lately and was of course exclaiming about my weight loss.  But it was just a little *too much*.  Like, instead of just saying that I looked good, she went on and on about it, like 'don't you feel better?', 'aren't you glad you lost the weight?', etc.  (Cousin has always been very slender; just naturally built that way.) So instead of feeling good, it left me feeling somewhat....judged, if that makes sense, like 'geez, what did you think of me 30 lbs ago if you're going on and on about this now?'  No one thing that she said was bad, but it was just too many comments, all at once.  Too much gushing.  KWIM?

But that was just an example.  Anyway, I saw cousin this weekend.  I asked about her new grandson; basically polite small talk.  Then she confided that she's only seen him a handful of times and he's close to a year old.  She said she doesn't know what's wrong; first her DIL started cutting her out of the wedding planning, and now she won't let her see the baby.  Cousin called them and wanted to come over, and DIL said that it wasn't a good time b/c they were busy.

I made the appropriate sympathetic noises.  I've never met her DIL, so she could be the nicest person or she could be a total you-know-what.  However, knowing cousin and how involved she always was with her kids, I could totally see how she may have gone overboard with wanting to be involved in the wedding, and ended up alienating DIL.  And because of Cousin's kind of blunt nature, I could also see where, if the DIL was on guard already from the wedding planning, it would totally backfire if Cousin got a little bit blunt about pregnancy matters with DIL, or started assuming too much about doing things with the baby.  I remember when I was a new wife and mother, and was hypersensitive to my relationship with my ILs and how they interacted with the baby, so I can relate to the DIL, especially if (for some unknown reason) she already has a strained relationship with my cousin. 

I know it's totally not my place to say anything to Cousin b/c we're just not close enough for a heart-to-heart like that to delve into their relationship.  But here's the crux of my post: it got me thinking about the situation, and what I would do if, Diety forbid, I'm someday in that situation, or if I'm close enough to a situation (like my own sister) where I'm asked for advice.

We see the concept of boundaries on this site all the time.  So it appears to me that the DIL is just setting some boundaries.  No biggie.  But Cousin is still apparently in the dark.  So obviously, something happened where DIL needed to set some boundaries, but Cousin has no knowledge that she did anything to offend the DIL or put her on guard.  If you're in that situation, how do you make sure you stop before it gets to that point?  In my cousin's shoes, how would I check myself to make sure that I'm being helpful, but not overbearing?  That I'm excited about helping with a wedding and I want to be involved?  Or that I want to see the grandchild as much as I can?

And if I'm close to someone who has this problem, and that someone is close enough to vent to me and might listen to me, what advice would you give them?  If you see them becoming overbearing, can you warn them to back off for fear of damaging the budding relationship?  Or do you just MYOB and let the chips fall where they may?

Like I said, I would never presume to call up my cousin and offer her advice about this.  But it got me thinking about the situation in general, and how to avoid having that happen either to me or if I was on the close periphery of the situation.

Texas Mom:
There's nothing you can do.

Even if cousin asked for your advice and you gave her an honest answer, she would become defensive with you and then try to "fix things" with her DIL.  That would make things worse.

A socially aware person (which you appear to be) notices something "off" early on & can take steps to correct things before a freeze sets in.

MommyPenguin:
Yeah, but I think the OP is asking how somebody who maybe *isn't* the most socially aware can try to figure out where to draw the line between going overboard and being helpful.  As well as, if she had somebody very close to her in this situation who *asked* for advice, how to help that person figure out where the line was and where she crossed it, and how to stop short.

I don't have much helpful advice.  The only example I can give you, OP, is my MIL.  My MIL is *very* careful about overstepping, and the way she does it is to ask.  Not so much that it's ridiculous, but she'll say things like, "MommyPenguin, I'd love to have the girls for a sleepover sometime, if you're comfortable with that.  I was thinking something along the lines of a snack, maybe painting nails, doing a craft, that sort of thing.  Then I'd take the girls to a park in the morning and drop them off.  Do you want to think about whether you think they're ready for that sort of thing and you'd like to do it, and get back to me?"  She's very careful not to put me on the spot, but to ask things and give me time to think about it, say yes or no, etc.  She's sometimes *too* careful, because we really do have a great relationship and really she doesn't need to worry nearly as much about overstepping, but better that she's careful than the alternative, I think!  So I'd say that that's something to consider... asking, as you go along, "Would it be helpful if I took over getting the wedding flowers for you, once you choose the flowers of course, or would you rather I step back and you just tell me when you need help with something?"  Rather than jumping in unasked.

In a situation where the line has already been crossed, I think you can still do this, but first address the problem.  "DIL, I'm worried that we've really overstepped and been too pushy and nosy about the new baby, the wedding, and all of that.  We're so sorry to have added stress during an already stressful time.  If you'd be willing, we'd love to start over, and to be helpful without being in the way or pushy.  We really miss seeing LittleGuy and would love to see him more, and we hope we haven't jeopardized our chances for that.  Would you think about whether there are some things we could do differently, and let us know?"  Then let DIL have some time to think about this and digest it so that she's not put on the spot and feels the need to demur.  It could really open communication and make for a stronger relationship in the end.

siamesecat2965:

--- Quote from: GrammarNerd on April 17, 2013, 10:47:03 AM ---
  But here's the crux of my post: it got me thinking about the situation, and what I would do if, Diety forbid, I'm someday in that situation, or if I'm close enough to a situation (like my own sister) where I'm asked for advice.

We see the concept of boundaries on this site all the time.  So it appears to me that the DIL is just setting some boundaries.  No biggie.  But Cousin is still apparently in the dark.  So obviously, something happened where DIL needed to set some boundaries, but Cousin has no knowledge that she did anything to offend the DIL or put her on guard.  If you're in that situation, how do you make sure you stop before it gets to that point?  In my cousin's shoes, how would I check myself to make sure that I'm being helpful, but not overbearing?  That I'm excited about helping with a wedding and I want to be involved?  Or that I want to see the grandchild as much as I can?

And if I'm close to someone who has this problem, and that someone is close enough to vent to me and might listen to me, what advice would you give them?  If you see them becoming overbearing, can you warn them to back off for fear of damaging the budding relationship?  Or do you just MYOB and let the chips fall where they may?

 
--- End quote ---

Sadly, I think many people who are that clueless about things see nothing wrong with their behavior that may have caused others to pull back from them. So there really isn't any way for them to stop before it gets to whatever point, since they're not even aware they're doing anything.

And since you don't know what transpired between your cousin and DIL, its hard to say why her DIL is doing, or not doing, whatever. and also, since you aren't that close to your cousin, its entirely possible she may not be telling the truth. she may very well have done something and is well aware of her actions, so cause her DIL to act as she is.

I think in the  case of someone you are very close to, it might be ok, if they asked for adivce, to gently point out a few things. but if youre' not all that close, I'd just let it be. I wouldn't go too deeply into things, but a couple of comments might help, if you're close enough, and feel comfortable doing so

NyaChan:
In your case, you don't really know whether the DIL is actually shutting her out (Cousin might be exaggerating or overestimating how much she should be involved) or if she is absolutely shutting Cousin out, you don't know the reasons why.  Because of that, you should not be involved as you might very well make things worse. 

Now consider if DIL had come to you and confided in you that there were all these problems - say Cousin is showing up unannounced and making pushy comments on childrearing so DIL told her she had to call first only to have Cousin calling every other day to come over - and then you heard Cousin complaining that DIL won't let her see her grandchildren.  Then if I were in your position, I would talk Cousin through it indirectly.  Don't cite DIL, don't mention that conversation at all, but ask questions like,

"Well how many times were you going over before this change happened?"  and then comment appropriately, "You know Cousin, that is actually quite a bit of visiting.  Maybe it is better that you give them some privacy and call/visit only every other week."

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