Author Topic: Being on the periphery of "she doesn't like me and I don't know why": IL issues  (Read 7367 times)

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GrammarNerd

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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

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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

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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

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  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?

 

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

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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."

CrazyDaffodilLady

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A big question is, where is the cousin's son in all of this?  Why isn't Cousin talking to him?  Why is all the blame directed toward the DIL? 

I'd probably tell Cousin to discuss the matter with her son, and then I'd stay out of it.

It takes two people to play tug of war. If you don't want to play, don't pick up the rope.

Amara

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I think if you are the kind of person who is sensitive to others' boundaries and desires to respect them then you are the kind of person who would ask how to go about respecting others' boundaries.

If you are the kind of person who isn't sensitive to others' boundaries, you are the kind of person who'd never think to ask "Could I possibly be overstepping?"

Can people learn? Of course. That's why we all here, I presume. But we want to be here so that places us in the former category.


TootsNYC

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I'm w/ you, hoping people don't get too hung up on telling you to butt out of the original situation that got you thinking!

So I'll play along with YOU.


And let's say there's this hypothetical situation--it's your own sister, or your own best friend. And they actually ask you, "what could be wrong?"

I think in *that* situation, a person could perhaps say, "I can tell you about my own reactions, and that might help give you something that you  could look at a bit more closely.
    "Sometimes you come on really strong. You can be very blunt and very enthusiastic. Usually that's charming, or it's something that's easy to overlook.
    "But with things like a bride's wedding, or a new mother's baby--well, those are things people get a bit territorial about. So there's a chance this is the source.
   "And if you back off more, you might find she opens up more."

bopper

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  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.


Another possible scenario is that "handful" = six so she has seen him every 2 months.  How far away does she live from them?
Perhaps DIL has compromised on that frequency.

VorFemme

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Some people don't recognize that they've pushed the boundaries to the point of risking being shot at dawn in a duel, if duels were legal.  I'm thinking of the woman who reported her MIL engaging in behavior that would get a family dog removed from around visitors and crated.......

Others wonder if they've done something offensive only to find out that, at worst, they were  to someone who woke up really sick the next day - so not feeling well but not sick enough to realize that they were not behaving the  way that they usually did.  So - a false positive reading of being upset, as it were.

If cousin is the first, you need a cluedozer to run over her with.  Etiquette Hellions might know that they need help - but I think that we tend to err on the side of thinking that we've done worse than we really did.......most of the time.  If we have done badly due to being the one feeling I'll......it is to be hoped that family will accept an apology.
Let sleeping dragons be.......morning breath......need I say more?

TootsNYC

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she called and said she wanted to come over--which is technically rude, you don't invite yourself to someone's home. She didn't call and invite them to her place?

KitchenKitten

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With anyone who was like her that would have confided those things to me, knowing there are two sides to the story, I would have told them this:

"Could there have been a communication issue from both sides and has created a mountain out of a molehill? If you get the feeling that the whole situation is off, maybe ask to just have a sit-down chat with DIL and husband (or whomever is the party involved) about it and figure it out rather than worry and wonder about it."

No accusations to say one side is more responsible than the other and to actually find a solution to the problem if it upsets them that badly, rather than waste time wondering. It might also help that over-bearing person that always means well, to take a second look at their approaches.

Many of these kinds of personalities don't know their manner sometimes offends or oversteps because no one has bothered to tell them. How can you fix a problem when you aren't aware of it in the first place?

Kaypeep

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she called and said she wanted to come over--which is technically rude, you don't invite yourself to someone's home. She didn't call and invite them to her place?

I think this is a gray area.  We don't know the exact wording or tone, but I don't see it as rude for a grandmother to call her son/dil and ask  if it's possible for her to come by for a visit and to see the baby.  At least she called and asked first instead of just showing up.  Also, I think it's actually more thoughtful for her to come see them instead of making them schlep to see her and have to deal with carseats, baby bags, food, etc...  Plus, the woman took no for an answer and did not push the issue.  I think the woman should try again and tell them she'd like to visit them and see the baby for a bit, and could they suggest a day/time that's convenient?   I'd even offer to bring a meal so that they don't feel they have to fully host since they have their hands full with a baby. 

Cami

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I'd think I'd tell my cousin to stop  blaming her DIL and  talk to HER SON. He's the father of the grandchild. He's her son, her closest relative in this relationship.

I'm also perplexed about why -- if this cousin is so blunt -- she has not had a talk with her own son about the issue.


she called and said she wanted to come over--which is technically rude, you don't invite yourself to someone's home. She didn't call and invite them to her place?
  In many families, inviting oneself over is considere the norm and not rude at all. So it depends upon the family dynamics.

Lynn2000

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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.

Interesting question. I could see this happening to my friend Amy in 25 years or so. She's a bit of a pushy know-it-all and I fear that if she isn't 100% compatible with her hypothetical future son/daughter-in-law, she could do a lot of boundary-pushing in the form of unsolicited advice and criticism. All while still being a fundamentally good person. She just has trouble seeing that her way isn't the ONLY right way.

One thing I would probably try to say to someone is, "Sometimes you just have to let people do things their own way, and make their own mistakes if they're going to." Amy's pretty good with financial stuff and I could see her being one of those MILs who says something like, "You're spending HOW much on a trip to Disneyland? You could be paying off your house with that money!" If she were complaining to me, I would be like, "Look, maybe your plan IS more sensible, but what are the consequences of them going to Disneyland? Are they going to lose their house and end up living in your basement? Or are they just going to take a little longer to pay off their house? Assuming it's the latter, I would just stay out of it, and let them do what they want with their money. If it's the wrong choice for them, they'll learn that a lot better if they feel the consequences themselves." It's helping the person to get some perspective on the situation, without criticizing either their beliefs or the other person's.

I like KitchenKitten's wording, too. And like MommyPenguin says, I think if you're worried YOU might overstep, it's better to be really cautious, at least at first and in sensitive areas like weddings and child-rearing, and always try to ASK, rather than assuming. And always say something like, "If I'm overstepping and you'd just like me to leave you alone, just tell me," and MEAN it. I think it's really about understanding that other people might be coming from different perspectives with different expectations--you can't always anticipate what they will be exactly, but you can at least acknowledge that they might exist, and think to yourself about how you want to deal with them. Clear communication--laying out expectations, asking about stuff, instead of just assuming it's been understood.
~Lynn2000