Dear Carolyn: My 80-something mother-in-law makes me atrophied with her incessant attention-seeking, hyper-dramatized conversation hijacking. Amidst her long soliloquies of relating everything you just said to herself, I wither away, uninspired to contribute additional words, as they would become invalidated and unheard anyhow. As a doting and loving mother of several children of her own, she also extends her motherly skills and knowledge to others in a patronizing manner, which is embarrassing and unnecessary.
I've thought about confronting her on these things over the years, but if I did, I would undoubtedly become the black sheep because my spouse's family "fans" find her grandstanding nature adorable. And to mention this to my spouse would most certainly cause distance between us.
Everyone loves "Granny," so what's wrong with me?
— Withering Daughter-in-Law
Withering Daughter-in-Law: Nothing, probably. No one’s charms are universal.
As is typical when an extended-family problem occurs in the context of a marriage, the real problem is how it affects the marriage.
It’s possible you’re not giving your spouse enough credit. Plenty of people are capable both of adoring Mama and admitting her faults. Plus, what are the chances he has zero inkling of how you feel?
Plus, holding back is a lie in the marriage; far better to fix that than to presume to fix Granny through “confronting,” which must have a great PR rep, given how often it’s contemplated as a remedy for personality clashes and how rarely it is one.
So: “You know me, so certainly noticed: It bugs me when Granny does/says X. I feel bad. Any suggestions?”
A limited complaint with a plea for help is less of a domestic grenade than, “I’m so done with that preachy cow.” It gives you both something to work with.
If even that causes drama, then you’ll know: that inviting honesty, flexibility and forgiveness into your marriage will be a longer and more serious project, and that your opinion of Granny is the least of it.
As you address the bigger stuff — please do, in solo counseling if feasible, since intimacy deplores charades — try these Granny coping tactics:
●Looking hard for what everyone likes about her. If you haven’t exhausted this avenue by now.
●Exploiting her popularity. If she has even one rapt fan listening to her, then you can mouth, “Excuse me!” as you slink away to freedom.
●Harnessing what annoys you as an agent for good. (Pure gold, when it works.) Surely this font of maternal knowledge knows something you value? Good. Then ask her to cook the family specialty, or show you how; record tales of your husband’s childhood, which you collect as a gift for your husband; keep you company during some absorbing task, like running errands or doing dishes. This way you can justifiably half-listen while logging precious good-sport minutes.
●Giving up all hope. Sometimes you’re just stuck in that room with that egocentric soliloquy and that spousal blind spot, so you might as well find a soft chair and go to your mental happy place. Eventually the sun will set, sleep will overcome the best of you and tomorrow will be another day.
Again — this is about Granny only on the surface, and everything beneath is about your marriage. Do what it needs and let the rest take care of itself.