Home > dads, family, motherhood > The step in-law thing

The step in-law thing

I can’t be the only person wrestling with this.

My father in law rocks. He’s awesome. Laid-back, funny, brilliant, well-educated, interesting, quirky. He has his flaws — he’ll contort himself into a black hole trying to avoid confrontation, he honestly believes that “Stranger in a Strange Land” is the most important book in the English language — but since he’s my father-in-law, those thing don’t affect me much.

His wife, on the other hand….

E. married my father-in-law about 17 years ago. She’s a fairly nice person, very chatty, and the least demanding of our various parent-types. She has three boys who are almost as handsome as she thinks they are. She is an important person in their tiny little community full of quirky artists and whatnot. She knows and is friends with almost everyone and lives her life very deeply immersed in this tight-knit world. What’s more, her ex-husband and her youngest son’s father-in-law are also big wheels in this community and through them she’s related to about half of the community. 

Since I’ve known her, E’s conversations are peppered with “Mary Smith, you know Mary Smith, the beautiful violinst down the street,” or “John Doe, you know, he’s the tall handsome man with the very successful book binding business,” and other references to people that we have never met. She would often interrupt conversations that other people were having about totally unrelated topics in order to share these convoluted and deeply irrelevant stories about people we don’t know and don’t care about. She rarely asks about us, never remembers anything about us (like The Husband’s life-long nut allergy), and is generally deeply self involved.

This was annoying but since she’s really rarely in our lives, not a big deal. The Husband was convinced that her rude behavior was because she felt threatened. She’s not necessarily the brightest woman in the world and her husband holds multiple PhDs (and a DivD), so conversations with him can get really erudite. I wasn’t so sure — I thought maybe she was one of those people who was honestly so deeply involved in her own little world that she couldn’t understand that those of us who didn’t live in that world wouldn’t really care that much. Like I said, she’s actually a nice person and if you could just avoid her when she launched into these complicated stories, it was no big deal.

And then, three years ago, I had a kid. 

Now, about a year before The Child was born, E’s youngest son had a daughter. (There’s some really complex family drama here I’ll skip over.) Then a year after The Child was born, he had another. They live literally around the corner from E. She takes care of both of the girls daily.

And they are the center of her world. Which is fine.

My child, however, is pretty much ignored. Which is not fine.

She won’t come to visit us unless she gets to spend the night in a hotel with a pool. If her husband wants to come without her, it’s a huge ordeal. When we come down, she makes sure to invite others over to spend time at the house while we’re there. When she’s here, she really dominates the conversation with stories about how wonderful her two granddaughters are and never even asks about our daughter. 

If my f-i-l was a more agressive person, this wouldn’t be a big deal but he’s, as I said, really really laid back and gets trampled over by her overblown nature. So his time with his only granddaughter (by blood) is dominated by long conversations about people we don’t know. When I try to interject stories about The Child, she interrupts to tell stories of how much funnier, smarter, prettier, more wonderful her two granddaughters are. 

When she came to visit this weekend, for instance, the whole explicitly stated purpose of the visit was not to visit The Child. No. It was to take the child to see an installation by her son’s father-in-law. So instead of playing and hanging out, we had to do a hurried dash into the city, a bolted lunch, a visit to the installation, and a forced march back with an over-tired toddler. And then we had to hear about how wonderful this artist was, with me trying to sneak in stories about The Child. 

How do you all deal with deeply unequal treatment by in-laws and step-in-laws? Do I call her on it? Do I start ignoring my manners and simply hijacking the conversation? Do I try (again) to invite the Father-in-law up without her? (To be fair, the father-in-law simply adores The Child. Really and trully adores her. I think he lets E run away with everything because he’s just so happy to be in her presence that he doesn’t need to actually interact.)

Or am I just totally over reacting? Always a possiblity.

Categories: dads, family, motherhood
  1. October 28, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    invite the father in law without her. she will blow a gasket. or let him make the effort to come himself and save your stomach from an ulcer. my children have one living grandparent. they haven’t seen her in 8 years, so my youngest has NEVER met her. and we are all fine with this.
    because she is poison. all she cares about are her wonderful grandSONS from other child. my girls became old enough for this to hurt (about age 7 or 8). no one hurts my kids.
    it may not sound like poison but it is. it poisons you and it will poison The Child.
    be forewarned.

  2. elisa
    December 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    i am also going through this with a step-mother-in-law. It stinks. This Christmas she has informed us that my father-in-law and her will be joining friends for Christmas instead of sharing it with his 2 granddaughters (which has been tradition). This is just one incident of many. She has 2 daughters herself and 4 grandchildren. Three of the grandchildren are the center of her universe. It is unfortunate that my F-I-L has chosen this woman over his son and granddaughters. I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. BUT, I do have an ulcer from all of this!! Just keep the faith and we have to remind our children that WE still love them and some show it in funny ways. Good luck.

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