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Ask TherapistMarryAnn Your Own Question
TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5763
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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my mother in law has always been a problem. She shows favoritism

Customer Question

my mother in law has always been a problem. She shows favoritism with her four granddaughters and leaves my kids out of the loop. I finally blew up last June when she chose to hand out beach badges rather than go to my son's graduation even after she attended her granddaughters' graduations. I can't take it any more. My husband is so intimiated by her. He talked to her and told her he is intimidated by her and this is what she replied, "You should be". Nice. I have a very nice relationship with my two sons 20, 26 and daughter 12. My husband is different since this happened. He is afraid he'll have guilt feelings if they die. She has treated me and my older son like crap for the 23 years we have been married. I resent my husband for not being more assertive with her. She knows she can get away with this with him because of how he is with her. I have always worked, never did drugs, drank, always kept a clean house and my kids were always mannerly, dressed neatly and clean and are just great kids. She is now starting to show favoritism with my middle son making a fuss over him and going to his games. Never once has she offered to go to my older son's karate tests or offer to see my daughter dance now. I can actually say I hate her. I've seen her pass out presents to her granddaughters and yet my older son who was four at the time tugged on her pants for his presents. She pushed his hand away. As a mother watching this, it just killed me and still does. How do I handle this? My husband and I are distanced because of this.
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  TherapistMarryAnn replied 4 years ago.

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.


Your mother in law's behavior is not about you. This is how she sees the world. No matter how great your kids are or how wonderful a mother you are, your mother in law will still act this way. Somewhere in her life, she was taught that it is ok to treat people with disdain and ignore the feelings of everyone around her. She has intimidated her own children and continues to try to control your family.


When someone chooses to act out in this manner, there is little you can do to change them. It appears your mother in law has little to no insight into how harmful her behavior is. When someone does not know they are doing wrong or doesn't care, then they have no motivation to change. That leaves everyone else with no choice but to react to what the person is doing.


As her son, your husband should be dealing with his mother. He needs to tell her that her behavior towards your children and the two of you is unacceptable. He also should tell her that if she cannot treat the children as equal, then she is not allowed around them. But if he will not do that, you may need to tell your mother in law instead. Ask your husband to back you up. Then decide how much contact, if at all, you are willing to tolerate from her. If seeing her is important to your children, then you can place limits on her behavior. If she tries to provide a gift for one child, for instance, then tell her she is no longer allowed to bring any gifts for any child.


You and your husband may want to consider therapy to help you overcome the conflict around his response to his mother's behavior. Having a spouse who backs down from protecting the family can breed anger and resentment. Leaving the response up to you also can drive a wedge in your marriage, which is hard to cope with without help. To find a therapist, talk to your doctor about a referral. Or search on line at


If you have not already, talk with your children about grandma's behavior. You have older children so they probably understand already. But it doesn't hurt to include them in the conversation. Explain that grandma sometimes acts in ways that are not nice. Try to avoid blaming her or appearing angry at her. That will only confuse the kids on how they should act. Tell the kids they can come to you if they feel confused or hurt. Tell them you are working on the problem and let them know they are loved. Include your husband so he can see the effects first hand. It may help him overcome his fear of his mother.


I hope this has helped you,

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
My children know how she is. Everyone in her family does but no one will confront her. It seems I was the only one who did. My children don't like her. She is always right. She does the best of the best in everything, doctors, etc. and doesn't sit and listen to them. She just judges people on their intellect. My husband doesnt confront her because he says it does no good. My kids don't see her on a regular basis. For their birthdays she comes to my house when I'm not there to bring them their gifts. However, I am not allowed to her house. I don;t like the fact that she is able to come to my house when I am not there. I feel like I am being punished because I spoke up to her. They have all talked about her and still do but yet no one will cross her. What kind of person is she? She has to be invited to everything. She never asks to come see my kids in any events EXCEPT my middle son's baseball game.
Expert:  TherapistMarryAnn replied 4 years ago.

Thanks for the additional information. It helps.


Although it is hard to tell what she could be diagnosed with without talking to her directly, It sounds like she may have narcissistic personality disorder. People with narcissism have some of the following traits:


They do not recognize others feelings

They feel they are always right

Feeling disdain for others they feel are beneath them

A belief that they are special


It is very hard to deal with someone with a personalty disorder. They rarely have insight and are often difficult to help in therapy. They often create anger, hurt and resentment in whoever must deal with them. The best response to someone with a personality disorder is to stay away from them as much as possible.


If you are already doing this, then you may want to talk with whoever is letting her in your home when you are not there. They need to know how you feel about it and stop letting her in. It is your home and you have the ultimate say so about who is there.



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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

KATE: One more thing. My husband won't tell her not to come to our house when I am not there because they are his parents and he just won't tell them no. She knows this. She knows my husband is afraid of her and gets away with this and she says it's her son's house too and she can do whatever she wants.

Expert:  TherapistMarryAnn replied 4 years ago.

Then this is something that needs discussed in therapy. Your husband needs to make a choice between you and his mother. You should be number one in his life but that is not how he is treating you. He is putting his mother first, and letting his fear rule his choices. His mother no longer has power over him but he is still acting like she does. He needs to confront this problem and deal with it once and for all.



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