Ill Be Home For Christmas

by : Wayne and Tamara

Direct Answers - Column for the week of November 29, 2004

I have been married 25 years. We come from completely different backgrounds. I grew up in a large family in a small town, and we were poor. My husband is an only child, privileged, and he was given everything by his parents. This continued throughout all our married life.

The house we moved into, against my wishes, is theirs. It was "given" to us when they retired and built a home in a warmer climate. However, the deed remained in his parents' name, and they came back every summer for a visit. For me it was a nightmare.

I work full-time but arranged time off to get everything in immaculate order for Abigail, my mother-in-law. It was never good enough. It was always a white glove inspection with her rubbing her hands across my kitchen counter and glancing at her fingertips. She even poked her head up inside the fireplace.

She would say, "Oh, honey, you need to clean your mirrors," or "I rewaxed your floors because I didn't think they were clean enough." When she asked how I liked my house, I would say I didn't really think it was mine. She would smile at me and say, "No, it's not, is it?"

One year after they arrived and we were having dinner, I made a grammatical error. I said "me and Linda" instead of "Linda and I." Abigail rapped her spoon on the tabletop screeching, "Honey, Honey, Honey! It is not me and Linda! It is Linda and I! Linda and I! Linda and I!" I was so stunned and embarrassed I excused myself from the table.

My husband and my father-in-law just dropped their heads. As usual, what Abigail did was "for my own good." The following year she brought me a grammar book.

I adored my father-in-law. He made me feel special. He would put his arms around me and tell me how much he appreciated me putting up with them. My husband would say, "That's just my mom." So I quit trying to fight her for the sake of my father-in-law and husband and to keep the peace.

Three years ago when my father-in-law died, something happened inside me. I felt so much anger at Abigail I wanted to stay away from her. Last Christmas I didn't want to go see her. Abigail went berserk saying, "How will this look to my friends?" So I went.

Within 24 hours she started in on me, as always, after my husband left the room. This time I called my husband back. It shocked my husband to see his sweet mom screaming, but when she saw she wasn't going to get away with it, she switched like a light bulb. She hugged me and told me how much she loved me. The rest of our visit she was as nice as pie.

It is Christmas again, and we are scheduled to return to her house. I've asked my husband to go alone, which he thinks is a horrible idea. I am on antidepressants and scheduled for therapy after the first of the year. Am I being selfish?


Melanie, the Greek playwright Aristophanes said, "The wise learn many things from their foes." Last Christmas you learned two things from Abigail. You learned she would be embarrassed if you refuse to visit, and you learned she will not confront you in front of her son.

If you can stay home without doing serious damage to your marriage, that is one possible course of action. But there is another answer. Can you distance yourself from the situation? Can you decide in a perfectly calm, cool manner that you will go, but if your mother-in-law is not nice as pie, you will confront her in front of her son?

Abigail has shown you that you can alter her behavior by standing up to her. The power has shifted.

Wayne & Tamara