Q: My in-laws are too nice. My husband's mother calls him once a day, sometimes more. Every time he and my daughter visit them (about weekly), they insist on sending things back with them, usually foods we're trying to avoid. Each of these gifts requires me to call and say thanks, which then turns into a lengthy chat.
My in-laws want phone calls anytime we travel long distances or in bad weather, just to be sure we're safe. They keep track of our kids' doctor's appointments so they can ask how things went.
Is there a polite way to get them to back off, just a little? We love them and appreciate that they are always there for us, but it's too much of an burden to handle their anxieties about our everyday life. When we try to speak up, my mother-in-law is very hurt and feels we don't want her around.
A: You describe a mother-in-law who is manipulative, controlling, insecure and boundary-challenged. Is your husband as uncomfortable with this as you are? Is he ready to set some limits?
A good read on this topic is The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It will seem like a loopy recommendation for "just" a fussy mom, but it's actually square on point. A session with a family therapist may also be useful.
It won't be pretty, even if your husband's fully aboard. He'll need to be kind and sunny and absolutely immovable on these, phased in gently:
• Screening her calls.
• Saving your "We made it home okay!" calls for when there's some doubt.
• Supporting you when you say "Thank you" by note or email.
• Realizing her distress does not obligate him to appease her.