Agony Aunt: Dreading summer holiday with interfering mother-in-law

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Dear Jan,

While everyone else seems to be looking forward to planning their summer holidays, I am dreading mine.

For the last five years, my Mother–in-Law has insisted we go away with her, to her caravan in Devon.

The thing is we just don’t get on any more. She is a really lovely lady but has become very controlling and we have no privacy on our much needed holiday.

She interferes when we are disciplining the children and sulks if we don’t do everything together on holiday. She even puts out my husband’s clothes for him, going into our bedroom, which really upsets me.

This is even tougher when we are confined to a small space in the caravan.

My husband works hard all year and he gets quite annoyed with me for complaining about his Mum.

He says she is lonely and although I agree that she has not had much of a life since her husband died five years ago, I don’t see why we should have to spend our precious holiday with her.

Can you help please?


Dear Julie,

Thank you for your letter. I can understand how frustrating it is for you to sacrifice that important time you have together as a family.

We all need a break and I imagine this situation began with your goodwill and feeling the need to help her in the loss of her husband.

Unfortunately, as this situation has gone on, she has become more dependent on your support and less able to see how she can manage for herself.

Many mothers-in-law want to help and just do not realise that they are doing more harm than good.

Perhaps she does not see how intrusive and controlling she is. To her it may just be she is showing caring behaviour and trying to help.

Having said all this, this situation cannot continue and the sooner you do something to change it the easier it will become.

We can rarely change the way others behave, but how we respond to their behaviour is our choice.

In her loss, your mother-in-law has reverted to her previous role of when your husband was small, taking over his care in order to feel useful and maybe avoid grieving for the loss of her husband.

Your husband sounds like he is torn between the two of you and I imagine he is not happy with this situation either, so maybe he is the key to the answer here.

Because she has reverted to treating him like a child again, he has fallen into that role and may even be scared to confront her about her behaviour.

When you can get some time alone, speak to your husband and tell him how concerned you are about her loneliness.

Explain you recognise she is unhappy and want to help her, and maybe suggest he talks to her alone and without criticising her, show some understanding of her behaviour and work with her to get her the support she may need.

She may agree to join a club or group locally involved with a previous interest or see a counsellor to support her through her unresolved grief.

You do need to be absolutely clear with her that if she continues to behave like this you will not want to spend time with her and this is something you have always enjoyed in the past.

Pre-empt her offers to help you and ask her to do some of the jobs you can let go of. She will then feel useful and needed still and you might even benefit too.

Once she realises you still want her around things will hopefully change for the better and you can enjoy each others company again.

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