Ask Amy: An Intrusive Mother-in-Law

By Amy Dickinson | September 30th, 2020

When the questions go too deep for comfort

Woman talking to her intrusive mother-in-law

Dear Amy: My mother-in-law only reaches out to me when she is concerned about her son. He’s an only child and she constantly worries about him.

She calls or texts me to ask how he’s eating, exercising, his latest bowel movements … you get my drift.

I want to think the best of her. I believe she is trying to be a good mom by being involved. However, it also makes me feel like she sees me as her spy or a vehicle to “fix” whatever is worrying her about him.

He’s not eating healthy? It’s up to me to force-feed him his greens.

He’s not exercising enough? I should dance sexy for him (her words, not mine) to get him moving.

I’m not my husband’s “fixer.” He’s a grown man and it’s up to him to eat and exercise well.

It’s also a little hurtful that she takes no interest in me other than a, “Hello, how’ve you been? Now, let’s talk about my son.”

I know it’s wrong, but lately I have been ignoring the inappropriate suggestions and delaying answering her other messages. How should I handle this?

— Not My Husband’s Fixer

Dear Not: Is your husband in a coma? Has he fallen down a well?

I ask because, unless he is voiceless, he should be talking to his mother about his toileting habits.

I assume your husband is ducking his mother because he is exhausted by these intrusive questions. He’s likely dealt with them for a lifetime. If you asked him, “How do you cope with these questions?” He’d probably answer, “I ignore her, or tell her to talk to you.”

This is a boundary issue. If your husband is in fact alive and nearby, you can tell your mother-in-law, “He’s right here. Let me hand him the phone,” or “I’ll make sure he knows you called,” or simply, “That’s pretty personal. You should ask him!”

Also say, “I know how much you care about how ‘Paul’ is doing, but he’s basically great. He and I are happy, but I’m not really in charge of him.” Then you pivot to ask her a question about how she is and what she is up to. And yes, ignore or delay answering texts you don’t want to answer.

Your mother-in-law will always care more for her son than for you. It’s doubtful that she will ever develop a sincere interest in your life. She may always be an annoying nudge. Be kind, be firm, and practice establishing healthy boundaries, and you won’t dread hearing from her quite so much.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

More from Boomer