Dear Coleen – I feel no empathy towards my sick, old mother-in-law
I got married at 18, just six months after meeting my husband. That was back in the 60s.
My mother-in-law would often ignore me completely, not speaking to me for weeks.
Even on our wedding day, which I must admit was a very cheap affair, she told me how embarrassing it was.
This behaviour carried on. One example I can give was when I was expecting our first child, three years later.
She kept saying to me how ugly her second son was as a baby.
So much so that I told my husband I thought she was going to say that our baby looked like her second son, and she did!
I have absolutely no idea why her behaviour towards me was so awful.
She did admit once that it was because of the relationship I’d had with my father-in-law, which was lovely.
At a wedding we all attended, as she was leaving, she kissed everyone around the table. I knew what she was going to do, leave me out, and she did. There are many more examples.
She was also unkind to her other daughter-in-law, but used to say to me, “I don’t like her, so I do not care how she behaves”.
Now she’s very old, unwell and on her own. Her sons are at her beck and call. What worries me is that I don’t have any feelings for her.
Surely I should feel sorry for someone so old and frail? I’m always pleasant to her and she has no idea I feel like this.
I don’t think I could bring myself to shed a tear when she’s gone.
What I’m hearing is that you feel guilty and a bit ashamed for not feeling more for your mother-in-law.
Maybe you’re also worried this makes you cold or a bad person.
It doesn’t – you’re pleasant to her, but you can’t force yourself to have feelings that aren’t there.
She sounds like she’s a difficult character, but I’d say her behaviour is down to her own unhappiness and perhaps a failure to form good relationships, and nothing to do with you.
She might have been jealous of your good relationship with her husband and jealous of your relationship with her son, too.
Maybe you can find some empathy for the fact that she’s clearly an unhappy person with some issues that she never managed to resolve, which must have made her life difficult.
I think you should carry on being polite to her, helping practically where you can, and supporting your husband in his caring role.
But I don’t think you should give yourself a hard time for not really liking someone who’s been pretty mean for all the decades you've known her.
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