Does my mother-in-law have the right to label my children?

Ruth - posted on 11/13/2012 ( 46 moms have responded )

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My husband and I have 4 children. I have two from a previous marriage, he has 1 and together we have 1. My ex has never been involved with my children and they call my husband dad, we have even started to process for him to adopt them. We have never been fond of the "step" label when referring to ourselves or our children, they are not floormats, they are children. I also come from a broken home and know firsthand the pain of not being accepted by the new husband's family. I have made my opinion very clear on the subject, and yet my MIL will still introduce my children as my "children from a previous marriage" or as her son's "step-daughters" or as his "wife's children". We have asked her over and over again not to do this, especially in front of the kids. The other day my daughter told her that her feelings were hurt by these phrases, and my MIL responded with "So what if I tell people he isn't your biological father, It's not a big deal". To me and my children, however, it is a big deal. I believe that she doesn't have a right to define the legal relationship to other people. It is no one's business but ours as to who's DNA our children carry. If we don't point it out to people, what gives her the right? Do I have the right to tell her to keep her mouth shut when it comes to the technicalities of my children's parentage?

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Dove - posted on 11/13/2012

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Sure you do, but that doesn't mean she'll listen. You can talk to her about this and hope she stops. If she doesn't you can ignore it when it happens, fight with her and cause a big feud, or cut off all contact with her. One of life's most important, but annoying, lessons is that you can't control what another person does or says... all you can control is your reaction to it.

Crystal - posted on 11/15/2012

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Usually in life we set boundaries with people, including family members, even though it's difficult. She's emotionally harming all of your children. You have tried to talk to her, your daughter, and I'm sure your husband has said something. Now is when you all decide as a family, regardless of her being grandma, MIL, mom, etc, where you are drawing the communication and contact line. In a lot of similar situations I see like this day to day, sometimes it's best to set a boundary of, "until you respect my family in ABCD way, we won't be having contact with you any more as you are emotionally harming our whole family and that's not how we want to raise all of our children." or something to that effect. It would be more powerful and effective if your husband tried to set the boundary with you at his side of course, only as it's his actual mother and it's probably going to be a bit more difficult for him.

I've set many boundaries with many people, including my own family members to protect myself and my daughter. One of the hardest was my maternal grandmother.

To be honest where I began to learn the technique and some others, was from Martha Linnahan (spelling) The founder of Dialectic Behavioral Therapy.

I hope this helps a little!!!!!

Lisa - posted on 11/15/2012

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What a frustrating situation! No matter what you say to your MIL, it seems she will just tell people what she wants, not appearing to care about hurting the feelings of your children. It seems like something makes her uncomfortable about describing your family without pointing out the specific relationships. It's really HER problem- not yours. You've done all you can as positively as possible, encouraging your daughter to share her feelings (which was met with defensiveness).



I don't believe that telling her off to keep her mouth shut about it will help, and possibly only strain the relationships you and your family have with her.



Rejection is a part of life, but it's crucial for parents to help their children learn how to deal with difficulty. The most important thing for a parent to remember is to keep your cool — at least in front of your child. When your child is snubbed, it can bring up old feelings of rejection for you too. If you're responding from your own hurt feelings, it's hard to be helpful. And if your child picks up on them, it may make him feel worse about the whole thing. Continue to be supportive by being a good listener and using the experiences as teachable moments.





I'd recommend:

1. Treat her as you would like to be treated, whether she reciprocates or not.



Children observe their parents and how they respond to rejection. They also observe whether their parents reject or put down other people. By accepting your MIL, rude warts and all, you're teaching your children a valuable lesson. Inadvertently, you also are teaching your MIL about being accepted and respected.



2. What makes a family? Is it the blood ties? Or the quality of relationships? You're children may not have the close, warm type of relationship that you'd hope with their grandmother. But you will be able to forge something.



Maybe through time she may change how she describes your family. She may never. Remember that everyone has their own virtues and shortcomings. As long as our kids have self-worth, an honest, and realistic self-perception they'll be able to handle most of life's let downs.

Good luck.

Corinne - posted on 11/15/2012

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Whilst you cannot control what your M.I.L. says and does, you can control how you respond and react to it. Tell her that her attitude and lack of respect towards your family is damaging and that you are limiting contact until she can stop being so petty and mean.

Rebecca - posted on 11/16/2012

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Ask your husband to talk to his mother and let her know that the children WILL be his children after the adoption and that she should get use to calling them his "children" and not "step-children" now. After all the will be her grandchildren! I cannot understand any one treating a child like that. As a grandmother myself I couldn't help but love them the same as any of my other grandchildren. I have a Girl Scout troop that I have been with for 7 years and these girls are young enough to be my grandchilren and I treat them that way. Kids are a blessing no matter how they happen to come into your life. Good luck!

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Jennifer S. - posted on 05/24/2013

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You know im starting TO BELIEVE,we need support groups for mother an laws!! god no wonder why ohio stipped the law an taking grandparent rights away!!! COME ON THIER CHILDREN,TALK ABBOUT FEELING YOU DONT BELONG!i grew up with two step brothers I never heard my mother say oh no.... these boys are not mine their my husbands whatever,lets thinkj for a second IF YOU CANT DO WHAT I ASK OF YOU... THESE ARE MY CHILDREN YOU WONT HAVE THEM! THATS NOT HOW IM RASING MY CHIDREN THEIR ALL MY CHILDREN AN MY HUSBANDS ! that's something stupid like my mother an law would do! shes mean,she had my daughter the other day for the day,she does that a couple times very two weeks I hate it,seems she does what she wants.. 14 month old,i said I feed her chicken sweet potatoe,fish an vegies,she comes home I asked what did she have for dinner..ahh a peanut butter sanwitch, what! I said no peanut butter,shes not aloud to have it shes not aloud until 2 or 3 everyone knows that...so all night watching to see if my daughters okay,an now shes more accep.to getting an allergy to peanuts..thanks like her pulling over on the express way to feed her a bottle..or using a wash cloth to wipe,AN STICKING HER NASTY DIRTY FINGERS IN HER MOUTH FEELING FOR TEETH!an wanting t take her to the va. eww its a bar!!!! ANYWAY,YOUR POOR CHILDREN IF SHE CANT SAY YES THESE are my grandchildren,you don't get all ITS A PACKAGE!!!!!DEAL!!!

April - posted on 11/22/2012

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Yes! 4 of my 5 children are adopted. My in laws do that too, and our reasoning is, if it hurts the kids feelings, it is rude. In our eyes it makers them inferior our les valued by the grandparents. It causes them to feel less loved and animosity towards the biological sibling. We use exactly those words to them, (even saying "do you want to be known as the "older" or "fatter" grandparents? We do not use rude descriptions). Whenever they now do it, we immediately pack up and leave. They have done it 3times, and now are very careful, but still "slip up" in more subtle ways that we correct, & then if continued we still leave. This way it recognizes the seriousness of their words. I continue to tell my kids how they "don't get it, how special and wonderful" my kids are. I wish you all the best and hope you can new united together to stop their discriminations. Hugs to all your children!

Kim - posted on 11/20/2012

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Unfortunatley this is a no win situation, any reaction will stir the pot. If you have already spoken to her about it, then she doesn't care about your feelings. I would speak to your husband and explain to him that it is too hurtful to the children, all the children, because it is causing a conflict in your family. If he would like to try speaking to her again fine, but until she stops hurting the people in your family you will have to limit contact with her. If you correct her , in public , as to say well they aren't step children , "your son has adopted them and this is the only father they have" it will escalate to Bitch Mode in 0.2 seconds.

I hope you somehow find a resolution, especially during the holidays. I would even suggest counseling if it continues. My Ex-fiance's mother was a nightmare. I have 2 sons. He has 2 grown sons and one 4 yr old. (He was 4 when we got together) After 2yrs they moved in with me, it started right away. I would tell everyone, no food or drinks in the bedrooms, don't leave the front door open, don't forget to take your shoes off etc. Baths every nite before bed etc. Basic house rules, same rules my sons used since they were born, not strict , just common sense stuff. First it was "well he's still adjusting", he forgot not to leave cupcakes in his room, where the dog got into them and noone cleaned it up (from under the bed) and we now have ants.(cupcakes from his grandmother, that she told him he didn't have to share.) But it's not his fault. Or but he was just trying to help, after he cut all the flowers off my rose bushes with electric hedge trimmers, which under no circumstance should he had been allowed to use. ( he was 6) I came home to this, Suprise ! He would cry to his grandmother because I would try to , discipline him.(time outs, grounded) then it was " My nana says you can't come in my room , I am 6 yrs old and need my privacy! I don't have to listen to you, you don't make the rules, you can't boss me, he was allowed to speak to anyone, anyway he wanted. Reminder, this was MY house, and I was watching him all the time because of his fathers work. It got so bad that instead of my fiance dealing with the issue at all, he just sent his son to his mothers every weekend. Anyway, my family excepted his family, Christmas, Birthdays , School functions, everyone got presents, they particpated in or included themselves in everything so no one was left out. My fiance's mother couldn't do that, my boys got no chistmas presents, birthday presents etc. which is fine, but not when we are all invited for Christmas and you only have gifts for one child. We could of avoided it by making an appearance an leaving if I had known. Anyway it put a line down the center of my home, them against us, it was horrible, no matter what I did or tried to do she was right there stabbing that knife in my back. I went through this for 6yrs, we split up, they now live with her. From what I understand the son is in counseling and the grandmother has now given them 60 days to find somewhere else to live. Karma.... maybe. I can't help but think of how different everything would be if she had just been complacent , neutral even ?? SMH, Good luck to you !!

Chelsea - posted on 11/16/2012

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I can understand where your coming from. It is disrespectful and rude. I'd tell her to other use the correct terminology and phrases or don't speak of us at all.

There's only so much you can do to influence her mannerisms but if both of you sit down and make it clear to her in a non threatening inoffensive way maybe she'll listen. If not then explain the consequences- I suggest not seeing her (even at Christmas) to make her see that your serious. In my opinion- your daughter deserves an apology and I'd tell the grandma that.



If I was in your situation I'd tell the kids to call her by her first name as for most elderly people it is considered rude... I'd just explain that well your rude to our children by calling them step ect so until your respectful and refer to them as just grand kids children ect then they can continue to call you that cause obviously respectful terms aren't important to you.



I have to say I call my step mother exactly what she is in my mind- a step mother. I call her by her first name and don't really have a good relationship with her - we hold each other at arms length and me referring to her as step mother for me is way of maintaining distance (we don't get along) I believe it's up to individual families how they refer to each other. It also depends if you have a close relationship and if you do and live in a harmonious household then there's no need to segregate individuals because of their biological parents and DNA.



I wish you all the luck in the world.

You and your oh sound like very mature, responsible, respectful and kind parents and if the grandmother is not on the same wavelength then maybe limited contact and exposure for your children is best. There's no need to expose them to toxic thinking and (what it seems to me) a slight bitterness.

Ursula - posted on 11/16/2012

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I'm lucky my MIL is loving in so many ways. But if I had a mil like yours would start introducing her in a way that makes her feel like an outsider. If she is stuck in her old ways maybe she should be treated the same under the same circumstance.

Victoria - posted on 11/16/2012

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When I was a little girl, three of us were step-children. We were not allowed to eat at the same table with the family - we ate at a small table in the kitchen. We were also not allowed to run and play in the house or mingle with the adult family members - we were made to stay in the attic, which did have toys in it and was kind of neat. We were also not allowed to play with the toys of the other children. They used to bring them big bags of candy and I was given one or two pieces. It always made me feel less of a person than the rest of the family and I carried that into my adult life. Keep your kids away from her unless she can treat them with the same respect as the rest of the family. It's not fair and it is degrading. She should be ashamed and you should tell her so. A few holidays without them should give her a clue as to how important family is - if not, go on with your life and forget the old bat!!!

Rachel - posted on 11/16/2012

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I think she has the right to apply an accurate label. Is she being insensitive? Yes, but it is her right to tell the truth. You can't force her to lie - she has to come around organically. Cut her some slack. I remember how awkward it was when my step-dad's mom first started trying to introduce me. You can't oversimplify this by just pretending you aren't a complicated family. Neither of you are right or wrong, so try not to blow it out of proportion

Kristi - posted on 11/16/2012

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We had to cut my MIL out of our lives for our children's emotional safety. It may seem hard and ugly, but after it's done you'll feel so relieved for your children. Plus, if she really cared, she would change and show your family the love and respect that they deserve!

Felicity - posted on 11/16/2012

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My 'step' Mum was brillint at telling everybody about her son and her two daughters, trouble is I was never a daughter, but then she was never a mum to me, when she passed she left her half of the house between my 'step'brother and my sister, lucky things I say as they both got £100 thouand, I felt lucky to have been given 5 thousand, that was't the important part though, I wish she had seen me as she spoke about me, I called her mum the day she married my Dad, it was to show her respect, she never showed it to me. She was taking on and accepting young siste a hers she was about 6 I was 21 when they got married.



Try to ignore ignorance, to be bitter is not good as I have learnt since she passed and i have never been so at peace with myself as I am now, R.I.P Margot, if you can

Tracie - posted on 11/16/2012

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Your husband needs to put his foot down with his mom. She cannot be allowed to continue marginalizing your children. It is psychologically damaging. Plus, once they are officially adopted by him, what will she do then? Introduce them as her adopted grandchildren?



Bottom line, your family, your rules. If she cannot abide by them, she cannot be part of your family. No more discussion needed.



Best of luck to you.

Kimberlee - posted on 11/16/2012

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I think you making an issue will affect your kids more than if she tells someone they are not biologically your husbands. I mean what does it matter really? Your child knows who she calls Daddy and who is there for her day in and day out. Besides your insistence on not using the word step etc could be seen as you lying about your child's parentage and that could be damaging. I would work on just making sure that both kids know they are very loved , very safe and both are very needed/wanted members of the family.

Keri - posted on 11/16/2012

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I think this is the kind of situation that, since she's your husband's mother, your husband should really take the lead on. Parents tend to listen to their own children more than their children's spouses, or at least add more weight to their childrens' opinion than that of the child's spouse. Children identify "Mom" and "Dad" as the people who raised them and since your children are calling him Dad, that's the way they think of him and that's the way his family should think of them. No doubt she's out of line, but I do really think your husband should do the talking here.

Meredith - posted on 11/16/2012

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Ruth I have a question, Have you or your husband asked your MIL why she feels the way she does she obviously has strong feelings. I have found when people like your MIL are so adement about something it is about themselves and not about the ones they are hurting. My guess is she has some deep hurts of her own. I am not making excuses for her her behavior is not ok, Just a thought. Meredith

Irene - posted on 11/16/2012

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Mother in law obviously has issues. The children may have issues with their biological father being absent. You have past issues. Family counseling may be the answer. I agree with you. Don't let others define your family.

Yevette - posted on 11/16/2012

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She is totally out of line for making it a point to say "step children". I have a child from a previous relationship & also had mil issues. After numerous attempts to be polite, I made it perfectly clear that she was no longer welcome in my home. If your mil continues to be rude, I suggest you make it clear that you are unhappy with her behavior & give her some sort of ultimatum. It sounds to me as though the kids wouldn't be missing much if they didn't see her as often.

Ivy - posted on 11/16/2012

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If you spend the holidays with your MIL, I would stop that now until she can act like a grandparent. Being a part of your children's' lives is a choice. She either chooses to behave more appropriately to all your children or you choose not to involve such a hurtful woman in their lives.

Sherri - posted on 11/16/2012

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I would have your husband do it. She has no right to label your children. She should respect your wishes totally.

Ruth - posted on 11/16/2012

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Wow, thanks to everyone for your thoughts and advice. I was just hoping no one would accuse me of overreacting. Your comments are encouraging and helpful and I feel like I have gained excellent advice. I am so glad I posted on here. To Julia Martinez: the thought of turning the tables on her and introducing her as "step" had never crossed my mine, but I guarantee I will use it in the future if her behavior continues. To Lisa W: you hit the nail on the head. As a "step" child myself, it did bring out old hurt feelings from my childhood. My mother never wanted to cause family squabbles so we were taught to swallow our feelings. I teach my children that they have a right to their feelings, and have a right to have their feelings heard, whether or not the other person wants to hear it. They should never have to hide or lie about how they feel. I also do not do the talking for them, so as much as I wanted to scream at my MIL, I made my daughter calm down and do the talking, and say what she was feeling in her own words. I, myself have still not talked to my MIL about it, and it has been almost 2 weeks. Although I am calmer than I was 2 weeks ago, that does not guarantee that I will remain calm and not scream at her when the subject arises, therefore I have kept quiet, so far. My husband attempted to speak to her again the other day, and her opinion had not changed, so he ended up hanging up on her. I was hoping to have the situation resolved by Thanksgiving, but it seems the only way that is going to happen is if my daughter gives in and apologizes to her, and that is not going to happen. My daughter was only trying to explain how she felt and was never rude or disrespectful and my husband and I both fully support her decision to share her feelings, and will not allow anyone make her apologize for being human and having feelings.



Again, thankyou to everyone for your comments, suggestions and encouragement. It is very much appreciated by this mom.

Marla - posted on 11/15/2012

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I wish I knew what your husband's opinion was. Does he ever intervene with his mother? I would stop trying to change your MIL and instead, let your girls know that some people are hung up on labels, like their grandma, who is old and set in her ways, that none of you can change what she does, only how you react to it. As long as you and your husband reassure your girls that they are loved by both of you and while they may not be the children of his body, they are children of his heart. Bottom line, "Grandma is insensitive, but your dad and I love you very much. Don't let her bother you honey." My father's wife refused to let my kids call her grandma because she "wasn't old enough" to be a grandmother. Well, she should have thought about that before she married a man with adult children. (She met him through me!) So they're Grandpa and Grandpa's wife to them. SHE chose to not have a familial relationship, not because of my girls, but because of her own insensitivity.

Jane - posted on 11/15/2012

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Hell yes, father is not who brings them into th world but who chooses to bring them up. I would say if your children do not deserve the same respect as the rest of the children then you will not go with the others, she is singling your children out, which in the end can make them feel unwanted and less favoured to the others. Explain this and see what she says.

Lisa - posted on 11/15/2012

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I read these posts and thank God I don't have a MIL to deal with. I am sorry for the grief she causes you!

Meredith - posted on 11/15/2012

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I grew up in a 'Yours mine and ours' family, no matter what other people thought or said we new we were a family and never used the word 'step' in our home. I don't know how you can stop people from saying what they are going to say (I'm sorry it's you MIL) just continue to reinforce you are a family and love each child as your own and they will grow knowing they are one family even after you and your husband are gone. I am 48 and a middle child of 8 siblings and we still refer to ourselves as brother and sister (not step). Meredith

Tracy - posted on 11/15/2012

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I think personally at this point I would focus on the children and explain to them that what other people choose to define their relationship with their father is upsetting and rude, but there is nothing that can be done to prevent basic rudeness. Other people's opions bear nothing on the true relationship between their father and themselves and to remember how much he does love them no matter what. We cannot prevent rudeness and closemindedness we can only control how we respond to it. take the upper road and turn the other cheek and be better than she is. Either that or the girl could just tell her how hurt they are she doesn't love them as much as they love her...

Brianna - posted on 11/15/2012

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I totally understand! My fiancé has been in my sons life since he was about 3 months old. His parents refer to my son as their grandson but when it comes down the treatment, it's a different story. When their 'biological' grandkids are in town, they treat my son like a stranger. I remember last christmas, my son asked me why he only got a small race car when his 'cousins' got 10-15 gifts... EACH. It's very hard to explain to your children why people choose to do certain things. I wish you luck!

Amy - posted on 11/15/2012

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People have covered a lot. You can't control her actions, only your own but with people suggesting that you cut her off, i thought you might want to consider that your children (daughter esp.) may blame themselves for the division and it may even be decisive among the children. I might ask her if she wants a real relationship with your kids and if so how would she feel if the called her "not-really-my-grandma". Not so great for the relationship, huh? You could even make one of those cute family rules signs they have all over interest and include "we don't do labels". So that the kids see it all the time in your house."

Holly - posted on 11/15/2012

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i would just have you children keep their distance from her... and if she likes labels, label her as the evil step grandma

Julia - posted on 11/15/2012

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Everybody is so nice . . . . lol . . . . depending on the age of the children, I would encourage them to introduce MIL as "step-grandma", or my dad's mom even. I had a problem with my MIL not including my younger children in anything, only the oldest, and told her it's all or nothing: you either love all of your grandkids or none of them. I see this situation as similar, as it seems as though she makes sure your kids know they are not in the same league as the biological kids. I wouldn't stand for it, either. My sister has "step" children and has never once called them that, and neither have any of us, the rest of the family. They are nieces and nephews, grandkids, and cousins.,

LaKenya - posted on 11/15/2012

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If it hurts the children, then yes....inform your husband if it continues, then you two need to come up with a remedy for this, but must be on one accord when doing so. You can not accept disrespect. The children will learn from this situation, one way or another.So, be unified and prayed up when addressing the Mil,God sees REACTIONS aswell as ACTIONS, and the children are learning how to handel themselves in these types of situations.

Deanna - posted on 11/15/2012

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Just as you have the right to defend your children (and I hope your husband does too), she has a right to her opinion on the children. Just because she has the right to do something, doesn't make it the right thing to do. Has your husband asked her to stop? Does he correct her when she does it in front of him?

If he sees the children as his, I think she needs to respect that.

I agree that it comes to a point where separating yourself and your children from what is causing that pain is the best way to go.

I don't see patience being a working objective right now with your MIL. I see having to go to the extreme and distancing yourself from her for at least a little bit. I don't mean just a few weeks or even a few months. I mean she misses out on Christmas, and Easter, Birthdays. If she sends something in the mail, you send it back. It sounds mean, but not fitting into your family hurts a lot more.

Sonya - posted on 11/15/2012

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Your mother in law is disrespectful under so many levels. This has to do with respect. She needs to know that line not to cross in regards too your children as well as your husband. If she truly cared for you and your children she would accept them as her own...and call them her grandchildren. I do believe if she can not do that she needs not to be in there life. Putting labels on people are wrong and not her place. If she continues too do so cut her out of your life for a while and she will learn the hard way that her behavior comes at a price. Respect is earned not given...she needs to remember that.

S. - posted on 11/15/2012

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Ruth I know the feeling well, I have been battling a simpler battle for years. But Some people's minds are so small you just can't change them.

FoxyMom - posted on 11/14/2012

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Seems to me you are more concerned about what she says in front if the kids and seems she has no respect for them.

Ruth - posted on 11/14/2012

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@Stacey our children know how we feel about the situation, we alowed them to choose when and what to call my husband. It was their choice to call him dad, and they are the ones who brought up the subject of doing the adoption and taking his last name. I just hate that they feel like she will never accept them as her own. @ Nikki Yes, my husband has spoken to her about it and she basically told him that it was none of his business what she told other people, even if it as about us. @ CountryMom I agree completely!! You either treat all the children the same or stay away.

FoxyMom - posted on 11/14/2012

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I would have your husband speak with her. I will have a step daughter when i get married to my fiance and I have already informed my mother that she will be part of the family and not be labeled "step", I dont' want her feeling different than the other kids and if she can't except that child as part of the family and refer to her how I ask then she will not be seeing any of the children until she does becuase I will not have favorites being played. My childrens feelings step or not comes before anyone elses.

Nikki - posted on 11/14/2012

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She sounds like a heartless piece of work. Have you had your husband speak to her?

S. - posted on 11/14/2012

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I'd explain to my kids that your mil might label but " your little family" don't and no one is step anything to anyone. It sounds like your mil is stuck in her ways and isn't going to change her view, you can't control that you have explained to her and she clearly has her view as sad as it Is. I'd personally limit my time with her so her division doesn't cause up set in your home and her talking about what your daughter said to people IMO only makes her sound bad.

Ruth - posted on 11/13/2012

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Well that is part of the problem. There is already a big feud. She is telling people that my daughter was rude and disrespectful to her when telling her (my MIL) about her (my daughter) feelings. Which she wasn't, my husband and I both read the text messages. Instead of just explaining to my daughter that she didn't mean to hurt her feelings, she got defensive and listed everything she has ever done for the kids, everything she has ever bought them etc.. Then told my daughter that right now the cousins needed her more than my kids because their parents were going through a divorce, and she should try to understand what that was like. I am just fed up with my kids being treated like second rate citizens because they don't carry my husband's DNA, and not being allowed to share their feeling without somebody getting mad and trying to make them feel guilty for it.

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