Q:It seems to me my mother-in-law uses us for everything. Firstly, we fixed up her house, and we spent a lot of money on it thinking we were going to move there when she moved out. Things didn’t work out where she had moved, so she wanted to move back into her old house. My husband and I were thinking that the place was not worth the fix-up after all, so he decided to just give up the idea of moving there. She has yet to pay us back. She has only been occasionally paying $200 a month.
Secondly, she has recently been in possession of my husband’s truck, which we let her use thinking that she would only be using it for no more than two weeks. She has had it for almost half a year! Today she was over, I went outside and noticed that the front light was broken, she had hit a deer. She has trashed the inside of the truck too. There were even mice in it!
Lastly, she invites us to eat with them. Where do we eat? My house. Whose food do we use? Our food, minus the deer meat. I’m curious, is it just me or is she using us? If she is, should I just be quiet and let her tread all over us?
A: Dear Anonymous,
I’ll be honest, this sounds like normal family stuff. Fronting the money for some repairs, lending a truck, hosting a dinner. This is just how families take care of one another. So long as everyone is on board, that is.
And it sounds like you’re not. Which is fine, but should be mentioned to your partner, and then to mom (in a softer, gentler version). I’m sure there’s more to the story, but I’ve just got this email to go on. And based on this email, it doesn’t sound like she’s taking advantage, trying to milk you for all you’ve got. It just sounds like there weren’t very clear expectations up front. Did you make it clear that you wanted to be reimbursed for the repairs? Did you establish a payment plan? Did you set a deadline to get the truck back?
Direct communication can be sort of awkward with in-laws, I know. But not as awkward as harbored bitterness. Just make sure you and your partner are agreed on your expectations before you guys articulate them to her (which means you need to be involved in these decisions if he’s not including you already).
Carefully laid boundaries do less harm than some long-term resentment. And it’s not too late! Right now, you can sit with your partner and ask, “How much longer is your mom going to use the truck?” and then agree together to tell her, “Hey, we’re gonna need that back in a month. Will you be able to find something by then? And clear out the mice?” (please clear out the mice).
Families help each other. They cover expenses, lend stuff, fill in the gaps. All of that is just as it should be, and hopefully you can choose to continue to treat your mother-in-law with generosity. But it’s a good idea to set some limits so you’re not feeling overextended. You’re getting a bit of a middle-of-the-road answer, here. No, she’s probably not using you. But no, you don’t need to just shut-up and take it. Set some expectations, first with your partner, then with your mom-in-law, with or without the deer meat.
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