My mother-in-law complains constantly – she loves to suffer


DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been married three years, and we generally trade off spending holidays with each of our families. Because neither set of our parents is willing to travel to us, we go to them. 

My mother-in-law takes great pride in hosting and sets a beautiful table. She’ll spend an entire day in the kitchen, forgoing visiting with guests and wearing herself out to present an amazing dinner. If this brought her pleasure, there wouldn’t be a problem. But, Abby, she complains bitterly about how tired she is, how much her feet hurt, how much work it is to have people in her home and how she resents it. 

The thing is, she won’t let us help. I’ve offered each time to help her cook, bring dishes made ahead of time or take a turn so she can sit down. Each time I have been sternly rebuffed, as if I’ve asked something embarrassing. When I tried leading the cleanup crew, her response was a hard no. I even suggested I come a day early and help with prep work, also no. I’m pretty sure she tells her friends she has lazy kids. Suggestions? — BAFFLED IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR BAFFLED: Your mother-in-law appears to love to suffer. She is a martyr, so please stop attempting to deprive her of her pleasure.

Try as you will (and have), you can’t change her. Of course, you and her son could offer to take her and Dad OUT for a lovely dinner. If you haven’t already experienced enough rejection from the woman, you could give it a try. But don’t be surprised if she refuses the offer or takes this personally. What she may say to her friends about you should not affect you.

DEAR ABBY: I’d like your opinion regarding the financial help I give my sister. When her husband passed 18 months ago, it was clear she needed some help each month. I’ve been sending her $200, which I can afford for now. (My husband and I are on Social Security.) 

Eight months ago, she took in an old acquaintance for the purpose of collecting room rent. Turns out he can’t or won’t work, and she is supporting him now as well as sharing her bed. Also, their past relationship was disastrous.

Both of them were alcoholics at the time. She has now resumed drinking with him, after having quit a few years ago. 

Abby, I don’t want my dislike for her lifestyle to impact my financial help, but on the other hand, I feel I’m being taken advantage of. Should I keep sending her money? — SOUR SISTER IN ILLINOIS

DEAR SISTER: Have a talk with Sissy. Tell her you have been sending her money because you felt she needed it after the death of her husband. Then remind her that she has a new partner in her home, her life and her bed, and he should be contributing — which is why you will no longer be sending her money. She needs to hear it.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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