DEAR AMY: I'm a 23-year-old married college student who recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. My husband and I have been married for three years. My marriage is great, but my problem is my mother-in-law. We've always had a rocky relationship, but since giving birth to my son it has sunk to a new low.
She bad-mouths me to my husband and other people. She snoops in our belongings, thinks my husband should value her opinion/feelings more than mine, and simply doesn't understand boundaries or her role in our lives. She calls my husband childish nicknames even though he has asked her repeatedly to stop and treats both of us like children. Now that we have our son she continues to ignore our boundaries. She thinks she has every right to literally pull my son out of my arms without asking.
I'm not sure what to do anymore since I don't want my son around this kind of toxic behavior, and her ignoring our wishes just makes me avoid her as much as I can. I'm so angry and resentful that I'm ready to cut off all communication with her, which means cutting her off from my son as well. My husband understands my feelings and is frustrated with her. Please let me know what I should do.
— Completely Drained
DEAR DRAINED: Don't use your son as a tool with which to punish your mother-in-law. Start this process by building a very short "fence" between you.
You and your husband must state — calmly and rationally and out of your child's presence — your reasonable expectations and the consequences for not meeting them.
You two should work out (and even rehearse) this conversation together before speaking with her. He should start by saying, "Mom, I'm disappointed in how you've been behaving. You are simply going to have to start treating us like the adults we are. If we tell you something, we expect you to hear us and respect our wishes. Do you understand that?" Give her concrete examples of what you would like her to do differently.
Your mother-in-law might try to bully or emotionally manipulate both of you. You simply cannot let her. Make eye contact with her and act as if you are in charge of your life. If you and your husband are consistently firm, you should be able to "retrain" her. If not, you'll have to build a higher fence.
DEAR AMY: I can't stand it when kids, teenagers, young adults and older male adults wear baseball caps into homes, restaurants and other buildings. When I invite family members to my home for dinner, I expect them not to wear a baseball cap at the dining room table.
When I enter a restaurant, I don't want to see any men (whatever their age) at a dining table with a baseball cap on. It upsets me to pay for a nice dinner when I see attire that belongs at a fast food restaurant.
Needless to say, in my house I must keep the family peace, and so I can't say anything. In restaurants, I obviously can't speak up. Your opinion please?
— Cranky Dad
DEAR CRANKY: A quibble, fine sir. Your home is your castle and of course you can — and should — ask men to please remove their hats (certainly if they are younger than you are. This would be tougher if you were trying to correct a contemporary).
Pretend you are a host at a fine restaurant and say, "Gentlemen, please remove your hats in the house." If they don't comply, you have my permission to judge them harshly.
DEAR AMY: Regarding "Flustered's" frustration with a husband who constantly interrupted to correct her, I had the same problem for years. I tried talking to my husband about it to no avail.
Finally I simply interrupted him. It took two conversations in which I made several corrections. He quickly got the point, and that was that. Subsequently I have used that tactic several times with different things and have found it to be most effective.
— Wised-up Wife
DEAR WISED-UP: Thank you for the tip.
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.