Thank you for reading my question. I´ll try to be quick. I have an issue with my MIL correcting my table manners and grammar. If I say something like, ¨I did it on accident…¨ She will insert, ¨BY accident – geeze aren´t you the English teacher?¨ Or ¨I spoke with the server and they said…¨ and she will say, ¨SHE said. Can you not count?¨ When eating, I think I eat well enough, I chew quietly, make polite conversation, put my napkin on my lap, but she jumps in with these rules that 1- I don´t know about and 2- I don´t think are important. For example, when I eat meat, I will cut a few bite sized pieces and then set my knife down and eat those pieces. I guess the rules say you´re supposed to cut only one piece and then eat it and cut one more? And I know the RULES say you´re supposed to keep one hand in your lap, but I feel like that might be more suited for a formal wedding dinner than trying to eat and wrangle my toddler at an Applebees!
I think you can guess that my MIL and I don´t get along, and there are lots of issues that we have worked through (sort of) through the years, and we don´t see her that often, and I´m pretty easy-going so I can ignore most things with a ¨huh, I´ll think about that.¨ However, this little issue drives me up a wall.
A few friendly discussions about the changing and adapting nature of the English Language and table manners have gone nowhere except to an argument. If I gently ignore it or say, ¨I´ll think about that…¨ she remembers and pounces on me the next time I make the same ¨mistake.¨
I guess this is the hill I´m willing to die on. I´m not going to watch every word I speak around her, and I´m not going to try to remember every (outdated) table manner etiquette she barks at me. She does the same thing to my husband, except after a lifetime of doing so, he already follows the grammar rules and table manners she has said. When she says something like this to me, he will say something like, ¨Mom, we´re just chatting about the weather, let´s just relax instead of trying to police how people talk.¨ But MIL ignores him, or says, ¨I wasn´t talking to YOU, I was talking to PAULA.*¨
Is there anything to be done about this situation? Should I suck it up and take one for the team? I feel like ultimatums are a bad idea…. Do I just keep excusing myself to the bathroom? What do you think?
Possible other issues –
MIL lives alone.
She never speaks sharply to our child.
Thank you for any advice you have, I appreciate your hard work and can´t wait until my child is old enough to start reading and navigating friendships because I will send them directly to your site!
Dear Fake Name Paula,
Let me state for the record that I do not give ONE SINGLE FUCK about how many bites one should cut off one’s food before taking a bite or how many bites other people cut off their food before they eat it because I do not monitor the plates of my fellow adults. Nor do I monitor & correct their grammar.
I have two strategies for you:
1. Refuse to engage:
MIL: “…Can’t you count?”
You: “Anyway, like I was saying…” or “Okay. So, to continue…“- continue to speak like she didn’t say anything to you. Be the not-giving-a-shit you want to see in the world. This is a good strategy for when you just don’t have the energy to get into it.
2. Check her, loudly and directly:
MIL: “Why do you cut your food like that? The RULE says you’re supposed to cut off only one bite at at a time!”
Past You: “Sure, but when I’m eating with a toddler it messes up my rhythm and this is easier so I can actually eat my food and feed the kid.”
2017 You: “STOP monitoring how I eat.”
Make eye contact with her. Raise your voice a notch. Make it awkward. Do not argue her point. Just tell her to stop it. Use the voice you use when you tell your toddler not to run ahead or touch a hot stove. Practice with a friend if you need to.
MIL: “Didn’t you mean ‘she’?”
Past You: “No, I meant ‘they,’ which has a long history of use as a singular pronoun…”
2017 You: “STOP correcting how I speak.”
You’ve asked her to stop doing the thing. You’ve explained yourself. You’ve tried to see it from her point of view. You’ve tried sucking it up and ignoring it. It’s not working, so, tell her to knock it off! If she continues, repeat yourself. Make it clear that you don’t care if it’s awkward and it makes a scene. Make it clear that it is a really annoying behavior that she needs to knock off right now. Oh, and the first time will be the hardest time. She will get it if you stay consistent.
I’m sure she has a long story about how she just CARES about you and is TRYING TO HELP. This is a weird dominance display and she can learn to control it around you the way she doubtless does around countless other people in her life that she doesn’t see as reflections of herself or people she can boss around. You got this.