These Mothers-In-Law ‘Tested’ Their Daughters-In-Law, And We Have All The Messy Details

“She made sure to let me know that my husband existed to take care of her.”

Earlier this month, Matthew McConaughey went to bat for his mom after she received backlash for putting the actor’s now-wife, Camila Alves, through “initiations” early on in the relationship.

On an Oct. 2 episode of the “Whine Down With Jana Kramer” podcast, McConaughey said that his mom, Mary Kathlene McCabe, was “looking out” for him by putting Alves to the test.

“She tested my feelings and tested the woman that I had the feelings for. In the big picture, that’s pretty cool, actually,” he said.

“Camila wasn’t wounded about it either,” he said, referring to his mom’s behavior. “We say this all the time in my family: ‘What tickles us may bruise others.’”

Alves had detailed what McCabe’s test entailed during an appearance on Southern Living’s “Biscuits & Jam” podcast back in August.

“She would call me by all of Matthew’s ex-girlfriends’ names,” the model said of McCabe, whom the family calls “Ma Mac.”

“She would start speaking Spanish with me in a very broken way, kind of putting me down a bit. I mean, all kinds of stuff.”

Alves ― who’s Brazilian American and speaks Portuguese ― eventually won McCabe over by calling out her behavior during a work trip Alves had invited her on.

“The whole way there, the whole plane ride to Istanbul, she was telling me all these stories and putting all these things in my head,” Alves said.

Three days into the trip, Alves said she finally had enough.

“I was taking her to her room, and she got into this whole other thing that’s not my place to share,” Alves said. “And she starts crying, and I’m like ‘Oh, my gosh, Ma Mac,’ feeling so sorry [for her]. And as I put her to bed, I look at her, and I’m like: ‘Oh, my gosh. She’s full of shit.’”

That triggered something in Alves, who said the moment brought out her “spicy Brazilian, Latin side” and she let Ma Mac “have it.”

“I went back at her, and we had it back and forth, back and forth. And then at the end she just looked at me like, ‘OK, now you’re in,’” Alves explained. “All she wanted was for me to fight back.”

“And then from that day on ― that night on ― we have the most amazing relationship. And I have so much respect for her, she has so much respect for me. I mean, it can get tricky sometimes, you know, but we always end with a good laugh and a joke.”

“The partner is choosing their child. She, or he, is not required to choose you.”

This kind of hazing in early stages of relationships is more common than you might think, said Susan Lieberman, a life coach and the author of “The Mother-in-Law’s Manual: Proven Strategies for Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships With Married Children.”

“In most cases, I don’t think the conflict is as obvious and blatant as it was here, but mothers-in-law can be weird and inappropriate,” Lieberman told HuffPost.

“It often comes from a sense of loss: ‘I’m being replaced as the main woman in my son’s life by this lovely young thing who is moving Mom right off center stage,’” she said.

What’s hard to grasp for many in-laws is that marriages (or long-term relationships) aren’t necessarily package deals, the author said.

“The partner is choosing their child. She, or he, is not required to choose you,” Lieberman explained. “If we set it up to make that choice difficult, we are also putting our relationship with our child at risk.”

New daughters-in-law are often hesitant to speak honestly, so Lieberman applauds Alves for doing so.

“It’s better not to wait till you hit the fury point,” she said. “But you have to [be] honest and say something like, ‘I don’t think you meant that to be hurtful, but I want you to know that feels like a personal attack or a needless criticism.’”

Daughters-in-law might want to throw in some compliments to sweeten the objection, she added.

“I would say: ‘I know how important you are to X, and I value that. It’s only because you have done such a good job of raising him that I can love him so much. I hope you and I can have a good, honest relationship too,’” Lieberman said.

Generally, a relationship that starts off rough settles down, like it did with Alves and McCabe.

“This is especially true when the mother can accept that one of her last jobs as mother is to make sure she has a healthy relationship with her children’s spouses,” Lieberman said.

For some daughter-in-law and mother-in-law pairings, though, the “testing” phase is just a prelude to years of rockiness. Below, HuffPost spoke to women who’ve been in such situations to hear how they settled things ― or didn’t.

(Their responses have been edited lightly for clarity and length.)

‘I have been no-contact with my MIL for 5 years.’

“The first time I met my MIL, I was 19. We went out to dinner. During dessert, my now-husband went to the restroom, so I took the opportunity to express my feelings and intentions about her son and ask her if she had any questions for me. Her question was, ‘Do you have any diseases from your tattoos?’ That should have been my red flag to run. I was shocked, honestly; nobody had ever been so blatantly rude, especially when I was being so vulnerable and honest. I told my partner when we got in the car, and he dismissed it and made excuses for her. I had never been around anyone like that, so I believed him because I genuinely loved him and figured he had my best interest in mind.

“It never got any better. Apparently she didn’t want us to buy a house or get married. She tried to promise him money to make him hold off. She said, ‘When I sell my house, I’m going to give you 25K to put down on a house.’ She never had intentions of selling; she was just trying to manipulate and control him.

“The sad part is, my husband never got a parent that actually cared about him. Most of these guys are the golden child or scapegoat, and that form of attention is all they ever got. They are still children inside that just want their parents’ love, and they will never really get it. But that inner child still needs it, so the cycle continues.

“I have been no-contact with my MIL for five years; I’ve been with her son for 20 years now. It never got better. I could write a book about everything she’s pulled.” ― Jen, 39.

"Mothers-in-law can be weird and inappropriate,” said Susan Lieberman, a life coach and the author of “The Mother-in-Law’s Manual."
SKYNESHER VIA GETTY IMAGES/”Mothers-in-law can be weird and inappropriate,” said Susan Lieberman, a life coach and the author of “The Mother-in-Law’s Manual.”

‘I made the perfect man. You can’t steal him from me.’

“In the beginning, my MIL would comment on how my husband’s exes were not smart enough for him. Then, she’d literally bombard me with actual math questions. Once I proved my intelligence, she pretended to be like a girlfriend with me to get dirt to hold against me. If I confided in her, she would take what I said and tell everyone. Personal medical information and my mental health status were her favorite gossip. I shared that I had recovered from an ED [eating disorder], so she nicknamed me ‘piggy’ and was always saying I looked chubby. She even gifted clothes [that] would be three sizes too small for me.

“She has issues with drinking. When she would drink, she would inappropriately gush about my husband and be very touchy: ‘I made the perfect man. You can’t steal him from me.’ At some point, I began receiving threats from her about what she would do to me if I hurt her man (my husband).

“My husband is free to contact his mom, but I am completely no-contact. I am not good with conflict, and she refuses to go to a family therapy setting. I don’t see there ever being peace, as I am not leaving my husband. We have very open communication when handling any issues with his mother — always a team. I wish my MIL would just realize I want her to be in our life; I just have to be respected.” ― Jenna, 30.

‘She made sure to let me know that my husband existed to take care of her.’

“My MIL tested me by immediately launching into listing all of my now-husband’s vices when we first met. This same day, she coerced and begged him to install a light in her hallway. He didn’t want to, as he and I were spending the day together. But she relentlessly begged him to install her ‘Italian Renaissance’ light, as she dramatically called it. My MIL was single at the time. She made sure to let me know that my husband existed to take care of her. I just chalked this up to her being eccentric or trying to be funny. But as time went on, I realized she was actually trying to assert her dominance and scare me off. I had done nothing but listen to all her dating stories, helped her pick out her date night outfits, baked her all sorts of desserts in an effort to get her to like me.

“As the years wore on, it didn’t get better. It got much worse. My MIL is incredibly selfish and was a selfish mother to her kids. I won’t go into every detail, but I have limited contact with her. I don’t want her toxic and negative influence around my child. My advice to anyone with overbearing in-laws is that it’s up to your spouse to defend you and to create nonnegotiable boundaries. Your spouse is responsible, not you.” ― Rissa, 30.

Usually, a relationship that starts off rough settles down, Lieberman said.
10’000 HOURS VIA GETTY IMAGES/Usually, a relationship that starts off rough settles down, Lieberman said.

‘She likes to make up stories about herself and often paint others negatively.’

“My MIL put me through an ‘initiation’ by telling people lies about me. For instance, she made up a totally false story to her friends about our first meeting. She said I came into her house and loved her style immediately so much that I asked to wear a Burberry coat of hers to a dinner. It’s a total lie because, first of all, I met her in July and, secondly, I would never do that! That’s super presumptuous.

“I think looking back now, this was a way to make her look good to her friends as well as telling a good sound bite for her friends. It’s very strange but a good example of her in general; she likes to make up stories about herself and often paint others negatively. She is narcissistic, and now her son sees it but he definitely was in denial and an enabler. We went to lower contact and have a lot of boundaries. I just feel like this was a very interesting early-on occurrence that I wish I had paid attention to closer. A key component in dealing with this is having a partner who is just that, a partner, and doesn’t make you face it alone. You need to come at the issues as a united front.” ― Kelsey, 33.

‘She accused me of ‘baby-trapping’ her son.’

“My MIL has tested me for the majority of my relationship with her son. It started when we announced that I was pregnant. She accused me of ‘baby-trapping’ her son. She also felt that any gift my partner got me, she should get an equal or more expensive gift and should be involved in all our plans. We went to the beach for a mini vacation, and she tried to invite herself along. We went to a very nice dinner for Valentine’s Day, and she asked when her son was going to take her out for Valentine’s Day. I received a piece of jewelry for Christmas, and my MIL asked her son where her gift of jewelry was as well.

“She calls my partner ‘Daddy’ when speaking to him in front of our child, and has referred to herself as ‘Mommy’ to my youngest child. And when corrected, she gets upset. My reaction was to initially laugh off the behavior, thinking it would end soon. My partner didn’t react at all, as he is used to his mother’s behavior. And this behavior has continued for approximately a year and a half.

“My relationship with my MIL is still extremely strained — even more so now that I have begun to stick up for myself and try to push her back into place.” ― Charlie, 27.

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