Dear Dearly,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years now, and I’m still struggling with his mom. I’ve met his parents several times, and I’ve been repeatedly told that they like me, but I think his mom resents me for dating him. He is the youngest in a very Greek family of all girls, and it’s become painfully obvious that he, the only boy, is the apple of his mom’s eye.

When she last came in town to visit, she constantly kissed his fingers like he was some kind of royalty and doted on him the whole time. So much so that when I got him a glass of water, she took it back to add one more ice cube because “that’s how he likes it.” The only time I felt a sense of connection is when he would get annoyed with her and I’d defend her by saying “she birthed you, show some respect.”

I always try to take care of him — as much as equal partners should — but I think the real resentment is that I make him very happy and she seems to just annoy him. What should I do?


Not Competing with Mom

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Dear Not Competing with Mom,

Bonding with your significant other's parents is always tricky. You vye for their approval because it's important to earn the trust of those who care most for your partner. But sometimes — like in your case — that approval won't be readily given.

That's when it's time to take a step back and try to look at things from their perspective.

You said your boyfriend is not only the youngest of the family, but also the only boy. And from the sound of her finger-kissing ways, it seems like that has really impacted his relationship with his mother. He's her baby boy. Out of all of the children she's had, he's the last one she tucked into a crib at night and spent hours wrangling into a highchair — and that's bad news for you.

Because it likely left her with a need to be needed.

Just take a look the ice cube debacle. You went out of your way do something caring for your partner by getting him a glass of water, but even that tiny gesture seemed to cause her to have a knee-jerk reaction. Because in a small way, you were encroaching on that territory that she has held onto to for so long. So her snatching the glass and adding more ice cubes was likely her way of trying to get herself back into her own comfort zone and reclaim some of that territory.

So here's what you need to do. First, realize that the problem is on her end — not yours.

Alice Donovan Rouse/Unsplash

From what you wrote, it seems that you've extended the olive branch to her. And while it's not possible for you to make her accept it, you must work steadily towards that as a goal. Right now, it does seem like she's looking at this as a competition for who her son “needs the most.” But soon enough, she'll realize she's the only one running the race. For now, do everything you can to develop a relationship with her so that she sees you for the caring partner you really are.

She'll eventually realize that you're a friendly addition to the family, not a threat.

You may also want to open up about your feelings to your boyfriend, so that he's aware of the struggles you're feeling. Even if he says she likes you, her defensive actions show that your relationship with her is still layered. He's in a difficult spot. Walking the line between your girlfriend and mother is sure to be a tough one, but he could be the key to keeping the peace for now.

Once she sees that you truly have his trust, she'll start to give you some of hers.

You may have a long journey head of you Not Competing with Mom, but it seems to me that you're already on the right track. Just keep your head held high and remember that approval comes with time. Just as she doesn't seem to understand you right now, you may not understand all of her actions either. At the end of the day, you both have your significant other's best interest at heart.

And some day, that will be the glue that bonds you together.