Statues + Boundaries

“Someone wants to come stay with you,” Suegra teased us weeks ago, knowing that Carlos has sworn off allowing family to come visit after some not-so-good experiences.

“What are you talking about,” Carlos demanded.

Suegra smiled, enjoying the game.

“Someone very special is coming to stay here at the house. She wants to live here.”

“Well, you better tell her she can’t come… Who is it?” Carlos said.

“It’s a surprise,” she said.

“¡Mamá!” Carlos said losing patience, “I told you that you can’t keep inviting people here.”

Suegra giggled, which had a maddening effect on Carlos. How could she think this was funny? Had she seriously lost her mind? This is our house and she has no right to invite anyone without our permission. We don’t even have an extra bed! Last time she invited cousins to live with us temporarily and they ended up sleeping on the floor.

“¡Mamá!” Carlos said, now obviously angry, “You better tell whoever it is that they can’t come. I’m serious.”

Suegra finally confessed that the “guest” that wanted to come live with us was the Virgin of Guadalupe – more specifically, a statue she had been secretly making payments on. She explained that she was buying the statue “for the household” and that she had only one payment left before she could take her home.

Finding out it was a statue and not a person did not make me or Carlos any happier. Not only has Suegra been warned about not inviting people to visit, she has been warned about re-decorating our home. Gifting this statue “to the household” is her sneaky way of adding something to the general living area that quite frankly, we really don’t want.

This isn’t about religion, this is about boundaries. Suegra has once again crossed a line and knowingly, purposefully, broken rules, despite all of the compromises we’ve made to allow her to live with us. If she wanted to buy a statue that would fit in her bedroom – that’s her business – we turned a blind eye to her destruction of our third bedroom with her junk collecting – but the rest of the house – that’s where we draw the line. She has her own living room in El Salvador, which she is free to decorate as she chooses – this living room is ours.

Carlos assured me he would “take care of it.”

Days later, Suegra asked Carlos to take her to the store to make the final payment and pick it up. At the store they discovered the statue was broken because the person who delivered it hadn’t been careful with the box. Carlos breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the problem had taken care of itself. The merchant collected the pieces that had shattered into a bag and offered to sell it to Suegra half price – Suegra likes a good deal. She still wanted to bring the broken statue home.

An hour later I heard Suegra and Carlos struggling to bring it in the front door.

I put my head in my hands and took deep breaths to calm myself before coming out to see it.

The statue stood almost as tall as my 9 year old. As I could have guessed, Suegra didn’t get a simple, tasteful statue – but one with added touches, like two angels crowning the Virgin… Y con todo el respeto, it looks like something you’d buy at a dollar store.

La Virgen doesn’t look right to me. The original image has her looking down and to her right, a neutral expression on her face. This statue has her smiling silly, like the Mona Lisa. The apparent rush paint job has the Virgin and the angel holding her up, looking a little cross-eyed. Instead of a simple base, the statue stands atop a mound of puffy, white clouds.

Even after an earnest attempt to glue back whatever I could, there are still many pieces missing. The statue is overly-big, broken, faux-fancy in a way that makes it look cheap, and inaccurate.

I do not like the statue, at all, but I rearranged furniture in silence, biting my tongue, to make room for the Virgin – trusting that Carlos would take care of it.

The next day, Suegra invited friends to our living room to visit the statue. The day after that she invited more friends. She brought them before it and bragged about what a fantastic statue it is and how she generously gifted it to the household. All of this seemed very wrong. You don’t brag about the Virgin of Guadalupe. It isn’t for showing off.

On the third day, Carlos and I went out together and temporarily left the boys in Suegra’s care. While we were out, our older son texted me, “She’s being really weird. She’s making us watch her sing songs to the statue and then she was dancing around ringing bells. She won’t leave us alone. We’re just trying to watch TV and she’s ringing bells in our ears!”

That’s when I decided enough was enough.

“The statue can’t stay. Please, you need to take care of this. She needs to find space for it in her room or donate it to a church or something,” I told Carlos, feeling guilty for the position he was in, but angry for the position I had been put in as well.

Carlos wanted to avoid drama and tried to find a solution that would create the least amount, (because at least some would be inevitable.) Compromising yet again, I agreed we could move the statue to the garden outside. Suegra narrowed her eyes at me as we prepared the spot in the fenced-in backyard on the side of the house where no one, including myself, will see it. She didn’t dare say anything to my face, but the next day during an unrelated argument with Carlos behind the closed door of her bedroom, she spit the words out, making sure to say it loud enough that it would reach my ears.

“¡Sacaste la Virgen y entró el diablo!”

This was followed by other random attempts to induce guilt in Carlos – to manipulate him into doing what she wants. When guilt didn’t work, she tried her other favorite psychological warfare weapon, religious fear: “God will punish you for treating your mother this way!”

These tactics used to have their desired effect, but Carlos has grown a lot this past year. Carlos has come out of denial and admitted to himself that she is emotionally abusive, mentally unstable – that she is selfish – that she isn’t a very good mother. He isn’t afraid anymore that God will punish him for admitting this truth. He knows it isn’t his fault though she would have him believe it. Things have changed. Her words can’t hurt or control him like they once did. She’s like a cat that has been de-clawed – her swipes at him are harmless soft-padded paws, failing to dig deep and bring blood to the surface.

The statue stays outside. Suegra stays locked in her bedroom, praying that God will punish us.


  1. While this little family tiff seems funny, it’s not. I’m glad Carlos was able to stand up for you and your kids. He tried to please her, but she went too far. There’s only so much one can take…
    I could learn a thing or two from Carlos when it comes to facing a mother’s harsh, careless words.

    • I’m proud of Carlos too. He’s been standing up for me and the kids more and more over the years – but standing up for himself is still a newer thing.

  2. Sorry you had to go through this, but sometimes mother’s need to realize that their children are grown with a family of their own. good for carlos.


  3. Ay Amiga, what a predicament! But I´m so happy to hear that Carlos stood his ground and is no longer falling into the chantajes of tu Suegra.
    And I agree… that is NOT a nice statue de la Virgen, ay Dió Mío!
    When I was little I remember at my Abuelita´s house, she used to have three huge statues of San José, El Sagrado Corazón and la Virgen María. Me and my cousins would dare each other to go there at night and stand next to them. Can you imagine three life size statues with candles burning in the eyes of kids? THE MOST HORRIFIC THING EVER! Since then I do not like religious images at all. They creep me out! LOL!

    • Chantajes! Exactly. I found a book a couple years ago called “Chantaje Emocional” and had Carlos read it. I think it helped him be able to recognize it – though it took awhile for him to call it what it is.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like the statue. I know people can be very sensitive about this sort of thing and I hesitated blogging about it. As I said, this is no disrespect to Catholicism or La Virgen, (I actually love the original image and have it on a few SMALL, SIMPLE items in my house.) … but that statue is just not nice to look at.

      As for the story about you and your cousins with the statues – LOL! … Many statues make me uncomfortable too. I was raised Protestant and we didn’t even have that sort of thing.

  4. Uuyy, esto si que esta gruexo… at first I wanted to laugh, because, well, you have a way of telling your stories… but then I realized this was actually upsetting to you. No se… esta dificil la cosa, I hope you guys work it out and figure out a solution para todos… un abrazo!

    • Juan – I know, it’s kind of amusing. If this were an episode of George Lopez, I’d be laughing. I do see the humor in it – but I’m tired of being taken advantage of too, I’m tired of seeing Carlos be treated the way he’s treated – which accounts for the mixed tone of the post. I’m used to putting a positive spin on things – it’s how I deal — but there are serious underlying issues Carlos and I are dealing with that aren’t funny, for sure.

      As for the statue, what’s done is done – it’s staying outside – so whether Suegra likes it or not, that situation has been dealt with and is over as far as I’m concerned. Now there is the greater issue of getting her to understand she can’t be abusive and selfish. That’s been an on-going battle which perhaps will never be won … If not, my only hope is that she surrenders peacefully and leaves. I’ve felt this way for years, but thankfully, Carlos is finally starting to feel the same way. I can’t imagine Carlos will ever straight out tell her she’s no longer welcome here, but he is establishing boundaries and standing up for himself. Once she realizes she’s lost total control and can’t get it back, maybe she’ll leave on her own…. Then again, maybe she’ll stay. She enjoys playing martyr/victim so she has nothing to lose.

  5. Sounds like your (Carlos’??) next move is to host the neighborhood baseball game in your yard… perhaps the statue would get shattered, accidentally.

    • Will I go to hell for laughing at your comment? lol … (Seriously, It did cross my mind that damaging hail and high winds are not unheard of around here… If it’s caused by weather, it’s out of my hands. Ironically, insurance companies call weather-related damage, “acts of God.”)

  6. Tracy,

    You invite Latinos into your life, and it becomes a García Márquez novel. What an ordeal!

    As always, I tend to see too many layers of meaning on things, but:

    – How symbolic that your suegra’s personality, her flaws, her way of living the culture would crystalize into this tacky caricature of a sacred object – An object that’s supposed to inspire kindness and reverence but instead is forced upon you and creates conflict (after having been broken for lack of careful handling)

    – Good for your husband for staring in the eyes of his own fear of God and La Santísima Vírgen and put his foot down.

    – How twisted (but unfortunately typical) of your suegra to think herself pious at the same time that she uses religion as a tool for chantaje emocional

    – That Virgen is your suegras Portrait of Dorian Gray

    As always, thanks for sharing, y ánimo y fuerza!


    • Rubén, your comments are seriously worth more than gold! … I love symbolism, as a reader and as a writer, but your finding all this in my blog post is something beautiful.

      When I was repairing the cracks in the statue, I actually thought some of these same things to myself.

      I read The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school and it was one of those books that stuck with me. I have a copy on my bookshelf.

  7. I am SO proud of Carlos!! That has to mean so much to you and to him, to know he can stand up for you. As one who has allowed “family” to do things I was never brought up thinking imaginable as well, I am also thrilled to learn that the aforementioned statue has a new out-of-sight home! So she got to keep it, but no one has to see it..haha! That should teach her a few things from this, whether she admits it or not. Yay for you on this one!

  8. I think that it’s fantastic that you and Carlos are such a unified front. You’d think Suegra would get the hint that YOU are the woman in Carlos’ life (actually, it appears she gets the hint and is STILL, after all these years, trying to manipulate that fact). I know it’s uncomfortable for both of you being in this type of situation, but good for Carlos for standing his ground.

    Being a Protestant, statues have always kind of creeped me out, but I also didn’t grow up with them being around the house. Being of strong faith, I totally understand and respect the symbolism and reminders of God’s daily presence, but a gawdy statue the size of your youngest son in the living room? Ummmm, not so much. It’s kind of sad that she is using a sacred symbol as a means of manipulation when it should be used as sign of peace, grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, etc.

    (PS: Not to sound sacrelig, but the backyard baseball game suggestion was hi.lar.ious.) :-)

  9. I agree with the others: there is so much to this that is funny, yet so much that is so, so wrong.

    When I read your Suegra stories, even as I laugh I feel this tightening around my heart. I have already seen the signs of how his family is, and it concerns me. Sal and i have had conversations about how I expect that he will take my side and put his foot down when necessary. I have also explained what I mean by that, so there is nothing fuzzy between us.

    I have no idea how it will play out when the time comes. He may promise me action and then stand down in the face of his mother and sisters. All I know is that they so, so will not be living with us.

  10. Como los commentators anteriores, felicito a Carlos por darse su lugar. El no le ha faltado el respeto en ningún momento pero la cosa es que ella no se da cuenta que esa NO es su casa y que Su hijo ya no es un nene a quien poder mandar.
    Y con respecto a eso que Dios los castigará… PLEASE, creo que será al revés (en todo caso).
    Me da pesar que haya sido la imagen de la virgen la que haya pagado los platos rotos. Yo soy muy devota de la Virgen pero entiendo tu disgusto.
    Paciencia amiga, mucha paciencia. Esa paciencia será recompensada con bendiciones.
    Y si carlos aparece un día con cola y cachos, let me know y yo le hago un exorcismo!!!!!

  11. Tracy, OMG, I’m glad Carlos took a stand and backed you on this. What disrespect to you and the kindness you’ve extended to her by allowing her to stay with you. No lo creo. It’s your house! I would’ve had a heart-attack, so I give you a lot of credit for keeping your cool. The yard sounds like the perfect place for it. Stay strong. o_O

  12. You have quite a predicament on your hands! Latino men don’t throw their mothers out but at the same time she needs to respect that this is your house and your family. This is something that only Carlos can clarify with her. Thank goodness my Salvadoran in laws are Christian LOL! They have their crazy old wives’ tales but the only religious house decoration they gave us is a framed picture of Jesus and a newly wedded couple that says “Bendicion Para el Matrimonio” with a nice little blurb.

  13. I honestly wouldn’t be able to live with my mother-in-law, or any kind of close family. This is not even about the in-laws, it’s about boundaries. And trust me, in our respective Italian and Chinese backgrounds, family is everything.

    I fought the boundary fight a few times… and I know exactly how you must have felt. When you said a statue, I thought you mean a tiny little thing, not this huge slightly tacky Virgin Mary!

    Glad you got it sorted out. I remember Latin America, some houses have more religious decorations than churches in the Vatican! :lol:

  14. The things we go through for love!
    It’s always hard for me to tease it out, what is respecting his culture, respecting his family’s ways, but at some point there’s stuff that is just plain wrong, and “entiendele vieja, somos mexicanos” doesn’t fly, not for me.
    In 5 years I feel like I’m just beginning to figure out how to say anything at all. In the beginning I simply bit my tongue.
    Last year mi cuñada was living with us and I would have her back in a heartbeat, and I know for a fact there will be some other relatives living with us, sooner or later. It’s family. I accept that. No, I love it. Yes, I love that they are that way about family. BUT… it is a challenge!!! OMG!!! And mi cuñada is a really sweet person with no real issues; I cannot even imagine how you and Carlos manage! Although I might have to figure it out. Mi suegra is um, well, I’ll just say what my husband said “bien manipuladora y bien loca” and she has talked about coming up to el norte, and I know niether of her daughters is going to have her living with them. The truth is since we have a house instead of an apartment they are going to use that as the excuse. And there’s nothing can be done about it.
    So I guess I could be coming to you for advice :-)
    But for now I will give you some. I try to remember a difficult person is emotionally immature. Therefore the best way to deal with them is just like the best way to deal with a child who isn’t in control of their emotions, in other words, having a tantrum. Don’t get angry, but don’t give in, either. If you get angry it just feeds into their tantrum, gives them exactly what they are going after, their gimmick is to keep upping the ante until you fold, so making the veins in your forehead swell is essential to their strategy. And unless you are as crazy as them, you’ll never outlast them– they’re totally used to being miserable. Also,it’s no going just pretending you don’t feel angry, they can sense it, like sharks in the water smelling blood. You have to genuinely find a sort of zen. But how to avoid feeling angry at an adult who is really messing with you? If I can manage it, what works for me is to remember a sense of pity for this sad specimen of a human being. I have to deal with them, yes, but not ALL the time, whereas they have to live with themselves 24/7/365. I have happines sometimes, maybe even often– they never. I have people who genuinely enjoy my presence in the world, they… well, no.
    So, that is what works for me. Maybe it helps :-)

    • Beth – it does help – THANK YOU. This bit of Zen wisdom is pretty much how I’ve survived over the years, but now and again, (especially at certain times of the month – *ahem*) – I am less monk-like. I appreciate the reminder very much. Your comment is what I usually tell myself, some of it word-for-word actually – and it works. (So if there are any other frustrated nueras out there – listen to Beth!)

      I hope your Suegra doesn’t move in with you, but you are way ahead of where I was when she first moved in with us – so you’ll be okay.

      PS – The “entiendele vieja, somos mexicanos” made me LOL :)

  15. omg Tracy… rofl… i know how serious this is…cause i have ur suegras evil twin as a suegra…. i just find it funny their crazy ways like i told u my suegra tried guilt tripping my bf into making us change our sons name because she knew a guy that was “traumitizado”… but when i see ur two sons trying to watch tv and her doing brujadas i cant help but laugh my ass off… i can just see your sons face and the text omg rofl!

    • LOL – Whenever I write about my older son, you can safely imagine the George Lopez imitation of an American white person – you know, that sort of surfer accent, “OMG, like Mommy, she is ringing BELLS in my ears. She’s gone like totally loco.” … jajaja

  16. As much as I’m entertained by your MIL stories, this one left me feeling sad. I’m so sorry that Carlos’ mom is putting him in such emotional turmoil all the time. He is lucky to have such a kind wife. Seriously. If it was me? Oy. It would be bad magumba.

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