China Elevator Stories

my mother-in-law stole my children

A mother’s custodial rights are not sufficiently protected in China.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


bedroom - Ruth Silbermayr

In 2019, I find myself sitting in my living room in Siping, googling every personality disorder I can find. I had been exposed to years of weird behavior from my then-husband – behavior I couldn’t make any sense of because from my perspective and even then it defied any definition of normal. As did his mom’s.

 While it was easy to figure out which personality disorder my husband has, his mom’s didn’t fit the same mould.

More often than not, she took on my identity, and needless to say, I found that very creepy.

I had a pink rain jacket, and one summer, she’d ask my husband to buy her a pink jacket the same as mine. As far as I understand, she wanted to look more similar to me.

To add insult to injury, she was also pathologically jealous of me and within a short period of time, she tried to control every aspect of my life, as well as my children’s – this included trying to control what we were allowed to eat, how much of it we had to eat, who was allowed to cook it, how much I was allowed to spend on household expenses, how and if we were allowed to celebrate holidays, who we had to celebrate them with, and what we could or couldn’t wear.

After opening our door the umpteenth time to her in the morning when I had asked my husband not to because I wanted to enjoy some privacy at home – there was basically no privacy left at that time – the first thing she’d do was walk through every room, including the bedroom, and look if anything was different from the day before.

She’d ask me if my son had eaten congee and how much of it. I swear to you she’d almost force me to count how many grains of rice he’d eaten so she could make sure he’d eaten the amount she deemed enough. I told her he preferred to eat bread for breakfast instead. She didn’t like the answer.

When she was done visiting, she’d often take out the trash for us. Before she did so, she’d control exactly what was in it. Sometimes she’d make hurtful snide remarks about how I spent too much on certain items and that I threw away things carelessly.

When I dressed my children, she’d take them to her home and dress them in the clothes she bought instead. Any clothes I bought were never good enough in her eyes, and she was the only one who was allowed to know how to dress, parent, and feed my children.

 She’d often take my children from my home to hers unnanounced.

my younger son and me - Ruth Silbermayr

Her jealousy was so bad she’d even forbid me to talk to my children.

I had constant fights with her because she interfered with my parenting, making herself out to be the parent rather than the grandparent of my children.

My husband, who was very smitten with his mother, took her side sooner rather than later.

She’d long since pushed me out of my marriage, and was so enmeshed with my husband that she could easily be mistaken for his wife if it weren’t for the fact that she was a lot older and his mother.

When I sit in my living room in Siping in 2019, I have to google a little more than just narcissicm before I find a word that fits her behavior to a T: Machiavellianism.

Had I known back then that she’d not only destroy my marriage (together with my husband, who did his share to destroy it himself), but also destroy my relationship with my children and help my husband in his planning of separating my children from me forever, I would have never left my kids in China with my husband.

In a legal sense, there is no clause that would allow a woman to sue the children’s grandmother for stealing her children from her in a case where the grandmother now raises the children instead of the mother (without the mother consenting to this).

It can be really hard to gain back physical custody in a case like this, even if the children’s mother has joint legal custody with the children’s father.

This is a tragic reality that is playing out in my life and in the life of many Chinese women – where the husband’s family commonly takes away children from their birth mother, alienates them from her, and works together to take away a woman’s rights to have a relationship with and raise her own children.

When worst comes to worst, as it did in my case, children are not only taken away from their mother, but they are also hidden and all contact is cut, so the mother can neither have contact with her children nor find out where they are.

Do you know anybody who has experienced this?

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