By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative
Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.
Question: My mother-in-law, who lives in the same city as me, is extremely opinionated on everything I do for, or with, my children. I feel like nothing I do is right in her eyes. I’ve talked to my husband about it, and his response is always that I shouldn’t let it bother me, but I can’t help it! It bothers me like crazy! What can I do? ~ Mother-in-Law Monster in the Triad
Dear Mother-in-Law Monster,
I can tell from your question that you’re feeling trapped in a bad situation that could continue to get worse if something doesn’t change soon. It’s clear your husband’s suggestion to not be bothered by your mother-in-law’s comments has reached its limits. Before you reach your limits with the situation, it’s time to try some new approaches to managing this situation.
When in-law conflicts arise, it’s usually best for the spouse to take the lead in addressing concerns with his or her parent. Spouses who try and directly intervene with in-laws often end up looking like the “bad guy,” so start first by talking again with your husband about your concerns.
Ask your husband to set aside some time to discuss your relationship with your mother-in-law, and let him know that you’d like to talk this situation through together. Before you start the conversation, you can let him know that the current solution isn’t working, and so you’d like to work together to come up with a new solution.
As you approach this conversation, make sure to practice good communication and conflict management skills to minimize the chance that your husband will feel like he or his family is under attack, and you can learn more about these skills in the Tip Sheets in our HRI Couples Toolkit). Practice using “I-statements” to own your feelings and reactions to your mother-in-law’s actions, such as, “I feel hurt and judged when she comments about what she thinks I’m doing wrong. I’ve tried to just brush it off, but I’m finding it hard to be comfortable around her anymore.”
Next, consider what you’d like to ask your husband to do to help support you. Ideally, your husband will be willing to talk with his mom to let her know that her comments and actions are hurting you and request that she honor you and your marriage by being more supportive. Doing this also can help to strengthen the boundary around your marriage and reinforce that you work together as a team. If he’s not willing to do this, it may be helpful to seek a counselor to help you work through this issue further as a couple.
If your husband won’t take any steps to address this situation, then you could consider saying something directly to your mother-in-law or just minimizing your interactions with her as much as possible. And, practice positive self-talk if she continues to say or do things that are hurtful to you, such as by reminding yourself that you’re a good mom, even if she tries to make you feel otherwise.
Parenting is hard enough without feeling like your decisions are under constant scrutiny. Whatever happens with your mother-in-law, work toward building a team of supporters and encouragers around you to help you keep your head up.
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