What was that lyric from Huey Lewis: "Mother-in-law, if she leaves us alone, we could have a happy home..."?
Hi! Mine is the age-old dilemma of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict. When I first began dating my now-husband, I got along with his parents, but over the last year or two, the relationship has become tenuous at best and otherwise virtually nonexistent. His mother feels the need to lash out verbally to him or his siblings and she made the mistake of assuming she could treat me the same way. When I reacted by pulling away, she began a campaign to criticize me and my family at every opportunity (both to my face and behind my back via lengthy phone conversations with my husband). Last year, we had our first baby which I hoped would help the relationship. I was wrong.
At first, I tried to include his mother as much as possible. His mother, when we told her that I intended to breastfeed, offered less-than-helpful and frankly unsupportive tidbits like "you'll never make it more than three months" and "I wanted to preserve my breasts, so I used formula" so I haven't actively sought her opinion or advice recently. Now she's complaining that we "only listen to [my] mother" when parenting our baby. My real concern is that my husband has lobbied very hard to get his mother to watch our baby when I return to work this fall. I do not trust her. I feel like she has a blatant lack of respect for me and my parenting decisions (a fact she continues to make known as she calls my husband and his siblings constantly to complain about me). She feels like I'm keeping her from having a relationship with her grandchild; I feel like she's incapable of keeping herself in check enough to have a good relationship with her grandchild. At this moment, I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of her taking my child unsupervised as she will most certainly be unable to filter herself and will also break several of our rules in parenting. I wouldn't hire a nanny who actively breaks our parenting rules, why should it be any different with family?
I also don't think mending the relationship between us is possible at this tie. Is there anything I can do? I've tried speaking with my husband but he just shuts down as he is firmly in the middle of two very strong-minded women who cannot seem to talk to each other without lashing out.
Thank you very much for any advice, information, or support you can provide!
From: Jenny, of Easton
You may not like my answer, but I think you need to mend this. Wait, let me rephrase: you at least need to make the effort. You need to try again.
Why does this fall to you to try to fix? Because it's in your best interest; otherwise, this relationship will get worse over time and it is your children (and possibly your husband and/or your marriage) who will suffer. For children to have grandparents in their lives is a gift, even if the grandparents are not people you admire or love or want your children to spend a lot of time with. And you are the only one who can make this gift happen.
I know you've tried already and you may even have tried these strategies. Try again:
Show a genuine interest in her ideas. The next time she criticizes you, or rolls her eyes at something you say or do, instead of responding in kind, say in a sincere tone of voice, “You know, I’m really struggling with this. I’d love to hear your ideas about how I could handle it differently.” That doesn’t mean you have to follow through, only that you listen in a genuine way and give her a thoughtful response, even if it’s only, “I’m going to give that consideration. Thanks.”
Show a genuine interest in trying to explain to her why you do/did what you did. The key is not to be defensive, rather to be clear that you want to share with her how you came to your decision. It’s your tone of voice more than the words you choose that is going to get you over the hump. Not that one pleasant exchange is going to turn things around. But you have to start someplace. One thing to consider is that many aspects of parenting today are very different from 30 years ago. She may feel threatened, even intimidated.
Also, don't underestimate the toll this strain puts on your husband. Even if he secretly (or not so secretly) sides with you, this is still his mother. The more he feels caught between you, the deeper the trench you are digging for him and for your relationship.
I’m not saying what has happened is your fault; I’m not saying your mother-in-law is not to blame. (I’m also not saying that you are.) I’m not saying that she will ever be your best friend or even a once-in-a-while babysitter. But I do believe you do not want this to fester.
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