Getting along with your mother-in-law can be one of the biggest challenges of married life. Research from Utah State University revealed that nearly 60% of all marriages suffer from tension with mother-in-laws. And according to 20 years of research conducted at Cambridge University, the relationship between female in-laws is usually far more tense than the one between a man and his wife’s mom.
So what’s a daughter-in-law to do? Although it isn’t necessary to become best friends with your mother-in-law, it is important for you to be on good terms with her. Here are 4 of the most common complains about mother-in-laws and suggestions for making peace. And for all you mother-in-laws, pay attention and readjust your behavior if these complaints describe you.
PROBLEM 1: She's always telling you what to do. She sees you wearing a white dress and says you would look thinner in black. You put a jacket on your child and she insists he needs his winter coat, etc. You’re in your 30’s but you feel like you’re being treated like a child with her constant “advice”.
SOLUTION: Even if you don't appreciate her always giving unsolicited advice, you can still thank your mother-in-law for her concern. Reassure her that you will ask for her input if and when you feel you are at a dead end. You might say, "Louis, I care for you and I appreciate your concern, but the best way for us to be close is for you to let me do things my own way. I hope you can respect this as I promise to not question the decisions you make in your life." Make it clear that you still want her to be involved with your family, but it has to be on your terms.
PROBLEM 2: She keeps meddling. I have a friend whose mother-in-law went beyond giving unsolicited advice and actually interfered. Her two daughters spent the weekend with her mother-in-law while she and her husband went out of town. Her mother-in-law has the tendency to spoil her kids, which is fine occasionally, but it shouldn’t be an every time occurrence. Their kids already have plenty of toys, so they specifically told her to not buy anything for them that weekend. When they got back, the first thing their daughters did was show them the new doll house Grandma bought them. My friend was so mad she could barely speak.
SOLUTION: The best way to handle this type of conflict is to communicate. Make it clear that this is a concern you both have. Set aside a time and place to talk when both you, your husband, and your mother-in-law feel relaxed and stress-free like at the park, in a restaurant, during a walk, etc.
Have your husband initiate the conversation with something positive and you take a secondary position since she is his mother. He could start with "Mom, I know you mean well, but it really bothered us when you ignored our instructions for the children." Go into the talk with an open mind and give your mother-in-law a chance to explain herself. You may be surprised at her reasons for doing what she did. If you’re not, at least she’s been given the chance to explain her side of the situation. She also knows you both are standing firm on expecting her to follow your specific requests in the future.
PROBLEM 3: She treats you differently than her own daughters. I had a woman e-mail me saying her mother-in-law and her 3 daughters all live within 5 minutes of her. The mom and her daughters spend A LOT of time together going to movies, camping, going grocery shopping together….you name it. She also babysits regularly for her 3 daughters but made it clear she didn’t want to be her daughter-in-laws babysitter. This daughter-in-law wouldn’t want to spend that much time together but she certainly would like to be invited every once in a while so she doesn’t feel so left out. She doesn’t mind so much being second class, but her kids feel they are less favored grandchildren and that’s her biggest gripe.
SOLUTION: It’s time you are straight up with your mother-in-law about your feelings. She may have no idea you feel this way. She may think your schedule is too busy to be involved like her daughters. I suggest you take her to lunch and be clear on how you definitely aren’t looking to be together as much as she is with her daughters, but you would love to be invited occasionally because you enjoy being with them. Also, see what kind of alternative you can create (instead of her babysitting) so your kids won’t feel less important. Maybe you start an every-other month grandma lunch time with just your kids at your home.
Advice for Mother-in-Laws: Mother-in-laws need to always treat daughter-in-laws equally to their own children. If you send your son a birthday card, then send your daughter-in-law a card for her birthday. Include your daughter-in-laws name on all correspondence intended for both of them. Treat all grandchildren equally whether biological or not. If you go out regularly with your daughters, ask your daughter-in-law what works best for her and include her as often as she would like. It’s very important that she never feels like she’s second class to your own children.
PROBLEM 4: She wants constant companionship. One of the most delicate mother-in-law situations is when she wants more companionship from you than you are willing or able to give. Maybe she's retired and lives alone and has lots of free time on her hands but you are in the opposite situation.
SOLUTION: If your mother-in-law is making too many demands on your time, be honest with her about how you feel. Tell her what you'd like to see in the relationship, and try to establish the right level of involvement for both of you. How often should you get together? Do you want her to call once a week? How much privacy do you need? Can she stop over uninvited? Set clear boundaries you both can agree on.
Frame your words positively. Saying, "We enjoy being with you, however it's unsettling for us to have you just stop by without calling first. Tell her that you definitely want to spend time together, but that you need to be able to plan when and how often. And promise to do likewise by always calling her first before stopping by her home. See if you can enlist other relatives or friends of your mother to help meet her companionship needs. Don't feel guilty if you can't fill all your mother-in-law's needs. Knowing your own limits is the key to giving sincerely.
CONCLUSION: If you make a sincere effort to openly communicate in a loving, respectful way about these common mother-in-law complaints, she will most likely be happy to meet you half way. You may find your mother-in-law is a loving human being, just waiting to support you and make your life more content and happy. Good luck!