Ladies, I know how hard it is to deal with your Mother-in-Law. I’ve had one and I am one. This qualifies me as an expert.

So she’s in your family but she’s not of your blood. She cooks things your partner likes but you hate. Maybe she plays favorites among her children, and your spouse isn’t the favorite. She has hurt your husband/wife over the years, knowingly and unknowingly (and you know waaay too much about those events). She has definite ideas about YOUR children – how to raise them, what they should be wearing and eating, when they should go to bed. She may smell funny (my ex-MIL doused herself in Eau de Mothballs perfume), or wear too much makeup (my mother would stick her giant lipsticked lips in my kids’ faces for a kiss – yuchhh). She has bad taste and gives you stupid presents that prove that. OMG – I already hate myself!

But there is also some good to be found in your MIL. First of all, she loves your partner as much as you do (unless she is that favorite-playing type), so you have that  common bond. She may know things about him/her that can be helpful to you. YOU may have learned things about her child that can be helpful to her. She can be useful in drawing out info from your spouse about something troubling him/her. She can be a co-conspirator in getting him/her to change bad habits!

She has experience raising children, albeit during the Pleistocene Era, but she may have helpful tips to share. Experienced older mothers have radar that tells them why a baby is crying or fussing or not sleeping. I can’t explain it, but we just KNOW. Now this is a tricky area, because nobody likes a know-it-all, especially when it comes to your own kid. But her ideas may be worth a try – usually can’t hurt, sometimes might even help.

All of this presumes your MIL is somewhat polite, reasonably intelligent and not mean. If she’s a witch, I can’t help you, except to advise that you move far away from where she lives. But if she’s merely a bumbling fool who is mostly harmless, I do have some advice for you. This works for your own mom too. Pretend she is a sweet but batty neighbor lady who means well but also needs to be affirmed and made to feel she matters.

I used to pretend my mother was one of my clients. If an elderly client complained to me about minorities getting all the government benefits while she was struggling on her “fixed income,” I would never take her head off and tell her what a freaking bigot she is, or snarl and say, “Try raising 4 kids on half of your fixed income, like my other clients have to do.”  No, I would say, “Really? That must be upsetting to you. But I wonder if you know that Social Security Disability benefits are really difficult to get – for everyone, no matter what their color. Did you know that mothers who get state cash benefits have to work full time in order to be eligible for that benefit? And no one EVER gets enough money from the government – I know YOU know all about that.” So affirm, affirm, affirm, even as you gently make your point.  Then quickly change the subject!

Make sure you encourage your partner not to forget about your MIL. Encourage them to spend time together without you or your kids in the picture. Not only does this go a long way with your MIL, it shows your children something important about how grownups should treat their parents. They will see that it’s okay with YOU to let your spouse have alone time with his/her mom, and will absorb that. They will also see that your partner WANTS to spend time with Mom, and will absorb that too. After all, eventually you will be a MIL, and you’re putting money in the bank with this tip. And — it’s one less visit for you to endure.

My final tip may be tough to carry out, especially if you don’t particularly like your MIL. Think about letting her spend time alone with your kids, as long as she is of relatively sound mind. Most grandmothers adore their grandchildren, and giving her time with them is the greatest gift you can give to her, as well as to your kids. If her home is full of dangerous trinkets, invite her to watch the kids at your house.  If she’s nosy, find a place to hide your personal stuff before she arrives. Go on a short outing, like grocery shopping, that you can really savor doing on your own (instead of dreading doing it with the kids). Everybody wins!

It’s such a tricky relationship to manage, but remember, she probably will be in your life for a long time. Assume she has the best of intentions and don’t take ANYTHING personally. Remember all the things you share and try to find some additional common ground. If all else fails, grit your teeth and tell yourself that her visits can’t last forever!

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