5 Tips for Bringing Out the Best in Your Mother-in-Law

By Jenna D. Barry

Got Mother-In-Law Problems?
5 Tips for Bringing Out the Best in Your Mother-in-Law

If you get along great with your mother-in-law, then I’m really happy for you. Actually, if I’m being honest, I’m only 60% happy for you and 40% jealous. There are a lot of women who love their husband’s mother because she is kind, considerate, and unassuming. Unfortunately there are many of us with controlling mothers-in-law who believe the world --and everyone in it-- should revolve around them.

My husband’s mom isn’t my best friend, but my relationship with her is better now than it was when I married her son 14 years ago. That’s because I learned how to change my behavior in order to bring out the best in her, and it worked. You’ll never see us skipping around holding hands, but we treat each other with respect.

Here are 5 tips for bringing out the best in your mother-in-law.

1. Realize that each of you have different expectations about your relationship. She may want you to be the daughter she never had, yet you feel smothered by her constant phone calls and visits. Or the opposite may be true; you may want to have a closer relationship with her than she wants with you. She may want to visit the grandkids more often than you’d like, or you may be hurt because she doesn’t want to see them more frequently. Just because you have different expectations doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Try to meet in the middle.

2. Behave as a confident adult on an equal level to her. If you behave as a confident adult, then your mother-in-law will likely treat you as one. Address her by first name. Many women refer to their mother-in-law as “Mom” or “Mrs. ______” and have a wonderful relationship with her. However, if you have a dominant, controlling mother-in-law, then calling her “Mom” or “Mrs. ______” may put you in an inferior position. Another way to behave as a confident adult is to respond to her comments in a mature manner instead of getting defensive or giving excuses for your actions. If she criticizes the way you raise your kids, just say something like, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’ve decided to do it this way instead.”

3. Communicate honestly with her (but not so honestly that you call her a witch). Rather than gossiping to your husband or your own mom, speak directly with your mother-in-law to work out disagreements. Before you talk to her, it might be a good idea to vent your feelings to a counselor or on-line daughter-in-law support group. That way you have a better chance of remaining in control of your emotions rather than throwing eggs at her.

4. Be assertive and enforce boundaries as needed. If you don’t like it when your mother-in-law shows up uninvited, calls 24/7, and criticizes the way you raise your kids, then it’s better to draw boundaries than to grow resentful toward her. For example, let’s say you ask your mother-in-law to call first rather than drop by unexpectedly. (Some daughters-in-law don’t mind if their in-laws show up unexpectedly, so don’t assume your mother-in-law knows your preferences.) You can’t change your mother-in-law’s behavior, but you can change your own by not answering the door. (It’s not any more rude for you to ignore the doorbell than it is for her to drop by unexpectedly after you’ve made it clear you want her to call first.) Eventually she will realize it’s best to call before stopping by, and then you won’t resent her for ignoring your needs. Ideally you and your husband should be united as a couple in drawing boundaries; however, it may be necessary for you to do it alone until you have gained his loyalty. Keep in mind that you can’t control his behavior; don’t be surprised when he answers the door for his uninvited mother even after you’ve drawn a boundary with her. You can only control your own behavior.

5) Treat your mother-in-law the way you’d want your husband to treat your parents. If your husband wanted to draw a boundary with your own mother, how would you want him to treat her? Would you want him to be arrogant and insulting? Or would you want him to be respectful and mature? If you treat your husband’s mom the way you’d want him to treat your mom, then there’s an added bonus of gaining the respect of your husband.

The main reason many women don’t get along well with their mother-in-law is because they feel the constant need to compete with each other for the affection and attention of the same guy. Both you and your mother-in-law are probably contributing to the problem, but your husband is actually the one whose behavior plays a key role in whether or not you and his get along with each other. He has the power to eliminate the need for a competition by making it clear to everyone that you are the most important woman in his life.

On your wedding day, your groom was supposed to transfer his loyalty from his parents to you. In other words, your needs should have become a priority over his mom’s needs. A mother with healthy behavior will gracefully step aside and encourage her son to make his bride his first priority. Your husband’s mother, however, may have made the transition difficult by manipulating him with guilt whenever he tried to make you his first priority. It is possible to gain your husband’s loyalty, and I encourage you to focus on that. In the meantime, make changes in your own behavior and hopefully your husband and his mother will follow your example.

Jenna D. Barry is the author of “A Wife’s Guide to In-laws: How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.”

For more information, please visit www.WifeGuide.org.

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