5 tips for dealing with a difficult mother-in-law that will actually help

Mother in law smiling

Demanding mother-in-laws might be the stuff of sitcoms, but there’s a reason for the well-worn cliche. Sometimes dealing with a mother (who isn’t actually your mother) gets kind of complicated. And maybe a little tense. But hopefully not too shouty. If this all sounds uncomfortably familiar, here are some tips to sail a calmer, bluer ocean with your MIL.

1. Fake it till you make it

They say the fastest way to change an emotion is to change the behaviour attached to it. Or in other words, act the way you want to feel. You could try this one out when the in-laws come over. Instead of dreading it and going into the situation angry and defensive, get into a different character – experiment with a calmer, lighter frame of mind. Or at least just act like it. You might just find your emotions follow suit. For a little while. Certainly long enough to get through a Sunday lunch. 

2. Stand your ground, but make a bit of room

We’re all grown ups here, and we all have our own way of doing things. So if dear MIL doesn’t like the way you fold your laundry, politely stand your ground. Same goes for how you choose to raise your children, or celebrate the holidays. That said, there does need to be some room for your partner’s family’s traditions. This is where you can talk with your partner (ahead of time) about which of your MIL’s habits or traditions are worth maintaining, and which ones aren’t so … ahem … helpful in your life. Establish a united front, and practice it with kindness.

3. Your gain might feel like her loss

While you’re creating a new life with your partner, your MIL might be feeling a bit marginalised or irrelevant in their ‘baby’s’ life. This is natural, and there’s a whole host of complicated feelings that come along with the new dynamic. If you feel like your partner’s mother is being pushy, or asserting herself in uncomfortable ways, try to remember that she may well be struggling to find her place. That what you’ve gained in a partner, could also be creating a sense of loss in her life. It’s hard to believe, but one day you could be in her position when your own babies grow up and fall in love.

4. Try to fight fair

We only have a short-term history with our MILs, so we’re not always going to understand their behaviour, their triggers, their dislikes, and their soft spots. Sometimes, it’s easier to write off difficult behaviour, rather than understand it. But name-calling can get ugly. And while you might feel like your partner is on your side, criticising your MIL behind their back almost always backfires. You’re connected to your MIL through someone you both love, so before you let any in-fighting escalate, think about how it could affect your partner and your children. What’s best for them? What’s best for your marriage or partnership? Sometimes tweaking your own behaviour for your partner’s happiness, rather than storming into all-out battle, can keep a certain kind of peace. 

5. Give them some grandparent privilege

Often the stakes get raised when grandchildren come along. Yes, you definitely have your own rules and parenting styles, but there needs to be a little bit of room for a few grandparent privileges. Okay, so they bought another Barbie doll. Or gave the kids way too many jelly beans. Get clear about which hill you’re willing to die on, and which ones you’re just going to close your eyes and count to ten about. 

 

How do you deal with your MIL? Got any tips?

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