A frustrated mum has called in the experts in the hopes of dealing with the tension between her and her mother-in-law constructively.
“My mother-in-law tells me all the time how she did things back in her day, and makes it very clear she disagrees with many of my parenting methods,” the mum of a three- and a five-year-old boys said.
Listen to Kirsty Levin on Feed Play Love:
Spoiled brats, smacks and snapping
The mum said her mother-in-law says her kids are going to become “spoiled brats” and has included her grown-up son in this conflict too.
“She’s told my husband she thinks I’m too easy on the kids and that they both need a good smack,” this mum revealed.
“I just don’t believe in smacking and I’m pretty offended she thinks my lovely boys need a smack at all. I do discipline them but I try to be fair and gentle.”
“I mostly enjoy my mother-in-law’s company … until she comes out with something like this,” the mum continued. “I don’t want to cause a confrontation but it’s bothering me enough to want to just snap at her sometimes. Is there a way I can sort this out without upsetting her, my husband and well, everyone?!”
You’re not alone
Our expert Kirsty Levin is a psychologist with The Parents Village, a group that offer parents support through workshops and individual counselling. A married mother of two girls herself, Kirsty joined Feed Play Love’s Helpline to share some advice for this struggling mum.
Kirsty says this woman is not alone and that this sort of conflict within families is common.
“I have to say it’s not always just mother-in-laws that can have this sort of tense interaction. It can sometimes be your own parents that are behaving like this as well. There are a number of ways that you could approach the situation,” Kirsty explained.
1. Let it go
“If you felt as though you had a tough enough skin, or you were resilient enough to let it wash over you, that might be a skill that you might need to practice in that time. In other words picking your battles and letting certain things wash over you. You may need to reorganise your frame of mind,” Kirsty suggests, “to realise it’s actually not about you. It’s potentially about them and their insecurities and their desire for control.”
2. Talk it through
Kirsty says that if these interactions are causing constant tension, conflict and bubbling resentment, it’s often worth addressing the problem with a very gentle approach.
“You have to kill them with kindness,” Kirsty advises. “And what I mean by that is demonstrating some appreciation and consideration of the fact that – really at the end of the day – all they’re really trying to do is help, at the core. All they want to do is demonstrate their love.”
“They may also have that element of control; their desire for control,” she adds, “but at the end of the day they want to have a part in the process. That’s what’s fuelling their response or reaction.”
“They may feel like they’re not as included in the process as they would like to be,” Kirsty points out.
“When you appreciate and show kindness to someone that’s really trying to dabble or meddle in your business, I think it can offset that tension.”
So what does this “killing with kindness” approach look like, you might be wondering. Kirsty has ideas.
“It’s acknowledging and saying something like: ‘I really appreciate that [advice]. It might have worked when you were raising my husband and his siblings. I totally appreciate that that might have been an effective strategy. I really appreciate that you’re actually trying to help and support in this situation because you can see that I’m struggling or you can see that this is a challenging situation. But I also have to tell you I do feel comfortable in my approach here. I do feel quite confident that this is what’s working for us as a family unit. Whilst I can appreciate that you may have had your approach and your preferences in how you would have parented and disciplined your children, I would love it if you could respect that we also have our own methods of parenting and discipline for our children. I’d like you to respect that we might have to agree to disagree sometimes’.”
Kirsty says it’s important to have this tricky discussion during a calm time, not directly after you’ve had some conflict between you.
“Set aside some time to have a coffee and sit down with them. First kill them with kindness – you show your love and appreciation for the fact that they want to be involved. And you do want them to be involved. You want your kids to have a beautiful connection with their grandparents.”
“But at the same time, it’s important for you to set boundaries and maintain that level of respect between each other as well. Sounds hard. It is hard. It’s a challenge.”
3. Call in the reinforcements
If possible, a united front can pay dividends when it comes to defusing these sort of family tensions.
“I do think it’s important to get your partner onside as well,” Kirsty says.
“To have a really good conversation with your partner and say ‘look we have to be on the same page. What’s our agreement here? How are we going to respond mutually to these situations?’ It is really important that you back each other up in those moments.”