Q&A: When mom-in-law nit-picks your parentingWritten by Wendy Kittlitz
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Question: My mother-in-law has many opinions about how we parent and she is not afraid to share them, even in front of the children. I have asked my husband to speak with her but he says he does not want to disrespect her. I can hardly stand to have her around, I am so resentful of her criticism. What can I do?
You and your husband need to work together to find ways to set some boundaries with your mother-in-law so you don't continue to resent her. While it’s commendable that your husband doesn't want to disrespect his mother, there are ways to communicate boundaries without being disrespectful.
Having said that though, some people will regard any attempts to correct their behaviour as disrespectful.
Address the situation early
It’s important that this situation gets addressed before relationships are irrevocably broken. We hear from many grandparents who are very hurt by the lack of access to their grandchildren that frequently results from scenarios such as you describe – especially when conflict goes unaddressed or escalates into a crisis.
I encourage you and your husband to sit down and outline what your mother-in-law is doing that you find distressing. Come up with a few examples and discuss how it makes you feel when she says what she does. Then role-play together ways to share these concerns with her in a manner that is firm, but respectful.
You might want to say, for example, “Mom, we really love you and want you to have a special relationship with us and with our children. However, when you say ______, or do _________, it makes us feel _____________. What we would really like is if you could ___________.”
Giving your mother-in-law those positive alternatives can be very helpful, so consider carefully what they might be. Perhaps she could email you when she has a concern rather than bringing it up in front of the kids. Or perhaps you would like her to simply remind herself that other people parent differently than she did. Hopefully your suggestions will help her see that building relationships is more important than expressing her opinion.
Manage time spent together
Another option is to manage how and when you spend time together. If you visit in her home or in a neutral place, it will be easier for you to shorten the visit if things become uncomfortable. On the other hand, if your mother-in-law is in your home, you may simply need to be as gracious as you can until the visit is over and then re-group with your husband to remind her again. You can also choose to let her say what she has to say, thank her and decide for yourself if there is any merit to what she says.
If your mother-in-law persists in being inappropriate, your husband may need to escalate the conversation to the point of warning her that these behaviours are damaging to her relationships within the family. Make sure he gives a clear message she can readily understand: that preserving peace and harmony is more important than offering her opinion.
Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.
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