Mother-in-law

Our guest poster chooses anonymity today in of the slight chance that her mother-in-law could read this– because she does love her, even if she drives her completely crazy.

Sunday afternoons with 5 small children are chaotic at best with every toy called upon to maintain peace, meals spread throughout the long hours and disagreements breaking out every few minutes. I sat in a pile of puzzles that my baby had dumped on the family room floor when the doorbell rang. Three little children raced to open the door but before they could cover the 5 yards the door burst open and my husband’s parents entered the hallway.

Settling on the couches they surveyed the chaotic room while I maintained my station on the floor sorting puzzle pieces into their respective boxes, “Estella said you’d do this,”my father-in-law mused, “she said you’d be embarrassed that your house is always such a mess and start cleaning the moment we got here.”

Oh I fumed, I raged, and with a tight-lipped smile muttered, “I was doing this before you got here.”

Barely maintaining a facade of civility,  I finished sorting the puzzles then wandered to the kitchen to stay on the periphery of their visit. My in-laws are humble, sweet, gentle people. Foreigners both, they immigrated to the U.S. over 40 years ago to raise my husband and his brother in a peaceful country. Subsisting under the poverty level all their years, they live simply, quietly and yet want for nothing. Still confused by Big Gulps and light sabers, my houseful of children with toys and books and wild antics is as foreign to them as their homeland is to me.

After a few hours, they gathered their coats and headed to the door. Escorting them out I said in a gruff voice that I scarcely recognized as my own, “Please, next time call ahead of time and let us know you are coming.”

Now here is where I get really unfair. My father-in-law made the comment, but I forgave him quickly(cause that’s just how he is) and saved the resentment for my mother-in-law(although that’s just how she is too). Why is it so difficult to feel judged by another woman? Is it because our jobs are so similar and I’m clearly not measuring up to her expectations? There seems to be more than enough blame to go around– they should have called, I should have set up boundaries years ago(but they keep changing!) and I could certainly be more forgiving.

I know many people that have warm, loving relationships with their mother-in-law. How do you develop those? And, someday I’ll be a mother-in-law myself– will I make all the same mistakes?

68 thoughts on “Mother-in-law

  1. Man, oh, man is my MIL crazy too! The last time I came to visit I realized something, though. Her obsessive cleaning, which she starts the second she walks into my house, I always took as an insult (“you are such a slob I have to come and clean your house”). It isn’t an insult, though. It’s her neurosis. It’s the one thing she has found that soothes her soul and calms her down. She loves the order and control of cleaning. Sadly, cleaning is pretty much the only thing she’s been able to control in her life.

    I’m now realizing that her cleanliness is less a judgement (although she does judge me. I don’t really care that much) and less about me, than it is about her. She cleans because she wants to. She NEEDS to. And I have learned to sit back and let her do it. She likes to clean, I don’t. Letting her clean my house is a win/win. I can turn this into shame and anger, or I can just let the crazy lady go to town with the Windex!

  2. I just finished reading a book that has changed my view of in-laws FOREVER. It’s called “Meeting Amazing Grace” by Gary and Joy Lundberg. And although it’s extremely cheesy (extremely) and half the dialogue is so NOT real (I rolled my eyes and skipped parts because it was way too over-the-top for me), the concepts and scenarios presented in the book are very good. So, I would recommend picking it up –it might help you jump-start a basis of understanding your in-laws and who they are (and how you can relate, understand, forgive, love, etc.).

    And it’s never too late to set boundaries. You just can’t do it alone –your husband needs to be in on it with you.

  3. Ditto to boundaries! Coming from my cynical, tired of battling the mother in law side of myself, I still think it’s a 2 way street. Yes YOU can change how you react to them/her, you can choose how you act to them/her. But I don’t know how a warm, loving relationship can be gained without both sides desiring the same thing.

  4. Women tend to hold on tight to their roles as mother, wife, and homemaker, and yeah, we do judge others, even if we shouldn’t. But the judging comes to a point when it’s family–MIL, mother, sister. The same comment from a neighbor wouldn’t bite the same way it would if my sister threw the same thing at me.

  5. I think your first boundary should be a locked front door.

    Relatives who drop by unannounced are among my greatest fears. No Joke. That is one of the reasons I switched coasts to attend graduate school. Distance is another great boundary.

  6. I know so few people who have a good relationship with their MIL. My own relationship has been strained at best, and I agree with Julie that it’s not something you can cultivate alone. My resentment over the situation has lessened over the years, but it’s still not an easy thing.

    Frankly, I’m more worried about my future relationship with my sons and their wives than I am about my MIL. I’ve seen the pattern too many times to think that I could be an exception to the rule. I’ve watched my mom struggle. I really hope that somehow I’ll be able to let go of whatever I need to and somehow scrape together a good relationship with my DILs.

  7. Can I offer another spin on this? Perhaps I am way off, but perhaps your MIL didn’t mean the comment to be rude… perhaps she would prefer a nice visit with you, even if the house is a mess, and would like your attention, rather than your attention on the toys? It’s not possible to have a perfectly spotless house all the time with 5 young children, and perhaps the reason it upsets you so is because you feel your house should be that way. But it won’t. And maybe next time they stop by, or even next time they call ahead, you can leave the house unstraightened and just enjoy (or pretend to) the visit. For your MIL to have made the comment, this isn’t the first time, or probably the second time, it has happened. Let the toys lay where they are, and try to enjoy the interaction between your kids and their grandparents.

  8. I live more than a thousand miles away from my MIL. And she visits for one week every year. Before she comes I am sure I can handle it, then when she arrives I am a mess, quickly in the emotional space you describe. Feeling judged, demeaned,unequal to any task in my own home. When she leaves I see the situation clearly again, intellectually I can understand what happened and what I should have done – but in the moment it is overwhelming and I can’t get out from under how horrible she makes me feel.

    I’m dealing with undiagnosed health issues and during her last visit she lectured me on how sometimes you just have to get up and go even when you feel badly. I had just returned from the gym.

    In the end I think she still wants to be #1 in her son’s life. When she’s not with him she can pretend she holds that place, when she’s physically in his presence she’s doing everything she can to assert her dominance. (ever watch the Dog Whisperer?)It is about insecurities that everyone has, we’re sensitive to it all and family always seem to know just the buttons to push. MILs have been around the block a few more times so they’re better at manipulation.

  9. My situation with my MIL was quite the opposite. Rather than a lack of boundaries, there were too many boundaries, so many that you could never feel any kind of “real” relationship. There were too many unspoken rules that made it feel so formal, like you were just a visitor in their family instead of an actual family member.

    I never did get to the point where I felt I could even use the bathroom in their house without asking permission first. We could never just “drop in” to visit, always had to call first. We almost never had conversations deeper than “How’s the weather?” or just the very basics of what we were doing. Everything was so very superficial–years and years of “small talk”. Once we moved from her town, we moved only 40 miles away, and I think she visited us once in three years. (FIL was better, but he died early in our marriage.)

    Now there were other issues, a SIL who controlled the family, hated me, and kept her mother away. She made it extremely awkward for us to visit, because she lived at home, yet she wouldn’t facilite her mother, who didn’t drive, visiting us. So if we wanted to see MIL, we had to go pick her up and take her to another location, like a restaurant. We couldn’t even visit her in her own home. Needless to say, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her at all!

    Yet when she died, we found out five days later that we were going to be adopting a baby girl who was almost due. We felt strongly impressed that MIL sent this baby, and that she was needed in heaven to help orchestrate her coming. It touched me deeply that this woman that I barely knew (and resented at times) in life, blessed me so much after her death. It was like her way of showing us that she really did love us, despite all of the inadequacies of mortality.

  10. I am so sorry to be a spoiler, but I absolutely love my mother-in-law. She has shown me such grace and kindness. She is always willing to help, but she seems to know when to back off, too. She doesn’t offer advice (probably an important element), unless I seek her out for council, which I have done.

    I can only hope and try try try to be a MIL like her when mine are grown.

  11. eljee- your story is breathtaking!

    I’m like Amanda– I relate to this a little too much. And with 5 sons(and a daughter, but isn’t that supposed to be a bit easier?) I pray that I will be a good mother-in-law.

    You are not a spoiler, Justine, but an example of hope! More details, please.

  12. Oh, I too can really relate to this post. My MIL really did hate me for stealing her favorite son and “changing” him (her word). It took me ten years to figure out that it was all about her and had nothing to do with me personally. After the first two years of our marriage, we moved many, many miles away. Now she is old and dying, and the old grudges seem to have just melted away. She has turned into just the sweetest person and a very dear friend. I never would have guessed.

  13. I have no words of wisdom – my MIL can’t stand any of her daughter-in-laws, including me. She doesn’t like not being the most important woman in her sons’ lives. My whole strategy is just peaceful coexistence. I treat her as politely as I would treat anyone I know from Relief Society. I try to enjoy how much she loves my kids. And I stopped letting the little things bother me a long time ago. It’s just her. It’s just how she is. No point in letting anything she said or did upset me. (Of course, I’ve had a lot of time to get used to her. The first five years I’d get into a complete tizzy every time we interacted.)

  14. My first instinct is to say NO you will not make the same mistakes with your children, you will probably make all new ones. I know, not very comforting. I actually have a pretty good relationship with my MIL; she lives 15 minutes away. We of course have our moments, but I think every female relationship does. I agree with people though, that it takes both parties to want a good relationship. I know she tries hard not to force herself into our life, and we both try to understand each other’s differences. Actually I think she tries a little too hard not to impose on us. I know there are times she wants to see the kids, but doesn’t call because she doesn’t want to impose. I’m a big girl, if we are busy or it is a bad time, I’d tell her no. So I call her and let her know the boys want to see her, yes it is annoying sometimes, but I understand that she is really trying to be nice. So yes, there are some days I wish she was different, and I’m sure some days she wishes I was different, but we keep plugging along. I can still call her if I ever need help with the kids or advice (she is a member of the church and my mom is not). We will never have the kind of relationship my mom and I have (we are very close), but I’m grateful for her and how much she cares about the well being of our family. So ya, I guess no advice, but a look at a different situation.

    Though I do agree with the person who said don’t clean while they are there. Perhaps sitting and spending time with them and your kids and ignoring the mess will help you enjoy their visits more. I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here though, cause if my in-laws call (and they ALWAYS do) I run around like a mad woman picking up and chucking things in closets. Though when they get here, I give in and enjoy their company.

  15. I’m one of those people lucky enough to have an amazing relationship with my mother-in-law. She is so helpful, loving, kind and compassionate. She will clean my house without ever making me feel inadequate. She treats me as the matriarch of my home and doesn’t try to overrule me. I know this is because she is wonderful, but there are other reasons too…
    1) She and I have very similar parenting style/beliefs. She is opinionated (as am I), and I think she’d be forthright if I did things way off from what she thought was right. So this avoids a lot of potential conflict, resentment, and hurt feelings.
    2) My husband always backs me up if she and I see things differently. Not necessarily vocally, but I always know my MIL opinion won’t change anything we do unless I alter my own opinion in response.
    3) She knows very little detail regarding anything my husband and I argue about or have ever had issues with. Very little.
    4) Distance. We talk to our families regularly, but we are not neighbors. There are a lot of advantages I could think of to living close to family. I think we could still have a great relationship, but it would take a LOT more work than it does currently.
    Just recently, my MIL made a comment about something that happened with one of my kids that really hurt my feelings. I was already feeling that guilty mom feeling. I realized later that I had complete control of how I felt about what she’d said. She didn’t make me feel judged, criticized, etc – I made myself feel that way. I think a big part of it is trying to see the spirit in which the comment is made or action is done. I knew she made her comment out of concern, not because her primary goal was chastising me or putting me down. I believe most (not all) MIL could be seen the same way – is the primary goal really the criticism? Maybe it is, but I am just raising the question. (I know this is easy for me to say, since my MIL is so awesome. I don’t mean to discount dealing with a difficult MIL). In dealing with both my mom and MIL, I always try to assume their intentions are good, even if the action ends up with me feeling hurt or frustrated. I try to see what they intended to get across rather than what I felt. Hope that makes sense.

  16. I wish I had a better relationship with my MIL. It was OK for the first few years of our marriage – we didn’t live close to my husband’s parents, and minor annoyances were easy to ignore (on both sides, I’m sure).

    Then we had our first baby. My mom couldn’t come visit for a few weeks so I said my MIL could come first, and I asked if she would come a few days after we got home from the hospital. She said, “oh, won’t you need help sooner” and I said, no I’ll be fine. Well, the moment she heard the baby was out, she booked at ticket and was there before I even got home from the hospital. It turned out I had a torturously hard time breastfeeding, and having MIL there made it worse for me. I feel that she robbed me of the private time with my baby that I really wanted during those first few days. She even gave my son his first bath without asking me, something I (selfishly, I suppose?) wanted to do.

    I know I have to forgive her, but I haven’t been able to do it yet, and in my cold little injured heart I cling to all her other hard-to-deal with habits. I’m afraid to talk to her about my feelings because she’s the kind of person who will NEVER admit to wrongdoing and never apologize. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s very true.

    What to do?

  17. I have been blessed to have a mother in law that is gracious, kind, patient and loving. She has always been there to help me and “over help” me at times. I didn’t appreciate her when I was young–I thought she was interfering and I felt like I was competing with her for my husbands affection (oh how silly and vain we are in our youth). My attitude toward her changed one day in a single moment as the Lord blessed me with some clarity. She is the mother of 4 sons and 1 daughter. The daughter moved away from home while the sons stayed home. One day the 4 daughter in laws were sitting around “her” kitchen table, our children were trashing “her” house and she was fixing “us” lunch. As we sat around the table we were “husband bashing”. You know pointing out all those little things that annoy the heck out of us about our husbands. She listened for quite a while and then somewhat tremously stated, “I’m sorry, but I raised them the best I knew how.” That was my moment of clarity. She was my husbands mother. She had spent most of her life raising the wonderful man that I chose to marry. I loved him more than life itself. I was also very happy with the life we had made together. It was then that I realized the problem wasn’t my mother-in-law. The problem was my attitude. When I got over my own insecurities and reached out to her in love and acceptance, we formed a true bond of love and harmony. More often than not I was the one to take the children over, or at times I would go by myself just to have a break. She is a wonderful woman, and I thank God I realized it while I was young–I might have lost a very valuable relationship other wise.

  18. Kaye, what insight. I appreciate your story.

    Eljee – What a tender blessing.

    Ok, I’m sitting here trying to readjust my attitude about my MIL after reading Kaye’s experience, and I think I’m having trouble because my own MIL keeps reminding me of what a great job she did raising my husband. “he’s a wonderful husband for you all because of the way *I* raised him!” oh dear – must work on readjusting my attitude even with that!

  19. Mother-in-Laws!
    I love my husband dearly and we have a beautiful new daughter that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
    However, if I knew how difficult my relationship with my in-laws was really going to be I might have rethought things. I don’t regret marrying him and I am extremely happy with him and our life…until his family gets involved.
    When we visited for Christmas our 4 month old baby girl had a cold and was extremely fussy. We were only at her house for about 30 hours total and she said to me—no exaggeration—30 times “I never had to CATER to my babies the way you guys CATER to your baby!” How am I supposed to take that? I was extremely hurt. All that says to me is that she thinks she was a better mom than me! This is one example in a five year relationship with her of thousands.
    I need to know how to not let her little side comments bother me….but it is more difficult than I ever could have imagined.

    1. It is so hard, isn’t it? How do you love, or have a decent relationship with, someone who hurts you so much? I think a therapist would tell us to say the “when you do this…., it makes me feel….” thing. I feel safe enough to be that honest with my husband, but not with his mom. Maybe you do – I’d bet it would help.

      I know the “you can’t change others, you can only change yourself” mantra. But what if the other person really is guilty of unprovoked bad behavior? Do we have to live with it? In my case, my contact with my in-laws is so limited that I’ve resigned to the fact that it’s a potentially enriching relationship that will probably never flourish.

  20. jendoop-You have described my own experience exactly! The intellectualizing, the resolve, then the utter helplesness when she arrives. Plus, her driving desire to remain deeply entrenched in all of her children’s lives, not necessarily number one but certainly a part of every little thing.

    Asha- I know that a lot of the things my MIL does are meant well, which is often why it is so hard to deal with her. The things she does and says are so brazen, so inappropriate, so rude, so unthinking, but I know in her heart all she really wants to do is be a good mom and grandma. I have a hard time fighting back because of that. Recently I have decided to just stop caring so much what she thinks, and this has actually improved our relationship because I respond much more naturally and stress out a lot less about how my actions are affecting her feelings.

    My husband, though, is really great about standing up for me and pushing back when it’s needed. Give me the crazy, controlling mother in law any day rather than the wimpy husband who gives into her every whim.

  21. My MIL has been a suprisingly good sport. Her life and experience has been so different than was my own mother’s, and of course, I was absolutely shaped by my own mother’s view of the world and family dynamics.

    My MIL has to have everything new – BRAND NEW. She thinks that there is something wrong with anything that has gone on sale, and she wouldn’t be caught dead at a discount department store (or Target or Walmart, etc.). This is her own baggage because her parents didn’t have any money; she slept in the dining room of their tiny apartment until she was married herself. Most of her girlfriends came from families much better off, and various ‘trappings of success’ (whatever that may mean) are very important to her.

    She currently has a white linen couch that gets discolored if the sun touches it, so the drapes in her beach front home must be drawn at all times. And forget about things like wet swimsuits or sand! This is not the kind of beach front living where one actually goes to the beach.

    Our house – mine and her son’s – is done in antiques, hand-me downs, garage sale and flea market finds, with quite a bit of dog hair thrown in for good measure. “Comfortable” or “lived in” we’ll call it (on a good day, that is).

    When they sold a lakeside cottage that had been in the family for 75 years, she wanted to dump everything. She hadn’t set foot in there in years, although my husband and I had enjoyed it very much. I insisted that I wanted some of the furniture, and she thought I was CRAZY. I picked up a couple of pieces from the cottage dating to the ’30′s and ’40′s that are in immaculate condition; I have seen the same types of pieces in lesser condition in antique stores for hundreds of dollars.

    Anyway, the most classic remark of all time was when she finally visited my parents’ home. It was one of the original homes in a rural river town which had grown organically over a hundred years or so from a small farmhouse with sleeping loft to a spacious home with sun porches, a massive living room with fireplace, 4 large en-suite bedrooms and a guest house out back. My parents had lived all over the world before settling into this family home. It was decorated with brasses from India, family antiques and antiques from England, and silk screens and tonsu chests from Japan. My mother’s style was very elegant, particularly when compared to my funky flea market vibe. But her house was eclectic and lived-in with old quilts on display and dogs on the couch.

    So, my MIL walks into the house and takes one long look around and say, “Now I see where you get your … “decorating” from.”

    And you could HEAR those quote marks around “decorating!” My mother and I had a lot of good laughs over that one.

    I know I puzzle my MIL. Why don’t I want the same things she does? How can I stand my funky old house, and why on earth did I want that furniture from the cottage? (And why haven’t I dropped over dead from being a vegetarian? – but that’s a whole other post for another day!) But she’s a good sport; I’ll give her that! Not one word of criticism from her, because I put up with her son.

    The one piece of advice I always give young people contemplating marriage is to look at their intended’s family long and hard. Those differences in expectations that seem so small in the bloom of young love can become so enormous when you start piling on kids and jobs and financial responsibilities later on.

    But we all hear those MIL horror stories, and I certainly feel lucky in comparison.

  22. jendoop……….. i completely agree to your comment “In the end I think she still wants to be #1 in her son’s life. When she’s not with him she can pretend she holds that place, when she’s physically in his presence she’s doing everything she can to assert her dominance. (ever watch the Dog Whisperer?)It is about insecurities that everyone has, we’re sensitive to it all and family always seem to know just the buttons to push. MILs have been around the block a few more times so they’re better at manipulation.”
    Three years ago we moved from my home state to live in the same teeny tiny town as my inlaws at the time I barely knew them and the facade that they put on when we would visit for easter or some other holiday was incredible. Since moving here our relationship has gotten worse instead of better. It is obvious in her mind that I will never be good enough for her son. Manipulation..always……… boundaries never…. she has gone as far as telling my children to lie to me and physical violence towards me in my home. She holds a calling in the church involving the youth… it boggles my mind. I worry about these young women who will someday be mothers and wives and even mother in laws..
    I had envisioned moving here that I would be gaining a mother figure… I envisioned gaining a family and in reality it has been the farthest from that…

    If she would stop judging me by whom she thinks I am and instead spend some time truly finding out who I actually am I think things would be different.
    It is truly tiring feeling like you are never enough.

  23. Ladies,
    I realize there are a lot of crazy mom-in-laws, but I think they can get a bad rap. I have watched dear friends bend over backwards to try to build a relationship with their new daughter-in-laws only to be disappointed. Often their attempts have been misconstrued by the daughter-in-law and a big fight ensued needlessly. It seems patience and the benefit of the doubt can go a long way.

    Don’t get me wrong, I too have to work out the little details. My mom-in-law raised 11 children never weighing more than 98 pounds (that is reason to hate her right there isn’t it?) She mopped her floor every night after putting all the kids in bed (I know this because she told me–I think it could have been a pep talk) and my boundaries included even small things. For example, my mom-in-law had to come to terms with the fact that she could either cut the tomatoes herself of let me cut the tomatoes, but that I would not cut them her way. But if you laugh about it and hug each other so much can take care of itself. She, like you, wants to feel loved and needed. Perhaps she is struggling with her new periphery role.

    Someday we will be that Mother-in-law. It horrifies me when I hear these type of stories. I have four sons that will someday grow. I hope my daughter-in-laws can learn to role their eyes at me like my daughters sometimes do-but still love and accept me. I am grateful that even though my mom-in-law was super mom, she can still appreciate me even with my dirty dishes and rowdy kids. She has really been a gift. I love her wit and insight into my husband (who after twenty years I still can’t understand).

  24. It is so interesting to read everyone’s comments, and frankly, most of the comments terrify me when I think of the future. Are my daughters-in-law going to feel like this about me? No matter how hard I try, will I blow it on more than one level and make their lives miserable?

    I think the answer may be yes. I have the sweetest mother in the world, who never intends to offend. She overthinks, tries extra hard, and my sweet sister-in-law, who I love, has been hurt by her time and time again, never by anything overt, but always by misunderstandings. It’s really heartbreaking on both sides.

    I, on the other hand, have been blessed with an angel mother-in-law. The one thing she ever said to hurt me was that my daughter’s name was atrocious, but she didn’t know that was the name we’d chosen for sure, and now I can laugh about it. She adores my children, she never questions my parenting, she compliments me, even when not deserved, and the one time my husband went to his parents during one of our arguments, she told him flat out that it was none of their business, and he should work things out with me. She is amazing.

  25. I have found that the more comfortable I get with myself, the more I love my MIL. I have learned that when I am confident in my self-worth, I don’t need to read into her comments and can, instead, read between the lines–what she MEANS to tell me, instead of what she actually says. (God love her, sometimes she steps into it in a big way.) But the more I love myself, the easier it is for me to remember that she would never want to hurt my feelings and did not mean to be unkind or harsh at my expense. And the longer I raise my daughter, the more respect I have for her and the sacrifices she made for her family.

  26. OK–let me ask you MIL haters:

    How do your husbands feel about this?

    I just can’t imagine how much tension it would introduce into my relationship if I talked (or blogged) about my husband’s family the way you guys are talking about your ILs. Or if HE did. That would be a major issue.

    Maybe you think you don’t talk bad about his mommy to him, but I am sure your husbands have an inkling of how you feel about their moms.

    My own sister has MIL issues. I have heard her talk about them, and it wasn’t until recently that I met MIL at a baby blessing. I was prepared for a MONSTER, but guess what? MIL was a totally normal woman. It made me feel even more badly that my sister is such a whiner. That you can literally FEEL the tension in the air when the ILs visit. That my sister actively avoids visiting the ILs and keeps her husband from his family because she cannot handle it.

    If I were my sister’s husband, I would be STEAMED about this kind of behavior. It is fuel for a divorce.

    Bite your tongue and get over it. Your MIL loves your husband, and so do you. You can ignore ANYTHING she says. If you are confident in your choices, then nothing anyone says about them will bother you.

    1. FYI – my husband knows exactly how I feel about his mother, and he agrees with me about her hard-to-deal-with habits. He was a teenager with this woman!

      And by the way, I don’t hate her.

    2. I’m not a MIL-hater. We have our fair share of tension, but no hate. My husband knows exactly how I feel about his mom and agrees with me. He is the first one to put his mom in her place when she’s the one to up the tension-factor, and for that I love and appreciate him even more.

  27. I’m really enjoying the comments here– for good and bad– we are all trying to improve our relationships.

    But esodiambo– I haven’t seen anyone here who “hates” their mother-in-law; simply women who are struggling in their unique circumstances. I think a little compassion is called for. And I’m pretty sure most husbands are fully aware of these oh-so-common conflicts.

  28. I don’t have a mother-in-law yet. And both of my grandmothers passed away within the first few years of my parents’ marriage, so my parents never really had mother-in-laws. But their fathers were wonderful. The two men became friends and would ask after the other one until one passed away.

    I have watched my sister with her mother-in-law though. I know my sister struggles with her. But my brother-in-law has forever earned a spot in our hearts because he sides with my sister in anything that comes up. He and my sister are creating their own family and they set their own boundaries.

  29. When I met my MIL she was just moving into the middle stages of Alzheimer’s.
    Her family was in denial.
    And I was confused.

    Why didn’t she want to get to know me? Why did she ask me the same questions over and over?

    It didn’t take me very long to figure out the {health} issue there, and then just imagine being the fiance to the baby of the family trying to convince them of their beloved mother’s diagnosis. I am sad that in this life, I never got to know her. (She and my FIL are now deceased.)
    [Tangent: we too, adopted our last child and felt strongly that her spirit was watched over and had the companionship of my husband's father until she came to us.]

    So, I cannot give any insight on MIL issues. I only know what kind of a MIL I want to be. And even though it is still so far away, I think about it often and hope that my DIL’s will accept me and not think I’m some crack-pot old lady that can’t give up her son. I only have one daughter and I am looking forward to having good relationships with my sons’ wives. I hope and pray that I will. I know there will have to be lots of give and take. I only hope they are willing to give me a chance. I’m always intrigued and fascinated by others’ relationships with their MILs, because I was never able to have that.

  30. I, also, and one of the lucky few who have an amazing relationship with my MIL. But it’s because of who SHE is, not because of who I am.

    She is best friend’s with my mom. I’m married to her son and best friends with her daughter. We have always loved each other.

    Unfortunately, I have no advice to offer for your current situation, but this is what I would suggest for when YOU become a MIL. Learn to love unconditionally. I can’t think of a single time when I’ve seen my MIL judge anyone. One of her daughters almost got pregnant in high school, and divorced a man she married (in the temple) after 6 months because she didn’t love him. I’m not trying to dog on my SIL, but throughout these experiences, my MIL showed nothing but love and compassion and acceptance toward her daughter.

    I want to be a mother like she is. There was NEVER a doubt in any of her childrens (or their spouses) minds that she loved every bit of them with all her heart. There were rules and punishments, but they were delivered with an outpouring of love. Never any judgement. I want to mother like this.

  31. I can only speak for my own situation, but “biting my tongue” would be the worst thing for my marriage.

    My mother in-law often tries to exert dominance over me. She yells at me and is very condescending. She tries to spread her misery and her pride, often tainting my husband. In the past, I have made excuses for her and have tried to be patient. But as my desire for my children’s happiness and well being has grown, I have felt the need to lay down the law. My husband’s first obligation is to his wife and children. We need to be on the pathway to happiness regardless of what his mother chooses. Since I have expressed these things(strongly)to my husband, our marriage has improved. If I had continued to bite my tongue, there would be very little unity and my children would be poisoned.
    Sometimes a spade needs to be called a spade.

  32. This is quite the hot topic! I am with jendoop. I think my MIL is still upset that she is no longer #1 in her son’s life. Things were fine between us until we had a baby almost a year ago, and now I find myself the subject of criticism. They were going to come visit for the baby being born as well as graduation. When I went overdue and decided to be induced on graduation day, they got angry with us because we had ruined their plans of attending my husband’s graduation. Furthermore, they were upset that we didn’t want to have the baby blessing that weekend while they were in town. (um, hello– I am not going to have my baby blessed when she is 2 days old.) I think my MIL blames me for all of that, so let’s just say thank goodness we live several states away!

  33. My husband is perfectly aware of his mother causing annoyance in my life. His mother’s behavior upsets him a lot more than it upsets me. He still tries to bend over backwards to be the good son, though.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately) for my husband, his mother in law is even worse. My mother is much more atrocious than his. After his years of complaining (all totally justified), I’ve finally put my foot down and said, “if you have a problem with my mother then tell her. But don’t come crying to me to be an intermediary. I’m not playing monkey-in-the-middle. If you don’t have the guts to confront her to her face, than don’t complain!”

  34. I have two MIL – my husbands parents divorced and his father remarried. I adore my stepMIL. Over the years, she has dropped those never too subtle hints about the way I dressed my children, ect. But she has also been complimentary of my parenting style as well. We have a wonderful relationship. Now that she and my FIL are in need of help due to their declining health, I find myself willingly coming to their aid. I love her and she loves me. Maybe because my husband is not her son there is no sense of competition.

    But my MIL is another story. In almost 30 years I have always felt like a guest – never like a member of the family. I offer to bring something to the family dinner and she declines (I am the only one to show up empty handed) My SIL’s have addressed invitations to Mr.XXX and family. For years my husband thought I was making all this up. Then he started to really take notice. Has anything changed? No. But I have learned to let it go. Being angry and hurt only eats away at me – I’m not willing to let that happen.

    Now that I am a MIL, I work hard to develop a loving relationship with my sweet DIL. I feel grateful for her loving my son. She adores him. I pray daily for the wisdom to be good MIL. I hope to learn from the past – not repeat it.

  35. My Mil was desparate for me to marry her son, she seemed to really like me then. However since our wedding, over a decade ago, things quickly changed. Almost immediately I was not a good enough wife, not a good enough daugther in law, and then not a good enough mother. She thinks she can come into my home and criticise me to my face, contradict what I say to my children and generally be as unhelpful as possible. My husband finds her attitude upsetting too. He has spoken to her about it on a few occasions, and she says she can’t help how she feels about me. However, every now and again she is lovely. I just never know in advance what kind of visit it will be. Will I be acceptable or just not good enough. She also considers herself to be a virtually perfect mother, after all she never had any of the problems that I have, therefore it must be me that is at fault. It is not just me, I know she is like this to my Bil too. To her her son and daughter are perfect and whatever happens in life can never be their fault. You have to be born into that family to be accepted, marrying into it just doesn’t count.

  36. It’s sounding to me like a lot of this has to do with letting go. Letting go of our sons, letting go of our great desire to “do all the fun parts of parenthood” again with grandkids. It’s probably also trying to fix and prevent our children from making the mistakes we made.

    I’m sure it’s almost without exception coming from a place of love. It just doesn’t always come across that way.

    I need to write all this down so I’ll remember how I want to be when my boys get married!

    1. Ditto on all these thoughts about remembering to be a good MIL when it’s time. In our couple prayers, my husband and I have recently begun to pray that our sons will marry women that we can all enjoy so that we can have a happy family for a long time to come. I think this has the affect (like many prayers) of reminding us of our goal of a happy family at least as much as it might effect who the boys actually marry.

      Nope, we don’t have teenagers. Our boys are just 10, 6, and 3. Maybe by praying/thinking about it for the next 15+ years we can be ready when it finally happens.

  37. I’m a MIL and I give them a LOT of space. Mostly because they keep me at arms length. I always got along so well with my son but it’s different now and I miss those days. DIL’s come into a marriage trying to really butter up the new MIL to be. It changes after the marriage. MIL’s get set aside. It doesn’t make any difference whether you remember it all when your boys get married and you will be different. It won’t be. Every mother will still be a mother-in-law that is tolerated. I have to have an appointment to see mine. And I resent it.

    1. wow, jan. your comment made me sad. it makes me think (and this might be a REALLY unpopular thought on this post, I haven’t read all the comments…) that mother in laws get the short end of the stick.

  38. I am not a MIL hater either. The post asked about our MIL relationships so I told. Woman to woman we get along wonderfully over lunch at a restaurant. It’s in the mess of life that we don’t always agree. My husband and I have talked about how to handle the situation and in the end I let him decide how to handle it because it is his family and he knows them best. He decided that since we only spend one week a year with them it isn’t worth trudging through the emotional mud to attempt to resolve it. There are ALOT of interwoven issues about our parenting styles, generational issues, attitudes about cleaning, priorities, etc.

    Jenny, it is interesting that you mentioned marrying into a family where Alzheimer’s was afflicting your MIL yet no one was discussing it. That was part of my conversation with DH.

    Also part of my ILs? – Seeing their ILs! I have a little problem but nothing compared to some of the out-and-out emotionally abusive women out there. And yes, these are active, temple recommend carrying, MILs of the church. So to those of you suffering with those types of MILs my heart goes out to you. Your spouses are so lucky to have you help them out of those disfunctional mother relationships. Keep going, you never know what may happen to change the family dynamics.

  39. I’m the mother of a young child, so I can only speculate about how it feels to be the mother of grown, married children. Parenting is such hard work that I imagine one could get to feeling (at least on a subconscious level) that given what you went through raising your kids, you are entitled to a level of involvement/intimacy in their lives that you deem appropriate.

    Truly selfless service doesn’t come with entitlements, though, and I think good parenting is selfless service. The fact is, your kids aren’t always going to thank you or recognize your sacrifices the way they should. But if we approach relationships as gifts, there’d be more gratitude and less resentment.

  40. I am not annon on this one because I have a great MIL… and my mom is pretty great too. Neither is perfect and it is very easy to look back and see what they might have done “wrong”, but in the end, I genuinly think that they did the best they could in raising their children and I often think of them and try to emulate them with my own family.

    To be clear, I am not saying that there has never been conflict and that there is always sunshine and roses, but mostly we deal with it in an adult way (we have all had to learn to give a little) and after about a decade, we have it all figured out. Also, the older I get and the more of “life” that I see (ie..the crappy stuff) the more I can appreciate these women and be thankful for how they handled their “life” stuff.

    I can imagine that it would be difficult to reason with someone who is not kind or is hurtful. As my therapist always tells me “trying to reason with crazy make you the craziest one”.

  41. i love my mother in law. it has been a relationship that has taken work though– just like any meaningful relationship.

    for so many of my friends, i think they place too much emphasis on what the relationship “should” be, rather than accepting it for just what it is, and then letting it develop from there.

    for the sake of my husband, i value my relationship with my mother-in-law. for the sake of my kids, i want them to have people who love them in their life– i just would never deny that of anyone. and for my sake, i’ve just really realized i love her for who she is and for what she does, and none of that is contingent upon me or my opinions on life.

    also, i want my kids to have examples of healthy in-law relationships… also, i hope there’s some sort of karmic circle of it all that ensures my future daughters in law won’t hate ME.

  42. I love my mother-in-law. I wish she were still alive. The first year and a half I was married, I struggled with her worries and advice. But, as other commenters have mentioned, this was more a reflection of my own insecurity than anything.

    Then her health/financial problems made it necessary for my in-laws to move in with us. It was hard for me at first. But honestly, I remember those feelings now only distantly. What I remember more is the deep love she showed my children before she passed away, and the many talks we had together. After she moved in, we set clear boundaries and stuck with them. And I developed this kind of joking way to deal with her worries/advice. It seemed to work for us, a signal that she was stressing too much and she needed to trust us, but that I loved her.

    I really miss her. My son is getting baptized this weekend and I wish she could be there to see it in person, instead of in spirit. She loved him so much. That, to me, was one of the greatest gifts she gave me: complete devotion to my children.

    I know my situation is unique; please believe that I’m not judging anyone else who has had a different MIL experience. I also know that I received divine help and strength to change my initial irritation/frustrtion with her into a true friendship. I will always be grateful for her goodness and the way she raised my husband.

  43. I didn’t think anything bad about my MIL until after we had our first child, and we still had to work to support ourselves, and she graciously took care of our baby for three years.

    By the time the baby was three, I noticed that she was bonded more to my MIL than to me. When I needed to discipline her for some reason, MIL would contradict me. My hubby and I both decided we couldn’t let the next child go that way. I stayed home from then on.
    I still have trouble connecting with my oldest.

    Distance has been a blessing. Being at least a 17 hour drive away discourages frequent trips, and the spoiling is limited to holiday packages. I’m able to be pleasant when she does visit.

    My hubby thinks my mother doesn’t visit us enough, like she doesn’t like us or something! She does, she just isn’t into traveling or being intensely social like his mother is! I don’t know what kind of MIL I’ll make, but I know there will have to be a balance between not enough and too much visiting.

  44. Distance.

    That is the only way to keep the waters calm. Most of the time.

    I, too, love my MIL. But it was good for us to live 45 minutes away from each other. Now we are living in her home where we will stay while she goes on a mission and life is HARD! I still love her. But I find it hard to tolerate her. And FYI: my husband feels the same way.

    I whole-heartedly believe that there needs to be specific boundaries set up with in-laws in regards to visits and such. I, for one, would prefer to live one or more hours away (1 state would be more my preference) so that they can’t just “drop in” and throw things off kilter for me.

    So, distance is the key.

  45. If you want to know the kind of MIL you will be you try thinking about what kind of parent you are when your children are getting older. Do you do your child’s science experiment or do you trust your child to do it and learn from her own mistakes? Or do you think you know the answers so you “help”? (I know, a fine line to walk when your child is 11 – you can’t just throw them in a pool and tell them to swim, they need some lessons). I went to a zoo field trip once and watched a dad draw the animal because he thought he was “showing” his son how to do it, once he was done he had to erase one leg just so the son could do something. Did the dad need to pass 3rd grade? No. He robbed his child of the opportunity to try and succeed or try and fail and learn so that the next time he might feel a little more confident.
    Once a child is an adult you need to let them make all their own decisions without your input. When they have a problem, listen to them, don’t just tell them what your years of experience has taught you. Give your son and your DIL the respect and love they need. Tell them that you have confidence in them. That you know they will figure it out. See their side of things.

  46. Both sides of our families make us crazy to some extent. Isn’t that just life? I wish I had a better relationship with my IL’s, but I’m probably partly to blame for that too, as I don’t try as hard as I could to be closer to them. But I must say that after reading some of these comments, maybe I don’t have it so bad! :)

  47. Reading all the stories of difficult relationships with Mothers-in-law really makes me sad. My own relationship with my MIL is wonderful. I really do love her. She has been so respectful of our marriage. She told me that her grandmother taught her that if she wanted to maintain a relationship with her sons, she had better learn to love and respect her sons’ wives. This she has done a thousand times over. I hope to be like her, to support and love my sons’ future wives.

  48. I’ve never had a MIL, my husbands mother died when he was in HS. SO I don’t know what that relationship is like at all. I do struggle with my relationship with my FIL.

    I was talking about this with a friend the other week. I think we often tend to hold against our in-laws things that weren’t perfect in the lives of our spouses. At least I find this true of me. I get frustrated when i see the reverberations.

    I think a critical key though on all side is developing adult child/parent relationships with boundaries and clear communication.

  49. I say to get over yourselves when I read that your MIL wants to be #1 in her son’s life. You could ‘grow up’ to be the greatest MIL that you think anyone could possible want and guess what? Your son may have just married a self-centered brat!

    I have 5 brothers and the two SIL’s that had issues with my mother are no longer around. Thank heavens. My mother did nothing but bend over every which way she could think of to please, help and support…but it was to no avail. She could do nothing right. She would have done ANYTHING to make things right, but my SIL’s would sit around and make fun of her, think she was nuts and critize anything that she did. Guess what? These girls were not happy with their husbands, but they spent many wasted years blaming it on others.

    I know there are some out there saying…oh but I love my husband so much. Then show him some respect by loving his parents.

    I have plenty of friends that are MIL’s themselves or on the verge of becoming MIL’s. No one sits around and complains about their DIL’s! They are all so excited to have them, to embrace them into the family and to bend over backwards for them and their families. I see my friends spending scads of money on their married kids. I see them cooking Sunday dinners week after week, year after year. I see them giving all kinds of service to their married kids. And then I come on this site and read all this complaining about their MIL’s, who in reality are real people, feeling and doing the same things for their kids that my friends do for their married kids. You are only hurting yourselves and your own marriages. Believe me.

  50. I agree, Diane, that there can be scapegoating. But I think it works both ways. I find I will blame my ILs for things that aren’t really their fault. But I also find that I am blamed by my ILs for things I really don’t have anything to do with.

    Something that has helped me with my MIL is spending time with her alone, just me and her. It’s amazing how quickly our relationship gets complicated by just adding my husband, or my FIL, or my SIL, or any other relatives.

  51. I do have to be careful not to “look for” reasons to dislike my MIL. It’s like I want to write down all the things she does that make me feel mistreated.
    I do try really hard, though to be understanding and forgiving. Sometimes I succeed.
    It’s when everything she says sounds like she is shocked or surprised. Those comments seem to stay with me forever.
    It is hard to forget when she criticizes me to my husband. This has slowed to a stop because of my husband telling her what is what.
    It is hard to forget the crazy things she seems to say or believe. It is like living in a sitcom. You couldn’t write better lines than this.
    You can tell when someone disapproves of how you parent. Especially when they say it, but even when they don’t. Fortunately, I think after 11 years she gives me a little more credit.
    It is hard to forget that a MIL and SIL expect a girlfriend to do dishes while the son/brother sits in the living room. It is hard to live down the reputation when I actually do help even though I find it awkward to help in someone else’s kitchen.
    I have always tried to encourage us going to see her, even when my husband didn’t want to. Now I don’t want to because it was years of waking up early with the baby in a nonchildproof house with weird men living in the downstairs bedrooms. I don’t try so much anymore and I think our relationship has benefitted! When I was doing what I thought I should and how what I thought mothers should be treated it was too hard.

    I wonder about MIL “service.” Sometimes cash or gifts can be a burden on the receiver. Sometimes Sunday dinner can be an obligation that prevents a relaxing time hanging out at home.
    One of the best things I did when my parents started living near for part of the year is to go through a checklist of expectations of all kinds, especially about spending time, how often, what types of activities, etc. Everyone was looking forward to being close so it would be a shame to have people feeling like there was too much family or we didn’t get together enough, etc.

  52. My oldest (and only married) son is 33 years old now. My DIL goes out of her way to make me feel like an important part of their family life. This makes her very easy to love.

    I tried to do the same thing with my own MIL…to make her feel important, to show my respect and appreciation for her place as my husband’s mother. I didn’t always do what she said, but I did always listen with as much good grace as I could muster. My efforts paid off, too. We did just fine together over the years, and I know that she felt welcome in my home, which was very important to me.

    In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that big a sacrifice for me to put forth extra effort to befriend my MIL. While we were not at all alike and would probably not have gravitated towards each other in a group, we still had a major connection in that we both loved the man she had raised. In the end, I think I made it easy for her to love me, just as my own DIL has made it easy for me to love her.

    I know there are situations where either the MIL or the DIL is next to impossible to get along with, but I have to believe that those really severe cases are in the minority. There is much to be gained if some kind of understanding can be reached. My hope for everyone who posted a negative experience here is that they will find ways and means to help their MIL/DIL relationship improve over time.

  53. Good grief Diane. That’s an awfully specific situation you’re trying to use to beat those of us with MIL problems over the head with. Not all SIL’s and DILs who struggle with their relationships with their MILs are evil or whiny or spoiled selfish brats. Different people can be toxic in a relationship – sometimes it might be the MIL who has a toxic personality, sometimes it might be the DIL, heck – sometimes it might be the son. Expecting that every MIL/DIL relationship will be close and rosy is just silly – there are different people and personalities in play here.

    I don’t hate my MIL. I appreciate what I can, but I also realize that she will never love or even like me and I’ve decided to be o.k. with that. As I said before, I appreciate her for the love she shows my kids, and I try to be as polite and kind as I can the rest of the time.

  54. This has been a very interesting discussion. I am very lucky that I really do love my in laws. Have I ever been offended by my MIL – yes. But, like others I realized a lot of that was due to my own insecurities. Do I ever get annoyed by my ILs – yes. But, there really aren’t too many people who don’t annoy me occasionally. I have always felt loved by both my ILs and they really love my children. This makes things much easier.

    I think most people are much harder on their ILs. Things that we wouldn’t even notice coming from our parents/siblings are nitpicked and worried about from ILs. I know I was guilty of this. I “think” almost 13 years later that I have a more “balanced” views of our family. I can see the bad more in my own family and I’m more accepting of the bad from the ILs.

    I feel sad for those of you who struggle in this relationship. That would be hard and I would think it would affect your marriage too. I know I am really lucky.

  55. My MIL won me over a few weeks after we were married. She showed up on my front porch with fresh apple fritters. We sat and talked for an hour. She patted my knee and kissed my head when she left. At first I thought she was treating me special because I married her only son, but then I learned that she treated everyone with affection, love and acceptance. For me the physical affection meant so much because I didn’t come from an affectionate family. I feel bad for all the MIL who miss out because they offer advice instead of acceptance and criticism instead of encouragement. I’m a MIL now. Sometimes I embarrass myself and my SIL by kissing his head.

  56. Ditto to what Sue said.

    There are so many personality issues at play that it is impossible to categorize these in-law (out-law?) relationships.

    I have to let things go or else I’d have my feelings bent out of shape way too often. I hate drama, so I find this strategy much easier.

  57. I think one piece of this puzzle that hasn’t been addressed is how our own relationships with our mothers affects our relationships with our MILs. I am blessed to have a wonderful MIL, but she is different than my mom. Before I had kids I had no trouble appreciating the differences between my mom and my MIL. I was able to talk to them about different things that were going on in my life and also get different advice. After the kids came along, I found myself frustrated with my MIL because she parented differently than I did (I am my mother’s daughter). Once I learned to appreciate those differences, things are easier. She is a busy woman with a job, a busy church calling, and teenagers at home. She doesn’t have time to sit down and play with the grandkids, but she does have the opportunity to give them WHATEVER they want (good or bad). My mom, on the other hand, enjoys having the kids come for the day so she can play with them. Once I decided that my MIL loves my kids just as much as I do and is doing what she defines as a fun grandma, it was easier to overlook our differences.

    I also have to say that the few times I have been really frustrated with my MIL, she always suprises me and makes me realize that there was a miscommunication. For example, we were going to my ILs house for dinner every Sunday and it started to wear on me. I started to complain to my husband that I wanted our family to have Sunday dinner together, but she called every Saturday and I felt the pressure to go. Once my husband and I decided to openly tell them we were only going to come a couple times a month, her reply was “That would work great for me because then I can get stuff done for my calling the other weeks.” She felt pressure to invite us. We were both trying to please each other.

  58. I have two mother-in-laws because my husband’s father is remarried. I was feeling sad that we will again have no family for Thanksgiving. I find it too difficult to travel long distances now with my baby, three other young children, and an extremely old car.
    I also felt sad that neither one of my mother-in-laws reliably knows the name of my children or even the gender of my baby.
    After hearing all of the difficulties that others have suffered, I am now more grateful. I would love to have a close and supportive relationship with them, but at least they are not unkind or overbearing.
    We do live “a state away” but that does not stop surprise visits. My father-in-law and step mother-in-law sometimes drop by without notice when they come to visit her family who live in my state.
    My own family is a few states away and I see them rarely. I wish that I could be with them more, but they don’t like to take off work or travel.
    Distance is nice in some ways, our family certainly has privacy. On the other hand, we have no help with the kids, or help when I have a baby. In the seven years that I have been a mother, I have never spent one night away from my children (except when I am in the hospital giving birth). I would love to get a break someday, even just for a day, and have a mother-in-law or mother show more interest in my children.

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