My mother in law is constantly criticizing me and my ability to parent. No matter what I do she makes a comment, and often in front of other people. If I
give my child a cookie she will say, “Don’t you think he has had too much sugar today?” and yet, if I don’t, she will snap, “Do you really think it is fair not
to give him one when the other kids are having one?” I can’t win. What should I
do when we are out in public and this happens? So far I have chosen to stay
silent, but I feel like I am about to burst.
And you probably will. If you continue to be the silent martyr, smiling as
you feel that your mother in law is berating you, you may end up eventually
saying (or screaming) something that you will regret.
The first thing is to consider that while you are interpreting her behavior
and comments as critical, there is the possibility that she is really trying to
While she may seem threatening or powerful to you, in truth, you most likely seem those very things to her
Sometimes we are quick to feel that someone is out to get us, when
in truth, all they are looking for is an opportunity to feel needed and wanted.
I’m not saying that this is the case in your situation, but it is always
something to consider.
Let’s put ourselves in her shoes for a moment. You are married to her son.
You are the mother of her grandchildren. Basically, you have a major role in the
lives of those most important to her. While she may seem threatening or powerful
to you, in truth, you most likely seem those very things to her.
I would be curious to know how you react to her suggestions. Do you roll your
eyes, bite your tongue and walk away? Do you stay silent but make it clear that
they were not appreciated? Do you smile and do what she says but resent her
There is the Torah concept discussed in the Ethics of Our Fathers, that we have an obligation "to judge everyone favorably" -- basically, to always give one the benefit of the doubt (Avot 1:6). So in this case, let’s say that she really does want to help, that she really does want what is best for her grandchildren. Maybe she doesn’t know the best way to approach it, but that is her intention.
If you could view her comments as her desire to be helpful, and take them seriously and with consideration, she may not always feel the need to say
something. I would try responding to her when she says something with, for example, “Really, you think it would be better if I didn’t…” or “What do you
think I should give him instead?” Let her be part of the solution. Put it on her
to help figure out then what to do when your kid is screaming because he didn’t
get the cookie, or when he won’t eat his dinner an hour later because he did.
Another option is to kindly explain to her why you made the decision you
made. If you're convinced that you made the right decision, there is no need to
be defensive. So you can simply explain, “Usually I would let him have a cookie
with the other kids, but today he has had so much candy and if he eats any more
Let her be part of the solution
not only will he be up all night, but he will get a terrible stomach ache.” Or,
“I don’t always give him cookies for a treat, but today he was so especially
good that he really deserves it!”
Problems arise not so much because of what you say but, because of how you
say it. If you are confident about your parenting abilities and decision making,
then you can calmly and warmly justify your choices without sounding annoyed or
upset. If you trust how you parent, that will come across, and others
naturally come to trust how you parent as well. But if you become reactive, then
your behavior will appear erratic and defensive as opposed to a carefully made
Ultimately, you are your children’s mother, you have the final word, and most
likely everyone knows that. But your mother in law is their grandmother, and I
would guess she adores and loves your children and wants what is best for them.
While this is easier said than done, when she makes her comments try to focus on
the idea that her desire is to help them, as opposed to criticizing you. If you
can start to see her words as an expression of love and not ill will, you will
most likely be able to either consider that perhaps she is correct, or when she
is not, to be able to explain to her that while her comments are coming from the
right place, you feel that what is truly best for the children is something
else. And you are the one to decide that. For as everyone knows, mother knows