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Mother-in-law Problems

Mother-in-law Problems

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Dear Rachel,

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.

Renee S.
Brooklyn, NY

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 be helpful. 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 terribly?

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 will 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 choice.

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 best!

"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (61)
September 19, 2014
Difficult MIL
The good way to handle your MIL is to put her in her place. She has none. She ever complains or criticizes you, shut her down by isolating her and giving her and her entourage no response. Ever! Not responding to her rants and her associates is the best way to get rid of her. Please, make sure your husband is on the same page with you. After that, just ignore her, like she ignores your when you pleaded with her for many, many years. Time to give her her medicine.
Anonymous
June 1, 2014
Your answer is unjust; "high and mighty" mentality
Well, you are not being fair. It is very disappointing. Mothers-in-law, having been able to raise children already, should always show GOOD CHARACTER to daughters-in-law. It is them who should welcome daughters-in-law with loving kindness. Not arrogance and a demonstration of how excellent they are in running a home and raising children. Every family should be independent. The wife must be the queen of the home. The mother-in-law should stay at the background and respect the authority of the daughter-in-law. Uh- they just feel competition and always hungry for power and authority. They just want to be in command - very egoistic. Even if these people are surrounded with love and attention, it's their character and if it is your character, there is no chance - it's sickness without cure. I say to everyone - independence is true joy!
Rebekkah Amida
USA
February 12, 2014
You Have Been Unfair To The Daughter In Law

What if we did a reverse of roles, and tell the daughter in law to go to the mother in law's space and territory and tell her what she finds wrong. How would that be? Would you then say it is okay for the daughter in law to criticze the moyther in law? We could say the same for the daughter in that maybe she means well and the mother in law should not be so sensitive. Then tell the mother in law to put herself in the daughter in law's shoes and accept the criticism from the daughter in law, because she married the mother in law's son.
Your article was not kind to daughters in law and I hope that these young wives will be strong and seek advice from their mothers and their sisters. Seems like the world tries to shame young wives and tell them to allow whatever is dished out to them.
I am still looking for an article somewhere, that supports the emotionally and verbally abused daughters in law. We need more people who know about fairness and respect to speak up for females.
Zaylee
USA
February 12, 2014
MIL does not trust me
My MIL does not trust me with anything, not even that I can take care of my children, We live in a big joint family of 10 people.
she wants my co-sister to take care of my children. She is very happy when my children are around her (co-sister). My MIL snatches my younger kid who is hardly 16 months old from me and hands baby over to my co-sister ! I cannot tolerate this. Everyday I have to fight over these things while my husband is least bothered over these things who dismisses saying all these are too trivial matters in life blah blah.. Please suggest.
Anonymous
B'lore
February 1, 2014
I have been living with my in-laws (MIL, FIL, bro-in-law and co-sister) for 11yrs. The problem is that my MIL and co-sister are very close and keep me away from everything in the house including my children. I am a working lady and I have employed a maid to look after my younger kid who is just 15 months old. But my MIL makes my co-sister look after the kid. My child is becoming more and more attached to my co-sister than me since she is not working and at home all the time. The really gets to my nerves. What do I do? If I bring up this topic with my husband he says all this happens in a joint family and shrugs it off. Please help. I am not ready to quit my job.
Anonymous
Bangalore
January 3, 2014
problem with mother in law
i am married for 4 years. and i am facing lot of problems with my mom in law. she thinks that she is always right. every day she is screaming at me like anything.she insults me infront of other relatives and family memebers. My co sister is staying seperately with her husband, before she was very gud with me, but she got to know that my mom in law hates me , she became close to my mom in law, and stuffing all bad opinions about me in her mind. i struck up with these 2 ladies.
aruna
bangalore
December 20, 2013
Be Respectful To Daughter In Law
Rachael, it is not wise to tell a young wife that she must listen to her mother in law and allow her to tell her how to run her household. Remember, the daughter in law has her own mother who she listens to.

This is very unwise and I need to encourage you to not take the mother in law's side. Do not tell the daughter in law to worry about her husband's mother. The daughter in law has another mess on her shoulder, with the husband pulling on her, meals, and clean laundry, then she has to worry about her children crying for attention and food.

The last thing we should tell the young wife to worry about is, mother in law.These women have no control over their daughter in law and her household and her family situations.
The mother in law cannot dominate nor control the daughter in law, her house, or her child rearing techniques. Daughters in law, do not owe anything to these out of control inlaws.
Zaylee
Georgia
December 14, 2013
Troubles with mil
I have been married for 3 years and I have a very nice caring husband and we are staying with my in laws.My MIL controls her only son( my husband ) and her husband( my DIL) . Both of them listen to her . even if I want to buy some ornaments for my daughter( 2 year old) , my husband says that " ok , i will go with my mother and buy" . My husband runs a tuition center and every year he takes all his students and goes for trips and vacations . he also takes his mother and always asks me to come and when i get ready, he would put in a list of problems that could arise and finally asks me not to come."I have always found my MIL to be very cunning sort of person and very manipulative.
Anonymous
india
May 30, 2013
not a great advice by author
In response to the original post and possibly many others: If you feel like your mother in law is treating you in a degrading manner, she most likely is. Listen to your gut instincts. What helped me with my mother in law problem the most was a book called In sheep's clothing by George Simon (he also has a blog). My opinion all mother in laws dislike the fact that they're no longer the mom, the leading lady... Some mother in laws then go an start attacking the cause (you). Don't make the mistake of feeling sorry for such attacker because you think they're insecure or scared. They choose to manipulate and degrade you. This works very well on people who consider themselves a good and reasonable person - sound like someone you know? Yea, me too...
homemakermom
November 3, 2012
unable to cope with in laws
not married.in a permanent relationship and have child with him.my mil passes now female in his mother family took over.he runs her family bussiness and are in "bussiness partnership".every female in the family is involvelved with him.he share and interacts with the female more than the males.
anonimous
zimbabwe
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