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Mother-in-law Problems

Mother-in-law Problems


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 and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous USA December 1, 2015

Yet again, another mean and cruel doctrine against wives! People, please do not scold these, grown, big girl, adult daughters in law for their decisions about their homes and their children. This is stepping over boundaries. Adult women are not children and they are not property if the mother in law! They are Mothers in law have no rights in the daughter's in law's household.
Someone started this notion that a mother in law can say/do whatever she wants at the daughter in law's and son's home. But this is wrong.
No young wife needs to worry about and then justify her decisions anything in her own home and with her own children. No daughter in law should ever be so afraid of her husband to the point of allowing him to be mean to her and take his mother's side. Once you allow him to disrespect you, he will continue. So stop him now.
Most important, I love my grandparents very much, but any grandparents who are going to be ugly and rude, then the family can do without their visits. Reply

Krystle November 30, 2015

You should not encourage someone to allow a grandparent to violate her role as GRANDparent...not parent. She need not be critical. If you've told her to stop and she doesn't, then SHE is the problem. Reply

Anonymous USA November 10, 2015

As a grandparent, you have no control over your grandchildren. Don't criticize or give advice to your daughter in law. She has her own mother. She gets her advice from her mom.

Then learn how to speak to people in a respectful way. Be humble and be grateful that your adult children even allow you spend time with their children, they do not have to invite you into their home. And maybe they are defensive, because you say disrespectful things to them. Grandparents really are not needed, in order for parents to successfully raise their babies. This us a myth. They do not owe you anything. You should not think that way or have such a mean attitude about your adult children. But it is just nice to invite the grandparents. They will respect you if you respect that they are adults in their own home. Reply

Anonymous Israel November 10, 2015

Response from Savta There is another side to this story. In our family, my daughter and son-in-law are so defensive, that we don't get to enjoy our grandchildren. The 2 year old doesn't know we are her grandparents and when we called to wish the 9 year old happy birthday, they wouldn't pick up the phone. Just a generation ago, children didn't have grandparents because of the holocaust. Having grandparents is a zchut of our generation. Lets not throw it away. Is it worthwhile for children to not have a relationship with their grandparents because their parents feel threatened? Maybe they need to look at the situation in a more positive light and realize that their children can benefit from grandparents love. It adds, it doesn't take away. Reply

Jean USA January 7, 2015

Respect Young wives should not take disrespect from their husband's mother. Your home is not her home and she has no control over you or it. She needs to go to her own daughter's house if she needs to give someone some advice. Reply

Anonymous USA January 6, 2015

Interesting article. I was drawn to it, because I too have an overly critical mother in law. In addition to being critical, she is extremely controlling. Before I married my husband I made it clear that he had to take an honest look at his mother, and promise me that he could truly be head of our household, and not concede power to his mother. He fought me but I told the truth until he listened. He began to stand up to his mother, so I married him.

I brought our newborn baby home a couple days ago, and his family visited our new son. My mother in law could simply not stop. Things like the child had socks on his hands to avoid getting further scratches on his face, or I changed diapers on the pack and play changing table instead of the bed were topics she was opposed to. I said, "He's fine." or "This works." And I moved on. She upset me greatly so I told my husband. My husband made sure he was present on the next visit, and he defended me. Now visits are much more pleasant. Reply

Anonymous USA November 10, 2014

Wives Need To Put Their Foot Down If young female wives would learn how to stand up to their husbands and put their foot down, they would get more respect.

Mothers in law have no right or say so over a daughter in law or her home and children and it takes a female who loves herself and has high self esteem to speak up to the mother in law. If she wants to boss someone, tell her to visit her own daughter. No woman has any power in another woman's home, I don't who she is, her power is nil in another woman's house and the husband needs to do the right thing and support his wife or go away. Reply

May myanmar November 10, 2014

I don't like the top answer.Mother have the first pirority to take care of her children. Reply

Zay USA October 26, 2014

Not right or role of a mothe in law. A husband must tell their mothers not to bother or try to control his wife. That is not ther right. Reply

Anonymous October 25, 2014

This answer is absurd. '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 its not going to kill the kid, a mom shouldn't have to justify anything to a MIL. They raised their children. Why can't they just enjoy their grandchildren without tormenting their DILs? Have fun with the kids and stop sucking the life out of people with the relentless nitpicking and constant contradiction no matter how good your intentions are. Reply

Anonymous October 6, 2014

Please don't attack husbands in general. Or wives in general. People aren't perfect. The home is not a wife's home or a husband's home. It's a family's home. The parents run the home and parent the children together. People are entitled to their opinions but be supportive of each other. Whoever makes the decision first, mother or father, the other parent must support the decision in front of the child / MIL unless it is life-threatening.

Don't keep the children from the grandparents unless they harm them. Let them visit the grandparents even if they aren't allowed in your home. You don't have to go but it's better if you do... it's easier for you to leave early than push the MIL out. Set the example for your children that you are able to deal politely with conflict so they will have the confidence to do so themselves. Reply

Zaylee USA September 20, 2014

When a husband does not support his wife, he is not being a good husband. Husbands would want their wives to protect them from any of her relatives that were unkind.

Why are husbands that way? Reply

Zay USA September 19, 2014

I am not a cruel person, but a husband must respect his wife as the queen of her home/castle. If he is not supportive of her, then she will need to make decisions for herself regardless of his feelings. A man must respect his wife as a wife of her home. He must be man enough to tell his mom that she is being hurtful to his wife.

If she does not follow the wife's and husband's rules for their home and children, then do not allow her to,enter your home. When your husband goes to visit her, he can go alone while you and your children stay at home.

Stand up for yourself and do not be pushed around in your own territory. Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

Rebekkah Amida USA 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! Reply

Zaylee 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. Reply

Anonymous B'lore 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. Reply

Anonymous Bangalore 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. Reply

Anonymous May 18, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

The child is going to get attached to the person that is caring for the child . Co sis or the maid . But I think ur mil wants ur co sis to look after the baby because she trust her more than the maid . She believes ur co sis will be more loving and caring . Personally speaking no job is worth leaving my kids next to Anybody . I'm blessed to enjoy those moments with them especially at such a young age . Reply

aruna 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. Reply

Zaylee Georgia 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. Reply