Joining your spouse’s family may mean navigating difficult relationships, especially with their mother. Whether you want to have a positive relationship from the start or you’re currently working through difficulties, it’s possible to get along with your mother-in-law. Treat your mother-in-law with respect and kindness. Involve your spouse, especially if there’s conflict. Get comfortable with compromising and being firm when necessary, especially if you live with your mother-in-law.
Method 1 of 3:
Making the Most of Your Interactions
Put yourself in a positive mindset when you see her. When you’re about to see your mother-in-law, get into a positive mindset. Turn on your friendliness and kindness, even if it feels a bit forced. If you approach the situation from a positive standpoint, it may turn out better than expected.
For example, if you’re driving to her home, smile in the car on the ride over and think of nice things to talk about together. One you see her, smile, greet her, and show her respect, affection, and warmth.
Ask questions to get to know her. Just like you, your mother-in-law cares about the person you’ve married and you’re a part of each other’s lives through your spouse. Take some time to ask her questions about her life. Show an interest in who she is and what she does. Ask her about her activities and converse about things she finds interesting. As you begin to ask questions, you’ll start to feel more connected.
Ask for the recipe of a cake that she bakes that you love. Ask her how she found balancing work and child-raising. Ask her all sorts of things under the sun that allow her to talk about herself.
A good way to bond is to ask her about your spouse’s childhood. She may have endearing or funny stories to share.
If you need help, ask your spouse to prep you on things to talk about or facilitate pleasant conversations between you and their mother.
Respond politely to her. Treat your mother-in-law with respect and consideration because she’s part of your family. Even if your mother-in-law is being difficult, make an effort to respond in a polite and kind manner. Being polite is not the same as putting up with difficult interactions; it is about not responding negatively or in a hurtful way.
Don’t criticize her in front of your spouse. It’s not fair to put your spouse between you and your mother-in-law.
If you live with your mother-in-law, make an effort to interact in a positive way, even if you disagree or aren’t getting along. Ask your spouse for some help if needed, like speaking to her on your behalf.
Be a united front with your spouse. Show your mother-in-law that you and your spouse are united as partners and parents. When speaking to your mother-in-law, speak to her together. Having your spouse back you up can help things go smoothly and can make you feel supported. Even if your spouse remains neutral between you and their mother, it can be beneficial to have them there and hear your interactions.
Ask for your spouse’s opinions or thoughts without putting them in the middle of you and your mother-in-law.
If you have a conflict with your mother-in-law, invite your spouse to talk to her about it.
Give her grandparent privileges. If your kids get spoiled when they go over to her house, let it be. Some grandparents give grandkids treats and surprises and this can help build a positive relationship with your kids. Even if you’re not crazy about the sugar rush, remind yourself that it’s important for your kids to have a relationship with their grandmother and it won’t affect their health in the long run.
If you pick your kids up from grandma’s house and they’re wired from sugar or from not sleeping, remember that this doesn’t happen every day. Let your mother-in-law spoil your kids a little.
If her privileges get out of hand (with extravagant gifts, for example), gently talk to her and let her know she can dial it back and the kids will still be pleased. You can approach her with your spouse for moral support.
You may want to remind your children that their grandmother’s house is a special place. What happens there doesn’t necessarily have to happen at home.
Remember that difficulties may not be personal. Conflicts with your spouse’s mother-in-law are not uncommon, unfortunately. It can be difficult to navigate family relations, especially if your spouse is close to their mother. Remember that it’s not a competition. While your spouse didn’t choose his mother, he did choose you as a spouse.
Remember, your mother-in-law may never think anyone is good enough for her child and this may have nothing to do with you.
Talk to your spouse about difficulties with your mother-in-law and get their opinion about the situation. For example, you might be relieved to hear that you’re experiencing cultural differences with your mother-in-law and not a personal problem.
Method 2 of 3:
Working Through Difficulties
Come up with solutions with your spouse. Telling your spouse is vital; if your spouse has no idea how you’re feeling, they may put you in situations you’d rather not be in. Find an opportune time to sit down together and talk through the issues in a calm way. Let them know what’s bothering you and what you’d like them to do about it. Your spouse may be better suited to talk to their mother for you.
Don’t be surprised if your spouse refuses to “take sides”. They love both of you, so taking sides can put them in a difficult situation.
Ask your spouse to talk to their mother about things that bother you. She might take the discussion better when it come from their own child.
Respect her different viewpoints. Even if you don’t agree with what she has to say, listen to your mother-in-law. Don’t immediately write off what she has to say. Hear her out (even if you feel it’s ridiculous) and let her know you’re listening. You don’t have to agree to anything.
Respond neutrally by saying, “Okay, I’ll consider that” or, “Thanks for your input.”
If she puts you in a difficult position, defer to your spouse. Say, “I don’t want to answer right away. Let me talk to my spouse first.”
Use humor. Deflecting criticism or other awkward interaction with humor can deflate conflicts and put everyone at ease again. Whether the situation seems tense or she’s making things difficult, a little humor can go a long way.
For example, if your mother-in-law is complaining about the weather, reply with “Well, at least it means we don’t have to sit indoors complaining about how cold it is!”
Work through your own feelings about your mother-in-law. Are you able to put yourself in her shoes occasionally and see just where some of her so-called interfering or judgmental behavior comes from? She values the person you’re married to, so there must be something good inside her!
Keep in mind that whatever your feelings, your mother-in-law remains one of the most important people in your spouse’s life. Be sure it’s not your own untamed jealousy causing problems.
If your relationship with your mother is strained or difficult, consider if that is affecting your relationship with your mother-in-law. Remember that they are different people, and you can have a different relationship with each one.
Method 3 of 3:
Living with Your Mother-in-Law
Create some ground rules. If you live with your mother-in-law, establish some ground rules for living together. If you know there are things that might cause conflict, talk about them beforehand and make sure everyone understands the rules and why they are in place.
For example, tell your mother-in-law that the children do not eat sugar past a certain time and that she is not to give them any before bed.
Set the ground rules with your spouse and present them to your mother-in-law together.
If it is your mother-in-law’s house, respect her rules and authority in her home. If the home belongs to you and your spouse, make sure she understands how you like to run your home.
Make compromises. You and your mother-in-law will inevitably disagree on certain things, especially when living together. Choose your battles and decide what things you can tolerate and what things you need to be firm about.
Especially if you have children, your mother-in-law may have ideas about parenting, education, activities, even the way your children dress. Hear your mother-in-law out and accommodate her when you can.
If you’re firm in something, say so. Tell her, “I hear what you’re saying, but for now, I’d like to enforce this at home.”
Create mutually-agreed boundaries. Both you and your mother-in-law may enjoying having your own space and ways of doing things. Ask your mother-in-law how you might make her comfortable in the home while enforcing your own needs and desires. As long as your boundaries don’t conflict, try to respect her space and independence.
For example, your mother-in-law may be comfortable helping pay for groceries, but she may not want to hand over control of her money. Respect this request by establishing ahead of time what she can contribute monthly to the household budget.
Look for the good she does and praise it. Look for the good things about her, not just the bad. If she’s always cleaning despite you telling her not to, thank her for her care and contribution. Find the positive ways she adds to your life, your partner’s life, and even your kids’ lives. If possible, do this in her presence and be genuine.
If she buys you and your family things, say, “Thank you, that was thoughtful of you.”
Talk about how she makes you feel. If you’re in conflict with your mother-in-law and it’s not resolving over time or on its own, it’s time to talk about it. If she tends to criticize your marriage or your parenting, let her know how this makes you feel. Be kind and honest and tell her what you’d like instead. Aim to find resolutions to your problems.
Do your best not to accuse her or blame her. Instead, share how you feel using “I” statements. For example, say, “I feel undermined when you say in front of my spouse and kids that I’m not a good parent. Even if we disagree, please respect my parenting.”
You can get your spouse involved to provide a different perspective. They can also talk to her on your behalf.
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