Dealing with Mother-in-Law Conflicts

These tips can help you prepare yourself for any conflict with your mother-in-law.

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Dealing with Mother-in-Law Conflicts

"I can't do anything without my mother-in-law second-guessing me," Marjorie said. "She sees me wearing a pink dress and tells me I would look thinner in black. I put a sweater on my son and she insists he needs his winter coat. If I cook with butter, she gives me a lecture about cholesterol. She's always telling me what to do. I'm nearly 40 years old and she treats me like I'm a child. Besides, I have my own mother to nag me. I certainly don't need another nagmeister."

Does this description fit your mother-in-law? Does she offer unsolicited advice on any and all problems, even things that she has had no experience with at all? Does she see herself as an expert on everything from the Elbonia currency to zebra breeding? If so, you may have the "know-it-all" mother-in-law dilemma.

These mothers-in-law share the following characteristics:

  • They think they know more than you do. Much more.

  • As a result, they offer "recommendations." A lot of them.

  • They don't respect the laws of time and space.

  • Therefore, they offer their advice anywhere: In your home, in their home, at family gatherings, shopping malls, political rallies -- you name it.

  • Their voices usually carry from here to Guam. They like to give everyone the benefit of their unsolicited advice.

  • They actually believe they are helping you.

  • They usually have a need to control. Sort of like a combination of Catherine the Great, Atilla the Hun, and Roseanne.

It's All Relative

The traditional Navaho Indian mother-in-law wore bell earrings to make her whereabouts known so that her son-in-law could avoid her. Some of today's mothers-in-law, however, are as covert as a Stealth bomber -- and just as deadly. I should know; my husband has one.

What makes this situation especially tricky is the sobering fact that these buttinsky mothers-in-law sometimes really do know more than you do. In more instances than we might want to admit, their advice is solid. After all, they have had years of experience coping with the problems that face newlyweds: Settling money issues, furnishing a home, allocating responsibilities fairly, applying heat to food. In addition, they have often dealt with the problems of marriage veterans: Being the second wife, dealing with step-children, and balancing a career and marriage. So you interfering mothers-in-law, don't give up hope yet. We can reach an amicable compromise here. I promise. First, let's hear from my friend Elizabeth:

Family Matters

Don't fret if you're not fast on your feet when it comes to witty repartee. When you're dealing with an irate or intrusive mother-in-law, you don't get any points for the snappy comeback. You're better off waiting until everyone has cooled off to initiate a dialogue.

Elizabeth's mother-in-law went beyond giving unsolicited advice and actually interfered. "Our two daughters spent the weekend with my mother-in-law while my husband and I went out of town," she explained. "Grandma has the tendency to spoil our kids, and they already have plenty of toys, so we specifically told her to not buy anything for them that weekend. When we got back Sunday night, the first thing our daughters did was show us the new doll house Grandma bought them. I was so mad I could barely speak."

What could Elizabeth do in this situation? What can you do when your mother-in-law criticizes you or interferes with your family structure? How can you discourage unwanted suggestions without having a big confrontation? Try the following three methods or select the ones that best suit your situation, style, and mother-in-law. Each method will leave you and your mother-in-law feeling well-treated.

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