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Dealing with Mother-in-Law Conflicts

Terms of Endearment

My husband and I are young, both in our early twenties. We have a six-month-old daughter, whom we adore. My problem concerns my mother-in-law. She used to have a lot of control over our lives when we were younger. In fact, we all got along great until my daughter came along. My mother-in-law had hoped that we would all continue to be "close" (in other words, she would be in control) after my daughter was born. My husband and I are trying to establish our own, independent lives as adults, and she is making it very difficult. She constantly complains she doesn't get to see the baby often enough. This is creating a lot of strain in my marriage. How can we politely let her know that we love her, but that things are different now because we are "grown up?" We tried talking to her once but she was extremely offended.

Family Matters

Any time you need to hash something out with an in-law (especially your mother-in-law), arrange to have the talk in a neutral setting: At the park, in a restaurant, during a walk around the neighborhood. If possible, try to settle differences while you're both doing something enjoyable.

Don't Go There

Police in Los Angeles had some luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn't control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man to repeat the words, "Give me all your money or I'll shoot," the man shouted, "That's not what I said!" The moral of the story? Watch what you say when you explain your feelings to your in-laws, especially your mother-in-law. Make sure you don't reveal too much.

Even though your mother-in-law may not be a ray of sunshine, let's assume her motives are pure. By doing so, you've created a "win-win" situation rather than a "take-no-prisoners" one.

The growth of children into adulthood can be very hard for some parents. But this is a necessary evolution, and one that parents must encourage, rather than hinder. Regretfully, some mothers-in-law don't realized how important it is for new parents to create their family unit.

If you're in this situation and have already tried talking to your mother-in-law, perhaps you could confide in someone your mother-in-law respects, and ask him or her to enlighten her. She may be extremely offended, but until she can let you be grown-ups in charge of your own family, she may not be a welcome part of your lives. Even if you don't appreciate her choice of words, you can still thank your mother-in-law for her concern. Reassure her that you will ask for her input if and when you feel you are at a dead end. You might say, "Endora, I care for you ("love" might be stretching it) and I appreciate your concern. But the best way for us to be close is for you to let me do things my own way." Make it clear that you still want her to be involved with your family, but it has to be on your terms, not hers.

Talk Soup

Now comes the cherry on the cupcake, the prize in the box of Crackerjacks: Communication. I left this method for last because while it's usually the most effective, it can also be the most difficult. That's why you need help. And who better to call on than your spouse? After all, it is his or her mother.

You and your spouse should talk to your mother-in-law, as a couple, and make your concerns clear. Set aside a time and place to talk when everyone involved feels relaxed. If this is impossible, go for the least stressful situations. Don't confront your mother-in-law at a wedding, funeral, or big sale day at the mall. At least stack the deck in everyone's favor.

Fight the urge to run down a list of your mother-in-law's annoying traits. Instead, start with something positive, such as, "Mom, I know you mean well, but it really bothered me when (pick one) you ignored my instructions for the children/had Spot neutered/moved into our house as a surprise." (All these examples are true. And please don't send me your tales of woe, guaranteed to curl my hair. My hair's already frizzy.)

Go into the talk with an open mind and give your mother-in-law a chance to explain herself. You may be surprised at her reasons for doing what she did. If you're not, at least she's been given the chance to explain her side of the situation. Clearing the air often leaves everyone feeling more satisfied, even if major problems remain unsettled. This paves the way for later resolutions and compromises.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dealing with In-Laws © 1998 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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