Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Standing Up to a Critical Mother-in-Law

Dear Dr. Bill:
As I approach my 40th birthday, I'm starting to feel like I want more respect from my mother-in-law, who's been mistreating me for the last 15 years. I could give you numerous examples of how she's been rude, critical and outright hostile to me — often right in front of my husband and our 4 kids. When I've asked my husband why he doesn't stand up for me or confront his mother about her behavior, he says, "I know my mom is mean, but that's just the way she is. Try to ignore it." He doesn't feel like anything can be done to change his mother. I'm wondering what you think — should I just accept this treatment? Or do I or my husband need to confront her? And how should we do it?

—Wendy


Dear Wendy:

I received an e-mail very similar to yours about a year ago, and my advice is pretty much the same. God provides us with a model for successful marriage relationships in the Bible. In Genesis 2, He tells us that a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. Jesus repeats this command in the Gospel of Matthew.

The word "cleave" means to be united as one flesh and to establish a new family unit, separate from the family of origin. In order for a marriage to be successful, that new family unit needs to take priority over the husband's family and the wife's family.

Your mother-in-law has no right to treat you with such disrespect. Your husband has a responsibility to you and your children to step up to the plate and defend you. But from your description, either he's afraid of his mom or simply doesn't want to rock the boat. I suggest you make a date with your husband, and tell him you have some important things to discuss, away from the kids. Lovingly and patiently explain that you've had it with your mother-in-law's mean-spirited attacks and criticism, and that it's time for both of you to start setting some firm boundaries with her. Explain that you can't do this alone and that you are counting on his support.

If he agrees, the two of you should sit down with his mom and let her know that things are going to be different in your relationship from this point forward. Your husband should take the lead in this conversation, and tell his mom that her constant criticism of you hurts him deeply and that he is no longer going to accept it. He should make it clear that unless she can make a genuine effort to change her attitude and behavior, she will no longer be welcome in your home.

Based on your e-mail, I'm guessing that your mother-in-law may react in anger, or she may play the martyr role and attempt to make you and your husband feel guilty for confronting her. Stand your ground and refuse to be manipulated.

Unless your mother-in-law is willing to admit her faults and make some significant changes in her behavior, I believe you may also want to consider limiting the amount of time she spends with your children. Ask yourself this: Is it truly in their best interest to be spending time with a woman who is so hostile and demeaning? Perhaps her desire to see her grandchildren will motivate her to examine her attitude and her behavior, but based on your description, I'm not holding my breath.

If your husband doesn't have the courage to back you up and confront his mom, I suggest that you seek the assistance of a family therapist. That will send a strong signal to your husband that you are dead serious about this issue.

source: http://www.family.org/fmedia/askdrbill/a0038177.cfm

4 Comments:

Blogger Nisha said...

Dear Dr. Bill,

This is more of a question rather than a comment. I am also going through some problems with my Mother-in-Law, for the past 10 years my mother-in-law has been mistreating our family. The only difference is that from the outside she is very quiet and holy, but from the inside she is doing things to hurt our family and mistreats us. It all started when I was pregnant with our first born, The day I found out that I am having a daughter we were ecstatic, but her answer was, "Oh I only like Boys" From there onwards, she has been mistreating my daughter over my two nephews. She will sing and teach and hold my nephews, give extra attention to them, but non for my daughter. It is also the same with us and her older son and wife. She will always be there for them, help them around always one step ahead, but she never helps us willingly it is more like forcing her to help us or be with us. When I explain this to her she tells me no it's not like that! No I never do that.. These are her words. She left her husband and came to babysit my brother-in-laws children and stayed there for more than 10 years, Now I have a 6 years old and a 2 year old and I desperatly needs to go to work but she does not want to babysit and help us out. Anytime we ask her to come over she will come but if she spents an extra day with us she will make sure she takes that day off from the next visit. Everything with her is like that. When concerning us. She goes everywhere my in-laws go. If we ask her to come with us to go to cottage, or a party, her answer is I'll see.. then closer to the date she will say she cannot come. It really hurts our feelings when she does this. Even is she comes she comes because she doesn't want to get caught with what she is doing.. just once in a while she will come so later on she can say.. you are wrong.. look I came with you guys for this etc. Just to cover her case!! My husband is well aware of the situation of how she favors her oldest son and family. Because of her acts we are also not in talking terms anymore. My husband and I have had numorous arguments regarding this issue. One minute he supports me then months later when something happens, he will come back and bite me. The newest delema is that she always spents christmas with our family and new years with her older son, today she drops a bomb shell saying that she will be spending both holidays with her older son. I don't know what to do right now. I want to cut all ties with her and go on with my life. I am afraid that my husband will take this to his heart and start an argument with me, it can go either way.. he might agree and later he will come back months later. Please give me your advise, What does God says about mother-in-laws who mistreat their children, mother-in-laws who have double standards? The funny part is that she never misses church!!

Thank You,

Tamara

7:58 PM  
Blogger Nisha said...

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7:59 PM  
Blogger Nisha said...

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