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How to Deal with Your Mother-In-Law

by Debbie Mandel

Just the word, mother-in-law, fills the heart with trepidation and self-doubt. This woman has assumed mythic proportions wielding criticism, guilt and coldness. When she visits, you feel like the inspector general has marched into your home. When she interacts with the children, she is evaluating their manners, academic performance and fitness – tracing it all back to you!

However, in reality you can dramatically improve the situation simply by changing the premise underlying the relationship - two women in love with the same man. Now, all the conflicts and criticisms make sense. Next, let your mother-in-law know that she occupies the primary spot in her son’s heart and always will - after all she is his mother.

Then you need to stop licking your wounds and spring into action. Change the habitual responses and stick to neutral territory. Here are some suggestions to befriend your mother-in-law thereby making your husband and children happier:

  • Have a sense of humor - See your life as a sit-com. Look at it from a distance.You laugh at the TV comedy, Everyone Loves Raymond, particularly Marie and Debra’s relationship; try to see the humor in your own relationship with your mother-in-law. Humor goes a long way to defuse hostility.
  • Break the pattern of criticism - When your mother-in-law criticizes you, listen calmly for a few minutes then distract her by changing the topic, pulling out some photos of the children, new make-up or a magazine about a subject she’s interested in like gardening, golf or shopping. Get her into grandma mode by having your children sing, perform or show an award they received.
  • Reinterpret negatives into positives - Anything can be reinterpreted! Be creative and release the anger. Practice it so often that it becomes a reflex action. For example, if your mother-in-law doesn’t even refer to you by your name, if you don’t even merit a “hey, you,” then reinterpret to, “She’s being sensitive to my needs. It is awkward for her as I am not her daughter. So rather than confront me or offend me, she avoids calling me anything.”
  • Affirm your mother-in-law. Compliment the qualities you want to reinforce. Wouldn’t you do this with your child or pet? You don’t want to comment on bad behavior and create the self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Schedule one-on-one time around her interests to do something fun together: a day at the spa, lunch and shopping, visit the new exhibit. Get to know her on a personal level and bond. Ask about her dreams, her career and her past. Knowledge is power!
  • Be patient and lower your expectations. Don’t envision an immediate transformation or a Kodak moment of love. You can expect mutual respect and loyalty. One step at a time. It took my mother-in-law twenty years to love me, but she finally came around. Where there is life, there is hope.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer at Southampton College. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WHLI 1100AM in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: