Dealing With a Bully Mother-in-Law

by Candice Coleman

The mother-in-law is a creature of ill reputation in pop culture -- and many daughters-in-law live in dread of the day that trouble begins with this in-law. Problems can really accelerate if your mother-in-law starts to bully you about your kids, marriage, career or housekeeping ability. Though you can hope that your mother-in-laws calls one day to say she's moving out of the country, don't hold your breath. In the meantime, you can do plenty to relieve the tension.

Though you may want to tell her to leave, instead, try to figure out from where she's coming the next time she says something you view as bullying. There's a chance that she might not realize that you don't want her advice, or that her "helpful" advice is condescending, notes the Focus on the Family website. Try to keep her intention in mind when you respond to her. If she says something offensive, there is no harm in calmly replying, "Mary, I'm sure you don't mean it, but that comment made me feel that you don't think I can handle my children."

If your mother-in-law seems to enjoy throwing verbal bombs at you, talk to your partner about the problem, suggests Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a former private practice marriage and family counselor. Spouses need to support each other. If your husband consistently agrees with his mother and sides against you with her, a serious discussion is in order. On the upside, your spouse might be able to give you insight into his mother's behavior, as well as tactics he's used in the past to defuse her. You can also ask him to intervene if his mother's bullying behavior occurs in front of him.

When your mother-in-law visits, it might be the perfect time to keep everyone busy. Finding activities that you can both enjoy together might relieve tension and help your mother-in-law view you fondly. Keeping visits with your mother-in-law brief can also help. Enlist your spouse to enforce visitation boundaries, letting his mother know to call ahead if she plans to visit. In the meantime, make sure that you are polite and courteous to your mother-in-law. If you also behave in a patronizing way, your mother-in-law will react in kind. If you find yourself getting angry during your mother-in-law's visits, take a few minutes to cool off somewhere in private before facing her again.

If your measures to restore peace continually fail, ask your spouse to have a direct conversation with his mother. Bringing up specific comments or behaviors that she made, as well as how you perceived them, might help her adapt her behavior to create a more peaceful environment, suggests Focus on the Family website. However, in some cases, a mother-in-law might continue her bullying behavior -- and simply refuse to even acknowledge that there's a problem. If this is the case, suggest that your spouse and the kids visit her while you stay at home. While being a daughter-in-law does involve being diplomatic and civil, it does not require you to be someone else's punching bag.

About the Author

Candice Coleman worked in the public school system as a middle school and high school substitute teacher. In addition to teaching, she is also a tutor for high school and college students.

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