The Mother-In-Law

How many mothers-in-law does it take to ruin a marriage?  Just one!  Then there’s the other mother-in-law saying:  The best mother-in-law is the one that lives far away.  Mothers-in-law, have been the subject of jokes for as long as people have been married.


In 2005 Jane Fonda took on the controlling, vicious, and nasty character of the mother-in-law in the romantic comedy Monster-in-Law. Her actions in that movie didn’t provide any lessons on how to be a perfect one either.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.


Sunday night, I was reminded by my wife that my mother-in-law’s birthday is today.  Of course I didn’t remember, but it did spark a conversation about how mothers-in-law really get lots of grief.  Sometimes it is really not their fault and other times I think they bring it on themselves.  Relationship problems with in-laws are among the most common issues people raise when talking about family.  I’m sure issues with in-laws have eventually landed many people in divorce  court.


Take for instance the mother-in-law who constantly criticizes her daughter-in-law for not raising the children as she would, not keeping the house clean enough for her son, or one who oversteps her boundaries in every possible manner.


As a wedding photographer, I often hear the new mother-in-law tell the bride something like, “You better take care of my son!”  or “He may be your husband now, but he’ll always be my son!”


I did a quick Google search and found dozens of books dealing with the subject of difficult mothers-in-law.  Some of the tips include:


Avoiding pointless bickering!  If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, no amount of arguing will change someone’s perspective on religion, politics, or any other controversial subject.


One of the more unique approaches to dealing with mothers-in-law is to live in accordance with your own values.  That means if you know your own values, and live accordingly, people’s remarks don’t sting nearly as much and eventually they back off.  So when she wants your child to wear certain clothes or participate in certain activities, if you know your values and where you stand on such issues, you can politely tell her, “that’s not for my family”.


Trusted television psychologist Dr. Phil also has an entire section on his website to help people manage their in-laws.  He says if you’re planning to stick with your spouse, then you have to agree to stick with the in-laws too.  He goes on to suggest a laundry list of “rules to live by”.


  • Good fences make good neighbors. Your in-laws need to be your neighbors and there needs to be really good fences up. Set boundaries about when they are and are not invited into your lives.


  • Try not to criticize your spouse for his/her relationship with his/her parents. It may only lead to more clinginess or complications.


  • Keep in mind that your parents only know what you tell them. If you go to them every time you’re angry, and frustrated and having problems in your marriage, they hear that, but they don’t hear when you make up.


And my personal favorite, “The other woman in every man’s life is his mother. If your husband starts in with: “Well, my mother does it this way …” then tell him to go over and live with her.


Some of these make us all chuckle, but its reality.  Love them or hate them, they’re part of our lives if we want to remain married.


I’m happy to say my mother-in-law is one of my biggest fans.  She’s proof that all those jokes are totally untrue.  I know I forgot her birthday this year.  Heck, I did manage to write an entire column about you, that should give me a few extra brownie points.  Perhaps these kind words could count as your present too?







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