Is there a relationship more potentially fraught and delicate than the relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law? I lucked out (love you, Maggie!) but it can get rough. After all, the bond between a mother and her child is important and incomparable, but so is the relationship between romantically connected adults who are building a life together. It stands to reason the two women on either end of that equation could butt heads . Snide, passive aggressive remarks can abound. So how do you respond to the passive aggressive things your mother-in-law will say?
In general: carefully.
But wouldn't it feel so good to not have to worry about "diplomacy," "tact," or "hurting your partners feelings by getting into a massive snarky argument with their mother?" I mean, after potentially years of suffering hidden barbs, would it not be amazing to go #nofilter on her passive aggressive self? Alas: delicate relationship, partner's feelings, blah, blah, blah. Natural balance and harmony must be maintained for the good of the family.
So I've concocted some helpful responses to common, passive aggressive mother-in-law quips and, for catharsis and comedy, some responses we wish we could use, but won't because we're "mature adults."
"I Brought You This Household Product I Use & It Gets Everything 'Really' Clean"
What she really means: "Your home is a filthy pig sty. It is your sole responsibility, as a woman, to make it clean. I can help you by shaming you. You're welcome."
How you'd like to respond: "I wonder if it'll clean the garbage when I unceremoniously toss it in there after you leave."
How to actually respond: "Thanks!"
"I Don't Understand Why Your Kids Act Up So Much! My Child Was Never Like This."
What she really means: "I'm a better mother than you are."
How you'd like to respond: "Woman, your child has told me stories of how much trouble they used to get into and the punishments you doled out on the regular. Maybe you don't remember because of that well-known selective memory of yours, but I suspect you know you're lying just to make me feel crappy. End this charade — it belittles us both."
How to actually respond: A well-placed withering stare is appropriate here.
"I Just Wish I Could See My Son/Daughter More"
What she really means: "You are keeping my precious baby away from me, you evil succubus."
How you'd like to respond: "No! He's staying locked in the dungeon I keep him in until I've successfully brainwashed him into hating you! Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!"
How to actually respond: Depends on circumstances. If she is expecting you to make all the plans, encourage her to coordinate with her child. If no amount of time is never enough for her, remind her of the last couple times you've hung out and how much you enjoyed your time together. I know, I know, but be diplomatic.
"Interesting, I Never Add That Ingredient To My Recipe"
What she really means: "You're doing it wrong."
How you'd like to respond: "I know. Your cooking sucks."
How to actually respond: "I find that adding [this ingredient] brings out so many flavors. My mom and grandma taught me this trick. The kids and my partner love it!" (Hey, sometimes you need to fight fire with passive aggressive fire.)
"I Lost All The Baby Weight Right Away"
What she really means: "You need to lose weight. You're fat and probably lazy. I'm skinny and morally superior."
How you'd like to respond: "Yes, but you're weighted down by your shallow, narrow-minded, patriarchal attitudes about women's bodies, which is ultimately heavier and way more harmful than the couple extra pounds I've gained in the process of giving birth to another human.
How to actually respond: "That's interesting. I guess it goes to show that everyone is different."
"We Spanked Our Kids..."
What she really means: "You should spank your kids."
How to actually respond: "Everyone makes choices about how to parent and that's not our choice."
"You Know Who I Miss? My Child's Ex..."
What she really means: "I like my child's ex more than I like you."
How you'd like to respond: "You should definitely go be with her. Here, I'll get your coat and some gas money."
How to actually respond: "I understand you two were a lot alike." (Sorry not sorry. If she's going to pull this sh*t you are allowed to get snotty.)
"I'd Love To Be Like You & Just Not Care What I Look Like"
What she really means: "You look like crap."
How you'd like to respond:
How to actually respond: "You're lovely and you should be confident and comfortable in your skin!" (Yeah, lead with an empowering compliment, because if your mother-in-law is at the point where she's regurgitating diminishing tripe like this it's because she's internalized something bigger and badder than she is, and that's kind of sad. When we talk about building other women up that includes mother-in-laws.)
"The Kids Must Miss You When You're At Work"
What she really means: "You are hurting your children by not staying home with them."
How you'd like to respond: Morph into a wolf and attack. Go directly for the throat.
How to actually respond: "Not as much as I miss them! But look at all the pictures I get showing how much fun they have with their friends."
"Awwww! My Grandbaby Just Needs Their Grandma Because Mommy Is So Mean!"
What she really means: "I'm going to undermine whatever foot you are putting down right now so I can be the good guy. This will not prevent me from declaring your children poorly disciplined in the future."
How you'd like to respond: "I'm sorry, but I thought you wanted me to spank them? Hey kid, did you know that? That your grandmother wants me to physically assault you to keep you in line? Actually, maybe she'd like to do the honors?"
How to actually respond: Ignore her if you have to, then get back in there and parent your heart out.
"Oh Look! You Clean Up Nice!"
What she really means: "You usually look like crap but today you look decent."
How you'd like to respond: "Thanks! I'm actually wearing the skin of a prettier person! Sort of like a Buffalo Bill thing. Shhh! Don't tell. Maybe she's born with it, maybe she murdered someone and is wearing their skin as a suit! LOL!"
How to actually respond: "Thanks!"
"I Do Wish You'd Come Over More. I'm Just Saying That We're Getting Older & Won't Be Around Forever..."
What she really means: "I am going to guilt you into visiting more by reminding you of my inevitable death."
How you'd like to respond: Gleefully and excitedly giggling "I know!"
How to actually respond: Pass this one off to your partner to deal with. Make sure you establish acceptable visitation schedules ahead of time so that you're on the same page.
"Let Me Talk To Him. I Know My Son. He Loves Me."
What she really means: "I am the number one woman in my child's life and always will be. You don't know them like I do."
How you'd like to respond: "Do you know how tremendously creepy you sound when you say stuff like that? It's like I'm living in a Greek tragedy or a particularly upsetting episode of Game of Thrones. Look, I know you're still not over the fact that marrying your own son is frowned upon but you've gotta let it go."
How to actually respond: "OK," through an awkward smile.
"Ice Cream? I Thought You Were Watching What You Eat."
What she really means: "You're a fatty."
How you'd like to respond: "Yep. I'm watching myself eat this delicious ice cream." Then glare and take a conspicuously enormous bite.
How to actually respond: Honestly? Just go for it. You don't have time for food shamers who would stand between you and ice cream.
"Don't Get Up. I'll Do It. I Like To Make Sure Things Are Done Right Anyway."
What she really means: "You do everything wrong, so I'll just do everything, even though I'm overworked already."
How you'd like to respond: "Get down off the cross, we could use the wood."
How to actually respond: "OK." Seriously, just take her at her word. This is, I find, the best way to deal with passive aggressive people. Because when you don't respond to their chosen methods of communication the way they want you to it strips the method of its power and forces them to be more direct.
Good luck out there, friends!