Marrying into a family that doesn't accept you is hard. I know, because I did just that 10 years ago. Even before the wedding, my husband and I experienced numerous issues with what we considered to be inappropriate behavior from my mother-in-law. I can't say I've mastered navigating my relationship with my husband's mother, at all. However, if you've been in a similar place, here are some sample responses you can give your mother-in-law to establish your boundaries in a clear, concise, and unapologetic way.
The "boundary conversation," honestly, has always been a difficult conversation for me to facilitate. I've never felt like it was my place to speak to my mother-in-law. I mean, if it was reversed, I would want to be the one to speak to my own mother if she crossed a line with my husband. However, when you're married to someone as passive as my husband, it's difficult to solve any issues unless you're the one to bring them up. In fact, that passivity often contributes to the cycle of boundary-crossing. Ugh.
Usually, when something is said or done by my mother-in-law, my husband's inability to confront his mother changes the way I view him and our relationship. Because she's never been a fan of mine, I often cry to him and openly wish I was enough for her, too. There's no denying this entire cycle is unhealthy and indicative of how the rest of our marriage will be if something doesn't change. So, with that in mind, here are some sample responses that might help make the boundaries clear between you and your mother-in-law, if not directly between me and mine. Honestly, when in this uncomfortable position, we could use all the help we can get, right?
"Please Ask Before You Give My Kids [Insert Whatever She Wants To Give Your Kids Here]"
I'm a self-proclaimed helicopter parent (to an extent) so I like to know what my children are consuming, watching, and listening to. Having grown up in more of a free-range scenario, I can only go off my own experiences (and what I want to avoid) to parent with. My mother-in-law is generous with her money, which means my kids have received a lot of things I had zero say in. Sometimes they're things I planned on getting for them myself, only to be usurped and outdone in a tremendously frustrating way.
"I'd Prefer You Didn't Speak Negatively About [Insert Person Here]"
My husband is from a small town where gossip is the way of the land. I've found in living here myself, I want to hear the scoop, too. However, when my kids are involved, I wish my husband made it clear what's OK to be said in the company of our kids, and what isn't. Too may times, my daughter will come home repeating something I'm sure isn't meant for public consumption. It only makes me wonder what's said about me when I'm not there.
"We Stick To This Bedtime Because [Insert Reason Here]"
I've gotten a lot of flack about my kids' sleep routines and schedules, but it works for us and always have and, well, I'm not inclined to change them. However, I always feel the need to apologize whenever my kids go to bed "early." Why should I have to? I'm the mother and my kids are well-adjusted, so who cares?
While my mother-in-law is entitled to do as she pleases when my daughter stays over, I wish there were more respect over what we've learned our children need. I'm flexible, but at times, in-laws blatantly cross the line merely to test me, and that really only hurts my children.
"The Kids Can't Have [Insert Whatever Here] Because [Insert Reason Here]"
If I say I don't want my son to have too much dairy because it upsets his stomach, I'd hope anyone — including family — won't take him out for ice cream three nights in a row. If I explain why my daughter shouldn't play with certain kids (because they've bullied her in the past), then I'd also hope that, when leaving her in an in-law's care, I won't come home to find them playing together.
Sometimes, explaining in clear words and with clear intent is the only way to handle it. If any person goes against those wishes, there has to be a consequence or conversation about why these things can't happen.
"Please Make Arrangement Before [Insert Plans Here]"
Some mother-in-laws do things a specific way, because it's either what they did with their own child, or what they never did and are making up for it now. I understand wanting to be a great grandmother or mother to your own child, but if it causes problems in my marriage, that's not OK.
My mother-in-law is great at making amazing plans for things or events, but without telling us until there's no time to do anything but what's been suggested. Even if it's the best plan in the universe, I wish to (at least sometimes) be consulted. I feel like that's fair.
"I'd Prefer If You Did [Insert Great Idea Here] Instead [Insert Horrible Idea Here]"
My daughter used to spend a lot of time with my mother-in-law, but over the years, not so much. We even moved closer so they could be together more, but having all these boundary issues messed things up.
While I can't speak for my mother-in-law, there have been times my daughter has been made to feel unwelcome and, in turn, my in-law isn't sure how to handle the situation and will just walk away. This has never proved to be a good way to deal with my maturing child. The last time this happened, I should've said the above. "I'd prefer if you explained why she can't stay the night, directly to her, instead of walking away." Maybe that would've fixed things sooner.
"We Appreciate Your Suggestions"
In my experience, sometimes there is no good response to make boundaries clear. In those extreme cases, kill her with kindness. Don't add a "but," ("we appreciate your suggestions, but...") and just be sincere. I know these things make my mother-in-law the most uncomfortable, so it's a double win.