From the moment I met my husband, I've had a difficult time expressing my feelings towards my mother-in-law. She's a generous woman, a great mother to her only child, and an amazing grandmother to my children. However, over the years there have been times I've been made to feel unaccepted and under-appreciated. I know I'm not alone. In fact, I bet there are ways your mother-in-law undermines you without even realizing it. Then again, maybe she knows exactly what she's doing. Either way, I'd venture to guess that in a dynamic that can be as complicated as the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, there are things that happen so frequently you don't realize they've happened until you reflect back.
Now that I'm a mother, I definitely have more sympathy for the role of my mother-in-law. I've fallen in love with and married her only child. Some day, I could find myself in a similar position and, honestly, even the thought of losing my babies terrifies me. I'll always want them to be happy, which is why I've paid extra attention to all the things not to do in terms of undermining any future daughter or son-in-law I may or may not have.
With that in mind, and because you can't fix a problem if you don't realize there is one, here are some things to look out for with your own in-laws. My advice? Be gentle. They may not know they're doing it, and some day, this might be the position you're in.
She Gives Backhanded Compliments Frequently
I don't think my mother-in-law intentionally jabs at me all the time, but it's become part of the way she speaks to me and, as a result, she probably doesn't even know she's doing it. I'm not the type to speak my mind and I generally smile through the things that hurt me or make me uncomfortable.
However, if your mother-in-law is in the habit of saying things like, "This is a really great meal, even with all that pepper," it may be time to say something before you kids start to repeat the patterns.
She Breaks Your Rules
I've said before how my kids refer to me as the Drill Sergeant. It's not always fun being the rule-maker and implementor, but someone has to do it and my husband is more passive and agreeable. There have been times I've requested a specific bedtime or snack situation if my in-law is babysitting, only to come home and discover what I'd asked didn't happen. I have to believe my mother-in-law just wants to have fun with my kids, and there's no spite involved in doing the exact opposite of what I say, but every now and then it's easy to feel like I'm the bad guy (probably because my kids tell me I am).
She Praises Your Spouse But Can't Acknowledge Your Worth
For as long as I can remember, my mother-in-law hasn't taken an interest in my career, my running accomplishments, or anything else I'm excited about. Of course she cares about what her son is doing, but the most hurtful conversations are all about the boring details of his day job without so much as a single question about the life I live.
She may do this without realizing it because it's so ingrained in her being to dote over her son—whether anyone else is there or not. But at some point, like, please care about me. Just a little?
She Asks The Kids What They Want
Probably one of the worst things anyone can do is go over my head and ask my kids directly what they'd like to do in a situation where I already have a specific idea as to what they should do. Those times when I've mentioned, repeatedly, that I prefer my daughter not accept money for something she didn't earn, and is asked whether or not she'd like some money, kind of goes above me, yes?
She Spends Without Regard
In terms of money, my mother-in-law has rarely blinked an eye when buying things for my husband or our children. It may be due to only having the one child and working multiple jobs to earn that money, but I digress. I know she doesn't mean to seem as though she's buying our love but, at times, it comes off that way. However innocent some items may seem, we've encountered instances where strings are involved — ones we didn't know about until afterwards. She may just enjoy purchasing things that bring joy to my family, or she might like having a little bit of control over our lives. It's hard to tell.
She Promises The World But Doesn't Always Deliver
My daughter and mother-in-law used to have a close relationship, complete with frequent over-night stays and one-on-one time. But through the years, and specifically after I've had my son, that close relationship has disappeared. My daughter knows there's been a shift, too, and gets easily frustrated when talking about all those moments with her grandmother she now misses.
However, if the subject is brought up, and my daughter asks for an overnight with my husbands' mother, we typically get a response of "soon." While we understand she's busy, and may mean no harm, "soon" to a 10 year old might as well be "never." Especially when "soon" morphs into weeks later.
She One-Ups Everything You Do
I've really tried to be a "good" mother in every sense of the word. Sadly, from the very day I found out I was pregnant to the day my daughter was born to every day after, and no matter what I do, my mother-in-law swoops in trying to do something better and/or with something more expensive. She may not mean to imply my way isn't enough, but that's exactly the way it makes me feel: that I'm not enough, and never will be.
Thankfully, my husband and children disagree.