Dealing With an Interfering Mother in Law
No words of praise and gratitude for a mother can do justice to the love and sacrifice that a mother showers on her child. After all, a mother is an epitome of love, sacrifice and warmth. She is a woman with a bottomless pit of love, dedication and devotion. She loves her child selflessly and tirelessly.
It is therefore surprising that once this same woman gets promoted to the post of a mother-in-law, she undergoes a sea change in her behaviour. She becomes over – bearing, controlling and domineering.
A mother of a son usually tends to believe that no girl is good enough for her son, and hence develops a critical attitude towards her daughter-in-law.
In a majority of cases, a mother-in-law usually forgets what she went through as a daughter-in-law, and gleefully goes about tormenting her daughter-in-law. In other cases, she seeks vengeance for all the suffering she probably faced as a daughter-in-law, and vows to make life just as miserable if not more, for her poor unsuspecting daughter-in-law.
Another factor that adds to the unrealistic demands that a mother-in-law makes on her daughter-in-law is the effect of television. Many of the serials portray the daughters-in-law as superhuman, who bow to every whim and fancy of their families, without as much as a whimper. With their plastic smiles intact at all times, these daughters-in-law seem as if they live only to serve their in-laws.
They start their day in the kitchen and end it in much the same way, cooking and cleaning for the entire family. None of these serial bahus have any desire to pursue a career of their own. Several in-laws expect their daughters-in-law to give up their careers, and simply stay within the four walls of the home, cooking, serving and attending to their needs.
However, the modern women of today are neither superhuman nor plastic dolls devoid of emotions. It is only natural that a daughter-in-law would have her own dreams, aspirations, feelings and emotions.
Another area of interference which often leads to clashes between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law is the manner in which the kids are to be brought up. A grandmother tends to be doting and often spoils the grandchildren. A mother, on the other hand, would like to discipline her children. This often leads to a tug-of-war, which creates a lot of animosity and resentment all around. The mother feels that, as a mother, she should have the final say in the matter as far as the kids are concerned. The grandmother feels that she knows how to bring up a child better, as she has brought up kids and has more experience. While each is correct in her own way, one should learn to define boundaries.
So how does one cope with an overbearing and interfering mother-in-law?
Mark boundaries: For starters, you need to set firm and distinct boundaries with your mother-in-law right at the beginning of your marriage, and not years later. Trying to define boundaries in the later years only leads to a lot of resentment and altercations. Draw the contours of your life that your mother-in-law should not cross. Choose the aspects of your life you don’t wish to share with her. It is a good idea to let your husband communicate certain issues on which both of you have agreed. It won’t come off as offensive and your mother-in-law will have an easier time accepting your boundaries. Ensure that she understands that the final authority as far as bringing up the kids is concerned is yours.
Speak to your mother-in-law in a firm but pleasant manner, and tell her that you would like to learn how to bring up a child, even if you may make mistakes in the process. Unfortunately, this does not happen in most cases.
Be open: Don’t try to cover your feelings. After all, this is not a one-off meeting that you have. Understand that you have to spend a number of years with her. Make sure you don’t let little slights fester and boil. While it is important that you are open about your feelings, it is also imperative that you are firm but polite.
Stop feeling guilty: Guilt can play havoc on one’s life and peace of mind. An overbearing and dominating mother-in-law can very skillfully trap her daughter-in-law in a guilt trap. Learn to say “no” if you feel you cannot do what she is asking. Do not do things because you feel guilty or obligated. Stop feeling guilty. Why should you feel guilty for living your own life?
Gain self-confidence: A dominating and overbearing mother-in-law is usually intimidating; and this can make you lose your self-confidence. Stop trying to please your in-laws at every step. Try to seek approval from yourself instead of from your extended family.
Change the subject of conversation: If your mother-in-law insists on knowing something from you which you don’t want to share, tactfully change the subject of conversation. For instance, if she demands to know the password to your e-mail ID, simply say, “Oh, isn’t email so amazing! It is so easy to keep in touch with people these days. Don’t you wish you had e-mail when you were younger?”
Limit contact: Limiting the time you spend with your in-laws is perhaps the best way to maintain good relations with them. Of course, this is possible only if you have your own independent set-up and not if you are living together. But, by limiting the time you spend with your in-laws, you can actually improve the quality of the time you spend together.
Agree to disagree: Accept the fact that there will always be some difference of opinion between you and your mother-in-law. Avoid discussing such topics on which you don’t see eye to eye. As soon as you sense that the conversation is becoming controversial, change the subject. You cannot change her mind, so there isn’t any point in trying to do so. You would only cause a lot of stress and bitterness in the process.
Deal with the consequences:
When you set boundaries in a relationship, you must be prepared for some backlash. Accepting change is not easy and you may have to face a lot of push-back. This does not mean you should back down. Allow a reasonable period of time for adjustment.
Armed with these suggestions, you should be able to redefine your relationship with your mother-in-law.
Keeping these suggestions in mind, you can continue to maintain cordial relations with your mother-in-law, and yet ensure that she doesn’t interfere in every aspect of your life.