Some of us are blessed with kind and caring mothers-in-laws who naturally have a healthy sense of boundaries. Then, the are those unfortunate souls who married into families where the matriarch is a habitual line stepper.
There are two types of mothers-in-law who fall beneath this umbrella: the oblivious and well-meaning mom who unintentionally crosses boundaries and the brazen battleaxe who knows exactly what she’s doing.
Neither of them is a walk in the park to deal with and often serve as a tremendous source of stress for their sons and daughters-inlaw — especially those who are ill-equipped to handle these matters. Often times, the coping strategy used by frustrated husbands or wives is to not address the behavior out of fear of coming off as disrespectful and not wanting to make waves.
However, this is the worst approach when it comes to these personality types. People who don’t respect boundaries typically know no limits and will push their loved ones as far as they will allow and the end result is often catastrophic.
Since you’re reading this article, it’s likely you can relate. So if you’d like to go back to living in peace the way that you did before your sweet mother-in-law turned into a smother-in-law, look no further. Here are six practical ways to correct your mother-inlaw’s overbearing habits without blowing up your family.
Get your spouse on board
To be perfectly honest, none of the following steps are going to work unless you take this step first. If your spouse sees nothing wrong with their parent’s conduct, you’re going to have a difficult way to go.
Some proven strategies for making this happen — in addition to having open and honest dialogue — include: seeking the help of a licensed marriage therapist and giving your partner the tools they need to educate themselves on matters of this nature so that they’re equipped to approach the problem from a more logical and less emotional standpoint.
You certainly aren’t the first daughter-in-law to be frustrated by her in-laws’ troublesome ways. People have been there, done that, and have written tons of great literature on the subject. One highly recommended text is Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage by Dr. Susan Forward. If you’re going to tame this beast of an issue, you need to understand its true nature.
Address the undesirable behavior early, often, and in the moment
When you’re always letting things slide, people get comfortable quickly. Then, when you do finally speak up, they’ll act as though you’re the crazy one for being upset. What they’re essentially saying is “You’ve allowed me to do this to you all of this time, so why is it a problem now?” Whether it’s showing up unannounced, opening your mail, sticking her nose in your financial matters or telling you how to raise your kids, nip it in the bud by having a respectful and calm conversation as early as possible.
Establish clear boundaries moving forward
Once those troubling behaviors have been addressed, set clear boundaries. Many experts recommend that the boundary setting be done by your spouse. A conversation as simple as, “Hey mom, we love you and appreciate the time that you spend with us, but moving forward, please don’t show up unannounced.” Or, “Hey mom, we definitely appreciate the sage parenting advice you have to offer; however, it can be overwhelming and unhelpful when dished out in large quantities.
Please refrain from calling and texting Kisha to tell her what to do with the kids.” Most reasonable mothers will get the message; however, if your mother-in-law is one of those intentional boundary stompers, the next step is for you.
Enforce the boundaries you’ve set
This is potentially the most difficult part, but it’s paramount. Boundary setting without enforcement is just a fruitless and uncomfortable conversation because oftentimes people are so deeply set in their ways, they will require reminders and sometimes even consequences to help them in breaking those bad habits. What will you do if and when boundaries are crossed?
This is obviously a decision you’ll need to make with your spouse, but responses to boundary-crossing could be as simple as ending the conversation, leaving the room, and, for more severe offenses, taking a break from your mother-in-law until the issue is rectified.
As humans, we are naturally resistant to change, but some of us handle it better than others. If your mother-in-law is the type who will resort to emotional manipulation and hysterics when confronted regarding unhealthy behaviors, you and your spouse will need to be especially firm during this transition.
She does not get to treat you or your family any kind of way just because she’s sensitive.
This is by no means an easy process. Managing overbearing in-laws is one of the more challenging aspects of maintaining a healthy marriage; however, it’s 100 percent possible if both you and your partner are committed to doing the work.