Growing up, I actually feared having a difficult mother-in-law — after all, all of the stories I've heard about mothers-in-law (on 90s sitcoms, mind you) penned them as being an awful, intrusive, opinionated addition to an otherwise peaceful marriage. Fortunately, I've learned that these are merely stereotypes, and not all mother-in-laws are out for evil. I, personally, approached the brand new relationship cautiously before realizing my mother-in-law is a really awesome lady. Big sigh of relief!
Of course, with all relationships, sometimes a bit of mending is necessary in order to live your days peacefully. Every bond needs a little bit of improvement every once in awhile, and securing the bond you have with the woman who gave birth to your spouse (or spouse-to-be) is definitely important. I mean, think about it. Without her, your life would be drastically different.
In general, your relationship with your mother-in-law should be a bit similar to how you treat your own mother — while it'll be less personal (I mean, she didn't see you grow up, unless you're married to the boy next door), it should still be respectful and full of really solid memories. But, like all people, sometimes it's difficult to reach this level of understanding and love. For some, it might be downright impossible.
Luckily, all hope is not yet lost. Here are some pretty common mother-in-law problems, and easy ways to fix them before you consider skipping the country and living with your husband on a different continent.
Scenario #1: She Turns Down Your Suggestions
Sometimes mothers-in-law might feel as if since they are older, they are definitely wiser. Adults in general are pretty used to their own schedules and traditions, since they've had years to carve them out and see what worked. But that doesn't mean that you should get the death glare when you suggest going to the new diner that just opened (with vintage jukeboxes!) when the family always goes to IHOP after church.
Solution: Take a deep breath, and realize that there are plenty of other opportunities to hear classic Monkees tunes for a quarter. If you don't get a chance to hit up the new place with friends, consider treating your second family out for dinner, noting why you think they might like the place. That way, the event is in your hands — plus, they'll appreciate the free meal. While certain family traditions might seem kind of stupid, you have to remember that forcing change will make them feel like you don't care too much about their old memories, or their personal comfort.
Scenario #2: She's A Little Too Interested In Your Future
For example, she just wouldn't shut up about having grandkids during Thanksgiving, and gave you a little wink at the dinner table while passing you a bowl of mashed potatoes. You've always felt like the kids question is a little overbearing. In a way, it makes you cringe, as if she's openly saying "when are you going to engage in unprotected sex with my son?"
Solution: Be firm with this one. If you and your husband don't even want kids, say it's "not in the plan." If you've been trying really, really hard to have kids, let her know that "hopefully with time it'll happen." This is just a weird question that every married couple gets, and while it's a bit intrusive, it's still somehow deemed appropriate in our society. Why? Who knows.
If she retorts about how you'll change your mind, or kids are a blessing, or asks anything beyond this that makes you feel uncomfortable, just smile and nod and try to politely change the conversation. Eventually she'll get the hint. After all, procreation between you and your guy is not her decision to make.
Scenario #3: You're Pretty Darn Sure She Just Doesn't Like You
You can read it in her face whenever you open your mouth to talk. Then, she hits the uncertainty nail just a bit deeper after addressing a Christmas card just to your husband. Something about you turns her off, but you have no clue how to make things better. After all, you're not too controversial, and based on stories you've heard, you're way more adjusted than his last girlfriend.
Solution: Ask your spouse first, and ask them kindly. There's no need to try and make them choose between you and Mom, or make the situation even worse. Open up with something like, "I just get the impression that she doesn't care too much for me," and see what happens next. If your SO thinks you're being crazy, it might be in your head. If they get defensive and weird, they might know something you don't. If it's something you can't change (like, the sound of your voice or your personal interests), let it go. If you've been unknowingly interrupting her sentences, or calling her by her first name when she originally asked you not to, make a point to try and change this behavior so that she can see your positive qualities shine through.
Just remember that no matter what, not everyone is going to like you. While a BFF relationship would be ideal, don't try to push too hard for things that aren't meant to be. Just be polite, be yourself, and be positive from here on out.
Scenario #4: She's Stealing All Of The Holidays
Back when you and your guy started dating, you made sure to split the holidays 50/50. You got Thanksgiving, he got Christmas, you got Easter, and you were always at his house for Halloween to help out with the trick-or-treaters. However, after getting married, it seems like your mother-in-law has an excuse to bring her son over for everything. Since you'd prefer not to celebrate without him, you come along too... but you're not too happy about it.
Solution: Splitting time between families is always difficult, especially if both families are a distance away. Consider inviting both sets of families to your place, and see if it's a tame arrangement. You can also try and reclaim a few, but make sure to plan a trip out to see his folks shortly after. After all, holidays are really just excuses for people to spend time together.
Scenario #5: You're Raising Your Kids Wrong
You and you husband, or husband-to-be, wasted no time having kids. Your mother-in-law was overjoyed, and spoils them rotten. However, it's a constant critique whenever the family goes over for a visit. Her opinions are all over the place, and you always leave feeling like a really bad mom.
Solution: Unless you're screaming at your children, or letting them scream at you on a daily basis, or fire and explosives and drugs are involved, chances are you're doing a fine job. The truth of the matter is, your mother-in-law wants to help, and doesn't really know how. She's trying to offer her services, and you're too kind to tell her that you'll gladly consider her advice when you actually ask for her advice in the first place.
Times have changed. Technology has changed. And while parents from numerous decades can share similar bonds, it'll always be a little bit different from person to person. Stand up for your parenting and your kids, without making her feel like she doesn't know what she's talking about. She does, but she probably doesn't know how to relate to your specific situation.
Take her criticisms to mean that "Grandma cares," and try really hard not to blow up in her face about her loosely degrading opinions. Especially not in front of the kids.
Scenario #6: She Calls. Every Day. And Will Keep Calling Until You Answer.
Even if she has a cell phone, she's still unaware that your smart phone will let you know that you've missed seven calls from her. Chances are, she's calling you because your spouse won't answer. Figuring it might be an emergency, you always pick up — even when nine out of 10 times, the emergency is "why are you never answering your phone?"
You understand the bond that mothers have with their children, but this particular mother seems a little too attached. It's gotten to the point where you've been counting the hours that she's robbed you from spending time with your better half after work. Half of the time, the calls include a guilt trip about not visiting more.
Solution: Your spouse needs to have a talk with her. A serious talk this time. A lot of parents have a hard time transitioning between a child and adult relationship, and she needs to come to terms with the fact that her child doesn't need to report back to her every day. By cutting down the number of calls, the two might actually have news to discuss when a call does happen.
However, if your spouse likes the calls? You might have to accept it and move on. Remember that everyone has a different relationship with their family, and as long as the chats aren't totally sabotaging the relationship (like, pressuring him to ditch you and go back to his newly single high school sweetheart), it's not your place to judge. You can, however, mention if the calls are too long and constantly interrupt your married schedule.
If all else fails, there's plenty of trashy and terrible television shows to watch while your spouse is MIA. Grab some wine, and have some you-time.
Images: New Line Cinema; Giphy (3)