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How to Deal with a Difficult Mother in Law

Mother-in-laws can be wonderful. They don’t nag you as much as your own mom, and without them, you wouldn’t have your adorable husband. But they can go from normal to nuts in no time. From meddling in your business, to treating your husband like he’s eight years old, some bad behaviors can make your blood boil. No matter what the situation, it’s important to remember – she’s not going to change. But you can change how you navigate those sticky situations. (Venting to friends over wine helps too.)

According to clinical psychologist, Dr. Belisa Vranich, “The mother in law struggle usually has to do with two things: letting her remain important, while setting boundaries.”

So, how can it be done? Read on for tips to deal with any “M-I-L” mishap.

(Names have been changed for women that shared quotes … for obvious reasons.)

The Problem: She’s a Chatty Cathy
This woman can gab all day, everyday. You? Not so much. Her morning wakeup calls are cutting into your beauty sleep. And does she not realize you have a job?

The Solution:
Instead of screaming, “Lose my number, lady!” the next time she rings you at the office… politely tell her you don’t like taking personal calls at work since everyone, including the boss, can hear you. Or explain that between meetings and deadlines, you don’t have time for chit-chat during the day. Return her call during your commute home. Or, email her back when you can fit it in. If she has a knack for calling in the morning when you’re frantically trying to get out of the house, just don’t answer. She’ll eventually get the hint.

Beth says, “I’ve made limitations. Unless her son wants to support us solo, she can’t call me when I’m working. We’re planning our wedding, and I will not pick up at work to hear about where she thinks I should have registered or why I don’t need picture frames.”

Lauren adds, “When she calls I never answer the phone. I just don’t want to deal with her. I’ll call her back that night or the next day. But I have to be in the mood.”

The Problem: She Shares Her Opinion… All the Time
From the color of your walls to the sheets on your bed, it’s her way or the highway. It’s one thing to tell you to buy organic milk, but another to ask why you bought an iPad when you “should be saving that money for your children’s college fund!”(You don’t have any kids yet, FYI.)

The Solution:
No one likes to feel that they’re always being judged, but avoid confronting her when you’re all fired up. When you’re calm, cool and collected, Dr. Vranich advises women to, “Be firm but very clear. This has most impact if you don’t do it frequently. Say something like, ‘I know when you say that, it comes from a place of love, but it really hurts my feelings.’”

If you feel like you’re not getting through, have your husband talk to her. Tough love will be easier to take coming from her son. Even if he doesn’t think his mom weighing in is a big deal, it’s important he understands why it’s a big deal to you. But don’t get your husband involved in everything that bugs you about his mother. Shrug the little annoyances off so he’s not always in the middle, or it could cause some issues in your marriage.

Marcy explains, “I’ve learned to pick my battles. I don’t always get my husband involved because he gets sensitive and defensive about it. It’s still his mom.”

According to Dr. Vranich, “It’s really important to let the little things slide, and keep in mind your long term goal: that your kids have their grandmother, that your husband have as guilt free a relationship with her and that you have extended family no matter how peculiar they are.”

An approach Karen takes is “lie for love”. Just “yes” her to avoid getting into a heated debate over laundry detergent or your unnecessary use of air conditioning. Tell her what she wants to hear if it’s no biggie to you and move on. “I just take a deep breath, and listen, because I know she loves me.”

The Problem: She Treats Your Husband Like a Baby
He’s a grown man; does he really need his mom’s daily reminders to take his Flintstones multivitamin?

The Solution:
We’ve all heard the expression, “a mother’s work is never done”. But sometimes you’d really like it to be done (or at least turn part-time). But even when the kids are all grown-up, moms can’t stop worrying about their well-being. And until you showed up, she was the woman calling all the shots his life. It’s hard to suddenly step back from that role. She has the best intentions, so just make sure she knows you’re right there with her … and will gladly monitor morning vitamin routines, keep up to date on dentist appointments, and schedule haircuts before sideburns get out of control.

The Problem: She Always Drops By Unannounced
“Yoo-hoo, anyone home?” is the last thing you want to hear when you’re reading the paper in your pajamas.

The Solution:
Rather than hiding under the bed and pretending you’re not home, let her in. But tell her you were just running out the door or have a lot to do around the house. Send the message that it’s not okay to sabotage your Saturday with an impromptu visit by joking, “I know your cell is always glued to your ear, so next time just call us before you come by to make sure we’re around.” Or avoid drop-ins by making set plans with her. If she has something on the calendar to look forward to, it may minimize those sneak attacks. And if she’s still clueless, you and your hubby need to sit her down and explain that you need your privacy, and she needs to respect that. Just call first, k?

Alana’s in-laws used to drop by all the time until her husband finally spoke up. But she admits, “It’s a total double standard. We’ll walk into our parents houses unannounced all the time. So, I guess they assumed they can do the same.”

The Problem: She Facebook Stalks You
You can’t post a status update, photo or link without her liking it or leaving a comment. At first it was cute, but now you want your wall off limits.

The Solution:
Rather than de-friending her, just laugh it off and hope “Facebooking” lasts as long as her oil painting obsession (which was approximately six days). But if she’s here to stay, and you just can’t cope with one more comment, use some of the custom privacy settings Facebook offers. Create a Friend List that can only view your limited profile, including mom-in-law. Go to the Friends page, click the Account drop-down at the top of any page, and then click on Edit Friends. Click Create a List at the top of the page to make a new list.

The Problem: She’s MIA
While some may dream of an absentee in-law, you’d actually like her to be around more, especially to help out with the kids. You know she means well, but she’s a social butterfly with little time to spare for baking cookies and carpooling.

The Solution:
Even if you secretly want to say, “Can’t you ever offer to babysit so I can get some freaking errands done in peace?!” keep those thoughts to yourself. You and your husband should simply explain how important it is to you both that your children get to spend quality time with grandma. She doesn’t need to block off an entire day or be the permanent Saturday night babysitter, but the little things would mean a lot to everyone. Arrange a standing date on her calendar – like a weekly visit to the ice cream shop or a monthly movie night.

How do you deal with your mother-in-law? Leave a comment below!

Jessica Solloway is a Washington, DC based writer and producer. From wedding planning to work, dating to dieting (and everything in between), she enjoys writing about lifestyle topics women want to know about. Jessica received her degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Check out her blog, The Savvy Mrs.