Mother-in-Laws: Resolving Conflict
March 13th 2018
Question: “What do I do when my mother-in-law, who lives with myself, my husband, and son permanently, never speaks about me to my son and always praises my husband and his efforts (and never me)?” It’s a great question! Today’s video shares some tips on what to do in this situation.
Question from a dear follower
I received a message a couple of weeks ago from a lovely follower of the blog, and she had written a question that I really wanted to address today. Her question was all about the relationship between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law, and she expressed a little bit of frustration and sadness and a bit of hurt at her mother-in-law who lives with her family which is her husband and her small child, so the three of them. Her husband’s mum lives with her family permanently. And she expressed her frustration and hurt and sadness at what she perceives that her mother-in-law kind of alienates her from discussions and from the group dynamic. Her husband is an only child and her mother-in-law will only speak to the child about what the father does, nothing about what the mother does. It’s always your father did this and he says this and all the conversations are surrounded around her son.
She asked for some tips and ideas around what to do in this situation. There’s a couple of things that I would like to suggest. The first is validation of what you’re feeling. It’s okay that I’m feeling this way. It’s okay that I’m feeling a bit left out. Acknowledge what you’re feeling, otherwise you will react from these feelings without knowing where your start point is. If you’re angry, if you’re hurt, if you’re sad, if you’re upset… understand that that’s how the situation is making you feel and acknowledge that and validate that. It’s okay to be in this situation and it’s okay to feel these things. That’s the first step, just to have the awareness of what you’re feeling, what this is doing inside your body and inside your temple.
The second thing I would suggest is try on her shoes as well. Imagine what she’s feeling. I mean you’re in your son’s house, you have a relationship with your daughter-in-law and your grandson that you’re developing. It might not be that she’s wanting you to feel left out. It might be that she’s a bit apprehensive to speak about you in case it’s misinterpreted.
Perhaps just think back if that’s happened in the past and there’s been an issue about something she said about you or said to you or said to the child about you that upset you or hurt you and is she cutting off that part of the conversation to not get in trouble. Check to see if perhaps that might be what she’s feeling. She might just feel safe to talk about her son to her grandson, or to only centre topics around her son because she knows she’s safe with that, it’s not going to cause any trouble.
It’s also important to acknowledge that he is her only son and so her life is him and has always been him and will probably continue to be him if this is the way it’s going, and that’s very difficult for a third party to come in, almost as an equal into that dynamic. That’s tough. There might have to be some acceptance and let-go around that, that he will always be on a pedestal perhaps or the apple of her eye, the centre of her attention, and that just might be how it’s going to be because he is her only son.
3. Open communication
The third thing I would suggest is communication. If there is anything that you feel is not being expressed then chat about it, in a kind and loving way. Say you know, when you say this or when you only talk about him I feel a little bit left out, I feel like what I do isn’t important. I’d like for you to also talk about me to my child and for it to be a little bit more balanced. And you’re allowed to say that. You’re allowed to express what you’re feeling and ask for what you want. And I think if it’s done in a kind, compassionate way where you’re meeting her halfway and you come from an understanding of where she’s coming from, it’s more likely to be heard and to be followed or to be acknowledged.
It is a tough conversation. It’s a difficult conversation, especially if the culture that you’re in doesn’t have room for that kind of conversation. Those things aren’t spoken about. Those things are just assumed or pushed under the rug and you just get over it and you don’t talk about things. So knowing that that’s the cultural upbringing she might have had and your husband’s had, acknowledge that it is a tough conversation but it’s one that really can bring a lot of healing and connection back into the dynamic.
One, you will feel less frustrated because you’ve expressed. You’ve done everything you can to bring awareness to what you’re feeling and to what you want. You’ve communicated rather than wanting them to mind-read or assume what you want which never works. You want to be upfront and you want to be clear and you want to be transparent, communicative, open, and honest. And that’s the way to build connection and move forward from this. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with the conversation repeating in your head but not coming out.
So all the things you want to say build up, and what happens is, it becomes a volcano. All that hurt, that sadness, that anger, the suppressed negative feelings bubble, they marinate, they get stronger, and then if one day you snap and communicate what you want to communicate it’s going to come out like poison. It’s going to come out really, really like strong, bitter, rage-filled, and it won’t be productive and it won’t be effective. You will feel better, trust me, you’ll feel better because all of it’s out of your system, but as soon as it’s out the next feeling that’s going to hit you is guilt because you’ve reacted to something significantly small, comparatively small, with maybe years of rage and anger and sadness and hurt, years and years and years of that feeling building up, and then said one thing and that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back and they get years of rage coming at them. And so you will feel guilty if you do it that way.
The better way, the healthier way is to think about what you want to communicate, what you’re feeling, how you want things to change, what you’d want to see instead, and communicate that. Speak that truth. They might or they might not take it on board, and that’s okay because you’ve done everything you can from your end. You cannot change people. You can’t change their minds. You can’t change the way they think. Only they can do that. All you can do is express what you’re feeling and express what you’re thinking, what you’re going through and share that in a vulnerable way and whatever they do with that is up to them.
You will feel better because you’ve got stuff off your chest and you’ve been heard. There’s something inside that’s saying What about me? What about what I want? What about what I’ve done? And you’re giving voice to that part of you. But when you do it deliberately and consciously you do it in a loving, compassionate way as opposed to an unconscious rage, hurt-driven volcanic eruption.
4. Speak to your spouse
And lastly (fourth) speak to your husband. Talk to your husband about what’s going on and understand his dilemma as well. He’s living with his mother and his wife. But express it to him and ask him what you need from him. Tell him what you need from him so that he might be able to put something into practice. Give him ideas about what it is he can do to help the situation and communicate with him as well.
5. Know that this is a challenge a lot of face, you are not alone
Last but not least, is know that you’re not alone. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for your mother-in-law as well as for you, and the best way forward is open communication, a lot of love, a lot of gratitude, and a lot of understanding for yourself and for her. This is a tough situation. It can be a beautiful dynamic, all of you living together under the same roof. Your child really benefits from having that beautiful, close bond with their grandparent.
But there needs to be boundaries in place and that’s where the communication comes in. You need to set some boundaries in your home of how people are treated, how things are spoken, if there’s anything that’s… what you feel wrong, hurtful, then there needs to be a boundary around that and say Look, these things cannot be said to my child. Please don’t speak like that about me to my husband or to my child. And put some boundaries in place.
And then you’ll feel safe and they will know where too far is. So help them. Help them in the situation because right now they are doing whatever they think is right, whatever they think is okay, and they’re not given the chance to do it any differently. Be mindful that they are also in a difficult situation but also, be brave to speak up, to speak your truth.
I hope that’s helpful. Definitely let me know how you go with it and if this is something that you are also dealing with then I hope this was helpful. It’s a difficult thing to have difficult conversations, but you get better at it. The more you do it the better you get at it, the more comfortable it is, the more relaxed you can be in it, and the more you remember what you want to say in the moment, but it is a skill and it comes with practice.