• What just happened? You thought things were fine between you and your daughter-in-law. You haven’t acted any differently around her from the way you have always acted, and yet, out of the blue she starts unloading a barrage of things she says you’ve done or said that she doesn’t like. It feels as though her list is never-ending.

    To say you are in shock is an understatement. You are floored. You have no words to rebut what she is saying. In fact, you can’t find the words to ask her what the heck this is all about. Instead, you sit there, afraid to move or say anything; your fear and anxiety is building with every behaviorshe brings up.

    In an ideal world mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law would talk with one another if they were not happy with something the other did or said. Each person would share their perspective and after talking it through, come up with a way to interact that would work for both of them. We do not, however, live in an ideal world. Women tend hold on to how they feel until they cannot hold it in any longer. And either through their words or their actions, their true feelings eventually spew out; creating a situation that is awkward and painful for both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

    These situations may seem out of the blue, but in all likelihood they are not. It is difficult to shift away from our role as mother. We know our son and daughter-in-law are adults, and yet, we find ourselves saying, “I know they are adults and I respect them, but….” These 5 tips can help you avoid those awkward, tension filled scenarios from occurring— or at the very least make them less likely to occur.

    What to Not Do:

    1. Give parenting advice

      As a parent it is easy to give unsolicited advice to our children—even our adult child and his spouse. After all, you’ve been giving him advice since he was a baby, right? And his wife is now part of your family—one of your children. Yes, your intent is to be helpful, but just because you’ve been through what your son and daughter-in-law are now experiencing does not mean that your “wisdom” is sought. They are the parents. They have the right to make their own choices about how they want to raise their children, just like you did when you and your husband were raising your son.

    1. Be “helpful” around their house

      No woman wants to be viewed or perceived as though she is a horrible housekeeper, even if she herself knows she is. As much as you want to help your daughter-in-law or your son, this is not your house, nor is it up to you to fix things. If neither your son nor your daughter-in-law have an issue with the way things are, then in all likelihood it is something the two of them agree on, and it is the way they choose to live. If either one of them is not all right with what is going on in their house, it is up to that person to address it with the other. It is a marital issue. Do not make it a mother-in-law issue.

      3.  Assume You Know Your Son

      As much as you knew your son at one time, he is an adult now and many things about him—what he likes, doesn’t like, wants, and doesn’t want—have changed. Yes, the core, basic person is likely still there, but so many aspects of a person change as they gain more life experience. Also remember you “know” him as a son—as a child. Your daughter-in-law knows him as a man. These are two different components of the same person. This is when you have to trust your son. Trust that he has kept those things you view as important and of value. If he didn’t, it may have nothing to do with your daughter-in-law. It may have been his choice well before they were together. Sometimes we do not see the changes as clearly until after our child is married, but that does not necessarily mean his wife caused him to change. 

      4. Drop by

      No one likes surprises, especially your daughter-in-law. Whenever you take the risk of “dropping by”—whatever the reason—you risk upsetting the other person. If you think about it, of course she would be upset. She and your son may be in the middle of completing a project, dealing with the kids, having an argument, or whatever the case may be. Or if she is home alone, she may be enjoying some quiet time, in the middle of something she has wanted to do for a long time, or getting the kids ready to walk out the door. When you stop by you catch her off guard and put her in an awkward position. It can feel as though you are being disrespectful of her time and disrespectful of her. Always call and ask her when would be a good time to stop by. Be considerate of your daughter-in-law’s boundaries. 

      5. React in a challenging way 

      Although at one time or another your DIL may be rude and inconsiderate (and believe me, there is no reason that justifies her treating you this way), but telling her so by confronting or challenging her will only make her dig her heels in and stand her ground—even if she knows she is wrong. Everyone wants to save face. Your daughter-in-law is no different. If you feel your daughter-in-law has slighted you in some way there are better, softer ways of letting her know and getting the situation rectified. If you’ve been slighted the goal is to fix things between the two of you and make things better. Confronting her is not the answer. Saying nothing is not the answer either. There are ways, though, to talk with her to let her know how she is impacting you which will make the situation between you better, and the two of you closer.

    Keep in mind even though you are still family, your role with your son and his wife has changed. You want to remain a positive influence, yet give them the space they need and want to create their own life path. So take a step back, take a deep breath and use these tips to help you build a relationship with them that you can enjoy.

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    Article by: Deanna Brann

    Deanna Brann, Ph.D. has over 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. After running her own private practice for more than 20 years, she spent time later in her career providing business consultation to other private practice professionals in the health care and legal fields. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Her first book, Reluctantly Related, began the discussion of examining and bettering the MIL/DIL relationship and is followed by her newest book, Reluctantly Related Revisited. Brann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Psychobiological Anthropology.

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    1. rozspam@aol.com' Roz Warren says:

      Excellent advice! I am very grateful for my terrific DIL.

    2. joy.melnyk@gmail.com' Joy says:

      Very good list and not unlike a list for son in laws too. #3 really resonated with me, so true that our children do grow up and become adults and really, all of us do change. Core values not so much but change overall, yes we do. And at that point, it becomes about boundaries. Theirs and ours. Thanks for a great article!

    3. suzanne@boomeresque.com' Suzanne Fluhr @boomeresque says:

      I’ve been on both sides of the M-I-L – D-I-L experience. My reactions to the way my M-I-L treated me has informed my interactions with my D-I-L, so far with positive results — unless I’m totally out of touch. I concur with everyone of your don’ts.

    4. loriconnor@myfairpoint.net' El says:

      ”There are ways, though, to talk with her to let her know how she is impacting you which will make the situation between you better, and the two of you closer.”

      Ok, could you share some specifics?