Selfish and Overly Involved Mother-in-law

Dear Clover,5 years ago

In many respects I am blessed with a wonderful family life. A loving and supportive husband, wonderful kids, and a generally caring extended family. However, my mother in law insists on inserting herself into very personal issues, discussions, and decisions that don't have any effect or impact on her. It is causing trouble in my own marriage and that of my brother-in law. Whenever her behavior is politely questioned, she immediately starts bawling and accusing everyone of hating and not appreciating her. How can we tactfully, but firmly, establish better boundaries while avoiding or circumventing her hysterical reactions whenever we attempt to do so?

helpless daughter-in-law

Family Matters » Mothers-in-Law

3 answers

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Dear helpless daughter-in-law,5 years ago

My mother-in-law once told me the day she was married, her new husband told her he expected only two things of her. First, was to roll up the toothpaste and secondly he said; whatever happens in our house, stays in our house. Thus, keep your personal conversations just that and stop talking about any subject you don’t want your mother in laws opinions or objections on. She can’t interject when she doesn’t know what is happening.

You may feel differently if you stand in her shoes for a moment and see life through her eyes. I imagine she feels lonely, dispensable, and unwanted. When people feel that about themselves, they will try just about anything to feel needed again, even if it is by way of pity parties. Before you approach her with a set of rules and cause further family dissentions think about making her feel good about herself. Maybe you can’t put new wine into an old bottle, but you can polish the old bottle and give it some self-esteem.

Let her have some input about insignificant choices such asking her to help you pick cupcakes for a school event. Ask her opinion about flowers or how to get a stain out; seeking her advice will surely boost her confidence. Sometimes you’ll have to placate her, by saying, yes, that is a good idea, nod a few times and add some hmm’s. Make her feel wanted and busy with trivial matters. If all else fails, have her favorite food available at all times. Keeping her mouth occupied doesn’t give much time for opinions.


1 vote by starfish

Dear helpless daughter-in-law,5 years ago

From reading your predicament, I have come to the conclusion that your mother-in-law is an insecure and needy person, possibly with low self-esteem, especially given her reaction when she accuses her loved ones of "hating" her when attempts are politely made to reduce her levels of interference. I think it is of upmost importance to bear this in mind, especially as her children are grown up, she may feel redundant and useless, causing her to make a new life out of their new families. I suggest that you start by sensitively talking over the problem with your husband, who you say is "supportive" of you. Try to avoid being overly negative, focus more upon how much better the relationships and family life would be if the situation could be improved. Also mention your worries of how the negativity may be affecting your children, without directly pointing the finger. With your husband fully on board, try broaching the topic with your brother-in-law and his partner, only even more sensitively. Once you are united in your desire to change together, I think you all need to set up a series of events, tasks or questions for your mother-in law, so she feels involved, which she evidently craves, but unbeknown to her is carefully orchestrated by yourselves. For example, you may ask for help with an issue or ask her to watch the children or for advice concerning something you consider non-essential but that she can put her energy into. This way she feels included, yet is not meddling in other issues and should help to improve your relationship. Further down the line you may be able build upon your positive experiences with her and have a relationship that is fruitful for all concerned. Good luck!


Dear helpless daughter-in-law,3 years ago

I have been in your place and I know how you feel. Its like you are suffocated and nothing you can ever do will feel good enough in her eyes. You are constantly trying to be nice and not say what is on your mind. However I found myself being a lot more understanding when I put myself in her shoes. She may just be lonely. If your children were growing up and moving on without you how would you feel?

If that doesn't work try getting you husband to talk to her might work, it is his mother and he may know what to say. It may also be received better if it is just him. Afterall it may just be her fear of him growing up. She might just need to be needed again/.

Maybe you should ask her about getting a pet. Perhaps a puppy a dog or a cat. Something that shifts her attention from your family and onto something that is going on in her life. Or try to be open and include her into things that don't matter as much. For example, getting her to help you decide on what shoes to buy the kids from school.