Prev Next
Bad Daughter-in-Law...Or Good Wife?

Bad Daughter-in-Law…Or Good Wife?

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

My MIL just threw us an elaborate baby shower and bought us hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars worth of baby stuff. Even though the whole thing has been vaguely sing-for-my-supper-esque, I’m incredibly grateful.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesRecently, however, she’s gotten into the habit of calling me whenever he doesn’t answer, which is often. See, for years she’s had a habit of calling my husband repeatedly throughout the day for nagging/insignificant reasons (btw, she lives like 7 hours away). When I ask him to call her back, he refuses or puts it off for a long time. Furthermore, he insists that if either of us respond in a timely manner, she’s going to “feel like she has the upper hand” and call us both even more…for, again, really annoying reasons (just trust me). She’s kinda nuts that way, and it’s already happening, so I do believe him. He says to just let him handle it. BUT — Should I listen to him, or insist that he deal with her differently? Would listening to him make me a bad (and ungrateful) daughter-in-law? He’s her son, so his actions are forgivable to her, whereas I don’t have it as easy.

I can’t think of what to do! I’m especially nervous about setting such boundaries with a baby on the way. Oh sweet Jesus.

Thank you very much!!!!

Let him handle it.

So your husband has years and years of experience dealing with his mother and has come up with a system that — on the surface, probably does sound harsh, yes — works for him, sanity- and boundary-wise. I understand and respect your concerns about being a “good” and “grateful” daughter-in-law here, but…still. It’s his mother. I’d trust his judgment. If he thinks she’s simply, say, trying to rope you into some scheme of non-stop manipulation and nagging after a big showing of passive-aggressive generosity, then personally I’d take his word for it and well, let him handle it. Screen the calls. Tell her nicely that you’ll pass the message on, then politely say you’ve got to go. Find other ways to be a good daughter-in-law than being a phone intermediary between the two of them, like being the one to email/mail baby pictures.

Here’s the thing: My husband has a similar-sounding relationship with his mother. Early on, I felt the same way you did. I wanted to have a nice happy relationship with my in-laws and she seemed thrilled by my efforts to NOT keep her at arms’ length like my husband did. Only somewhat belatedly, did I figure out that…oh, there’s kind of reason why he interacts with her the way that he does. And I quickly had to start spinning wheels in reverse, so to speak. I can’t really go into a lot of the nitty-gritty details, but trust me, it sounds like a very similar situation to yours. I had the luxury of being married for seven years or so before the first grandchild arrived, so by that point I’d had plenty of time to get the boundaries more or less set back up between us and aligned with my husband’s comfort level about how we collectively dealt with his parents.

And the same goes for my side of the family. He’s always let me set our boundaries there, to figure out the best way to walk the line between “involved, happy-yet-complicated relationships” and “OH HI I’M A DOORMAT.” He’s never been like, “You need/should do X, Y and Z when it comes to so-and-so,” unless I’ve specifically asked him for his advice or opinion, and I really, really appreciate that.

I will also say that while my husband’s relationship with his parents isn’t perfect — they drive him insane in that special way that only one’s parents can — I wouldn’t say it’s BAD, either. Particularly now that we have children and I have quietly pointed out that gee, I really hope my boys and I don’t end up with a similar-type relationship to Jason, his brother and their mom some day. You know, with the not calling ever and stuff. But that’s about the farthest I’ve ever pushed, and I have definitely seen some softening and forgiving over time and I have no doubt that he loves and cares about them deeply, but…I just don’t think changes to the day-to-day interaction is something you can or should try to force.

In-law relationships are so fundamentally tough, because they will never, ever be about Your Own Personal Completely Independent Relationship with them. They will always include your spouse and his/her relationship with them and his/her baggage (justifiable or otherwise). Some troublesome in-laws will try a divide-and-conquer approach, either by ragging about YOU to their child or vice-versa, though the goal is usually the same: A level of control over their adult child’s life that they simply aren’t entitled to anymore. Your primary familial responsibilities involve being a good wife to your husband and a good mom to your child-to-be. Let him worry about his relationship with his mom for now, and aim for working TOGETHER on how best to deal with things once that relationship expands to include the grandma and grandchild labels.

Published April 25, 2011. Last updated June 29, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon