How to Deal with Your Mother-In-Law Talking Smack
By Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother
1. Assess The Insult
Is the comment a slur on your parenting or is the insult directed to your child? In the former case, keep your claws retracted and try to respond calmly, even nonchalantly (see #2, below.) You can take it. Save your moral outrage for when it’s really deserved – as is would be the case if the comment was directed toward your child. In this case, you have my full permission to growl and bare your teeth and – if warranted – ban the relevant in-law from your household for whatever term fits the crime. What’s that? You think that little Farnsworth has an unfortunate nose/is retaining too much baby fat/is slow for his age? Thank you for your totally unwelcome opinion, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Do not stoop to a catfight, no matter how badly you might want to. Whatever your response, make sure that it’s articulated politely. It can, of course, be totally passively-aggressively polite – why, yes, I do take pride in my ability to get through each day without ever picking up after my children! Such a shame that women were so oppressed by housework back in your day! – but take care to ensure that the delivery of your response is above reproach. Remember, you have years of Thanksgiving dinners with this person.
3. But Do Defend Yourself
Maintaining Moral Superiority does not mean Letting Them Get Away With It. Let the offender know that you have recognized and registered their comment as the stupid insult that it is by articulating your disagreement and – if possible – your disappointment with their sorry attitude. I’m sorry that you find breastfeeding in public distasteful. Personally, I put my child’s well-being before the sad sexual hang-ups of others. Perhaps you could look away if you’re unable to distinguish the nursing breast from the sexual breast.
4. Vent. With Caution.
Let your spouse know that you do not like having to dodge the MIL’s/DIL’s/Great Aunt Mehitabel’s verbal arrows. You’re within your rights to ask that he/she intercede in particularly trying cases (sometimes, a simple lay off, Mom is all that is needed to put a stop to the needling.) But make every effort to not be excessively angry or insulting in getting your complaint off your chest. The offender in question is, after all, a close relation of your spouse. Your spouse might even love the offender. Make sure that you keep those feelings in mind when you’re tempted to say YOUR &[email protected]%&MOTHER IS BANNED FROM OUR HOME FOREVER, YOU HEAR?!
5. But, End Of The Day, Let It Go
Yes, it’s entirely possible that you have to deal with this person on a regular basis. Yes, such dealings will likely remain awkward and painful if this person insists upon continually taking out their sublimated frustrations about no longer being the center of their own children’s universe on you. But remember that the problem is not really you or your children, it’s their own loneliness or feeling of isolation from their children or whatever-yadda-yadda-Freud-blah. A little tolerance will go a long way toward keeping the peace in your extended family.
And if not, there are always ear-plugs.
Published October 13, 2008. Last updated June 27, 2018.