7 Things Never to Say to Your Mother-in-Law

7 Things Never to Say to Your Mother-in-Law

Experts advise on what wives may want to steer clear of saying to their mothers-in-law.


By: Maressa Brown

Most married women will admit that conversations with their mothers-in-law can be complicated. In fact, it’s completely natural to feel like you’ve just put your foot in your mouth or you’re at a complete loss for words while talking to your spouse’s mom.

Fortunately, keeping certain topics off-limits and steering conversations in a different direction can help foster healthier communication. Here, experts reveal the top seven things women should avoid saying to their mothers-in-law, and better ways to address tough topics.

1.You're welcome to come over any time.” Although you may want to make it clear to your mother-in-law (and your spouse!) how open you are to spending time and sharing space with her, going this far can definitely open a can of worms. “Saying this sets up issues of boundaries, or lack of them,” explains Deanna Brann, PhD, author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law. “This creates an atmosphere for misunderstanding and possibly for hard feelings down the road. What a mother-in-law hears is, ‘I can come over any time. I don't need to check with you first,’ which, more than likely, is not what was intended by the comment.”

You’re better off inviting your mother-in-law over -- with boundaries, notes Brann. For example, you can try something like, “We’d love to see you. Just give me a call first, and we can set something up which works for both of us.”

2.I'd prefer you to go through your son if you have something to say.” Perhaps a daughter-in-law doesn’t want to deal with her mother-in-law’s advice or input head-on, so she thinks diverting to her spouse is preferable. But this may only serve to make him resentful that he’s being put in the middle. “The daughter-in-law is also teaching her children it is OK to avoid problems you have with someone instead of showing them how to resolve conflict and mend relationships that are valuable,” explains Brann. The solution: pairing up with your husband to field any feedback from his mom as a team.

3.They're my children!” Maybe your mother-in-law often gives her opinion about your parenting, and at some point, this may feel like the only logical response. But this is a non-starter, notes Brann. “This statement makes it difficult, if not impossible, to resolve the issue,” she says. “It creates a standoff and a lose-lose situation.”

Instead, Brann suggests setting a parenting boundary in a softer, yet still firm way, such as, “I know you don't agree, but this is how we want to handle this with our children,” or, “I know you don't agree, but this is our decision.”

4.I don’t need your help.” While this might be difficult at first, it may be best to simply accept that you can’t control everything when you’re around your mother-in-law, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “If she volunteers to cook something or wash dishes, thank her graciously, and accept the help,” advises Tessina. Simply grinning and bearing her ways of pitching in may be for the best. For instance, “If you don’t like how she washes dishes, wash them again after she’s gone,” Tessina notes. “If she puts something in the dishwasher that doesn’t belong there, just quietly take it out before you run it.”

5.We’re too busy to see you.” It may be true that your schedule is so jam-packed that you can’t even begin to figure out when you would set up a visit with your in-laws. But in this case, you’re better off not telling it like it is. “What the mother-in-law hears is that she is not important enough for you to spend time with her,” notes Brann. “This can cause the mother-in-law to push harder to see you because she is fearful you will never want to spend time with her.”

The best way to tackle this: With kindness and compassion, offer to spend time with her, within set boundaries. You can instead say something along the lines of, “We would love to see you, but unfortunately, that day/time won’t work for us. How about we get together sometime next week? Let me know what days/times are good for you, and I will check our calendar.”

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More from P&G everyday: 5 Expert Tips for a Better Relationship With Your Mother-in-Law

6.We parent this way, not that way.” It’s one thing to go to bat over differences when you’re talking about how you are raising your children, but if your mother-in-law is babysitting the kids, it’s best not to tell her what to do -- unless you have specific doctor’s instructions she needs to follow, recommends Tessina. “She raised your husband, she is not going to accept parenting advice from you.”

Instead, seek her advice. “It’s good to ask her what she thinks about how to deal with your own child, or if your husband was like that when he was a baby, and what she did,” says Tessina. “She wants to be the expert, and if you treat her that way, she’ll be helpful to you.”

7.I’m more comfortable with my own family.” When it comes to deciding where and with whom you might gather for holiday dinners, emotions can run high. And if you feel pressured to pick sides, you might be tempted to say this to your mother-in-law. “A daughter-in-law needs to think about how this could make her husband’s family feel, particularly his mother,” explains Brann. “Saying something like this also creates a competitive stance between his mother and her family.” In other words, this is something that, even if you feel this way, it may be better left unsaid.

What are some other things you’ve learned not to say to your mother-in-law?



Maressa Brown is a senior staff writer for The Stir. She loves writing about and reading up on health/fitness, relationships, and pop culture -- preferably on a beach somewhere.

Image ©iStock.com/OJO_Images



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