A friend of mine recently asked my advice for dealing with an overly-critical mother-in-law. No matter what my friend does, it is never enough, and she is growing tired of even trying to make this woman happy.
We’ve all known people who are overly-demanding, who seem keen to criticize but incapable of showing appreciation. It takes a lot of grace to deal with such people — and doubly so when they are relatives and cannot be easily avoided.
In coping with difficult in-laws, I suggest you follow a few simple guidelines.
This strategy works equally well with difficult bosses, neighbors, or spouses, so give it try next time you find yourself dealing with anyone who seems impossible to please:
First, weigh her complaints.
If your mother-in-law’s criticisms have no basis in reality, dismiss them. If amid all her faultfinding you discover a legitimate concern, address it. Apologize if you have wronged her, adjust your attitude, and mend your ways as needed.
[For 5 more tips on responding to negative comments in a positive way, click here.]
Second, avoid conflict.
As much as possible, try not to do things you know will upset her. If your mother-in-law hates to be kept waiting, don’t show up two hours late for lunch. If she resents the time your kids spend with their other grandmother, don’t flaunt the fact that your mother accompanied you on your last family vacation.
[For 10 ways to quit quarreling with your spouse, follow this link.]
Third, forgive her.
If you feel weary of even trying to please her, she has undoubtedly hurt your feelings. Let go of any bitterness you may harbor toward her for past cutting remarks. Wipe the slate clean. In the future, approach your mother-in-law as if you had no bad history together, but were meeting for the first time. If it is necessary to limit the time you spend with her, do so only to protect yourself, not to punish her.
[To read the wise counsel Elisabeth Elliot once gave me on forgiveness, click here.]
Fourth, show consideration.
Pick one or two things you know are important to her and make every effort to do them consistently. Birthdays and Mother’s Day are a big deal to my own mother-in-law. She wants us to remember her with a pretty card, signed by her son, and delivered precisely on the big day. The most important thing to her (getting the card on time) and the most important thing to me (including a long, newsy letter from home) are two different things. If I can’t do both, she’d much rather I send the signed and sealed card in a timely fashion and save the news for later. So that’s what I do.
[Click here for the #1 rule for building a happy relationship with your spouse (or anybody else).]
Fifth, always be respectful.
Someday when you are older, you may be a little cantankerous yourself, so treat your mother-in-law with the patience you’d want your daughter-in-law to show you. It may be impossible to keep her happy, but at least you can keep your conscience clear by behaving toward her in a way that is above reproach. Base your actions on love. Season your words with grace. Hold your opinions in humility. And make it your goal to do right by her, whether it pleases her or not.
[For 25 ways to communicate respect to your spouse, follow this link.]