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.]
I might have already recommended this book in another comment on your blog somewhere, but it is very appropriate to the topic you’re addressing here – Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud. Very interesting and eye-opening. When it comes to people who have major emotional problems that make relationships difficult, I think praying for them is the most important thing. Your advice to be above reproach and treat them with much grace is the other most important thing.
Jennifer Flanders says
Thanks for the encouraging words and for the book recommendation, Katie. I’ve linked it (in your comment above) to make it easier for those interested in reading it to find on Amazon.
Are u a mother in law sharing advice.
Well sounds idealistic but if you are at the receiving end of a nag you would not feel the same.
I much rather advice stay away and try and figure out ur piece of mind.
Jennifer Flanders says
Although I am a mother-in-law now, Lynn, this post was written years ago before any of my sons married. I wrote it from the perspective of a daughter-in-law who was dealing at the time with a mother-in-law who seemed impossible to please. Turns out, it was not as impossible as I once imagined. I decided to make it my goal to treat her the way I’d want my own daughter-in-law to treat me and to honor God not only in the way I treated her, but in the way I thought about her and spoke of her, as well. That was a small but life-changing adjustment. While it didn’t change our relationship overnight, improvement did eventually come such that we get along very well today. I’m able to ignore the comments that used to get under my skin and truly appreciate her for her many good points. I’m sure your mother-in-law has a few of those, as well. Make it your goal to find and focus on those and see if that improves things between the two of you, as well.
Sunshine for your Soul says
great advice for all relationships 🙂