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Sarah Chana Radcliffe, a psychologist in Toronto and author of Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice (Harper Collins, 2009), suggests a few options for effectively communicating with a difficult mother-in-law.
1. Just smile and nod
If your mother-in-law is constantly offering a barrage of unsolicited advice and driving you nuts, Radcliffe advises that, for the sake of keeping the peace, it's best to smile and thank her for her suggestions. But that doesn't mean you have to do everything she says.
"She's not your supervisor. If you say, 'Thanks, mom. That's a great idea,' it doesn't mean you have to go home and do it," she explains. "She thinks she's trying to help by saying whatever she is saying in that unpleasant way."
2. Do not involve your spouse
You may think the best person to manage a tough mother-in-law would be her own son, but asking your spouse to step into the middle of a conflict can be problematic.
"In addition to being insulted and hurt, often the wife feels completely unsupported in her feelings, so her husband is caught in the middle," says Radcliffe. "He loves his wife, he loves his mother and, especially if he's young, he's not particularly skilled at negotiating those relationships, so he makes his wife feel like she's doing something wrong." This is a lot of pressure to put on your spouse and, Radcliffe says, as an adult, there is no reason you can't manage this relationship on your own.
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three more great tips for dealing with a difficult mother-in-law on page 2.
3. Act like an adult and communicate like one
A lot of times when conflicts arise, it can be easy to forget how to communicate like an adult, especially if your mother-in-law has poor communication skills.
"The one thing the daughter-in-law should try to remember is the mother-in-law may not have had the benefit of all those parenting classes, parenting books and other things that would help her be a more sensitive communicator," says Radcliffe. "So she may come across worse than she is just because she lacks communication skills, but her heart may be in the right place." It's important for you to use more sophisticated communication skills, which will, in turn, bring out the best in your mother-in-law.
4. Be careful of the way you set boundaries
Radcliffe wants daughters-in-law to remember a key point: Relax! You are adults and are not obliged to do anything you don't want to, so don't become so intimidated by your mothers-in-law. Obviously, boundaries will be set, but be careful of how you go about setting them.
Even if your mother-in-law is difficult, sitting down and telling her what is and is not acceptable can come across as combative. "If she really can't behave normally, you will set boundaries. But do it very quietly, very respectfully and without drama," says Radcliffe. "Setting boundaries doesn't mean you have to be unpleasant or abusive."
5. Look at it from her point of view
While it's easy to see this relationship from only one perspective, it can help you relate to your mother-in-law much better if you stand in her shoes. More often than not, she is only trying to help, and although her help may be a bit of an annoyance to you, Radcliffe says you could be just like her down the road. "It's easy to assume that, when I'm a mother-in-law, I'm going to be loving and good. But when you get there, you're going to make communication errors just like everybody else."
A mother-in-law is an integral part of your family circle and it is incredibly important to be able to communicate effectively with her. Although she deserves respect, remember that you make your own rules, so there's no need to be intimidated.
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