Mom Shares How Her Mother-In-Law Is Trying to Usurp Her Role as Her Kids’ Mama

Developing ties with the in-laws may be different for men and women, according to experts. Forging connections with a spouse’s parents tend to be more stressful for the wives than for the husbands because women like to analyze, work on, and invest in their relationships. Bonds with the in-laws are also important because they can impact a family’s life either positively or negatively.

One Bright Side reader had a difficult encounter with her mother-in-law (MIL) recently, and she asked us for advice on how to resolve their issue. Here is her message.

Hi Mae, thank you for sharing your story with us. We at Bright Side will try our best to help you — and perhaps other readers who are in the same boat — with these suggestions.

  • First, set a goal or determine what kind of relationship you want to have with your MIL. Do you want her to continue being there for her grandkids? Do you think she should spend less or more time with them? Once you’ve identified the long-term involvement of your MIL in your family, then you can implement rules and boundaries that will support that.
  • Convince your husband to talk about this. It is an important matter that involves both of you as parents, and you’ll have a better chance of resolving this issue if you have a united front. Your hubby might also have some insight on which approach works best with your MIL. And since it is an extremely touchy subject, your in-laws may be more open or willing to listen to their own son.
  • You can also invite your MIL to have coffee or to a lunch date so you 2 can talk privately. Try to find out why she is so critical of you and what she doesn’t like about your parenting style. Calmly explain your side and why you feel like she’s overstepping her role. If you and your husband have already decided on boundaries, lay them on the table as well. For example, she could be “Nana,” but “Mama” is just for you.
  • This may require a ton of patience and self-control, but in case your MIL gets aggressive during the dialogue, try to play her comments off. If she refuses to communicate constructively, do not engage with her. Undermine her criticism by making it appear as if you view them as suggestions. You can do this by replying with “I guess I’ll have to think about that” or “That’s an interesting perspective.”
  • Try not to ask too many favors from her. Yes, you might need her help every now and then, but your MIL may start feeling entitled if she is too involved in your life. If your MIL agrees to respect your boundaries while still helping out with her grandkids, then great. But if she refuses to acknowledge them, it’s time to discuss the next steps with your husband.
  • If push comes to shove and you feel like you’ve reached your limit, the best thing to do is level with your MIL. Take a deep breath and be honest (but still respectful) with her. You can say, “I know you are helping us a lot here, but teaching my kids to call you ’Mama’ is stressing me out.” If that doesn’t work and she continues to overstep, maybe you can consider hiring a babysitter instead.
  • In extreme cases, going to family therapy with your MIL could also help. It may be easier to process the issues and discuss boundaries with the guidance of a professional. You can also limit the interactions with extended family if that’s what is needed, but keep in mind that grandparents are also important for a child’s well-being. At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your husband to decide what’s best for your own family.

Mae, we hope these suggestions will be helpful to you, and that everything will work out for you and your family.

For our readers, how would you describe your relationship with your in-laws? Have your ever found yourself in a similar situation?

Preview photo credit Martin Novak /


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