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Inlaws

Air Date: 07/28/10 Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839.7-29-10 Mother in law, Daughters The mother whose son marries a woman she can enjoy, is the lucky mother-in-law. So often in my practice, the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law is complaining about how impossible it is to get along. There are built in reasons why the relationship between a wife and her husband's mother can be so scratchy. The mother may not accept feeling replaced in her son's affections as the most important woman in his life; the mother may not think the son's wife is good enough for him, or may not think she treats him well. The daughter-in-law may pressure the husband to not be as attentive to the mother and instead, focus that attention on the daughter-in-law and their children. When grandchildren arrive, the two women have more issues over which to clash with the mother-in-law disappointing the daughter-in-law in the way she does or does not grandparent. The blending of two different family ways of doing things is tough; each side believes their way is the better way, and each side resists yielding to the other. If you're comfortable with your husband's mother or your son's wife, count yourself fortunate. If you're not comfortable, there are some do's and don'ts to avoid brewing conflict and increasing strain. Neither mother-in-laws or daughter-in-laws should complain to the man in the middle about the other. The son, the husband, is usually not very willing to confront his mother or wife, and even if he tries, he may not be very effective. The complaining is particularly damaging when there is nothing the man in the middle can do to fix the problem; it's awful for any of us to be handed a problem for which there's no easy solution. If you must say something, just give him a brief overview of the problem and then tell him you'll talk with HER about it to try and work something out. The best solution is for the two women to talk with one another to resolve whatever misunderstandings or hurt feelings are in play. Here's where the women will tell me they're reluctant to talk directly with the other. They fear the other will become more hostile and defensive, so the talking actually might make the situation worse. They fear retaliation: the daughter-in-law might interfere with the mother-in-law's access to the grandchildren; the mother-in-law might become more critical and cold. OK, the other might act badly, but the best approach remains for the two women to talk through their issues directly; if one or both act badly, then the strain they create is the next problem to solve. Mothers-in-law should not criticize their son's wife: not to him, not to her, not to the mother's friends who then tell others and it gets back to her son's wife. If you must vent, pick only trusted friends who won't tell anyone and vent; all the while remembering that venting doesn't tend to reduce your frustration, and you're probably looking for validation that the way you feel about her is the way someone else would feel doesn't matter if everyone would react as you react, you still have the problem of working out a solution with your daughter-in-law. Rather than fussing over how annoyed or hurt you feel, your energies are best spent crafting a solution. Same advice goes for the daughter-in-law: don't criticize your husband's mother. If you don't like something she does, figure out a solution and draw your husband into the solution as someone on your side who will support the stand you're taking. If you don't want your mother-in-law to baby sit overnight because she lets the kids stay up too late, then find other overnight sitting arrangements and make sure your husband is on the same page, not selling you out to his mother by agreeing that it's really not that important when they go to bed when they're at grandma's. As mother-in-laws age, and the younger generation sees them growing less competent long before they see it in themselves, we have a whole new set of conflicts. Daughter-in-law doesn't trust grandma's driving or ability to oversee her children's safety. Husband has to be on the same team as the wife, in agreement the kids aren't safe with grandma; then as a team, together, you either take the gentle route and avoid grandma having the kids without telling her why, or you take the more direct route and tell her you're no longer comfortable with her driving or her judgment, even though she doesn't agree with you. The same touchy situation arises when the grandma is abusing alcohol, or her prescription drugs. A son may not want to see his mother's impairment as early as his wife notices it; the wife may have to cleverly avoid the mother-in-law's overseeing the grandchildren until the wife can convince her husband that his mother is indeed slipping. The overall approach to dealing with these in-law situations is to muster as much acceptance and tolerance as possible. Don't have the person in the middle do the communicating works better when the people involved in the conflict talk for themselves. Don't complain because it doesn't do any good. Come up with solutions that keep the husband and wife on the same team. It's just a tough blend of two different sets of needs to rise above and be your best self.