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Dealing with the Other Woman

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How to handle your mother-in-law during the holidays.

mother in law disapproving of couple

Elizabeth Lindell: The holidays are about creating memories, enjoying downtime with our spouses and children, and, if we're fortunate, opening our homes to extended family. When that extended family includes a mother-in-law, it can sometimes be tricky.

If she doesn't appreciate that you've added wine to the turkey or complains you're serving weeds instead of iceberg lettuce, remember you don't have to agree with her to appreciate her. If she isn't able to see her family often, she may feel envious of your loving family bubble and that may be displayed in the form of hurtful comments to you.

Most of us want to feel love and respect from our husband's mothers. We want them to acknowledge that we are also great mothers, wives, and nurturers. Sometimes, that is hard for them to do. They can see us as the woman who took their child from them. They can see us living a life they once had with their son, or maybe they can see that we are having a better life than they had. They might even see that as unfair. The son that once loved them more than anyone is now handing us cards written to "the best mother a child could have." Ouch.

If she criticizes you, know that it is not real, and it is not you. It's a problem SHE needs to work through, and there is nothing you can do to help her facilitate it except to continue to be your authentic self and vent to your girlfriends. Unless your mother-in-law is out to end your marriage, the person to confide in is not your husband. Doing so will make it seem as though you are the one who is on attack. To avoid this, try not to let things build up, and address any intentional unkind comments as they come. There is nothing wrong with saying, in the middle of dinner, "No, I'm not breastfeeding my baby to keep my husband from having a close relationship with his child" instead of holding your tongue, fighting back tears, and proceeding to feel uncomfortable every time you nurse your newborn around her for the next year. Deal with it the way you would handle your child screaming, "You're so mean!" You would say, "I'm sorry to hear that. Now, let's finish cleaning your room."

I would hope that I will handle my daughter's transition into adulthood and marriage with the dignity and respect she deserves, not judge her future husband for his past mistakes, perspective, or career choice, and keep our line of communication open. Only through mutual respect will anything I have to offer be of value. I also hope that if I do have a critical moment, her future husband will have the wisdom to forgive.

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
PlumbLucky November 23, 2009, 4:36 AM

Holy crap, were you at Christmas dinner at my MIL’s last year? That exact comment! ::shiver::

Thankfully, my husband addressed it. Quite well. Its been a battle filled first year, but we’re in the same camp and it will work!

leave to remain  February 10, 2011, 5:17 PM

Keep working ,splendid job!

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