2. Always speak politely to and of your mother-in-law. No matter what your mother-in-law may say to you or about you, always respond with understanding and kindness. You can respond by saying, “Oh, Mom, I’d love to have you make the gravy this year.” Or, “Edith, I’ve applied for 35 jobs in the last two weeks. Unemployment is over 8%. I wish I could find a job.” Or, “Gosh, Martha, I bet you wish things were still that way these days! How times have changed.” In really bad cases, you can try: “Oh, Eileen, I feel so bad when you ______(fill in the blank)_____ . I wish you wouldn’t _____(fill in the blank)_____ .
3. Never criticize your mother-in-law, not even to your spouse. If you absolutely must criticize, try to phrase your complaint in a caring way, for example: “I know Nana is a great cook, but sometimes I wish she would say something positive about my cooking.” Or: “I think your mother wishes she were in charge of the decisions we make. She probably feels unneeded.”
Whenever possible, praise your mother-in-law for her kind actions, care of your children, and other good things that she does. The more you praise, the more she will want to earn your praise and appreciation. A very powerful technique is to enlist your own mother to help you do this. Ask your mother to mention to your mother-in-law that you said something appreciative about her. Secondhand praise is very powerful in building goodwill.
4. If your mother-in-law criticizes your cooking, housekeeping, ability to support your family, or whatever, respond by saying, “You know, Mom, I never considered that. What do you suggest?” You don’t actually have to take her advice, but just asking for it may throw her off base and make her feel as though you value her thoughts. When she gives you unwanted and unsolicited advice, thank her for it and say, “I’ll try that!” Or, if she pressures you to take her advice immediately, and you don’t want to, say, “Let me think that over, Mom. You make a good point.” If the pressure is too much, say, “Mom, Linda (or Tom) and I talked that over and decided it wouldn’t be the best thing for us to do.”
If the wife’s mother-in-law criticizes her looks, weight, etc., a good response is to say, “I usually focus on intellectual and personality development more than outside appearance, Mom. I want the kids to value their inner beauty more than their physical appearance.”
5. Never criticize your spouse to his/her mother. Never discuss your personal problems with your mother-in-law unless she is very understanding and discreet and your spouse agrees that it is O.K. to do so. Try to never borrow money from your in-laws.
6. If your mother-in-law is extremely blatant about interfering in your lives, decide on a plan of action with your spouse. Some mothers-in-law will try to undermine the discipline of your children, will take offense at something and refuse to speak to you, will deliberately do something that you’ve asked them not to do, or will criticize you to your children.
Create a plan of action, for example, “The next time Mom says, ‘Oh, what a mean Mommy you have,’ Tom (or Linda, whichever is her own child) will ask her to step into the bedroom and make it very clear that these actions will not be tolerated.” “If she does the same thing again, her child will ask her to leave the house.” Then, follow the plan! Very few interfering mothers-in-law will continue to interfere once they have been asked to leave by their own child!
Always back up your spouse in dealing with his/her parent, but don’t take over for him/her. Both men and women have trouble handling their own parents assertively (but not aggressively), but both have to step up to the plate when an annoying mother-in-law is involved. Always speak kindly, but firmly, and privately, to your own parent, when needed.
7. If your spouse refuses to act assertively with his/her own parent, suggest couples counseling to handle the problems caused by the mother-in-law and the spouse’s lack of backbone. If the spouse won’t consider counseling, go alone. A psychologist will suggest effective ways to deal with the situation.