How to Make Your Mother-in-Law Chill

mother-in-lawDear Young Mother,

Do you have an older mother in your life (or perhaps she’s not even older) who is trying to make you see the light and mother “her way”?

She may be your mother-in-law, your grandma, your mom, or even a sister or friend.  She’s sure she’s right, and you are, in her mind, making Mistakes with a capital “M.”  She hints, she sends you links to articles, she comes out and tells you that she doesn’t know what book you just read, but you must listen to her now, while there’s still time.

It’s exhausting.  It’s also undermining and insulting.  Yet, your patience and tolerance forbid you from directly telling her to keep her opinions to herself, and she takes that as encouragement to keep on trying to convert you to her ideas.

Or maybe your patience is at an end, and you find yourself in open conflict with her over breastfeeding, attachment parenting, cloth diapers, when to start solid foods, and on and on.

Would you like peace in your life and in your heart?

Let’s take a look at what is going on here:  What is the sub-text underneath her criticism?  If there were subtitles flashing under her face as she points out (kindly or not) the error of your mothering ways, what would those subtitles say?….

Do you think I’m a bad mother?  Is your style of mothering a veiled criticism of mine?  [And if she is your mother-in-law]:  Will my son think less of me as a mother because of your way of breastfeeding, feeding solids, or diapering? If you think you are right, does that mean that I am wrong?  Are you a better mom than I?  Because if you are a better mom than I am, I will be crushed.”

That, dear young mother, is what is going on here.

Your mother-in-law (or fill in the name of your nemesis here) is, whether she knows it or not, reacting to your parenting style from fear.  Like you, she has some insecurity in a world where there is conflicting advice everywhere about the “best” way to parent.  Like you, she wanted to do the very best job she could as a mom.  Just as you will hope, she hopes that the choices she made were above reproach.

Now imagine how she might feel, to see at close range, a mother who is lovingly devoted to her baby–and doing so many things very differently from the way she did them.

Some women can relax in that situation, knowing that they did their best when it was their turn, and wishing all the best to the young mom.  However, a mom who harbors a lot of insecurity (no doubt hidden under a cloak of great confidence), feels alarmed.  She needs reassurance that she did all right.  And what would be most reassuring, would be if you would do things the way she did.

Understanding this, how will you calm her fears?  That is the question.

When her fears are calmed, she will stop trying to change you.

Might you give her a compliment on her own mothering?  For example, one young mother told her mother-in-law,  “I know that Joe always appreciates how you were always there for him when he came home from school each day.”

Her mother-in-law replied quickly, “He says that?”

“Oh yes,” replied the peace maker.  “That’s something I hope to be able to do, too.  He’s mentioned those after-school memories more than once.”

Believe it or not, criticisms slowed down and eventually ceased, as this smart mom nurtured the frightened inner child of her mother-in-law.

And that is how you can make your mother-in-law chill.  Try it, and let me know how it goes.

Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC is a counselor with a private practice in Hinsdale, Illinois.  She can be reached at [email protected].  Her website is

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