Q: My husband's parents are coming for a visit, and I'm concerned there may be trouble. My mother-in-law is fond of giving oceans of unwanted advice. How can I politely shut her down before the comments start flying fast and furious?
Jim: Sometimes it's hard enough to get along with the people living under your own roof. When you bring in-laws into the mix, the results can be downright scary!
Hopefully, your mother-in-law's "advice" is given in love, rather than mean-spiritedness. Either way, you might want to talk to your husband beforehand about ways to set boundaries with her in a manner that won't insult or offend.
In the end, though, you can't control what your mother-in-law says. But you can control your response to it. Before she arrives, find the book "Loving Your Relatives Even When You Don't See Eye to Eye" by David and Claudia Arp and John and Margaret Bell. The authors suggest that the majority of in-law conflict can be defused by following a few simple rules of civility.
For example, always remember to smile -- and not through gritted teeth. People always respond better to someone who's smiling.
Even if your mother-in-law is acting nosy and intrusive, make sure that you're considerate, that you practice restraint, and that you never raise your voice.
Have the courage to admit when you're wrong, and don't ever ridicule or demean her. Give her the benefit of the doubt, and try to see things from her perspective. Be accepting and understanding of her shortcomings, and recognize that you have your own faults and hang-ups as well.
These are good rules to keep in mind when dealing with difficult people in any situation, not just in-laws. But they're especially important when in-law conflict rears its ugly head and you feel like tearing your hair out. No matter how frustrating things get, just remember to be civil!
Q: Our only grandchild is 4 years old. We cannot agree with our daughter-in-law on how often we, as the grandparents, should be allowed to see our granddaughter. Can you tell us how we can approach this without causing too much conflict and what would be a reasonable compromise on how many visits would be appropriate?
Juli: I can imagine how frustrating it must be to not be able to see your only grandchild as much as you'd like. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of situation in which you can find a "compromise." Your son and daughter-in-law are the guardians of their daughter and have the ability to choose unilaterally how often you see her.
All of your frustration and effort to reach a compromise are likely to backfire. If you fight for more time with your granddaughter, you are making yourself an adversary instead of building trust with your daughter-in-law. Instead, direct your energy toward trying to understand why she is hesitant to let you spend more time with your granddaughter. Most moms of young children are happy to have an extra set of hands or an on-call babysitter. Why doesn't she view you in this light? You may want to ask your son this question directly.
Ask yourself, "What can I change to be more supportive of my daughter-in-law?" Young moms are hungry for affirmation and support. Sometimes, in-laws are viewed as threatening and critical. If this is the case, be very careful to encourage your son and his wife. One word of criticism speaks louder than 10 words of praise.
Remember, you can only be as effective a grandparent as you are a mother-in-law. The more you pour support and encouragement into your children, the better equipped they become to raise the next generation, and the more you gain the credibility to invest in your granddaughter.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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