Mothers-in-Law Speak Up

We continue our series on your emerging role as a mother-in-law and questions you have about how to nourish your relationships with your children-in-law. Our readers commenting on the virtual book tour we hosted last week with Dr. Susan Lieberman found her words empowering as they set new directions in their relationships with their sons- and daughters-in-law.

Janet had been struggling with her in-law relationships for years and now had some new ideas about how to work on them; Sandy recognized that she could only change her behavior, not that of her children and children-in-law.

Susan’s response to Janet and Sandy: THANK YOU! I did not come to this book as an “expert” but rather as a woman standing in a difficult place. I wrote the book I needed to read. I’m so grateful when others find it helpful. I can tell you that writing the book has helped me handle my own mother-in-law issues more skillfully. I can also, more abashedly, tell you that when you write the book and then find you are not following your own advice, you really feel like an idiot…but we all do the best we can — including our daughters-in-law. I’ve been trying to sneak into my DIL’s head to figure out why I trigger her as I do. Of course, I have no way of knowing if my thoughts are accurate, but my hunch is that my voice brings up something about her own parents’ voices and her feelings about bending to their will. Maybe I’m making up nonsense, but since it helps me be more tolerant of behavior I find hurtful, I’m sticking to it.

A grandmother wrote that she was concerned about the way her grandchildren were being raised and didn’t how whether to bring the subject up with her daughter and son-in-law.

Susan’s response: Concerned Grandma presents a pickle…I’m pretty sure whatever you say is not going to be appreciated. That said, I know it is next to impossible to stay quiet if you think the children are being harmed. So, I have been thinking about this and have a couple thoughts:

1) Talk to other women, not only the ones who are most like you, and describe as neutrally as possible, the behavior that concerns you. Find out if others are as alarmed as you. If they are not, you might have to rethink your position.

2) Look for data, articles, books, etc that address the issue(s) that most concern you and present it as something to consider.

3) Make a date with your daughter. Tell her you are struggling and really don’t know how to go forward. On the one hand, everything in you says, “Don’t meddle,” and on the other, everything in you says, “There is something we need to discuss.” Ask her is she would be willing to have a discussion with you in which you both try to hear each other and not follow into a defensive posture. If she rebuffs this effort, you are going to have to back off.

4) Is there someone else in the family…a sibling or favorite aunt who could take up the cause on your behalf. My observation is that the more insecure our kids feel about their parenting skills…and the less skillful they are…the less able we are to speak. If you think this is serious enough, you may just have to speak out, but know that they may be a cost. Good luck on this one.

Once more, we thank Dr. Susan Lieberman for her reflections and personal insight into the role of mothers-in-law. Let us know how you enjoy her book, The Mother-in-Law’s Manual.

For more tips on getting along with a daughter-in-law, click on the post title above to take you to our article, From Baby Boomer to Mother-in-Law: How to Play Your New Role. You can then explore our website,, for more of our articles with helpful pointers on how to improve your relationships with your family in flux.

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