In-Law Woes

June 14, 2015

7 min read


Help! My mother-in-law is taking over my life and my husband doesn’t care.

Dear Emuna,

We live in a beautiful mountain village near the city – it’s paradise on earth. I’m a mother of two lovely daughters ages 2 and 7 and we live very close to my mother-in-law. She is great woman, full of energy, always in good mood ready to help and much more.

My problem is when I work (I work from home), my husband comes back just two hours after I start and refuses to be with our kids, so his mother is always with them. I work full time and I am very upset that the kids are with grandma and not with my husband.

She decides everything; even if I said no she will go for yes. She lets the kids do almost whatever they want. She also buys them presents without my consent. She comes whenever she wants and does not care if I am against her behavior. So I am fighting with my husband, her and my kids. I cannot make decisions for my kids because she thinks I am making huge mistakes... she knows all. My husband does not care and I tried explaining billions of times, but he does not care and he says so.

The only solution I see is leaving this house and going back to my apartment with the girls.
Please help.

So Frustrated

Dear So Frustrated,

I’m afraid you are giving me mixed messages and I’m not sure where to start. You begin by stating you living in paradise and that your mother-in-law is a great woman and you end by suggesting that you go back to your apartment (which I assume is not in paradise) and with a litany of complaints about your mother-in-law. That would suggest that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

There are also many confusing points to your story which leave me a little unsure as to how to proceed. You mention that your husband returns home only a few hours after you begin working. Is this in the morning, afternoon or evening? Does your husband have a job? Is he coming home after a long shift and that is why he doesn’t have the energy to parent the children or is he not working at all and you are the sole support? The answer to this question certainly affects our perspective on the situation. If he is coming home after a long day (or night), then you probably need to cut him some slack and be grateful that you have a mother-in-law who is so available to pitch in. If he isn’t working at all, then you have some other issues to deal with, issues that should probably be discussed with a professional.

In terms of your mother-in-law spoiling the kids, I wouldn’t worry about it. That’s what grandparents are for! I would just enjoy it. Grandparents have a very different impact on children than parents do. Children turn to their parents for rules and guidelines, for values and morals – and unconditional love. Children turn to their grandparents for unconditional love only (that’s the true pleasure of being a grandparent; we don’t have to educate and discipline them). It’s very hard for truly loving grandparents to actually do something that is destructive to your children even if they don’t always listen to you. If you keep that in mind, I think you will be able to relax a little about your mother-in-law’s behavior.

Additionally, if we give someone else the responsibility to babysit our children – whether by choice or by default, whether for pay or for free – we have to recognize that they will have opinions that are different than ours and make choices different than ours. That is the real cost of babysitting help. I know many women who live in fear of displeasing and therefore losing their babysitters, who allow their babysitters to rule the roost or tyrannize them, or who just don’t always agree with their babysitters’ child-rearing philosophies. They can of course choose to fire them – but, if they (or you!) continue to work, they will only need to replace them with someone else who has different issues.

You’re not perfect and neither is your mother-in-law but instead of focusing on her imperfections, you should appreciate the fact that you have cost-free childcare with someone who loves your children almost as much as you do. This is probably how your husband looks at it and why it doesn’t bother him.

If you still can’t move past the issue, then, again, I recommend professional help.


Dear Emuna,

I feel lucky to be married to the most amazing man I’ve ever met. But the same cannot be said about his parents. I never really got along with his parents, but always did my best to be polite and courteous. However, recently things have blown out of proportion. My mother-in-law is critical of everything I do. I'm a bad cook (yes, she has told me that to my face), a lazy mother (because my not yet two year-old isn't potty trained), and I don't appreciate her son (totally not true) just to name a few of her criticisms. My father-in-law has told me that I need to start exercising to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and while I am not self conscious about my weight at all I think it’s just completely inappropriate for a man who is not my husband to be commenting on such things.

Am I supposed to just let these things slide so as not to ruin the peace, or can I tell them that I don't appreciate the way they treat me and risk some pretty bad ramifications (I'm nervous they'll start pushing my husband to get divorced; they have very strong personalities and no one is allowed to argue with them)? And how much interaction should I allow my children to have with their grandparents? Thanks.

Trying to be a good daughter-in-law

Dear Trying,

Let’s answer the easy question first. As I told the first letter writer, don’t worry about your children’s relationship with their grandparents. It’s very different than yours. Even if they say critical things to them the way they do to you (which is extremely unlikely), your children will not take it seriously. They look to their grandparents for love, presents and fun. Everything else slides off their back.

If we were all perfectly realized and mature adults, we would be able to let their comments slide off our backs as well – but most of us are not and the constant barrage of criticism is hurtful and takes a toll. I think you need to find a time to explain this to your husband in a way that he can hear it (non-aggressive, over a glass of wine – expressing pain and hurt is always better than expressing anger) and ask him to take up your defense. When the Torah tells us that a man should leave his parents and cling to his wife, part of the message is that she is his priority. Your husband should tell his parents that he loves them very much and really enjoys their visits but he will not tolerate their criticism of the woman he loves.

If he is unwilling to do this, or if your fear of divorce is based on reality and not simply on your irrational anxieties, then you both also need professional help. And the sooner the better.


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