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How Do I Deal With My Difficult Mother-In-Law?

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Ask Zoe

Ask Zoe is Aleteia’s weekly advice column. If you have a dilemma, question, or need some general advice for your life, email Zoe. All questions are given consideration and names are withheld.  

Dear Zoe,
I know this is an age-old dilemma, but how do I deal with my mother-in-law? She and I have very little in common when it comes to faith, politics, you name it. Short of our mutual love for her son and grandchildren, there isn’t much we connect on and it’s challenging when she visits. How do I love this woman who rubs me the wrong way on just about everything? 

Sincerely, 
Defeated Daughter-in-law

Dear Defeated,
You’re right; the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship has long been considered a contentious one. And it’s often true as the relationship is, by its nature, fraught with potential challenges. A wife doesn’t choose her mother-in-law and, except in cases of an arranged marriage, a mother doesn’t choose her daughter-in-law. Sometimes there is disappointment on both sides right from the beginning. 

I have three pieces of advice for you:

The first is to think more creatively about how you might connect better with your husband’s mother, which will make the relationship easier. Even though you’ve found nothing major in common, there are probably some small things you do share. Do you both like to cook? Do you watch any of the same TV shows or movies? Have you traveled to the same countries? Does she have any skills or interests you can ask about? Whatever you can find to connect with her on, no matter how small, do it. The conversations don’t have to be profound or serious, they can simply be inquisitive and friendly. 

You can also try making some memories together during her visits because these act as relationship builders—like going out for lunch together, taking in a movie you can discuss, shopping, etc.

If none of this seems to work, remember the most important thing you have in common: your husband and children. There’s nothing wrong with making them the primary focus of your conversation and time together.

The second thing is to manage your time with your mother-in-law. And this is where your husband comes in. He needs to know—if he doesn’t already—that this relationship is hard for you and you have to be clear about what length of visit helps keep you sane. You also need to speak up about what will help your stress levels when she is visiting. For example, maybe your husband needs to take his mother out from time to time to give you a break. Or you need to get out by yourself when she’s there.

Lastly, you asked how to love a mother-in-law who rubs you the wrong way. Love, as Dr. Gary Smalley once famously wrote, is a decision. Yes, it would be great if you enjoyed your husband’s mother. But you don’t need to feel love for her to actually love her. It’s about what you do, and the attitude with which you do it. Showing her hospitality when she visits, encouraging her relationship with her son and grandchildren, being kind, being patient, praying for her—these are all acts of love. Loving her is also about accepting her as she is and letting go of the disappointment you have that you didn’t land the mother-in-law of your dreams. She did give you one gift—your husband—and keeping that in mind will help with all the rest. 

Sincerely,
Zoe

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If you have a dilemma or question for Zoe, please send it to: askzoe@aleteia.org

Zoe Romanowsky is the Lifestyle Editor and Video Curator for Aleteia. A freelance writer, blogger, and consultant, she’s been published in many national publications including Real Simple, Catholic Digest, Baltimore Eats, and TruthAtlas. Zoe holds a Masters degree in Counseling from Franciscan University, and a certification in life coaching from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She’s an urban homeschooling mother of twins with a weakness for dark chocolate, Instagram, vintage Harleys, and vodka martinis—not necessarily in that order. 

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