The first thing to consider is that while we are interpreting our Mother-In-Law’s behavior and comments as critical, there is the possibility that she is really trying to be helpful. Although she seems threatening and overbearing, in truth, we most likely seem those very things to her. Sometimes we are quick to feel that someone is out to get us, when in truth, all they are looking for is an opportunity to feel needed and wanted.
As women, we have to remember that we married her son. We are the mother of her grandchildren. So, basically, we have a major role in the lives of those most important to her. While she may seem threatening or intimidating to us, in truth, we most likely seem those very things to her.
Think of the typical reaction of a daughter-in-law and ask yourselves these questions: How do you react to her suggestions? Do you roll your eyes, bite your tongue and walk away? Do you stay silent but make it clear that her comments and advice is not appreciated? Do you smile and do what she says but resent her terribly?
There is the Torah concept discussed in Pirkei Avot, that we have an obligation “to judge everyone favorably” and offer everyone the benefit of the doubt (Avot 1:6). Our mothers-in-law are no different. Perhaps they really do want to help because she really does want what is best for their children and grandchildren. Maybe they don’t know the best way to approach us, but that is their true intention.
If we could view our mother-in-law’s comments as her desire to be helpful, and take them seriously and with consideration, she may not always feel the need to say something. Another option that’s available to us is to kindly explain to her why we made the decisions we made. If we’re convinced that we made the right decision, there is no need to be defensive. We can simply explain as follows, “Usually I would let him have a cookie with the other kids, but today he has had so much candy and if he eats any more not only will he be up all night, but he will get a terrible stomach ache.”
Problems usually arise not so much because of what we say but, because of how we say it. If you we’re confident about our parenting abilities and decision making, then we can calmly and warmly justify our choices without sounding annoyed or upset. If we trust our parental skills, that will come across, and others will naturally come to trust how we parent as well. But if we become reactive, then our behavior appears erratic and defensive as opposed to a carefully made choice.
If we can begin seeing our mother-in-law’s words as an expression of love and not ill will, we will most likely be able to either consider that perhaps she is correct, or when she is not, to be able to explain to her that while her comments are coming from the right place, we feel that what is truly best for the children is something else.