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My interfering mother in law makes life miserable

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Hi Mark,

I know this is an old cliche but my mother-in-law is driving me insane. To be honest, she's not even my mother-in-law, she's my ex's mother, but I have not been with her son since we broke up two years ago. He was a terrible boyfriend, cheated on me all the time, got so angry he would get a bit violent (occasionally shove me, throwing vases at me) and has never been especially interested in our daughter. Since my ex left he has barely even seen our daughter.

The reason why I see my mother in law quite a lot is because she wants to be a really active grandmother and I want my daughter to have her in her life. She is kind to my girl, taking her on outings and often babysitting for me when I need a break. But whenever I see her, she makes lots of mean little comments about things. She bought a throw for my couch because she thought the couch 'looked shabby', she'll come into the living room and say 'this place looks like a bomb hit!' and start tidying up. Most frustrating is that she speaks very very well of her son even though he has been a terrible partner and father. She always talks about how good he is at things and how well he is doing in his job and how nice his new girlfriend is. I feel like screaming at her 'if he's so wonderful why he can't pick up the phone and call his child!' Her comments are really subtle and often said in front of my daughter so I can't say mean things about her dad while my daughter's around.

I love my daughter and I want her to have her grandmother in her life but I don't want to be treated badly in my own home by this woman. Selfishly, I also like her babysitting as it gives me a break. It is really tiring being a single mum and I value my one afternoon a week of alone time. I couldn't afford a babysitter.

So I need to keep this woman in my life for the sake of my daughter, but how do I tell her to leave me alone?

This question was submitted by 'anonymous'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hi there,

This must be so hard for you and it's galling to have your ex partner's mother wax lyrical about her son when you know he's been an awful partner and is currently no father to his little girl. You feel you must have this woman in your life (and you want her in your daughter's life) so you need to manage her rather than cast her out.

The art of being assertive is partly to do with being specific. So rather than blowing up at someone, telling them how awful and spiteful they are, you need to focus on the parts of her behaviour that are positive such as babysitting which you appreciate, but also focus calmly and discuss with her the parts of her behaviour than needs changing.

Your mother in law sounds like a formidable character but you certainly need, I think, to realign the balance of power in your relationship with her because she has been 'holding you to ransom'. By setting boundaries with this woman in a clear, compassionate but unequivocally firm way you will need to accept that she may walk out of your life, that is a risk you might have to prepare for. She needs to know that unless she starts to behave properly there will be consequences.

So you might say to her, and be prepared to repeat it over and over until the 'penny drops': "I really appreciate all you do to help, the baby sitting and so forth but I need you not to criticise my parenting, can you agree to do that?" Every time she makes one of her mean little comments you can call her out on it so that there is a consequence for her whenever she makes one. Try this:

"Okay now that's the kind of comment I don't like. Can you say why you make comments like that?" You might even say that you realise your ex is her son and you don't want to say anything bad about him to her, but you find it galling to hear how wonderful he is because of certain things he's done and didn't do.

Now it's all very well me suggesting ways of talking to this woman but you need to be able to talk to her assertively and calmly. This is why we use hypnotic rehearsal when helping you become more naturally assertive. You can let the 'Assertiveness Training' download help you feel able to calmly, politely but firmly deal with this woman for the benefit of your daughter, you and her as well.

All my best,
Mark

watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - November 25th, 2012 in

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