This was the piece the media were most interested in when I was recently promoting my book, so I thought I would flesh it out here… enjoy, and let me know what you think, or if you have a personal story, I am fascinated by relationships and all their ins and outs…. (P.S. I am hoping the problems with the comments form will be fixed asap, in the meantime you can use the ‘contact’ section…)
“An ‘interfering mother in law’ is one of society’s favourite stereotypes. The term ‘mother in law’ sounds negative and criticising, even before we know anything about the individual themselves.
How true is the stereotype?
‘Mother-in-law’s’ are individuals, they have brought up and loved their son and they are very likely to feel proud of their new grandchild and want to be involved in their lives.
‘fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.’ —Shirley MacLaine
The perception of mother-in-laws as judgemental and criticising often means we feel afraid of them, before we actually know them very well. This perception can prevent us from being open-minded about them as individuals and can cause us to hear criticism, almost no matter what they say. This stereotype can also work the other way around; mother-in-laws are often afraid of daughter-in-laws not liking them simply because of their ‘label’. They don’t know how to get to know their daughter-in-law and ‘get it right’.
Why are mother-in-law’s and daughter–in-law’s a ‘threat’ to each other?
We usually care what the other person thinks of us. We want to be liked and ‘approved of’ so we are hoping for acceptance and praise. If we don’t feel we are getting enough of this, then we might assume they feel critical of us, even if they actually don’t.
How is your self-esteem?
When we have had a new baby we can feel very vulnerable, we are tired, sore, emotional and probably in shock after the labour we have just been through. It is a time when we would hope those around us would be sensitive, but they might not be very good at being empathetic to our feelings and emotions.
A statement such as “he’s crying, maybe you should feed him” can feel like a personal attack, as if we don’t know ourselves that our baby might be hungry. Our ‘mother in law’ is probably just trying to he helpful, but we can feel annoyed that something like this is said, rather than her saying something encouraging, or telling us how well we are doing. Interestingly, our own mother could say exactly the same thing, but because we know them better, we will interpret the same words differently.
‘Switch-off’ the criticism
‘A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear on ourselves.’ —Simone Weil
If our mother-in-law is blatantly criticising us, then she is doing it to feel better about herself in some way, so we can choose not to feel criticised by her at all! Criticising others comes from our self-esteem and our ‘need to feel better’ at a certain moment, so we don’t need to believe her criticism and let it negatively affect our self-esteem.
‘People are like sharks; they only usually attack when they feel attacked.’ —from the film, Couples Retreat.
What often happens when we are criticised is that we feel the need to defend ourselves by criticising in return, which in turn damages our mother-in-law’s self-esteem and increases the likelihood that she will criticise us back to make herself feel better, and on and on and round and round.
Take charge of your self esteem
Taking charge of our own self-esteem can stop this cycle because if we can recognise that our mother-in-law is criticising us because they are experiencing low self-esteem, we can choose not to criticise them back and instead can aim to be kind and improve their self-esteem, aiming to create a win-win rather than a lose-lose situation.
The answer is communication.
If we want to get on better with our mother-in-law then the answer is open communication. Find the confidence to express who you really are and why you think and feel as you do. Ask your mother in law about her life, especially when she was a mother.
There is likely to be a lot you don’t know about each other and you cannot be friends until you aim for mutual understanding and respect. Remove the fear of each other by first of all accepting and being yourself, and then trying to accept and get to know your mother-in-law as an individual person, not a ‘label’.
I hope you found this interesting? Cat xx
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