According to Kermit the Frog, it ain’t easy being green. Well, sometimes it ain’t easy being a daughter-in-law either. Many wives have come to me for advice on how to deal with their mother-in-law. I always tell them the same thing: behave as a mature adult by communicating your needs and setting boundaries. Some take my advice, while others don’t because they think that being assertive with their in-laws is equivalent to being disrespectful to their elders.
Do I think women should treat their elders with respect? Yes, of course. But I also think elders should show respect toward their daughter-in-law.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” That’s an important rule to remember when interacting with your in-laws. Communicating your needs and setting (reasonable) boundaries is not in itself disrespectful, but you must do it in a respectful manner. Treat your husband’s mother the way you’d want your husband to treat yours. If you treat his mom with disrespect, then your husband will lose respect for you and your marriage will suffer. You can show your husband you love him by being respectfully confident with his mother.
I think it is respectful — not disrespectful– for a woman to communicate her needs. For example, let’s say you hate it when your mother-in-law frequently drops by unexpectedly. What would be disrespectful is if you didn’t tell her how you felt, and instead you complained to your husband, gossiped to your friends, and held a grudge. I think it would more respectful to speak honestly and say, “I know a lot of people don’t mind when friends and family drop by unexpectedly, but I need to know in advance when someone is coming to visit. You’re welcome to visit anytime but from now on, I need for you to call first before stopping by.”
Being a daughter-in-law doesn’t mean you must be a timid, obedient child with no needs, feelings, or opinions. If you feel guilty when you tactfully communicate your needs and set boundaries, then it could be because your husband’s mom has unhealthy behavior. A mother-in-law with healthy behavior would let go of her parenting role and treat you as an adult friend on an equal level to her. She would say, “I’ll be glad to start calling first before stopping by.”
By contrast, a mother with destructive behavior would choose to be offended because your needs differed from hers. She might say something like, “I can visit whenever I want to without calling first because I’m family.” She is also likely to gossip to your husband about what a disrespectful daughter-in-law you are. In cases like that, it’s important to draw boundaries– such as not answering the door when she shows up unannounced. It’s no more disrespectful for you not to answer the door than it is for her to show up unannounced after you’ve clearly communicated your needs.
If I were a mother-in-law, I would want my daughter-in-law to be assertive with me instead of complaining to my son, gossiping to her friends, and holding a grudge. Wouldn’t you?