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Deanna Brann, Ph.D. Headshot

How to Put Your Mother-in-Law's Unwanted Advice in Time Out

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Here she goes again! Your mother-in-law is telling you what you should be doing (or not doing) with your child. You've never asked for her advice, but for some reason, she feels compelled to share it with you anyway. It wouldn't be so bad if she only tossed off a comment occasionally, but it seems like she corrects you every time you get together -- and often, more than once per visit! She's been known to share such little gems as:

• "The baby feels so warm all bundled up like that. Why don't you take that blanket off of
her?"

• "We never let our children have so many choices. It just makes it harder for
you and for them when you do."

• "Do you really want him to get dependent on that pacifier?"

• "She seemed hungry so I gave her a few snacks."

Parenting is complicated enough. Moms are constantly bombarded with conflicting ideas and beliefs from books, websites and blogs. ("Don't pick the baby up every time he cries or you'll spoil him!" vs. "It's always okay to soothe a crying infant because you want him to grow up feeling safe and loved!") Then you have the professionals telling you one thing one day and something completely different the next. It's enough to make anyone feel crazy. And although you may be able to handle these intrusions by shutting them off or blocking them out, being scrutinized by your mother-in-law on every parental decision you make is more than any mother can or should have to take.

You've tried being polite, you've tried ignoring her, and you've even tried talking with her, but still, the stream of unsolicited advice continues. Nothing works! You've even gotten to the point where you avoid the woman whenever possible. Unfortunately, this doesn't work either! (After all, she is family!)

Before you resort to strangling your husband's mom, consider the following five tips for dealing with her unending well-meaning yet unwanted parenting advice:

1. Don't take what she says personally. As hard as this may be, remember that her constant advice giving says more about her than it does about you. What's fueling her behavior is a strong need to give advice, which has nothing at all to do with whether or not you actually need it!

2. Use humor. When your mother-in-law brings something up, just laugh, shake your head like she's told the funniest joke, and then change the subject.

3. Turn it around. Ask her if the advice she just shared is what she did with your husband when he was a child. Act interested in what she is saying and draw her into a discussion about what she did as a parent. This shifts the focus away from you and your parenting. Then, when you've finished discussing her parenting stories, just change the subject. She'll feel great because she will feel heard and you'll feel great because you won't have to listen to any more of her advice!

4. Use silence to startle her. When your mother-in-law makes a comment, stop what you're doing and then look at her without saying anything. Don't glare at her, just look at her. Let the silence linger for a few minutes, and then change the subject.

5. Present a united front. You and your husband can approach his mother together and let her know that although you appreciate her insights and suggestions, the two of you have determined what parenting style works best for the both of you. Do this in a kind, compassionate way, but be firm. In other words, once you've made your statement, don't then go on to have a discussion about it. Nothing more really needs to be said.

Following these tips will help you change your mother-in-law's behavior without making a big deal about things or getting into a nasty argument. It's a win-win because you'll be able to preserve your relationship with her while setting (and maintaining) a boundary. And having a good relationship with your husband's mother is important not only for you, but also for your husband and for your children. Instead of just accepting her maddening behavior and allowing resentment to build (or even worse, avoiding her completely), you now have some strategies for making things work no matter what she throws at you.